Roeburndale – Bluebells, Bogs, Barns, Birds and Blueskies!

Bluebells Outhwaite Wood

After our visit to Roeburndale last year I promised myself a return visit this spring. I chose the bank holiday weekend, thinking that even then this would be a quiet spot – and it was.

No map for this walk – you can find it here, on a helpful leaflet, one of many about Lancashire walks stored on this website. We followed the walk as described, except we walked the big loop anticlockwise.

The leaflet mentions parking by Bridge House Farm tearoom, which now seems to be part of a garden centre. TBH and I (the kids were terrorising their grandparents for the weekend) couldn’t resist a leisurely start with a pot of tea, and a cherry scone for TBH, in the dappled sunlight on the decking by the river. Very civilised. If you find yourself in the area, the lunches looked very appetising too.

Early purple orchid

More by luck than judgement, we’d timed our visit to perfection. Not only was the sun shining, but the bluebells in Outhwaite Wood looked and smelled absolutely stunning. Dotted about amongst them were early purple orchids too,

River Roeburn

The gorse too was throwing off a heady aroma, redolent of coconut. The woods were busy with birdsong.

River Roeburn II

The route takes advantage of a permission path which is way-marked with small green discs, each decorated with a white silhouette of a deer’s head.

Female large red damsfley

This damselfly had me confused, but I’m almost certain that it’s a female large red damselfly, which are apparently quite varied in their markings. This one is green on it’s abdomen rather than the more usual black, but the yellow stripes and red banding are right. The British Dragonfly website was helpful, although…

Can be found in almost any freshwater habitat but rarely on fast-flowing rivers or streams.

…has me a little concerned, since I would say that the Roeburn is best described as fast-flowing.

Path through the Ramsons

In places the carpet of bluebells gave way to the broad leaves and white stars of ramsons; and the sweet smell of the Hyacinthoides non-scripta was over-whelmed by a pungent waft of garlic.

Negotiating a boggy bit

More bluebells in Outhwaite Wood

A path through the bluebells

The path climbs to the top edge of the wood, where we found a sunny spot for a picnic.

The upper edge of the wood

The path then drops down to cross the river on a footbridge.

River Roeburn again

This was where I brought the kids last year. There was a family party here on this occasion too, some paddling in the river, most sunning themselves on the bank. They didn’t seem to be under-attack in the way that we had been almost exactly a year ago.


We left the woods here, and crossed the river…

River Roeburn from Barkin Bridge

…by Barkin Bridge.

A bright flash of white and a strident song from nearby trees alerted me to the presence of….

Pied Flycatcher II

…a male pied flycatcher.

Pied Flycatcher I

I was half hoping to see a redstart, which are also found in these woods apparently, but that will have to wait for another time.

Roeburndale Chapel

By the tiny Roeburndale chapel we turned to head across rough and reedy pastures, past a couple of broken eggshells (whether they were evidence of a family triumph or tragedy I’m not sure)…..


…to a tributary stream named both Pedder Gill and Goodber Beck on my map.

Waterfall - Pedder Gill / Goodber Beck

The return journey, above Roeburndale, was enlivened by the spectacular escapades of stunting lapwings..



…and the burbling calls and swift low flights of curlews.

A number of very substantial barns…

Bowland Barn

…fabulous views….

Above Roeburndale

,,,both near and far….


Wray Wood Moor

What’s that on the horizon?



Another Bowland Barn

Which was fortunate, because parts of it were tediously wet and boggy. Next time I think I’ll try the path on the west side, on the slopes of Caton Moor. Or, I could go up to the access land and climb to the top of Caton Moor…..

Further exploration is called for!


We’d started late that day and were very late back. I was quite proud of the chowder which I threw together with some smoked mackerel which was languishing in the fridge, some prawns frozen in a lump at the bottom of a freezer draw and various odds and ends of veg. Which is my cheesy way of working in a link to today’s Food Programme (see what I did there?). I’m not generally a fan, but caught it in the car and found it very thought provoking. It featured an interview with Michael Pollan about his latest book ‘Cooked’ which received a rave review in the Guardian this weekend. If you have half an hour to spare I recommend listening to it.

It certainly galvanised me today. When I got home, I picked up the kids from school and then got them to make tea. B barbecued some chicken drumsticks and some lamb chops, A made potato salad and tomato salad and S washed and dressed some ‘cabbage’ (lettuce to you and I) with a dressing he’d made himself, and was also generally helpful. (‘I think I did the most jobs’ as he modestly put it.) Yes I helped them. And, no, A didn’t lop off any fingers when she was chopping spuds and B didn’t burn himself (or the meat). I think they had a real sense of achievement. And they subsequently ate things they would otherwise have just poked suspiciously and moved around their plates.

It wasn’t their first experience of cooking. It certainly isn’t going to be their last.

Nothing to do with walking, I know. But expect more rambling off message. Possibly. Or not


Andy and I were talking about TED talks just the other day. Here’s one by Michael Pollan about a plant’s eye view of Darwinism:

Roeburndale – Bluebells, Bogs, Barns, Birds and Blueskies!


Back in the late eighties, in the final months of my lengthy sojourn in Manchester, I discovered, just down the road from the sweeping coliseums of the Hulme crescent block where I lived, a nondescript shop-front which hid the local offices of the BTCV – the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. I’d previously spent a week on one of their volunteering holidays, eating and sleeping in Llanberis and working at the back of Cwm Idwal, repairing the fence around an experimental area to shield it from the depredations of sheep. (It cost me the princely sum of £23 – funny the things I can remember, given how useless my memory generally is.) At the time I was searching, without much success, for my first teaching post, and when I learned that if signed up for voluntary work I would not only keep my dole, but be entitled to an extra tenner a week, I didn’t hesitate for a moment.

We worked four days a week and then I think, on each Friday, we went for a walk – although I don’t remember any of those walks very clearly, which is odd. Memory, or my memory at least, is capricious: the things that I do remember are an odd assortment: bouncing around in the back of a minibus full of tools and other volunteers; sitting down with a flask of tea in a field in Cheshire somewhere, watching a blazing bonfire of brashings and admiring with satisfaction the neat lines of a newly laid hedge; the sweaty setting of cobbles on a path in Lyme Park on a bitter February day; the utter frustration of my attempts at dry-stone walling. Each day was different: we tended to be allocated to different projects every day, and I’ve never met such a disparate cross-section of society as I did in those few months.

One job in particular sticks in my mind. Nestled between a North Manchester housing estate and a railway cutting was a small marsh, an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). Left to it’s own devices the marsh was silting up, alder and willow had begun to colonise and the marsh was slowly becoming scrub. Previous working groups had cleared some of the trees and dug out a small pond. Our task was to build a boardwalk across the marsh to the pond so that local primary schools could use it for pond-dipping trips. My first visit to the marsh was with a working group, but what the project leader really wanted was not a one-off visit from a working party, but a small number of volunteers to help build the boardwalk over a few days. And so, for a change, I spent several days in a single location building that boardwalk. It’s a bittersweet memory: it was a pleasant place to work, with a surprising variety of birdlife, but although kids from the estate had enthusiastically helped us with the work, we had strong reservations about the long term future of the project. On the last day we took several photos of our handiwork: one week later we returned to take more pictures of the charred and vandalised skeletal remains.

Anyway, whilst we sawed and dug and hammered and nailed, I had a lots of lengthy conversations with the young guy who was running the project. He must have been around my own age: though its hard to credit it now, I was a young guy too, once upon a time. I’m afraid I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that he was tall, with dark, curly hair; that he was friendly; passionate about urban conservation projects and angry about the penny-pinching of his superiors which, he felt, had prevented us from building a more vandal-proof structure. He told me that at the end of the week he would be taking a group of student volunteers from what was then Manchester Polytechnic to the Forest of Bowland for a long weekend of conservation work. Did I want to tag along? We would be staying in a camping barn, would I be okay to rough it?

Since the answer to both questions was a definite yes, that was how I made my first visit to the Forest of Bowland, without suspecting that only a few months later I would be moving to live and work just a few miles away in Morecambe. We stayed in a camping barn in Roeburndale, guests of the Middlewood Trust. I remember quite a bit about that weekend: that the sun shone; that we stumbled back across the fields in the dark after a foray to the pub in Wray; that although most of the work was coppicing in the wooded valley, I chose to climb up on to the moor and work on a dry-stone wall, which given my ineptitude seems inexplicable; that the birdsong on the moor more than compensated for my lack of progress with the wall. Above all I remember that the river Roeburn and the steep wooded slopes above it were beautiful.

Now here’s the curious thing: although I’ve lived close to Roeburndale since I moved to this area just after that first visit, I’ve hardly ever been back there. The problem is one of access: there are no rights-of-way along the valley. In fact, just one path drops into the valley, and that immediately climbs out again without following the river at all. However, I’ve discovered that there is now a permission path which does follow the valley. Which, in a very round-about way, finally brings me to the actual subject of this post.

It was the day after our return from Herefordshire. Surprisingly, the sun was shining and we had one more day of freedom before we were back to the grindstone. TBH didn’t even have that luxury; she had paperwork to do which couldn’t be ignored any longer, so it was down to me to entertain the kids. They had been remembering their swim in the Duddon a year ago, and so a trip to a river seemed appropriate. Why not the Roeburn?

 Permission 'path'.

The permission path seems to be little used and is barely evident on the ground, a few waymarkers here and there on fenceposts are just about sufficient to make it reasonably easy to follow.

We took a friend along, and with four small pairs of eyes on the lookout, we were destined to spot a lot of insect life in the meadows, especially since one pair belonged to B who has an unerring knack of finding interesting bugs and such like.



Crane fly - Tipula maxima 

A large crane fly, the largest British species, Tipula maxima.

Another crane fly 

A smaller crane fly.

Green Tiger Beetle 

A green tiger beetle.


 Another dark bee.

 River Roeburn

The Roeburn and its valley is every bit as beautiful as I remember it.

River roeburn 

We found a spot where the water was reasonably deep. The sun shone down into the amber depths.

River Roeburn 

It should have been idyllic. But it wasn’t. Now the insects were finding us! We were eaten alive. Tiny midges were the culprits, but despite there minuteness we were all soon covered in angry red weals. It’s making me itch ferociously just remembering it.

The kids tried to soldier on and stoically enjoy themselves.

Paddling in the Roeburn 

Three of the crew – note that B isn’t cold, he’s scratching for all he’s worth.

Well, three of them soldiered on: little S just went into meltdown. He hated the midges, the river, the water, the rocks and, most of all I think, he hated me. In his defence, we’d broken down on the motorway the night before on the way home from Herefordshire, after setting off late, and we didn’t get him into his bed until around 2 am, so he was bone tired.

A did a wonderful job of cheering him up as we walked back to the car, improvising stories about bears and honey.

Back across the meadows 

We made one brief stop on our way home, to look at the confluence of the Roeburn and the Hindburn, which I’d read on the internet is a good place for a swim. Nobody there on that day – maybe there were more midges.

Confluence of the Roeburn and the Hindburn

I shall have to return to Roeburndale someday soon, maybe in the autumn, or in the spring when the redstarts are returning. Perhaps to follow this route.