If you ride enough in the Cold Dark North (or with someone from round here), eventually they will start to tell you about a beautiful, remote, quiet and unspoiled place called the Forest of Bowland. It will probably be us. We love to wang on about how you can ride for 4hrs without seeing more than a few cars and a couple of other cyclists. But hyperbole and mythology aside, Bowland is a special place. A place where you feel privileged to be allowed to ride a bike without any kind of toll for that honour. And there is some serious riding to be done here too. For a start, there are no fewer than 4 of the 100 Climbs in a very close geographic concentration.
The Forest of Bowland, also known as the Bowland Fells, is an area of gritstone fells, deep valleys and peat moorland, once described as the "Switzerland of England". It's been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) since the 1960s.
Bowland survives as the north-western remainder of the ancient wilderness that once stretched over a huge part of England, encompassing the Forest of Bowland, Sherwood Forest (Nottinghamshire), the New Forest (Hampshire) and Savernake Forest (Wiltshire). And at times it still feels like an ancient wilderness out there.
We're starting our route in the beautiful village of Dunsop Bridge (just 4 miles north of the geographic centre of Great Britain close to the Whitendale Hanging Stones). There's ample space to park up for the ride, or lots of places to stay nearby including the world-renowned Inn at Whitewell.
From Dunsop the ride rises slowly and very steadily North and East toward first Newton and then Slaidburn with a short sharp climb out of each village to warm the legs up a little.
After leaving Slaidburn you start to appreciate the vastness and remoteness of Bowland. There is 7-8km of rolling through the open landscape before a short wooded descent brings you out at the foot of the mighty Cross of Greet. The first real test of the day and a firm Cold Dark North favourite.
It's a fantastic climb. At around 2.5km long and averaging not much more than 6% (with a max of 13%) it is forgiving and flowing. Whilst it's no walk in the park, especially on an exposed windy day, it isn't like a lot of the big name climbs in the area (including what's to come later on this ride!).
There aren't sustained steep sections and riders are able to get into a rhythm and tap away to the top where they will find a vast open descent into Lowgill.
From there the ride wends its way across the Northern border of Bowland, taking in the lovely villages of Wray and Brookhouse before heading through the very pretty Quernmore valley (clue for those that are from afar, it's pronounced "Kor-muh" like the curry). We've taken you the slightly harder way so you can experience the steep switch-backed descent and sharp pitch at the base of our next major climb: the infamous Jubilee Tower.
This local hill climb classic is just over 3km long and whilst averaging 6% it does have some sustained 17-18% sections. Including this beauty that will be known (and known well) to local rouleurs.
After the initial steep horrors the climb does relent in its severity and can be "enjoyed" with a phenomenal view of the Morecambe Bay and North Lancashire to your right as you roll past the disappointingly tiny tower after which the climb is named.
Beyond the tower, riders roll smoothly back toward the heart of the Forest - down into Abbeystead and over a tasty little 20%er on Long Lane which might surprise a few weary legs. The road slowly rises until you reach the top of the Trough of Bowland climb.
From the North it's a gentle amble up to the top but when descending down you'll appreciate the climb you would be doing from the South - itself another of Mr Warren's 100 Climbs. From the top it's almost all down hill for 5km back to Dunsop Bridge and the start point. There'll be a cup of tea waiting at the Puddleducks Tearoom or it's fewer than 5km South to the Inn at Whitewell. There you can enjoy local meats and cheeses that the Queen would be proud to feast upon on one of her holidays in this beautiful secret cycling paradise.
As always, if you'd like some help organising a holiday here, or a longer route for your group or even just a day's support car for a large group ride - let us know. We'd be happy to help.