Gisburn Forest

I do not like Gisburn forest. We have traveled through undulating wildness-the vast windswept expanse of The Trough of Bowland to arrive at somewhere with a range of differently named carparks and colour coded walks. There is dog poo in the carpark as a small child calls joyously out about but no toilet for humans, just extravagant family saloons with mountain bikes strapped on the top and a small girl weeing against a tree. I want a wee too but here there is all the inconvenience of humanity without the good bit of municipal toilets.

We follow the ‘blue trail’ around the reservoir along a track wide enough to get vehicles down and with the forest tucked politely away along the side like an embarrassing afterthought. The forest looks a bit rubbish but I am only looking at it in terms of a suitable quiet weeing experience rather than looking at its history, flora and fauna. I like ancient snarled woodland, not tall immaculate conifers, factory farmed and non-life giving. Forests are dead on the inside where evergreens flourish and you hear little birdsong. No rabbits bob ahead and you know you will not come across a ruined hermits hut or ancient burial mound. It is the Ikea experience of a day with nature. We follow the blue markers, do not veer off the beaten track, have a nice time and natter but it is a strangely sterile way to commune with nature when we are surrounded by mile upon mile of moorland, wild, cold and desolate. I do not know what the rest of Gisburn forest is like. It may be stunningly diverse, humming with wildlife and dripping in history but I shall judge it from my hour spent poncing about its periphery with people who want to escape the beaten track but don’t want the inconvenience of the unbeaten.

To Slaidburn and The Hark To Bounty, an olde olde pub and former court room dating back to the 1300’s in a rambling grey village where little seems to have changed for hundreds of years although peoples teeth are probably better. The Hark To Bounty is comfortable, friendly and quaint without making a big song and dance about it. There is free homemade bread and butter, which makes me more excited than it should. As a vegetarian obsessed with bargains it upsets me more than it should that there is roast dinner offer –two Sunday dinners including two soups for fifteen quid but with no vegetarian option. But an artery-clogging dish of two baked eggs with cheese, cream, leeks and spinach for a fiver is the ultimate in comfort food and my boyfriend has a slab of cheese and leek pie the size of a sharks fin.

We drive back trying not to pulverize bunnies whose tiny pathetic corpses litter the winding road through valleys and mountains, past streams and copses and just the vast vast majesty of nature that makes Dartmoor look like a children’s play park. Maybe the immense emptiness of it all scares people. There are few walkers or tourists here in the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is almost claustrophobic in its intensity and we feel very very small, fragile and temporary as those tiny furry scraps bleeding onto the road.

And maybe this is why people stick to colour coded trails and look at nature from a safe distance.

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