Make sure you check out this walk once the national lockdown has passed.
In 2019, the Ribble Valley in Lancashire was named by the Office for National Statistics as the happiest place in the UK. And why not? This green landscape, nestled between historic Lancashire mill towns and the Yorkshire Dales, certainly has much to make the heart sing. Much of it has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The author JRR Tolkien was a fan – it’s thought this landscape inspired his rendering of Hobbiton, the rural idyll from which many of the writer’s great literary adventures began.
The Ribble Valley
You, too, can experience some of the magic that inspired Tolkien whilst he wrote classics like The Lord of the Rings by walking the Tolkien Trail, a pleasant five-and-a-half mile circular walk that starts and finishes at Hurst Green in the Ribble Valley.
Hurst Green is a pretty village on the River Hodder situated 5 miles west of the Lancashire town of Clitheroe, about 9 miles north-east of Preston and 34 miles north of Manchester.
At the heart of the village, you’ll find the Shireburn Arms Hotel, a 17th Century hostelry offering attractive accommodation and locally produced food. The walk starts and ends here, making the Shireburn Arms a perfect overnight option or potential lunchtime pitstop if you do fancy following the Tolkien Trail.
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, (born January 3, 1892, Bloemfontein, South Africa; died September 2, 1973, Bournemouth, Hampshire) knew the Ribble Valley well, after spending time at the region’s Stonyhurst College, a well-respected private school situated just outside the village of Hurst Green.
The English linguist, writer and scholar is best known for his books The Hobbit (1937) and the fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings (1954–55). Originally, he created the stories to entertain his own children, after creating the worlds of Middle Earth as a foil for the Elvish languages he had created. Tolkien spent time at the guest house in the college grounds and in the college itself writing these classic stories.
It is thought that the ferry at Hacking Hall, which was still operational in Tolkien’s time, may have inspired the Buckleberry Ferry in Lord of the Rings and the view from New Lodge evoked the scenic vistas from Tom Bombadil’s house.
The Start of the Tolkien Trail
If you fancy following in the footsteps of the author and walking this gentle circular route, we recommend you download the visitor map from the Visit Lancashire website.
You can then plot this route on your geo-mapping app or Ordnance Survey map (OS Explorer 287 West Pennine Moors).
From the village of Hurst Green, you set off north-east over a stile and onto a footpath towards Stonyhurst College. The tall domed twin turrets are visible straight ahead of you. The college does boast a museum that is open to the public by appointment, but this walk heads away from the college buildings to turns right down tarmac track towards the medieval Hall Barn Farm.
Wonderful views of the college and pavilions can be enjoyed on your left, while the distinctive ridge of Pendle Hill rises in the distance to your right.
After crossing a road, the track gets a little rougher and then takes you over fields and alongside Over Hacking Wood to the River Hodder.
The Tolkien Trail’s Riverside Finale
Follow the path beside the river as far as Cromwell’s Bridge, where the civil war leader is reputed to have stopped off on his way to the battle of Preston. The path meanders away from the river here, through fields and past farm buildings before picking up the river again at Winkley Hall Farm.
Here, the River Ribble joins the Hodder and, a little further on, the Calder joins it too. Where the rivers meet, you can look across the river to see Hacking Hall. The ferry that inspired Tolkien used to cross the river near here and, today, you can see the remains of the ferryman’s hut and his ferry at the Clitheroe Castle Museum.
Continue following the riverside path. The verdant rolling farmland is dotted with landmarks, including a stone cross at the top of a hill to your right and, later, a stone aqueduct that crosses the river. Shortly after this aqueduct, veer right over a stile to cut through a wooded copse and take the footpath back uphill to the village, where you’ll find the welcoming delights of the Shireburn Arms Hotel a worthy reward for your efforts.
What do I need to walk the Tolkien Way?
This is a gentle, circular walk that can easily be enjoyed in a day, so you probably don’t need to go as far as carrying kit such as survival whistles. Nevertheless, you should ensure you have the right gear, including well-fitting walking boots and comfortable walking socks.
There are several scenic spots along the way where you could to stop for a picnic, so on a nice day it is well worth adding a few savoury treats to your rucksack!
However, this is the North of England after all, and the weather can be changeable, so do ensure you have a packable waterproof coat with you as well.
About the Tolkien Trail in Lancashire
Lancashire might not be as well trodden by walkers as the Lake District or the Pennines, but there are many routes here that make it well worth extending your stay.
The forest of Bowland and the Pendle Witches Walks are within the same locale – so why not make time to explore nearby?