FOLLOW the Tolkien Trail: a walk in wooded landscape and green countryside that was loved by the author of The Hobbit, writes JOHN EDMONDSON.

Overlooked by Pendle Hill, the walk passes an historic packhorse bridge and follows the banks of the Rivers Hodder and Ribble.

Start from the Bayley Arms, Avenue Road, Hurst Green, Lancashire, map reference SD 684 381, postcode BB7 9QB.


Distance: 7 miles with 500 feet of ascent

Time: 3 hours

Terrain: grassy footpaths and farm tracks

Map: OS Explorer 287


1From the Bayley Arms turn right, walk past the memorial hall then turn right onto Smithy Row. At the end of the road continue along an enclosed path then along the left side of fields to a roadside gate near Stonyhurst College, where between 1942 and 1947 JRR Tolkien worked on writing Lord of the Rings, his follow up to The Hobbit. Turn right to pass the observatory then left to go alongside a barn on the right. Pass Gardener’s Cottage then keep straight on along a tarmacked lane. Cross a road left then right onto a signed footpath. Follow the stony track until it swings left then keep straight on the signed footpath alongside a wood on the left. Follow the path turning into the edge of the woods then descend steps and cross a footbridge.

2 Turn right to go across a stone bridge. The path ascends beside the River Hodder on the left, follows the course of the river and meets the B6243 at Low Hodder Bridge, where you turn right; 50 yards downstream of the road bridge there is the magnificent 16th century packhorse bridge known as Cromwell’s Bridge. It is named after Oliver Cromwell, whose parliamentary army of 8,600 men crossed the bridge in August 1648 on their way from Gisburn to fight the King's men in the Battle of Preston. A path from the road bridge leads to the seven-feet wide old bridge. Its lack of parapet walls, which enabled packhorses with large panniers to cross, may seem daunting to those who venture over. Walk up the B6243 on the roadside pavement for a quarter of a mile. Opposite a junction with an ornate bus shelter turn left to go through a metal kissing gate onto a signed field path, going uphill past a wood on the left. The path bends right towards a stone barn then goes through a gate to its left. Turn left along the lane descending past Winckley Hall and a pond on the right.

Go through the farmyard bending right then left, past Winckley Cottage, and turn right onto the riverside path.

3 The path now follows the riverbank for the next two miles. The Hodder converges with the Ribble and is joined by the Calder a mile further on, just like the Brandywine, Shirebourne and Withywindle do in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The large house across the river is Hacking Hall, probably inspiration for the fictional Brandy Hall, home of a wealthy Hobbit family. Pass the Thirlmere aqueduct, where water from the Lake District crosses the Ribble on its journey to Manchester, and then enter woodland via a stile and footbridge. Ascend steps in the wood. The path turns right and goes alongside a gorge on the right, across footbridges, then ascends gently to Hurst Green along a rounded ridge and up a field to the right of a hedge. Go through a gateway/stile near the top left corner into Shireburn Arms car park. Cross the B6243 onto Avenue Road and return to the start.

Next week: Rosthwaite Heights from the Brown Horse at Winster

NB: restrictions on space mean that this article provides a general summary of the route. It is advisable for anyone who plans to follow the walk to take a copy of the relevant Ordnance Survey map.