It was a family walk much like any other. That’s to say the rumblings of discontent began after about half a mile: “How much further is it?” and “Do we have to climb that hill?”
And that, as you will have guessed, was just the grown-ups.
The children were fine from the moment someone mentioned the fact that JRR Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings books, had written part of the famous trilogy after walking these very paths.
This was at a time when Peter Jackson’s films were at the height of their popularity and what started as a gentle post-lunch stroll in the Ribble Valley became, for the children at least, an adventure of hobbits and orcs and other fantastical creatures.
There are good reasons why many people believe that Tolkien’s Middle Earth was conceived while the writer stayed at nearby Stonyhurst College in the 1940s.
Names like Shire Lane in Hurst Green have a familiar ring; the old ferry crossing over the Ribble (still working in Tolkien’s day) foreshadowed the fictional Bucklebury Ferry; and there are those who insist that this area is as near as makes no difference to the geographical centre of Great Britain.
But all this meant nothing to the young children hiding behind trees, jumping across streams and generally bringing the pages of Tolkien’s trilogy to life. For them the place simply felt right – the winding river, the sun-dappled woods and, accompanying us throughout our walk, the looming bulk of Pendle Hill.
The idea for our book of literary walks – Walking the Literary Landscape – was born that Sunday afternoon and over the next three years research into the connections between writers and the places that inspired them became a labour of love.
Did you know that the poet William Wordsworth was estimated to have walked 175,000 miles in his lifetime, often revising lines of poetry on the move?
Or that Charles Dickens created his timeless descriptions of London after tramping the city’s streets by night?
Or that, on a walking expedition in Cumberland in 1857, Dickens had to help fellow novelist Wilkie Collins off Carrock Fell after the pair got badly lost in the mist and rain?
We discovered that some things had changed since our 20 writers were around: roads have appeared here and there; coastal paths have crumbled; and Bram Stoker now attracts hundreds of Goths to an annual festival in the Yorkshire seaside town of Whitby.
Even walking is different. Today’s walker, equipped with breathable waterproofs, Gore Tex boots and GPS, would present a ridiculous figure to your average Romantic poet or Victorian novelist.
But an awful lot has stayed the same, not least because our 20 Northern walks take in five National Parks and a large amount of land owned by the National Trust.
Nor should we forget that the countryside celebrated by our greatest writers is often preserved by the efforts of ordinary people who care deeply for their local landscapes. Thanks to them, I’m pretty sure that pretend hobbits and would-be orcs will be chasing through the paths around Hurst Green for a few years yet.
Walking the Literary Landscape written by Ian Hamilton and Diane Roberts is published by Vertebrate Publishing http://www.v-publishing.co.uk/books/categories/walking/walking-the-literary-landscape.html
It features 20 walks in the North of England, each of which has a connection to a particular writer or book.
WALK FROM HURST GREEN
Park at Hurst Green village hall car park; total distance 6.5 miles; map OS Explorer 287 West Pennine Moors 1: 25,000
Turn left out of the car park down the village towards the Shireburn Arms pub. Take the path to the left of the pub and follow through a gate down a field with a stream to your left. Across a wooden bridge turn left to find a stile and path leading down to a second bridge and eventually the River Ribble. Pendle Hill, a companion for much of the walk, looms in the distance
Bear left heading for an aqueduct. Cross a stile to the left of the aqueduct and continue to follow the river bank eventually joining a metalled road. Leave the road at a wooden stile just beyond a small stone building and follow a footpath along the bend of the river
Continue to follow a clear path alongside the river. The magnificently mullioned Hacking Hall on the opposite bank marks the confluence of the rivers Ribble and Calder and the spot where, in Tolkien’s time, the Hacking Ferry would provide passage for locals
Continue along the river bank to the point where the rivers Ribble and Hodder join. Here pass a wooden bench on your right to go through a marked gate straight ahead. This eventually leads through Winkley Hall Farm
At the other side of the farm the broad track climbs towards Winkley Hall. As the track swings left turn right through a metal kissing gate into a field. Here you will get your first glimpse of the distinctive towers of Stonyhurst College. Cross the field to a second kissing gate and then veer slightly right to follow a path on the edge of woodland. This leads to down to a main road
Turn right at the road and follow the pavement as far as Lower Hodder Bridge. Here you can make a short detour right for a view of the Old Hodder Bridge, otherwise known as Cromwell’s Bridge. After the detour return to the main road and cross with care to take a track immediately left before the bridge
Follow the track with the river to your right until it passes Hodder Place, once the home of a wealthy mill owner, and eventually descends to a stone bridge. At the other side of the bridge turn immediately left alongside a stream to reach a wooden footbridge and a formidable flight of steps
At the top, cross a stile left into a field and keep to the edge of the field until a second stile gives access to a broad stone track. Keep left until you reach the main road. Cross the road and take the path (almost immediately opposite) to the left of a post box
The track keeps to the left of a hedge bordering St Mary’s Hall and passes playing fields and college buildings. When the hedge ends continue straight ahead past the Gardener’s Cottage and follow as its turns right in front of the cricket field. As the track swings right again (just after the domed building) towards the main college turn left through a wooden gate at the end of a wall.
The path eventually drops down to the edge of a wood before climbing to a kissing gate. Cross and follow the track through two gates to reach a narrow lane. Turn left and follow the lane until it joins the village close to the village hall.