OL41: Clitheroe

OS Explorer map OL41, Forest of Bowland: Pendle Hill, Clitheroe & Settle. I own this map, but had not visited it before starting this blog. Visited for this post 22nd November 2019.

I visited Clitheroe in November doing something I hadn’t really done before – I went on holiday by myself. Now, for someone who blogs about visiting all the OS maps in Britain, you might think I’d be doing this all the time, but strangely, I haven’t. I’ve travelled alone plenty of times, and visited plenty of map areas alone, but it’s always been when travelling for something other than just pleasure, or when travelling to or from a trip or gathering with others.

The tiny little cottage where I ended up staying – in the village of West Bradford, just outside Clitheroe

A couple of years ago, when I was writing up my MPhil dissertation, I went on a trip with my parents in the Easter holidays to our family’s holiday cottage on the Isle of Harris. However, I travelled up several days before they did, so as to have a few days to myself to work on the dissertation. I really enjoyed those few days – I’d sit at the dining table working during the day, with beautiful views out of the window, occasionally go for short walks, and read quietly in the evenings.

Now, I’d been getting a little snowed under with various bits of the work I do outside my main job, for various groups and charities, and I had a few days of annual leave left for 2019, so I decided, why not go on a little trip away like that previous one, and get some things done and also enjoy myself? And so, I booked a little cottage, and a couple of weeks later, off I went!

I did a half-day at work in Cambridge on the Thursday, then made my way to the station to get a 1301 train to Peterborough that would be the first part of my journey. I then had an hour to wait in Peterborough before my next train to Leeds, and so took the opportunity to go and have a quick look at Peterborough Cathedral, which I’d never seen before!

From Peterborough, my next train took me to Leeds, where I had but a short wait for my next train to Blackburn – I’d make my final change there onto the branch line that ends at Clitheroe. However, this didn’t go entirely to plan: it turns out 1651 on a weekday is an inauspicious time to be trying to get onto a two-carriage commuter train on the overcrowded Northern railways. The Blackburn train was completely full, with people filling the aisles and pressed up against the doors, so, along with several other people, I waited for the next one.

A full train 😥

A chap at a customer service desk in the station kindly informed me that, rather than awaiting the next direct Blackburn train, I could get on one going via Rochdale and change at Todmorden, which I duly did. (The chap in question seemed relieved at having an easy request; he had unfortunately spent the last few minutes being shouted at by an angry passenger.) The train was about as crowded as the one I’d failed to get on in the end, but I got there early and got a place.

A map of the railways in the area (from National Rail’s route map). Note this map only shows some stations. Leeds, Blackburn, Todmorden and Clitheroe are shown, but Mytholmroyd is not – if it were, it would be just to the right of Hebden Bridge. (There is an NR All Stations Route Map, but it’s at a scale such that if I wanted to fit in the whole of this section the text would be too small to read.)

The train became a lot less crowded after the first few stops, but was significantly delayed. Keeping my eye on the train tracker app, I ended up realising I’d miss the Todmorden connection, but that the second Blackburn train was soon pretty much immediately behind us. I therefore got off a little early, at Mytholmroyd, and waited on the platform for but a moment before getting on the Blackburn train. My change at Blackburn all went smoothly, and came with a pleasant surprise (though I’m sure it wouldn’t’ve been pleasant to many): the Clitheroe train was a Pacer – Pacers being a set of classes of train introduced in the 1980, famous for being rattly and generally a bit grim.

Now I’m not into trains enough to know what kind of train I’m on most of the time – I am interested in the railways and like following developments, but I tend to like them more as like a system and a public service, rather than being all that interested in the machines themselves. However, one hears Pacers mentioned rather a lot – they’re a set of classes of train introduced in the 80s, famous for being rattly and generally a bit grim, intended as a temporary measure for country branch lines but in practice extensively used on busy commuter trains. They were finally due for withdrawal at the end of 2019, and I’d never been on one before, so I was glad to be able to experience one before they left the network.

Not a particularly good photo, but inside the Clitheroe train; my first (and probably last) Pacer

I arrived in Clitheroe at around 8pm, only an hour later than I’d originally planned, and walked to the town’s branch of Tesco to stock up on groceries, while sending a message to the owner of the cottage I’d be staying in, asking whether there were any local taxi companies he’d recommend. As it happened, he very kindly offered to come to collect me himself, so I walked out of Tesco with my shopping, and got directly into his car for the 2-mile drive to the nearby village where I’d be staying, West Bradford.

The cottage I was staying in (taken the next day, when it wasn’t dark!)

The owner showed me around the cottage, which didn’t take very long, as it wasn’t very large. However, it was none the worse for its small size, being like a studio flat of a cottage, with a double bed, a kitchen area, and a couple of chairs all in one L-shaped room, and a bathroom at the end. It was a really nice place to stay for a few days alone; very cute and in a quiet pretty little village.

Once the owner had left me to my own devices, I ate a late dinner, and was soon abed!

My plan for these few days was to do a mixture of work and pleasure; with Friday and Sunday to be work days, and Saturday a fun day when I’d go for a long walk. Friday wasn’t the most productive working day ever, but I did walk in to Clitheroe in the afternoon, which was nice – I’d been working on getting added to a bank account for a charity I help out, and the final step was to go into the branch. Luckily Clitheroe had a Lloyds branch!

Walking along the River Ribble between West Bradford and Clitheroe

The walk into Clitheroe was a very pleasant 2 miles or so on a path along the bank of the river Ribble, including the unexpected delights of the Ribble Valley Sculpture Trail. Clitheroe itself was very nice too – just a nice little town; lots of little independent shops that also weren’t too posh, lots of people walking dogs.

Coming back to the cottage in the dark was nice – I love night-time countryside walks, and I’d walked the same route in the light (and I had the OS Maps app on my phone!) so there was no need to fear getting lost, though I did cut my hand on some barbed wire.

Though I’d planned originally for Saturday to be my fun day, I decided to switch that to Sunday, since the weather looked like it was going to be a lot better. I came up with two options of what to do on that day. The first of these was to walk up Pendle Hill, of witches fame, which was close enough at hand that I could do it in a 12-mile round trip from the cottage.

The other, less ambitious on the walking front but involving more logistics, was to get on a train going northwards from Clitheroe, to change in Hellifield to the Settle and Carlisle Line. The Settle and Carlisle Line is famously scenic and regularly ends up on lists of Britain’s best train journeys, and I’d been wanting to do it for a while. I looked around on the OS mapping of the area online in my favourite way of finding things to do, and came up with a plan; I’d get off at Kirkby Stephen, from where I could do an 8-ish-mile round walk to the excitingly named ruin Pendragon Castle, before my train home.

The railways between Clitheroe and Kirkby Stephen, showing the Sundays-only service between Clitheroe and Hellifield (from National Rail’s route map).

The other exciting thing about this plan is that I would have made use of a Sundays-only rail service. The Ribble Valley Line runs hourly every day from Blackburn, but Clitheroe is the terminus of these services, despite the fact that the line runs on to Hellifield (where there are Lancaster-Leeds services as well as ones up the Settle and Carlisle Line). However, on Sundays only, there are two services daily in each direction that use this piece of track, running in the winter between Blackpool North and Hellifield. (In the summer there are – still Sundays only – DalesRail tourist services that continue to Carlisle.)

I was having difficulty deciding: the Pendle Hill option, not requiring public transport, would be more restful, but the Kirkby Stephen option would be more exciting. Eventually, after calling Vesper for advice, I – happy after a productive Saturday in the cottage – decided to go with the trains option.

Therefore I set off from the cottage into Clitheroe shortly after 8am on Sunday, taking a different route this time, through fields rather than along the river, and arrived at the station in plenty of time for my 0924 train.

Clitheroe Castle peeking through buildings at me from near the railway station

However, disaster soon struck. At the station, I found that the twice-daily service was delayed by about 45 minutes, meaning that I’d miss my connection to Kirkby Stephen in Hellifield, and, given the two-hourly service on the Settle and Carlisle Line, if I awaited the next train in Hellifield, would have only two hours at Kirkby Stephen if I wanted to be able to make my train back in the afternoon – nowhere near enough to do my intended walk.

The electronic display heralding the doom of my plan

I was somewhat disappointed at this point, and, after sitting down with the OS Maps app for a bit, decided not to switch to the Pendle Hill option, but instead go for a shorter local walk, to see Sawley Abbey a few miles away. (I considered Clitheroe Castle, but it didn’t open for another two hours). I therefore walked along the same section of the Ribble as I had on Friday for the third time, but was feeling quite tired, and just a little way past West Bradford where I was staying, sat down to read my book for a bit, and then, the lure of home too much for me, gave up on the rest of my walk, and went back to the cottage for a lazy afternoon!

The lazy afternoon was a pleasant one, and despite things not going to plan I had had a thoroughly pleasant trip away when I left to travel back home the next morning – and the fun continued as I stopped in Leeds for several hours on the way home, visiting the very impressive Royal Armouries as well as having lunch. I should go on holiday alone more often!

The staircase display in the Royal Armoures at Leeds

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