“Lancashire” – to many outside the Northwest of England the county name conjures up mental images of congested towns full of blackened mills and street upon street of grubby ‘back-to-back’ houses. Having grown up in Burnley then lived for several decades in Darwen and Blackburn I can confirm that there is a degree of reality in such an image. But there’s more, much more. Lancashire is a county of many rivers. Today it’s the Hodder on my mind.
“Cromwell’s Bridge” – from Lower Hodder Bridge on a rainy day
Historically the county of Lancashire stretched from the Mersey to the Duddon. Between these lay the valleys of the Irwell, the Ribble and the Lune with their various tributaries, not to mention the collection of smaller shorter rivers spilling into Morecambe Bay from the southern lakes of what is now Cumbria.
The Ribble flows into the sea at Preston, having in the previous ten miles or so taken in the waters of the Darwen, the Calder and the Hodder. The last of these, the River Hodder, is the only one of the Ribble’s major tributories that never flows through a town. The Hodder is a totally rural river.
The Darwen, leaving its own town valley flows through Blackburn where it collects the Blakewater. The Calder, having emerged from the Cliviger Gorge and passed through the beautiful Towneley lands twists its way in 19th-century cobblestone channels between the old mills of Burnley and hidden away near the town centre absorbs the Brun.
The Hodder, in contrast, never sees anything larger than the scattered villages and hamlets to the south of the Forest of Bowland. Its upper reaches have long been dammed, creating the Stocks Reservoir above Slaidburn. From here it flows in twists and turns from east to west past Newton and Dunsop Bridge where it picks up the waters of the River Dunsop and Langden Brook and goes on south past Whitewell, at the back of its famous Inn.
The water then has to turn again, and counterintuitively it now flows from west to east, away from the sea as it searches for a way around Longridge Fell. Meandering south again between rises in the land it flows under the Higher and Lower Hodder Bridges until near Mitton reaching the Ribble, a river which at this point is in no way its superior. The Hodder gives up its name, the waters merge and together they flow to the sea.
The Hodder flowing (from the left) into the Ribble near Mitton.
(I must sometime get a shot up the Hodder from the other bank)
This is magnificent walking country, ranging from leisurely strolls by the river bank and higher paths along wooded hillsides to steeper hauls up and over the surrounding moorland, Centuries-old stone-built houses, ancient bridges, quaint villages, and nearby is splendid Stoneyhurst; these all complement the beauty of the river itself.
I’ve walked this Bowland (or “Bolland”) country in all kinds of weather: up by the Langden Brook deep in January snow, down from High Hodder Bridge slithering through muddy woodland in July rain, and tramping over the tops from the Trough to the Brennand Valley in September sunshine. With a friend or walking alone this is Lancashire at its best.