here are two ways for a walker to work up an appetite. Tramp over moorland and collapse into a pub to scarf a pile of carbs. Or do a gentle pastoral ramble, so you have enough energy to appreciate the awaiting food. As my Bowland outing was going to conclude at the Parkers Arms – the UK’s no 1 gastropub, its 12th best restaurant and gold medallist at the British Pie Awards – I tried the easy option. That walk can be found here. It’s a pleasant, well-trodden route but, frankly, lazy. How can you justify a full-on feast without burning off a few calories?

So I thought again and decided to include Easington Fell, the handsome hill that presides over the villages of Newton and Slaidburn. I started at the latter, because I’d chosen it as the place to spend the night, and because it’s a pretty little place. It sits on a curve in the River Hodder that’s known as Jam Pot Corner because that was the name of the teashop that used to sell day-passes to anglers; a fly-fisherman was working the beat when I passed. It’s home to a YHA in what used to be the Black Bull pub, a busy local history archive – you’ll see old clogs in the window display – and the Hark to Bounty, a coaching inn that has been here since the 16th century.

It was called The Dog until 1875, when the squire of the village, who was also the rector, popped in with his hunting party for a pint. Their drinking was disturbed by loud baying from the pack outside. Above the other hounds could be heard the howling of the squire’s favourite dog, which prompted him to call out “Hark to Bounty!”

A bridge over the River Hodder.
Newton Bridge over the River Hodder. Photograph: Shaw and Shaw/The Guardian

Leave Slaidburn on the road south, passing the Grade I-listed St Andrew’s church, Glebe House (the old vicarage) and a school. At a curve not 10 minutes out of the village there’s a gatehouse for a country estate called Dunnow Hall. Follow the track on the left to the banks of the River Hodder, which you follow to Newton-in-Bowland. This gentle, flat section will allow you to warm up your muscles. A well-used path leads through sheep fields and along the edge of Great Dunnow Wood.

After about 1.7 miles, you’ll come to Newton, where you’ll be drinking and dining later. Like most places with “new” in their name, Newton is ancient. It’s in the Domesday Book as one of Roger of Poitou’s Yorkshire possessions. Like in much of Bowland, you get a sense that apart from a few electric cars, Waitrose vans and TV aerials, not much has changed over the centuries – though the village is now in Lancashire. The Parkers Arms takes its name from a family of park keepers who became landowners when Henry VII disafforested the Chase of Bowland – removing its hunting rights and restrictions. Part of this walk is over common land.

Cross the bridge over the Hodder and turn left to walk along the riverbank along a partly flagged old way bordered with wildflowers. Cross a couple of fields, pass through a farm gate on to a lane and walk along to Robinsons Barn, turning a sharp right on a track signed for Fellside. Cross the brook and go through the farm gate on your left into a sloping field.

The Forest of Bowland is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Forest of Bowland is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Photograph: Shaw and Shaw/The Guardian

From here it’s a good slog up to the top of Easington Fell. The footpaths through the fields are not always clear so use Ordnance Survey’s OL41 map as well as these instructions. Basically, you follow walls and fences all the way to the top, skirting woodland and passing a barn with a catslide roof. Take breathers to look back and you’ll see some of Bowland’s higher central fells, as well as Newton and Slaidburn. Close to the top the view really opens out to take in the Trough of Bowland – a steep-sided cleft scoured by glaciers – and the Yorkshire Three Peaks.

Where the grazing fields turn to moorland there’s a band of field sedge riven with streams. This marks the boundary of dry dwarf shrub heath, acid grassland, marshy grassland, blanket bog and bracken – a morass, in short, that can be tricky after heavy rain. You may have to hop around a bit. Watch out for nests on the ground. A little higher up there’s bilberry and, on top, swathes of heather. The fell has a ridge but the official paths through it drop down toward a road and a quarry.

Get your puff back on the level areas around the summit. Easington, at 396 metres, is a Marilyn (rising at least 150 metres above everything in its vicinity) but it’s a tougher climb than Pendle Hill – which you can also see from here. I spotted a kestrel hovering. Rarer birds of prey such as merlins and hen harriers inhabit Bowland but in vanishingly small numbers; the British Trust for Ornithology estimates only 700 pairs of the latter in the entire UK. Earlier this year, police were asking for information to help investigate the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier here.

The descent is along a wide track which passes through farms and accommodation for shooters and an estate once owned by TVR owner Peter Wheeler that operates clay pigeon shoots. Parked up outside a barn was a weird all-terrain miniature tank-looking vehicle apparently used in the Falklands.

The Parkers Arms has won a string of awards.
The Parkers Arms in Newton has won a string of awards. Photograph: Shaw and Shaw/The Guardian

Bowland is one of Britain’s strangest places. It’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty but huge parts are given over to grouse-rearing, with the controversial burning and, allegedly, illegal raptor persecution that goes with it. Thinly populated, it feels remote and wild, but a lot of the land belongs to the rich, including non-residents. King Charles, as holder of the Duchy of Lancaster, owns the nearby Whitewell Estate. As well as grouse and pheasants, there are sheep on the fells, nibbling at anything green. There’s almost no public transport, so you need a car, taxis from Clitheroe or Lancaster, or a bike. Discover Bowland’s Eco Escapes website of itineraries is worth a look though, as some corners can be reached by train.

All this makes the region alienating or alluring, or both. A lot of Bowland only became open to walkers when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 opened up “access land” for the purposes of open-air recreation. You’ll see signs here and there – though Bowland is bad on signage, perhaps because game managers and ramblers are not natural allies. Walking is increasingly a political act – and the Forest of Bowland AONB seems destined to become, like Dartmoor, a hotspot when it comes to walking.

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Start/end Slaidburn
Distance 9 miles
Time 4.5 hours
Total ascent 440 metres
Difficulty Moderate

The pub

The pub’s interior.
The Parkers Arms is ‘more restaurant than pub, but still feels cosy and there’s a proper bar and open fire’. Photograph: Carl Sukonik

The Parkers Arms looks different from other Bowland pubs. It’s a large, whitewashed building at the entrance to Newton, with its name in a cool font, in teal. Inside it’s more restaurant than pub, with tables nicely spaced, but still feels cosy; there’s a proper bar and, in winter, an open fire. AJ, who runs front of house, is charming and chatty. All of this would make it a great pitstop after a walk, but the food here is on another level.

The pub serves legendary pubs.
The pies are highly rated

The dinner menu is one of those that makes you want to visit every evening for a week. I had a pork and chicken terrine with piccalilli followed by curried Burholme Farm mutton-and-its-offal pie in chef Stosie Madi’s bespoke mutton-fat hot-water pastry – with fries and a bit of creamed mash on the side. As a pie lover, I was excited about trying Parkers’ – because they’re legendary – and it was all I expected: satisfying, with a massive flavour, the pastry as delicious as the filling. A Gisburn cream and lemon posset finished it off. It’s £50 for three courses, which is great value for this quality of food. At lunch, there are walkers’ specials for walk-ins at £13 a dish. Wines are fine and by the glass, ales are real, dogs are welcome. Open Thursday to Saturday for lunch and dinner and Sundays for lunch.

Where to stay

The Hark to Bounty is a lovely old-school local with a slate floor, a decent menu of traditional pub grub (mains from £10) and nine bedrooms. It’s popular with anglers, walkers and cyclists, and guests who get caught in a wet westerly can wash and dry their gear. Upstairs is the room that used to be the manorial court, where poachers, tree fellers and trespassers were sentenced to the stocks.
Doubles from £100 B&B, parkersarms.co.uk

A small rural village with three pubs is a rare thing, but that’s what Waddington has – and that’s where this walk is heading. My specific target is the Lower Buck, because it’s the “real pub” – focusing on ales and socialising – where the other two have gone for food. That said, on this circular riverside amble along a historic county border you could, with a few short detours, easily have a pint in a different boozer for every mile traversed. Is that because Yorkshire and Lancashire are full of heavy drinkers, or because where there are rivers and bridges there are also inns?

We began at Chatburn – we being me and fellow walker, writer and historian Nick Burton. Nick has been a handy guide and friend since I moved to the Ribble Valley a couple of years ago and I knew he’d tramped the Ribble’s paths before. Chatburn is near where I live and since I’m still finding my feet, it made sense to start near home.

A stone crossing on the River Ribble.
A stone crossing on the River Ribble.

We went down a gentle slope behind the church and were soon on the left bank, approaching the first of three bridges. On crossing, we could have gone up to Grindleton village, but I had read a teasing nugget in a local book and was on a mission. So we swerved east for a mile or so along the Ribble Way, through land grazed by mules and Texel sheep and found – probably – what I was looking for: grassy humps and bumps on which flax fibres were retted (separated) and laid to dry. So much of Lancashire’s history is textiles, but linen – produced from flax – was around long before cotton became king. It’s rare to see evidence of this industry and it was a good omen for the rest of the walk.

We left the river to climb into Grindleton. For my sins I did a degree in theology and had vaguely heard of the Grindletonians – a Puritan sect led by Roger Brereley, whose masterwork was A Bundle of Soul-convincing, Directing, and Comforting Truths. I’ve become fascinated by nonconformist sects in the 17th century, perhaps because the Ribble Valley and Pendle Hill were hotbeds of religious convulsion long before political radicalism. A handy information board told us that Eccles Terrace, just off Main Street, was once called Hellfire Square, after the preachers who explained that the road to heaven was laid not by palace-dwelling bishops but by inward spiritual revolution.

Grindleton is one of many sort-of posh villages on the Ribble. On the left bank of the river are major roads there since Roman times. On the right bank, where we were, is a tangle of lanes and quaint hamlets. Every barn seemed to be undergoing conversion (owls out, nouveaux riches in). Even Grindleton’s former Methodist church is a des res, with a Lexus among the cars parked at the rear. The main Anglican church is still functioning, though, and is named for Ambrose, patron saint of beekeepers. Grindleton was once known for honey and damson jam, perhaps grog substitutes to help avoid the drop in to hell.

St Helen’s Church in Waddington.
St Helen’s Church in Waddington.

We headed back to the river to follow meanders that turn every mile into two. I’d chosen a river walk partly because we’d just had a cold snap and the hills and moors were still frozen. Also, the Ribble remained a mystery to me, for all that I lived close to it.

The river doesn’t pass through places so much as bypass them, and you can forget it’s there for long periods. Once the border between the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria, the section we were walking was, until 1974, the frontier between Lancashire and Yorkshire. Today it’s a threshold between the mill and mining towns of east Lancashire and Bowland’s bijoux hamlets and grouse estates. As we walked we caught glimpses of the latter’s fells.

The moors loom beyond Clitheroe.
The moors loom beyond Clitheroe.

Amid the aspiration are pockets of care. Bowland High School served as a camp for Kindertransport refugees from Vienna and Berlin. Near West Bradford, the second village we passed, was Heys Farm, where Mahatma Gandhi was invited to stay by millowner Percy Davies in 1931. Nick said he’d read that Gandhi got up at the crack of dawn to go down to the Ribble to say his morning prayers.

When we were there, the river was flowing fast thanks to ice melt: the Ribble’s source is close to the Yorkshire Three Peaks, which are wet and cold much of the year. Under the rushing water we could make out stepping stones – dodgy in summer, impassable in winter. On the other side were chimneys in the industrial estate outside Clitheroe. The area has a long history as a centre for quarrying and processing. Lime was the old business; today it’s chemicals and cement.

Hansom cement factory works as seen from the outskirts of Grindleton
Hansom cement factory works as seen from the outskirts of Grindleton

Nearing the pub we crossed a boggy hollow that looked like an old quarry, then some almshouses built for needy widows in 1700, and a perfect bench for a butty. Waddington is another pretty village and, with two Tudor-era halls, a grand one too. It’s named after Saxon chieftain Wadda; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says he was implicated in the murder of Aethelred, King of Northumbria, in AD 794. More famously, in 1464 Henry VI was caught by Yorkists while crossing the river on the “hipping stones”. In 1471 he died in the Tower of London, probably executed. Could you choose a more potent site for such a key point in the Wars of the Roses? Over a pint at the Lower Buck, we pondered this and toasted the region’s restive past.

Heading back towards Clitheroe we took the old Lancashire crossing at Brungerley Bridge, which still has its pre-1974 county plaques. Beyond was another quarry, now a wildlife centre, and a sculpture trail. With more energy and daylight we might have popped into town to see the castle and high street, but we kept going. The light was dimming, but not so much that we didn’t see the blue flash of a kingfisher across the Ribble. The bird is “halcyon” in Greek, said to denote a period of fine weather between harsher times – just what we need in this time of cold and bitter realities.

Google map of the route

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Start Christ Church, Chatburn
Distance 11 miles
Time 5 hours with stops
Total ascent 243 metres
Difficulty Easy

GPX of route

The pubs

Lower Buck Inn
Lower Buck Inn. Photograph: Martin Berry/Alamy

The Lower Buck on Edisford Road, with its wooden floors and open fire, local clientele and easygoing atmosphere, is my choice for a post-hike beer. It serves real ales and is a Timothy Taylor “champion distributor” so you can always get a pint of Keighley’s finest. It also serves top-notch pies (in an area where pies are taken very seriously). Winter opening times are Wed-Sun from 3pm.

The Higher Buck is a great dining pub, with black pudding scotch egg, fish soup with Lancashire cheese, game pies and suet puddings.

The Higher Buck
The Higher Buck

The Waddington Arms is cosy and friendly, and also big on grub, with sausages from Clitheroe butcher Cowmans, steak pie laced with its own Bowland ale, and Lancashire hotpot.

The rooms

All three Waddington pubs offer rooms. The Higher Buck (doubles £110 B&B) has seven cosy, individually decorated bedrooms, with roll-top baths, original fireplaces, kettles and TVs. Two bridges along from Waddington is a grand country house hotel, Mitton Hall (doubles from £135 B&B), right on the river.

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