The UK doesn’t have any alpine climbs; this is something that will remain true even after Brexit. What it does have though is plenty of short, sharp and very steep ones. Almost as if to make up for the lack of total elevation gain, the road builders factor in as much steepness as possible. Or at least that’s how it seems when you’re grinding your way to the top in a low gear, barely turning your pedals and feeling like walking would be faster. Fortunately in the Forest of Bowland I didn’t encounter any of these! Nope, not at all. And after a punishing time in Devon a couple of weeks earlier it came as a welcome relief.
If you’re reading in to that statement that this is a boring place to ride or that you won’t be able to challenge yourself, or that you should dismiss this area for riding and head instead to the Peak District or the Lake District, then please don’t dismiss the ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ that is the Forest of Bowland without at least reading on and looking at the photos. I’m sure you’ll see that it’s a place well worthy of a visit, with or without your bike – preferably with, of course.
My visit, as many of my UK rides came courtesy of a work trip. This one was a trip up to Scotland and my ride came during my return journey back down south. The Forest of Bowland is just east of Lancaster and extremely accessible from the M6 motorway. I parked at ‘Crook O Lune’, just off the A683, M6 junction 34. It cost only £1 for all day parking and there’s both a cafe and toilets; you can’t say better than that for value.
Of course, my ulterior motive for riding in the Forest of Bowland was to strike off some more of those hills. I’m sure you know the ones I’m on about, if not then read a bit more of this blog and it’ll soon become clear. There are three of those hills to ride in this area, within easy reach of the car park and also Lancaster if you prefer to start from there.
First off is Jubilee Tower. It’s the road through the village of Quernmore and takes you mostly up between fields. Eventually you do reach a cattle grid and pop out into open moorland but at this point you’ve pretty much reached the top and you’ll be up near the tower from which the climb gets it’s name. The stone tower was built in 1897 for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee apparently. Maybe worth a photo if you’re stopping at the top for other slower riders to catch up, I wasn’t though. For me, this was a slightly disappointing climb and I started to hope that the next two would be more memorable.
Fortunately it’s not far from the tower to the top of the next climb and as the scenery around you starts to impress, you know that you’re soon in for a treat. Yep, that wasn’t a mistake. ‘Top’ of the next climb, not ‘bottom’. This is one of those occasions where you have two climbs in opposite directions on pretty much the same road, so to climb them both you’re going to have to ride up one, down the other and turn around and climb back up. Some people don’t take kindly to being told they have to climb back up the hill they’ve just come down but hills is what I was there for. And the descent just acted as a good recce for the climb back up. I did stop a couple of times near the bottom to make sure I’d come down far enough to claim the climb, you don’t want to climb back to the top of the hill you’ve just come down and find that you hadn’t started far enough down the road and have to do it again do you! For clarity, just go down as far as the car park by the river!
The Trough of Bowland is a really nice climb. A bit like Winnat’s Pass in the way that you climb up through a narrow pass with the land rising up all around you. Unlike Winnat’s in that it’s not an unrelenting silly steep gradient. It starts quite gently from down by the car park and stays like this for some time, then it slowly ramps up and eventually you get into the climb proper with scrubby moorland all around on a narrow winding but quiet road. The gradient kicks at times just enough so you feel like you’re on a real hill but never too much to make you wish you weren’t. The little twists and turns that added to the downward fun earlier, now worked to break up the upward load and it didn’t seem very long before I was back at the cattle grid at the top and turning back around again to head down and this time onward for the rest of the loop. Unlike Jubilee Tower, I had really enjoyed the climb up The Trough of Bowland and headed onwards looking forward to what was to come.
And a second descent of The Trough of Bowland wasn’t exactly a chore either. That’s the type of hill that I could happy go up and down several times and not get bored. Fortunately the road in this direction carries on in much the same way, winding, up and down, awesome scenery and still relatively quiet all the way down to Dunsop Bridge. After all the excitement I then had a chance to relax and just spin a while because the road to Slaidburn is a lot flatter and wider. It also gave me an opportunity to increase my waning average speed. A failing in my sense of direction and look at the route later, I found myself coming out of Slaidburn on ‘The Skaithe’ and heading up towards the final climb of the day. Heading up is very much the right word here because it was a hill before the hill situation with a fairly decent sized hill to be ridden over before reaching the foot of Cross of Greet. Coming over the final brow though led to one of those ‘Oh wow’ moments with the Cross of Greet climb visibly winding it’s way off into the distance.
It may be called the Forest of Bowland but this is in no way a tree lined or in any way forested area and you are completely exposed from the start of the climb all the way right up to the top. For me this meant headwind, which was unfortunate but without any really killer gradients it just meant a slightly slower pace than I might have liked. The gradient is only 6% average and a maximum of 13% so it’s not exactly going to stop you in your tracks but much like the Trough of Bowland this was a climb that I really enjoyed. There are sections to it, shallow slopes, steeper bits, corners and really good views. So it makes for a good enjoyable challenge.
The final 20 km or so from the top of Cross of Greet was pretty much all downhill, so I was able to pick the pace up a little. The only exception was a short section where I left the A683 and went through Caton Green. You could stick to the A683 for a flatter ending to the ride but the back way through Caton Green gets you out of the traffic if you don’t mind one more small hill. This took me back to the car park to pack up and continue my journey home. The cafe at the car park was closed, so there was no chance of a post ride bacon buttie but I was very happy with my ride and it’s definitely a route that I would recommend.
You can see the ride of Strava here – https://www.strava.com/activities/1928541585/overview