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Walking: A touch of the Dales – in county of the Red Rose

Packhorse bridge over the Ings Beck.
Packhorse bridge over the Ings Beck.
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Downham lies snug in the shadow of Pendle Hill in the southern reaches of the Forest of Bowland, just over the border in Lancashire.

This part of the South Pennines is sprinkled with picturesque villages which have more in common with the Yorkshire Dales than the mill communities usually associated with the region.

Indeed, Downham would match up very nicely with, say, Burnsall or Kettlewell. The village is a little gem of rustic cottages, bubbling beck, majestic church and popular hostelry. It attracts scores of weekend visitors, many taking up the challenge of the network of footpaths emanating from the community while others simply drink in the ambience of the surroundings or sample the delights of the Assheton Arms.

Downham found fame when it featured in the BBC TV series Born and Bred, starring James Bolam and Michael French as father-and-son doctors in a Lancashire village, which ran from 2002 to 2005. Forty years earlier, it was the setting of the classic film Whistle Down the Wind with a young Hayley Mills.

Downham has been associated with one family, the Asshetons, for more than 450 years. It was in 1558 that Richard Assheton – a member of a renowned Lancashire dynasty that gave its name to Ashton-under-Lyne – purchased the estate and became Lord of the Manor. In 1955, his descendant, the Conservative politician and former Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Ralph Assheton, was created 1st Baron Clitheroe. He died in 1984 and the title is held by his son, Ralph, the 2nd baron.

The family live at Downham Hall on the northern edge of the village and still hold the patronage of the parish church of St Leonard. St Leonard’s was mainly rebuilt in 1910 – although its tower survives from a 15th-century building – and it was during this work that the foundations of a Saxon or early-Norman church were discovered.

PARKING: Downham, six miles west of Gisburn, is approached via the A59 from Skipton. Beyond Gisburn, look out for the right turn for Chatburn and Downham. Use the free car park (toilets) at the bottom of Downham main street (on the right over bridge).

Exit bottom end of car park at Downham, just before the toilets, through a walkers’ gate on your right and turn left along tarred access road towards church, soon turning right into the main street.

Turn left up main street to the church and turn right, passing to left of the Assheton Arms and then passing fingerpost. Go past bungalow, between stone gate pillars, turn left (arrow) and follow wall on your left, through kissing gate, and onward up left side of field to a stand of trees.

Now go slightly right down the field (no path), down a series of small dips, and then, when a house and farm appears, aim for a gate about 100 yards right of farm. Go through gap stile to left of the “gate” - it is actually a piece of fencing – and turn right along the Rimington road.

After about 300 yards, on passing barn on your left, turn left through kissing gate to left of double metal gates. Go straight down field with wall on your left, through metal gate at water trough, and then half right over field towards a small wood when the Hellifield-Blackburn rail line appears.

Pass under railway at a green bridge and follow wire fence on your right, passing between stone gate posts, to a fence post with arrows and turn RIGHT. Go down to the Ings Beck and cross the delightful packhorse bridge, then a stile, go up the short banking ahead and then go straight ahead to the much bigger banking and find a diagonally-leftward path up it.

Now spot a rusty metal tank next to gate at top of banking and look 50 yards left of tank to find a stile. Cross it, go half right to fence/hedge and follow it as it bears right into field corner with metal gate.

Pass through and turn left along hedge and follow it up to a house. At top of field – before the house – go half right to a shattered tree and bear right along fence. At field end, go through gate ahead and on in same line, through next gate, and onwards towards a huge barn, ignoring any stiles on your left. Pass to left of barn (Swanside Laithe) and follow vehicle tracks to a gate at a wood.

Pass through and turn left – ignore stile on your left into wood – and walk along edge of wood to a gate, go through and turn left alongside wood and then, just before end of wood, turn right to gain a gateway with stile to its left.

Go straight ahead over next field with hawthorns on your left to pick up a fence at the next wood (ignore stile on left with notice) and go straight ahead with wood on your left to a stile.

1: Cross it and continue by wire fence on your left to two yellow arrows sending you a quarter right to black hay bags (on our visit) and a fence corner at Cowgill Farm. Now bypass the slurry heap on its right to spot a stile half left as you look towards the farmhouse.

Cross the stile and the next one and go half right down field to a stile to the left of a large rusty metal tank. Cross the stile, duck under electric fence and cross the stile ahead. Now go half left up the field to gain fence and turn right along it to a stile, turn left over it and the next one and go half right down to the railway.

Cross it – STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! - and go straight ahead and then bear slightly left, alongside ditch, to top of field and then turn right, past holly trees, into the ditch and turn left over stile. Go up right edge of field, over stile ahead, and onwards for a few yards to the house drive at Great Dudland. Turn left for 50 yards to strike another tarred drive and turn right for 10 yards only to a stile with twin arrows to left of house drive.

Cross it and go straight ahead, past house, and then, when garden fence turns right, go straight across field to a gate in a runnel. Continue past pond to marker post with twin arrows and take right branch to stile, cross it, and go half left for a few yards to cross the tiny beck and then go down its left bank.

Go over stile and plank bridge, turn right for a few yards to a metal gate on your left, go through and turn right, past arrow on a redundant stile, and continue with beck on your right. Cross a stile and go a quarter left over huge field in line of arrow (no path) aiming for white house on hill in distance.

On crossing field, root out a stile and footbridge (Stankill Bridge) over the Stankill Beck. Cross it and go up slope ahead, through gate at top of slope and on by hedge towards Rimington. Enter road, cross it and take path opposite to emerge between houses in main road in Rimington.

Turn right to Station Road at edge of village and, here, turn left across parking area (“No overnight parking” sign) to a fence, fingerpost and makeshift stile (breeze blocks). Now go slightly right down field towards Pendle Hill, passing marker post in middle of field.

2: Descend to a farm access track, turn left through gate for a few yards only and turn right over stile to left of a gate. Go straight across field to a stile, cross it and go half left over shoulder of field, as arrow, passing marker post in mid field, to gain stile in far field corner with twin arrows.

Turn left to pass a marker post as you gradually leave fence on your left to descend diagonally to a footbridge over the Ings Beck. Then go straight ahead on a good path – wood to your right – to spot a footbridge to your front right.

Cross this footbridge over the Twiston Beck – ignore closure notice – and go up wall on your right. At top of slope, bear left up to Springs Farm to a kissing gate, pass between farm buildings, and then, within a few yards, turn right past a redundant stile.

Go along right edge of field, past another redundant stile, and then leave right edge of field and go a quarter left up middle of field to spot a stone-step stile to right of two large trees. Cross the stile and go straight ahead, along line of trees, and straight on, through a gateway ahead and onward to pass a farm trailer.

Keep going, pass to right of a fence corner, to gain kissing gate and turn right along farm access drive. Just before farm (Hey House Farm) turn left over waymarked stile and go straight across field to a gate and stile on far side and press on.

Follow fence on your right, over a stone stile, and straight on over field, picking up a wire fence on your right. Go through kissing gate and on by wire fence. When this turns right, go straight ahead over the final field (no path) in a straight line, keeping atop the grass banking.

On crossing this huge field, turn left along wall (outward leg in reverse) into Downham. Turn right across front of bungalow and left down the main street to the car park and the finish.