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Walks and Witches: a Guide to Lancashire's Famous Pendle Hill

Written by Sally Sims on

Rising majestically from the east Lancashire moors to dominate the skies around the Ribble Valley is Pendle Hill. Fully 557 metres above sea level with amazing views of the surrounding landscape, this isolated hill is just crying out to be explored.

Close to the towns of Burnley, Clitheroe, and Colne, Pendle Hill is part of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Unusually for the area it stands alone, unlike its nearby neighbours in the Bowland Fells, and this isolation means it draws the eye from miles around. Equally, the views from the summit, unhindered by any neighbouring peaks, are absolutely stunning.

A landmark of this size and stature is always going to play a large part in the history of the local area, and Pendle Hill is no different. Bronze age settlers climbed the peak to lay their dead to rest, the rocky cairns dotted on the hill pay mute testament to their ceremonies. It was when George Fox stood atop the hill in 1652 that he was inspired to set up the Quaker movement. The most famous local incident took place in the shadow of Pendle Hill, when ten Pendle residents were executed in the biggest witchcraft trial the country has ever seen, and this event has left its mark indelibly on the area. In a neat counterpoint to this superstition, Pendle Hill has also played its part in the advancement of science. Richard Towneley’s experiments on the hill led to him discovering the relationship between the density of air and its pressure, and thus the formation of Boyle’s Law.

There are many routes to the top of Pendle Hill, suiting all types of walkers. The most popular trail starts in the picturesque Barley, winner of several best kept village awards, before taking you on a moderately steep ascent. On the climb you pass by one of the two Black Moss reservoirs before achieving the summit, where you can enjoy some awe-inspiring views of the Bowland Fells and what seems like half of Lancashire. The Whitendale Hanging Stones, officially the mid point of England, are also visible, and on a clear day the sharp eyed can make out Blackpool Tower and beyond it, the Irish Sea.

Another route tackles the climb starting from Downham village, to the north of Pendle Hill. A longer trail with a slightly trickier gradient, this approach lends itself to some amazing views all the way up to the summit.

Walkers can delve further into the Pendle witches story by taking the Pendle Sculpture Trail and the Walking with Witches Trail. The former takes you through atmospheric woodland, where you can discover a range of sculptures crafted from wood, steel and stone by local artists. Look out for the walking wall and the tumbling tree arches, as well as the life-sized Witchfinder General and the bats and spiders high in the trees.

The Walking with Witches Trail starts in Barley and gives you a choice of two loops, (one west, one east). As you follow the signs (small witches on broomsticks) the chilling tale of the Pendle Witch Trials unfolds. 

Sally Sims

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