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!”
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.
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.
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.
Google map of the route
Distance 9 miles
Time 4.5 hours
Total ascent 440 metres
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 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