First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
We found a witch – albeit a stuffed one – sitting at a table outside the Barley Mow, and witches riding broomsticks on the footpath signs out of Barley village. One can scarcely avoid the pointy-hatted personages in this part of the world. Pendle Hill, the great whaleback that looms over Barley from the west, is the witchiest hill in England – mostly, but not entirely, on account of the notorious trials of 1612 when ten local men and women were hanged at Lancaster for practising the Dark Arts.
Pendle Hill is a massive presence in the landscape. It seems always to have had an ominous reputation, probably because of the way it attracts dramatic weather. Today it rode under a great breaking wave of cloud. As we climbed the steep, stone-pitched path to the summit, skeins of mist came drifting across, turning Pendle House farm below into a washy watercolour. A kestrel came swooping out of the cloud and cut down across the path with backswept wings, vanishing into the mist.
Runners, dog walkers and hill climbers materialised, passed us and were swallowed up in cloud. At the top we followed a grassy track to find George Fox’s Well, a modest, urban-looking trapdoor in the hillside. Raising it revealed a silver tankard chained to the lid, ready to be lowered into the well. I drank a scooped handful from the spring below – ice cold, glass-clear and sweet. George Fox, young and full of spiritual zeal, refreshed himself here in 1652. He had just experienced the epiphanic revelation on Pendle’s summit that drove him forth to preach mightily and to found the Quaker movement.
We forged south through the mist along the crest of Pendle, on a cairned track that soon turned and plunged down out of the murk. Big views opened eastward as we followed a rutted bridleway at the foot of the hill, down to where the Ogden Water’s shallow flow wound out of steep-sided Ogden Clough to fill the twin reservoirs that lie above Barley.
Coming back into the village we passed the site of Malkin Tower, lair of the Pendle witches – according to their persecutors. What Alizon Device, Chattox, Old Demdike and Mouldheels were really up to, who knows? Probably no more than a few home cures and a bit of unwise chanting. Whatever it was, their shadows still lie long across this beautiful valley and the hill that overhangs it.
Start: Car park, Barley Picnic Site, Nr Nelson, Lancs, BB12 9JX (OS ref SD 823403)
Getting there: Bus 7 (Clitheroe-Nelson)
Road – M65, Jct 13; A682 (‘Kendal’); in ¾ mile, left (‘Roughlee’). From Roughlee, follow ‘Barley’.
Walk (6¼ miles, moderate/hard, OS Explorer OL41. NB: Detailed description, online map, more walks: christophersomerville.co.uk). Turn right through village. Left by Meadow Bank Farm (‘Pendle Way’/PW) along stream. Follow ‘Pendle Hill’ signs through fields for 1 mile to Pendle House farm (809412). Follow steep, stepped path diagonally right to top of Pendle Hill. Right over stile (806418) and follow path for 200m to George Fox’s Well (hatch cover by path, 805420). Return over stile; right for 100m; left/south on sandy/stony path to Big End trig pillar (805414). On south along track past big cairns; at the last big cairn, fork slightly right on a path marked with smaller cairns. 600m beyond trig pillar, PW forks right (804409); but keep ahead, following grassy track in groove that bends left to rim of escarpment (805408).
Descend to Pendle House farm. Bear right along bridleway, leaving farm below on left. Keep wall on left and follow bridleway south for ¾ mile, passing above Under Pendle (808404). Near top of narrow gully, bridleway turns left (807401); but keep ahead through kissing gate, on and down to Ogden Water (801397). Left through gate (PW). Follow PW past Upper Ogden Reservoir. Join road (807397) past Lower Ogden Reservoir, and on to Barley.
Conditions: Sharp, steep climb from Pendle House to summit. Pendle Hill often windy, rainy, misty – hill-walking gear advised.
Lunch/accommodation: Barley Mow, Barley, Pendle BB12 9JX (01282-690868, barleymowpendle.co.uk) – welcoming, walker-friendly pub with rooms.
Info: The Cabin Café and Information Centre, Barley Picnic Site (01282-696937); Clitheroe TIC (01200-425566); visitlancashire.com
Pendle Walking Festival:
15-23 August, www.visitpendle.com/countryside/walking-festival