The route passes through a variety of landscapes including tidal marsh, open moorland and limestone gorges. It begins to the south of the Ribble estuary, the route then runs through Preston and on to the historic town of Clitheroe. Next it heads up into the Pennines to reach the river’s source on remote Cam Fell.
The idea of opening a walk along the Ribble called 'the Ribble Way' was first suggested back in 1967 at the inaugural meeting of the Preston and Fylde branch of the Ramblers' Association. The Guardian reported in 1972 that the Ramblers Association were planning Britain's first riverside long footpath called the Ribble Way. At that time, the route being discussed was 64 miles from the estuary of the Ribble at Walmer Bridge close to Preston to its source near the farmhouse of Far Gearstones in the fells in the West Riding of Yorkshire; just 28 miles of the planned route though was designated as rights of way. The idea eventually attracted official support and was opened in 1985.
The Ribble Valley is an area of 240 square miles of natural beauty from the north-west coast to the Lake District.
The official course of the Ribble Way as it is marked on Ordnance Survey maps starts at Longton at the mouth of the River Ribble just west of Preston, 16 feet above mean sea level and finishes at Grove Head, just north of Cam Fell, 1830 feet above mean sea level. Grove Head is actually the source of the Gayle Beck which feeds into the River Ribble near Ribblehead.
The official start of the Ribble Way downstream is the Dolphin Inn on Marsh Lane in Longton. From here it heads east inland to run through the centre of the City of Preston along the riverside, and out of the city up the river. It does not hug the wide meanders of the Ribble here, but in part follows an ancient Roman road to Ribchester.
Above Ribchester the route follows closely by the river (swinging out to find a bridge across the River Hodder at Lower Hodder Bridge and over the Ribble itself at Great Mitton, before coming to Clitheroe, at the edge of the Pennine moors.
Up into the hills, the path crosses the river at Chatburn, thus entering Yorkshire, and from here the path runs through the West Riding. It crosses the Ribble again at Sawley (by which time both banks are in Yorkshire), runs along the edge of Gisburn Park and follows the river due north, through Paythorne, by Halton West and into the sparse lands of Upper Ribblesdale eventually to the town of Settle.
The Way can be walked in four days. For a more leisurely stroll over a week, the suggestion has been made of seven easy day-stages:
|1||Longton to A6 Preston||9 miles|
|2||A6 Preston to Ribchester||10 miles|
|3||Ribchester to Clitheroe||11 miles|
|Lancashire to Yorkshire|
|4||Clitheroe to Gisburn||10 miles|
|5||Gisburn to Settle||12 miles|
|6||Settle to Horton in Ribblesdale||8 miles|
|7||Horton in Ribblesdale to Gavel Gap||12 miles|
Towns and villages on the route
Towns and villages long the route include:
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
about Ribble Way)
- Paul Lawrence and John Sparshatt: 'The UK Trailwalker's Handbook' 8th Edition, p 156 (Cicerone Press Limited, 2010) ISBN 978-1-85284-579-7
- 'The Pennine Way: a practical guide for walkers' by Martin Collins, p 89 (Cicerone Press Limited, 2003) ISBN 978-1-85284-386-1
- Morris, Michael (6 October 1972). "Ribble Way planned". The Guardian.
- The Ribble Way - Graham and Lin Dean's home page
- "Ribble Way". Ramblers. http://www.ramblers.org.uk/info/paths/name/r/ribble.htm. Retrieved 10 October 2010.
- The Ribble Way
- Gladys Sellers (1993). Ribble Way: A 70 Mile Recreational Footpath Close to the Banks of the River from Sea to Source. R. B. Evans illustrator (2nd ed.). Cicerone Press. ISBN 978-1-85284-107-2.
- Dennis Kelsall and Jan Kelsall (2005). The Ribble Way. Brit Long-distance Series (2nd ed.). Cicerone Press Limited. ISBN 978-1-85284-456-1.
- Alan Shepley and Graham Wilkinson (2005). Walking the Ribble Way: A Guide from Sea to Source. Wood Education Programme Trust. ISBN 978-0-9541809-1-1.
- Jack Keighley (1999). Walks in Ribble Country. British Walking Series. Cicerone Press Limited. pp. 69. ISBN 978-1-85284-284-0.
- Andy Latham (2010). Landscapes of the Ribble. frances lincoln ltd. pp. 10,94,100. ISBN 978-0-7112-3028-6.
- "Ribble Way". Trails and Long Routes. Lancashire County Council. http://lancashire.gov.uk/environment/countryside/walking/wribble.asp. Retrieved 8 October 2010.
- Roy McKee (2009). "Ribble Way". National Trail Guides UK. http://nationaltrails.net/ribbleway/ribbleway_intro.html. Retrieved 8 October 2010.
- "The Ribble Way" (PDF 10.5MiB). Foxhill Barn Bed and Breakfast. Lancashire County Council. 2005. http://foxhillbarn.co.uk./leaflets/ribble-way.pdf. Retrieved 8 October 2010.