A spring in your step and green in your ‘sole’...

LEN BLACOW RANGER WITH FRED THE WEATHER TALBOT  Fred Talbot

LEN BLACOW RANGER WITH FRED THE WEATHER TALBOT Fred Talbot

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Fred the Weatherman Talbot has long been a fan – even if he can’t guarantee good walking weather!

But the Garstang Walking Festival is now out to inspire more of us – fairweather walkers and others simply out for a brolly good time – to enjoy one of the most unspoilt scenic areas of the North West.

In reality the reach is far further than Garstang – with walks delving deep into wonderful Wyre, the borough with the most diverse rural and urban terrain of any of our three local authorities.

And much of it is still open for walkers. This year a number of walks offer public access to private land. One celebratory Diamond Jubilee themed walk will talk walkers up to Jubilee Cairn on Nicky Nook Fell, courtesy of the landowners.

The cairn was originally built to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1897.

You can also learn how woodland is managed on the Claughton Hall woodland walk – or access Sullom Hill on the edge of the Forest of Bowland.

The ambitious programme of activities runs until May 20, the idea being that converts continue the good work, and walks, long after the last is over.

The aim is to put a little spring into your step – and a bit of green in your soul. And your soles.

The festival celebrates the scenery of Garstang, rural Wyre, the Forest of Bowland and the Lancaster Canal.

It includes old favourites such as the Wyre Way Challenge, a four day, 41-mile walk from sea to source, and the new three day Boundary Explorer series of walks.

There are new features such as Cheese and Churches, which takes in the history of two local churches, and throws in a visit to Dewlay Cheese Museum before ‘whey laying’ walkers with some cheese tasting at Garstang’s Market Hall.

Other workshops offer the chance to try dry stone walling at Beacon Fell or spoon carving in local woodland.

Other new activities include Meet the Cows, a two-mile walk in Cabus that allows children and parents to visit a dairy farm and see cows being milked. There is a story telling session for kids on Garstang Millennium Green, followed by a ‘bear’ hunt, and Brock minibeast river dip. For more serious walkers there’s a seven-mile circular route called T’Mill and Back from Garstang to Calder Vale Mill by way of Greenhalgh Castle, Barnacre Church and Lady Hamilton’s Well.

Coun Lynne Bowen, Wyre Council’s sports and leisure cabinet member, says the festival team have got the mix just right.

She said: “It’s bigger and better than ever this year with something for everyone, from full-day rambles to easy one hour strolls. It’s all about enjoying the best this beautiful area has to offer.”

Of course, the bluebells, albeit early this year, are still in bloom, there’s a rich mix of moorland colours and terrain to explore, local history to appreciate – all of it under the spring bird migration path and not far from where hen harriers soar and lapwings gather. Cherry Childes chairs the newly formed Friends of Garstang Walking Festival which hopes to expand the festival in years to come.

Coun Bowen says the packed programme already attracts people of all ages and abilities.

“It’s already a very popular event and we hope to make it even more successful in the future,” she adds.

“I would like to encourage anyone interested in getting involved to join our group.”

It is one of the most inclusive events of its kind in the country with many of the walks designed to be accessible to people with restricted mobility.

There is a new Lapwings and Hares Tramper Trek, a four-mile walk/trek with the council’s all terrain electric buggies (trampers) available to those who need them. The trampers, often seen at Stanah Country Park, are wonderfully easy to use, can cope with a range of terrain, and gradients, taking stones, mud, grass and rough ground in their stride.

A dedicated team of volunteers assisting Wyre’s rangers can provide help and advice on using them and accompany walks/treks if required.

All of which is a triumph for Duncan Byrne, Countryside Ranger, who co-ordinates the festival. Duncan’s been a ranger for about 13 years and started as a volunteer with the service himself.

“The ranger service covers the whole borough but we are split. I personally look after Thornton Cleveleys and Poulton generally but for historic reasons I coordinate the Garstang Walking Festival.

“We have people who turn up year after year – often returning for different events. Last year we had 900 attendances on the walks – I’m putting it that way as some of the people were the same on different walks.

“That was excellent. Usually we’re looking at 300-400 people. Most of the walks are led by volunteers or people linked in with the partner agencies – businesses or places associated with the walks.

“We get a lot of regulars. The walks are generated by the volunteers and businesses so we try to get a variety of different things going on. They can range from health walks, about an hour long, for people who won’t be up to a bigger walk, right through to hill top rambles which usually last the better part of a day. You need to be fairly fit and a decent walker to do those. They’re usually eight to 14 miles.

“The trampers have really opened up opportunities for others too – they’re good for the lapwings and hares trek and the Lancaster Canal walk.

“We have two usually based at the country park at Stanah and they are always out and about and popular – we could definitely do with more.

“People are amazed by what they see when they get out into the countryside here. There are fantastic sights and sounds – and scents too. It’s also a very social festival. Walking can be quite solitary for some, but this is a great way to broaden your horizons, and really it’s all on your doorstep, and have a bit of company and a chat along the way if you wish.

“I think it’s the camaraderie the leaders and the walkers love the most. You meet so many different people.

“The irony is that as festival co-ordinator I don’t get on as many walks as I would like. When I join them it’s a really nice feeling whether it’s the same people turning up or others new to the experience. The feedback we get from the public is fantastic.

“We’re so lucky in Wyre if we did but know it. We have coast and seashore, farmland, foothills, fells, parks, the Forest of Bowland.

“I love it all but my favourite area would have to be Holmewood near Grizedale Valley near Nicky Nook. It’s not particularly high there or a hard walk but the views are fantastic.”

You can see or download a copy of the festival programme at www.visitwyre.co.uk or pick up a copy from tourist information centres. Booking is recommended so reserve a place by calling (01995) 602125.

Anyone interested in joining the festival’s Friends group should contact Cherry on (01772) 491616 or email childes@blueyonder.co.uk

jacqui.morley@

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