No, it’s not the Cotswolds, it’s not the Lake District, it’s not the Yorkshire Moors… The overlooked Forest of Bowland is without a doubt one of the most underrated AONBs in the UK and with stunning walks, unique accommodation, historic homes, dramatic scenery and quaint villages, a weekend in the Forest of Bowland needs to be your next UK getaway.
I have family nearby in Lancashire but even I’ll admit that I’d always passed through but never stopped in the Forest of Bowland - now I realise how much I was missing out!
The Forest of Bowland is an oasis that seems to have escaped the mass crowds of other popular natural beauty destinations in the UK such as the Cotswolds or the Lake District. But I hope this Forest of Bowland guide will give plenty of inspiration for things to do in the Forest of Bowland and hopefully I can convince you to make it your next UK getaway.
And of course, you can use this 2 days in the Forest of Bowland itinerary at any time of the week, not just on the weekend!
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About the Forest of Bowland
Where is the Forest of Bowland?
Located in the North of England close to the west coast, the Forest of Bowland AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) is located in the county of Lancashire.
Just north of Preston, with Lancaster city to the west and the Yorkshire Dales National Park to the north, the Forest of Bowland is often passed by as people are en route to these other destinations.
But the Forest of Bowland itself covers an area of 803km2.
What makes it an AONB?
An AONB stands for an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and it means that it’s an area of “designation and management” which is protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act which aims to protect, conserve and enhance the natural beauty of an area.
The UK has 46 designated AONBs and some well-known ones include the Cotswolds, Dorset, the Norfolk Coast, the Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland, Anglesey and the Gower Peninsula both in Wales.
When is the best time to visit the Forest of Bowland?
As with anywhere in the UK, the time of year is no guarantee of the weather. But I personally love the springtime in the Forest of Bowland when the lush green of the landscape is really thriving and the flowers are in bloom.
Summer is also a great time to get some good weather although I would imagine it’s also the busiest time of year. The area is also beautiful as the leaves change during autumn.
How to get to the Forest of Bowland
To get to the Forest of Bowland, the M6 runs down the west side of the area from both the north and the south so this is most likely the best route to take by car.
By public transport you could take the train to Lancaster or Clitheroe and take the buses although these will take a longer time and are not always as reliable!
I do suggest having a car to explore the Forest of Bowland and to make the most of this Forest of Bowland itinerary.
Where to stay in the Forest of Bowland
It’s only right that staying in such a beautiful area of the country, your Forest of Bowland accommodation should allow you to feel in touch with nature too.
The luxury woodland lodges as Browsholme Hall are the ultimate glamping luxury with 10 wooden lodges fully fitted with a double bed, a small kitchen, an ensuite bathroom, a deck area and fire pits to enjoy evenings with a fire, marshmallows, your loved one and maybe a drink or two.
Browsholme is Lancashire’s oldest family home with a history dating back to the 1300s, and the welcoming atmosphere when you come to stay here really is part of the experience. You can book a tour of the hall (where the family have lived since the 15th century), you can enjoy homemade food at the cartshed cafe on site and you can simply bask in the peace and quiet of nature in your own secluded area of woodland.
And don’t worry about being warm, each lodge is fitted with underfloor heating, so even if you fancy a romantic winter getaway, you’ll still be nice and toasty!
We were super impressed with the high-speed internet, modern bathroom and kitchen and all the amenities in the lodge. It’s a great way to disconnect (there’s no TV in the lodges) but it doesn’t mean you’re without creature comforts - far from it, in fact!
Your stay at one of the lodges also gives you access to the Browsholme parkland where you can enjoy a morning walk, explore the gardens and lakes and enjoy the views of the fells, the farmland and beyond.
I would recommend staying at least two nights to really enjoy this unique stay in the Forest of Bowland and really allow yourself to relax.
Best things to do in the Forest of Bowland: weekend itinerary
Things to do in the Forest of Bowland: Day 1
Browsholme tour 11am
Kick off your time staying at the Browsholme lodges with a tour of the stunning Browsholme Hall. The tour lasts for about 1 hour and the guides are so knowledgeable about the hall’s family, history and heritage.
One of the most fascinating things about Browsholme is that all the furniture, ornaments and decor inside have come from the house’s history and have remained in the property all these years. Unlike many other historic homes in the UK where period furniture has to be sourced to fill it, at Browsholme you can see pictures, clothes, weapons, ornaments and more that have all been there for the centuries that the house has.
Spot unique features like the mismatched number of floors on each wing of the house (the house looks symmetrical but you’ll see from the outside that the left only has two floors with windows, and the right side has three!). You’ll also spot beautiful historical artwork interspersed with modern family photos of the current family which makes the house still feel homey despite its size!
See the mixture of period architecture as the house was adapted to the tastes and trends of the current owner at the time.
Tours times are usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday (so you won’t be able to go inside the Hall if you do visit on a weekend). But check the up to date opening times and tours here. Tickets are £10 and can be purchased at the Cart Shed cafe and it’s fascinating to see a historical home like this which is still lived in by the family.
Lunch at the Cart Shed Cafe
After your tour, pop over to the onsite cafe for a spot of refreshments before your afternoon adventures.
I was so pleasantly surprised by the prices at the cafe (it really is cheaper up North!) and the food is fresh, local and much of it is homemade.
I had a Bowland beef and horseradish sandwich which I still dream about!
Sit outside in the sunshine to eat or enjoy the charming interior with stone walls and welcoming staff.
Do the Langden Brook walking route in the Trough of Bowland
If you’re looking for the best walking routes in the Forest of Bowland, this route is my top recommendation with spectacular scenery, a clearly marked route, an easy to moderate out and back hike and a great, free car park to start from.
Park at the Langden Brook Car Park and follow the paved path through the trees, this gives way to a loose gravel and stone path which is easy and clear to follow out and back as you walk through the valley.
As you progress further into the valley or the Trough of Bowland, you follow the line of the hill so you can really take in the spectacular scenery of the Trough below. And it’s totally up to you how far you want to go before turning back. We walked past the Aircrew Memorial and up the following hillside before turning back.
There are a few steeper uphill sections but only for a minute or two, anyone with basic fitness will be fine to do this and I can’t tell you how stunning this walk is! The scenery in every direction was breathtaking.
Make a quick stop at Whitewell stepping stones
On your way back to Browsholme or on to Clitheroe for dinner, make a quick stop at Whitewell which is not only a beautiful small village but also home to a bit of a hidden gem.
Whitewell stepping stones cross the River Hodder behind the village and you can walk across them.
I suggest parking at the car park in front of the church and walking down behind the houses, a short two minutes along the river bank and you’ll reach the stepping stones. There are over 30 stepping stones to cross from the bank to the meadow on the other side and it’s a fun, short stop that’s just a couple of minutes walk from the car.
Dinner in Clitheroe and evening entertainment
Just a short 15 minute drive from Browsholme Hall is the town of Clitheroe. Here you’ll find Holme Mill and Bowland Brewery - I’ve actually been here twice before now on different trips because I love it so much!
The brewery itself is huge and housed inside the old Mill. There’s also a taproom and restaurant with plenty of seating both indoors and outdoors, perfect for craft beers and a hearty pub meal.
In the Holme Mill complex you’ll also find a retro bowling alley, a large craft store with independent products and a large outdoor seating area, plus a cinema next door too.
So you’ve got plenty of choices for places to eat in Clitheroe and it’s a great evening destination if you’re looking for things to do in the Forest of Bowland if it’s raining.
Things to do in the Forest of Bowland: Day 2
Morning walk around Browsholme Park
Take advantage of your accommodation location with a morning walk around the Browsholme estate. With acres of farmland complete with cows and sheep, walking trails and a 3-acre lake full of ducks, this was my favourite way to start the day while staying at the lodges - followed by a cup of coffee back at your glamping lodge!
Spend the rest of the day discovering all the things to see in the Forest of Bowland, starting with the nearby Sawley Abbey ruins.
The Sawley Abbey ruins are perfect if you’re looking for free things to do in the Forest of Bowland. There isn’t much left but it’s pretty cool to walk among the ruins of this ancient abbey. It’s owned by English Heritage and you can find plenty of information about the abbey on the information boards.
Take 5 or 10 minutes to wander around Sawley, which is a lovely village!
Explore quaint villages
Speaking of beautiful villages, make some time to explore the prettiest villages in the Forest of Bowland. I can’t tell you how underrated the Forest of Bowland is - the quaint villages remind me of the Cotswolds but with none of the crowds!
Visit Downham, often called the prettiest village in Lancashire and has been used as a filming location for movies and tv shows.
Then head to Waddington which is a beautiful village, full of winding streets, charming country pubs and a gorgeous public garden called the Coronation Gardens. We were lucky enough to be visiting during the spring when the gardens were in full bloom.
Lunch at Waddington Arms
While you’re in Waddington, fuel up for lunch at the Waddington Arms. This cosy country pub is perfect for winter with a roaring log fire, or with a large outdoor area for the summer months too.
Their menu has so many incredible choices I really had a hard time deciding but ended up going with a classic steak and ale pie - yum!
Hike up Pendle Hill circular route
While most people I’ve spoken to haven’t heard much of the Forest of Bowland, most people have heard of Pendle because of the Pendle Witches.
Pendle Hill was made famous in 1612 by the Pendle Witches, who were the centre of the most famous witch trials in England - the Lancashire Witch Trials. 12 women who lived around Pendle Hill in Lancashire were charged with murdering 10 people using witchcraft. The women were sentenced and marched to Lancaster and executed by hanging for their crimes of witchcraft. Only one of the so-called witches was found not guilty.
There are several Pendle Hill hiking routes and many of them seem very long, but I was relieved to discover that there’s a shorter circular trail up Pendle Hill that goes straight up and down again and it was doable in 1.5 hours!
Start at the Pendle Hill layby parking and follow the road up towards the hill. Once you pass through the stile and you’re at the base of the hill, you can either go left or right to start the circular walk up and along the top of the hill before coming back down the other side. Left is more of a scramble with steep sections although there’s a defined path the whole way. To the right are steps to the top - albeit very uneven and steep steps.
You’ll go up one side and down the other. Most people seemed to choose to go up the steps and down the hill but because of our knees and the steep hill to the left, we decided we’d rather go up the steep hill and come down the steps - it really makes no difference what you choose.
You’ll go up one side, walk across the top of the hill and see the peak, then walk back down the other side. Just be aware of high winds, it was pretty windy when we hiked up to the top - wrap up warm and check the weather before you decide to go.
I’d say this is a moderate hike due to the steep, uneven ground, however it is a short hike with epic views that are well worth it. Anyone with some level of fitness should have no problem doing it!
Make sure you take some time at the top to enjoy the incredible views.
Summary: 2 days in the Forest of Bowland itinerary
I hope this Forest of Bowland itinerary has put the area on the map for you and given you plenty of inspiration for things to do in the Forest of Bowland to plan your trip!
A stay at Browsholme Hall lodges, escaping into the peace and quiet of nature and discovering some of the lesser visited places in England make this a fantastic choice for a romantic weekend getaway in the UK, a special occasion or a chance to switch off and escape to the countryside.
Visiting the Forest of Bowland is so often overlooked as one of England’s AONBs but it’s one of the best things to do in Lancashire and the area really has so much beauty to offer, you won’t run out of places to visit in the Forest of Bowland and things to see to make it a memorable UK getaway.
Pin for later to plan your future trip!