The best roads to drive, where to eat, and where to stay in Lancashire's beautiful Forest of Bowland
Read carefully, because I'm about to let you in on a little secret. Located just north of Preston, sandwiched between the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales lies a hidden gem of tight, nuggety switchbacks strewn across a lush landscape of rolling green hills and open moorlands.
The Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Lancashire is a haven for driving enthusiasts, boasting some of the most enjoyable and challenging routes in the North West. Whether you're looking to test your driving skills or simply want to enjoy a leisurely scenic drive, Bowland has you covered. In this guide, we'll explore what makes these driving roads so special and why they are a must-visit destination for any car enthusiast, especially those with a modern classic hot hatchback or small roadster.
Bowland is one of our favourite stomping grounds because it packs every possible surface and turn into its figure of eight loop. And it’s quiet - making it an ideal location to suss the dynamic attributes of a car. It's with good reason TVR chose these challenging roads to develop and improve their famed Blackpool bruisers.
That said, the roads within the Forest of Bowland aren't just about driving enthusiasm - they also offer a chance to appreciate the beauty of the natural surroundings. Drivers can take a break from the thrills of the road to stop and admire the views, or even indulge in a spot of hiking or cycling, perhaps tracing the route of the famous Pendle Witches.
Handily, whether you follow our route or get yourself lost (highly likely, as there is no chance of phone or GPS reception unless on top of the fells) you're never more than a stones' throw away from an outstanding country pub offering a tranquil beer garden or roaring fire, depending on the season.
The Best Driving Roads in the Forest of Bowland; The Rush Route
Start - Shell Longridge, PR3 3NH
Travel time - approximately 2hrs
Distance - 60 miles
Ideal car - Renault Clio 182 or 200, Mazda MX-5, TVR Chimaera
Despite its name, the Forest of Bowland is predominantly a moorland, and not a forest in the traditional sense. The "forest" is derived from an old English term meaning "a royal hunting ground", and was used in medieval times to describe an area that was set aside for hunting, regardless of whether it had a dense woodland or not.
History lesson over, it's time to hit the road. Our starting point is Longridge, not far from the M6 motorway. Should you need to fill up with super unleaded, there is a Shell garage in the town centre (PR3 3NH). Head north out of town, past Ferrari's Country house, right on the border of the Forest itself. As far as good omens for a drive go, that's up there.
As you head towards the sleepy hamlet of Chipping, the road offers some good combinations but is really too populated to enjoy - mostly the sense is of a warm up act for what's to come. Gradually however, the the suburbs will recede and the manor houses will increase in size and grandeur, whilst the competing fells begin to dominate your windscreen.
Around Whitewell is where you'll get deep into B-road territory. Between the Doeford and Dunsop bridges lies a real test of your cars composure and damping, as the road bucks and weaves tracing the path of the nearby River Hodder. If your belly starts rumbling there is a cracking little café in the village of Dunsop called Puddle Duck.
At Dunsop, we're faced with a fork in the road, and the choice is clear – we're going to climb through the Trough of Bowland. Although the road is mostly single track, promoting a relaxed pace, it's well worth the pursuit. The countryside is breath-taking, with rolling hills, verdant forests, and sparkling streams. The scenery changes with the seasons, from lush greenery in the summer to fiery hues in the autumn, making it a truly unique experience no matter when you visit.
But the best is yet to come. Once we've navigated the Trough, we're rewarded with a wide, fast, and beautifully surfaced moorland road over the top of Clougha Pike and Grit Fell. At its peak sits Jubilee Tower, a tiny stone monument that looks like a rook. But don't let its size fool you – the observation deck offers an expansive view of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District. On a clear day, you can even catch a glimpse of the Blackpool Tower and the 'Big One' roller coaster.
Speaking of rollercoasters, afterwards it's all aboard the thrill ride to Caton, then a short respite along the A683 before picking up the excellent B6480 towards Bentham. Whilst it's tempting to carry on towards Ingleton and the Yorkshire Dales, turn right off the high street heading south past the train station. It'll feel like a dead end, but as you climb almost imperceptibly, the moorland will suddenly reveal itself again as you clatter over a cattle grid.
Visibility is outstanding, so despite the single-track road all the way to Slaidburn you can really push on and indulge your tarmac rally fantasies. It's twelve miles of undulating, unclassified road you'll likely have all to yourself, save for the odd wandering sheep. Just keep your eyes peeled for a couple of sump scraping drops and crests.
From Slaidburn and the tempting Hark to Bounty, it's back towards Dunsop Bridge along the B6478, taking a right at Newton-in-Bowland, climbing the final fell of the route - Eastington. A short but engaging climax.
Our day usually ends in Clitheroe, seeking out a wood-fired pizza at Vesuvio whilst quenching our thirst at the Bowland Brewery. Overall, the Forest of Bowland might not hit the heights of some of the other drives to come on this list, but it's a great launchpad when mixed into a longer run. In fact, the B6478 is a great linking road from Whitewell to Settle - our preferred starting point for a Dales drive.
Bowland is also one of those places that brings less powerful vehicles alive and humbles powerful machinery - it would be just as much fun at maximum attack in a GR Yaris or cruising along in an MX-5 on a sunny day searching for a country pub, or listening to the Rover V8 or Red Rose Straight Six of a TVR burble.
Another great thing is the map isn’t absolute - there's huge fun to be had going off-piste and exploring one of the countless unlisted spaghetti B-roads that seem to lead nowhere. It’s enough to keep us coming back for more time and time again.
The Best Driving Roads in the Forest of Bowland; food & drink in the area
Established over thirty years, an outstanding family-run ristorante offering both modern and traditional Italian cooking. Al fresco dining in the summer, seafood a speciality - try the Dover Sole
Renown traditional country inn overlooking the River Hodder. Dogs welcome. On-site winery worth exploring as is the local countryside for a relaxing walk.
Another rustic country inn along the route in sleepy Slaidburn, serving nothing but homemade food. Note - closed Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday
If you don't want to make a meal of things, Vesuvio is a fantastic wood-fired pizzeria takeaway in Clitheroe. You can even nip around the corner to the Bowland Brewery beer hall for a cold one whilst your pie cooks. An authentic slice of Napoli.
Michelin-starred fine dining hotel in Langho, just outside of Clitheroe. Home of celebrated chef Lisa Goodwin-Allen
Modern and cosmopolitan Chinese restaurant, complete with Gordon Ramsay's seal of approval - Yu is a former winner of Ramsay's TV show "Best British Restaurants"
The Best Driving Roads in the Forest of Bowland; where to stay
There are almost too many country inns along the route to list, but if you can get in, it is hard to look past the Inn at Whitewell. For those who prefer the great outdoors, we recommend camping at Bowland Wild Boar Park. A great spot for stargazers too.
MORE RUSH DRIVING ROUTES