The Classic Forest of Bowland Loop

The Forest of Bowland is a legendary area to cycle; quite possibly one of the best areas in the UK. Bradley Wiggins used this area to train, and his one charity sportive (Ride with Brad) also used these roads, as have numerous other sportives, including the legendary and toughest of them all, The Bowland Badass (160+ miles with 18,000 ft of climbing). Many cycling magazines have also had features based on this classic loop. My lovely wife doesn’t particularly like hills, but even she loves this loop (85km and 1,200m of climbing).

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The classic loop starts and ends in Lancaster, heads out to Wray, up over the fells down to Slaidburn, round to Dunsop Bridge, up the Trough and the back of Jubilee Tower and returning into Lancaster. There are hills, many hills. Going clockwise you’ll climb #75 and #143 from Simon Warren’s excellent Greatest Cycling Climbs books. Anti-clockwise and you’ll hit #76 and #79, depending on your exact route. Adding in a couple of extra miles you can also attempt Newton Fell, #176. Generally we go clockwise so that we can stop at the excellent Puddleducks cafe in Dunsop Bridge. We also usually descend Cross of Greet, but yesterday we opted to climb Bowland Knotts as Helen had never done that route.

Earlier in the year we did this route, but there were traffic lights on the main road towards Wray, and there wasn’t enough time to get through on a bike before they changed, where upon we were shouted at by car drivers coming in the other direction. Very unpleasant. Yesterday that particular road was a joy to cycle on, although there were definitely more people about, going for a drive, on motorbikes, or cyclists in pairs who didn’t look like they lived together.

Out of Wray there is a nasty little climb before the road dips and dives it’s way along, running parallel to the main road, with stunning views of Gragareth, Whernside and Ingleborough, made all the more stunning by the lack of air pollution. We stopped for a photo when we reached our start of Bowland Knotts. Technically, the bottom of the climb is almost a km down the hill, but from where we started it is still 6km to the top. Never too steep, but it does go on.

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As we climbed there was a coconut smell in the air emanating from the in bloom Gorse bushes. There was also a home made sign with ‘Go Home, Stay Home’ written on it. Maybe a little over the top, especially as the Forest of Bowland covers an area of just over 800 square kms. Theoretically, if you were to stand in a 2m by 2m box (social distancing) you could fit 200 million people in the Forest of Bowland.

At the top, the views were even more amazing.

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We had a little walk about at the top, waving at another cyclist as he came over, before we set off over the cattle grid…

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and down across Stocks Reservoir.

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We both looked at the water thinking how great it would be to swim in. Unfortunately reservoirs are one of the most dangerous places to swim, with a cold water temperature all year round, unseen dangers and no lifeguard.

We continued along the very worn road, which needed to have new tarmac laid years ago and still hasn’t, past the Gisburn Forest mountain bike centre and down into Slaidburn. Out of Slaidburn is my wife’s favourite hill ever. Short but very steep and a couple of years ago cycling this loop with her youngest son she nearly took him off here. I kept my distance as we rolled in Dunsop Bridge. No cafe stop but we did have a break for snacks and water, before the climb over the Trough, not the easiest of climbs when you’re on your heavy touring bikes, although at least we have plenty of low gears.

We opted not to go over Jubilee Tower, instead taking the slightly easier but longer route past Bradley Wiggins’ house and for some reason a life ring on a tree.

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Both feeling a little tired we took the A6 from Galgate back in Lancaster, a road that we would never use, but wasn’t too bad. There are some good points about the lock down.

Back home and Nelly was very pleased to see us, and after feeding her we took her out for an hours walk before hitting the beers and an early night.

If you’re from the area, you’ll know this loop very well, and if you’re not you should make an effort one day to take a ride around the Forest of Bowland.