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This must be the ideal stroll for those who enjoy a balance between history and natural history.
A well-marked nature trail winds its way between one of Lancashire’s most historic halls and its old coaching house which is now a popular restaurant.
This walk is ideal for families because from the coaching house a track leads to an open farm which is open daily (telephone 01204 595765).
Here is a cafe and on offer are a bouncy castle, donkey rides, domestic animals and some delightful deer.
1. Begin at the coaching house and pass through the impressive archway with its tower dominated by a clock.
In the cobbled yard, look for two coaches, one of which operated on the old Turnpike road linking Blackburn with Bolton.
Take your time in this splendid area which has retained all of the atmosphere associated with the splendour of the Georgian and early Victorian period.
Do not forget to look up to the ceiling of the tower to see examples of leather harnesses and all the tack associated with the coaching era.
2. Opposite the coaching house look for a footpath sign indicating Smithills Hall and the wardens’ base.
3. Descend to a substantial stone bridge and look for the trees which make up the 2,200 acres of the estate of Smithills Hall.
The bridge spans the stream which widens to produce a substantial pond. On dull days with no wind – as was the case on the day of my visit – trees were reflected in the pond and overlooked by the half timbered glory of the coaching house.
This is the place for bird watchers to enjoy a treat with both common and not so common species including great spotted woodpeckers, treecreepers and jays.
Ascend the gentle incline to Smithills Hall and the Rangers’ base reached by a well maintained cobbled path.
For details of the Hall’s opening times ring 01204 332377.
The original dwelling is said to have been built by the Knights Hospitallers in the 12th century and set on a hill over looking Ravenden clough.
This stroll winds its way around the clough and the brook which meanders through it and as its name implies ravens once had nest sites on the slopes of the hill.
Parts of the hall date from the 14th century but there have obviously been lots of alterations. Many of the rooms have some beautifully preserved 16th century carvings.
The chapel attached to the house was burned down but rebuilt in 1856. In 1938 Smithhills was bought by Bolton corporations and has since been a museum.
4. The track here is easy to follow but twists and turns and soon reaches an attractive little stone bridge. This is yet another delight for naturalists and academics have studied the area of stream where some very rare craneflies have been identified.
Here too are some fine specimens of trees especially beeches.
5. Cross a tributary of Ravenden Brook and this area is overhung with rhododendrons which were planted in the 19th century to provide cover for game birds such as pheasants which were essential to provide food for the residents of the hall.
Another foreign import in this area is the Japanese knotweed which has been a real problem in recent years.
6. Cross a footbridge and turn sharp right through yet more woodland and along a continually twisting path. Cross another bridge over Ravenden Brook and bear left. Return to the coaching house and the starting point.
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