Walking: Does you does or does you don't give access?: Andrew Bibby ventures into the Forest of Bowland, head of the list for campaigners fighting for the right to ramble

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The Independent Culture
I PREPARED well for this walk. I was off to the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire's wild and remote heartland, and didn't want to get into trouble. Into my rucksack went not only the usual sensible precautions for a day on the open moors but also a two-page fax from North West Water.

Bowland takes some getting to know. It can feel like a secretive place, and one where walkers do not always feel welcomed (grouse matter rather more to the landowners). The Duke of Westminster is one such, the Duchy of Lancaster another, while North West Water owns a great swath of open moorland from Cross of Greet in the north to Saddle Fell in the south.

Bowland is back at the top of the Ramblers' Association campaign list for moorland access rights, and the association's David Beskine is mobilising his members for a protest rally in September. His target is Lancashire County Council, which he accuses of not pushing hard enough to negotiate new access agreements with the Bowland landowners. 'Unless ramblers make their voices heard loud and clear in 1994, the chances are they will lose the possibility of ever gaining access to one of the largest areas of English moorland,' he says.

It is all horribly familiar. Exactly 25 years ago, the Ramblers held a similar rally in Bowland. Their leaflet then, which also decried the public's lack of access to the moorlands, could almost be reprinted word for word.

I wanted to see for myself how much of the moorland could be

enjoyed by the public. Two relatively small areas (Clougha in the north and Saddle Fell, Wolf Fell and Fairsnape in the south), together with a seven-mile concessionary path, are already covered by access agreements negotiated by the council.

There are also a few traditional rights of way across the moors. But this leaves much of Bowland apparently out of bounds. My fax from North West Water, however, suggested that the issue was a lot less clear-cut.

The countryside looked beautiful as I approached from the east, driving through the village of Dunsop Bridge to pass into the Trough of Bowland. My companion for the day was to be David Kelly of the Preston Ramblers' Association. David, one of the organisers of September's rally, knows Bowland well (even, perhaps, the bits he probably shouldn't know).

A cuckoo started calling as we began walking and then, a mo-

ment later, came into sight high on a telephone wire. We followed a path beside the road to the attractive farmhouse at Hareden and then took a public bridleway south through woods and farmland to Dinkling Green Farm. Frustratingly the path left the high ground of Totridge away to our right, though there were compensatory views of Pendle Hill in the distance. David took his cue: 'There's free access all over Pendle, and no problems at all,' he pointed out.

We turned north again at Burnslack on to the official access land, following a track up the side of Saddle Fell. But as we crossed over the fence at the top of Saddle Fell, we left the access land behind to enter North West Water territory. The landscape was typical high Bowland: a plateau of rough heather, with deep peat channels every few yards requiring lengthy diversions. We cut across the open moor to find the headwaters of Bleadale Water.

Bleadale was the highlight of the walk. A wonderful deep valley where a rough sheep track followed beside the river, past small waterfalls and waterside pasture. This surely was one of the real delights of Bowland.

At the valley bottom we forded the waters of Langden Brook ('tell people not to try this route after heavy rain', David warned) beside a shooting hut known mysteriously as Langden Castle. This was the place, David had warned me, where wardens or gamekeepers might sometimes question where we had been.

So were we trespassing? Unlike

some other Bowland landowners who are determinedly anti-access, North West Water is more ambivalent. My fax was a copy of their statement on the issue, released earlier this year. 'If access is obtained in a reasonable and sympathetic manner, our wardens or our tenants' gamekeepers will

not discourage walkers who are choosing their own route,' it says, adding, however, that 'where there is a strong case as to why a particular area should not be visited . . . then full explanations will be given and reasonable alternatives recommended'. (Dogs, understandably, are banned.)

This suggests that walkers can, like us, legitimately enjoy Bleadale - and many other upland areas of Bowland. In practice, it may not be quite so easy: some Private signs are still to be seen on North West Water land, for example. Another problem is that there is no simple map avail-

able showing the limits of the company's land.

I'd had a wonderful walk, and - even better - I hadn't needed to flourish my fax at irate gamekeepers. But it's clear that access rights in Bowland still need to be sorted out. Perhaps that rally in September will help.

(Photograph omitted)

(Map omitted)