The Bowland Fells
The Bowland Fells are in north east Lancashire butting the Pennines and the Yorkshire Dales to the east. Marshaw was at the westerly extremity. They are areas of isolated, desolate, diverse and unspoiled high heather peat bog and moor laid on gritstone, often cloud covered and rising to nearly 1600’, with sharp cut steeply falling cloughs in the fell sides, deep valleys, small rivers and winding becks in their bottoms, a habitat for rare birds. Human occupation has made little mark on this country. That such wild country is in Lancashire might surprise some.
Today Bowland is the only remaining part of the north western wilderness that in ancient times covered a huge area of central England. The limits of this forest where mapped out in the North by taking in the Forest of Bowland, south to Nottingham Forest, further south the New Forest, Hampshire, touching the English Channel, and finally west to Savernake Forest in Wiltshire. The Trough of Bowland however, is but a minor part of the greater Forest of Bowland, and comprises the valley and high pass between Marshaw and Dunsop Bridge. Its effect is to divide the upland core into two main areas, north to the Scottish Border country and south, that is in turn divided by the broad Valley of the River Ribble in which part Pendle Hill is a significant feature. Lancashire cotton mill towns are found beyond in narrower valleys. Bowland and those areas surrounding it have figured in much of Lancashire, Yorkshire and English history, and the rivalries between the two counties, from very early years.
The term “forest” here is applied in the historical sense, an area typically owned by royalty that was partly wooded and kept for hunting, sometimes with its own laws. Where, Kings and Queens of bygone years and their followers sported for wild boar, deer, wolves, wild cats and game. The Crown retains its hold today with much of the this land held within the Duchy of Lancaster. Today sport is restricted to game. By its very nature the land is unsuited to agriculture even though England in the Second World War tried to extract crops through arable farming as I am testament to with my work at Marshaw. But, the best use hill sheep farming which was the principal income for Marshaw. At home on the fells is the long lived Lonk breed first seen with monks at the Cistercian Abbeys founded in the 1100’s at Whalley and Sawley, in the Ribble Valley, who kept flocks of these sheep.
The Trough’s unique characteristics and natural beauty, led to its protection from harmful development through designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Parts of the heather moorland and blanket bog too are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest and are similarly protected. The extensive heather moorlands are a vital habitat for upland birds, and so Special Protection Areas under the European Birds Directive.
Even in present times it remains sparsely populated; and those who lived there earlier did so on remote farms and cottages or in small clusters of houses along the valley bottoms finding employment on the land. With the changing times many of those dwellings and buildings have gone out of agricultural occupation and use as have both Greenbank Farm, Marshaw and areas of Over Wyresdale. The M6 makes homes in these areas attractive due to the ease of commuting access to Preston and Lancaster so agricultural properties like the ones I worked are are sold off and areas “gentrified.”