Perfectly placed between the Yorkshire Dales and the Forest of Bowland, Gisburn Forest in the Upper Hodder Valley is the setting for this short, circular stroll. Don't be put off because it's in a forest – it certainly isn't a dire trek through the darkness of a dense conifer plantation. You will walk along open, naturally wooded valleys, beside a tumbling beck and over heathland. You will have views over the reservoir and up to the fells, and you will hear the woodland birdsong and the call of the wildfowl on the water. If you're lucky, you may spot a deer, footprints in the sandy earth confirm their presence.
The two defining aspects of this walk are the open waters of Stocks Reservoir and the woodlands of Gisburn Forest. The reservoir was built in the 1930s to provide drinking water for the towns of central Lancashire. The village of Stocks was submerged in the process along with many ancient farmsteads. The date stone from one of these can now be seen over the doorway of the post office in Tosside. It was formed by damming the River Hodder and can hold 2.6 billion gallons (12 billion litres) of water when it is at full capacity. Attractively placed on the edge of the forest, the reservoir is now an important site for wildfowl and 30 different species visit during the average winter period. Among the less-commonly sighted of these are red-throated divers, whooper swans, gadwalls and great crested grebes. Among the different birds of prey who frequent the area, ospreys and peregrine falcons have been spotted, as well as a rare passing marsh harrier. A bird-watching hide is provided for budding ornithologists, and a pleasant permissive footpath has been constructed around the shoreline.
The Forestry Commission's extensive woodland known as Gisburn Forest was developed at the same time as the reservoir and was opened by HRH Prince George in July 1932. It covers 3,000 acres (1,214ha), making it the largest single forested area in Lancashire. There are several waymarked trails to be enjoyed, and a cycle network has been developed which extends to over 10 miles (16.1km). Although the majority of the plantations are of the monotonous coniferous variety and are managed principally as a commercial crop, more and more broadleaf trees are being planted to improve the visual aspect and to increase the diversity of wildlife. The forest and the reservoir are now managed in tandem, with inputs from United Utilities, the Forestry Commission and local parishes, to develop a sustainable economic base for this beautiful landscape.
Leave Stocks Reservoir car park at the right of the two vehicular entrances. Follow a path right of the road until it bends away; cross the road and continue on it until you reach a broad forest track. Turn left; a red and blue marker post soon confirms your route. At the fork in the paths carry straight on. There are good views right, through the trees to the reservoir and causeway with the fells in the background. Keep on the track as it takes you beside open wooded valleys and through natural woodland with a river down on your right.
Pass a short track down to the right. Soon the main track forks; take the narrower right branch, through a sort of cutting, then bear right and down towards the river. The track soon divides but the two branches rejoin further on. The right branch runs close to the tumbling peaty Bottoms Beck, with fields rising to Hesbert Hall beyond it.
After the two branches of the paths merge again, two red marker posts in quick succession direct you sharply up and left on a rougher path, which is quite hidden. Meet a forest track, go a few paces right then left again on a continuation path. Follow it gently uphill onto a log staircase, passing upright gateposts by a collapsed ruin. Walk through Swinshaw Top car park to the road and go straight over to take a narrow footpath through the woods by another red marker post. The path opens onto a broadish green swathe but is soon closed in again; however, lovely elevated views over the reservoir, left, and the fells ahead make the start of your descent pleasurable.
Meet a forest track at a bend, proceed straight ahead (slightly right) and follow the track for 200yds (183m) until red posts turn you right, down a footpath with a stream on the right. At a T-junction of footpaths, turn left across open heathland on a clear path back to the car park.
Forest tracks and footpaths
Wooded valleys, forest, beckside heathland
Fine for dogs under reasonable control
OS Explorer OL41 Forest of Bowland & Ribblesdale
Stocks Reservoir car park, Gisburn Forest
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Lancashire was at the centre of the British cotton industry in the 19th century, which lead to the urbanization of great tracts of the area. The cotton boom came and went, but the industrial profile remains. Lancashire’s resorts, Blackpool, Southport and Morecambe Bay, were originally developed to meet the leisure needs of the cotton mill town workers. Blackpool is the biggest and brashest, celebrated for it tower, miles of promenade, and the coloured light ‘illuminations’. Amusements are taken very seriously here, day and night, and visitors can be entertained in a thousand different ways.
The former county town, Lancaster, boasts one of the younger English universities, dating from 1964. Other towns built up to accommodate the mill-workers with back-to-back terraced houses, are Burnley, Blackburn, Rochdale and Accrington. To get out of town, you can head for the Pennines, the ‘backbone of England’, a series of hills stretching from the Peak District National Park to the Scottish borders. To the north of the country is the Forest of Bowland, which despite its name is fairly open country, high up, with great views.