Pendle Hill looms over East Lancashire between the towns of Clitheroe and Nelson. With its distinctive humpback shape, visible for miles around from all directions, it is a local landmark, rising from an area of green beauty. The district is dotted with tiny hamlets and farms, divided by ancient drystone walls and full of folklore and stories – not least the famous tale of the Pendle Witches. Geographically, Pendle Hill is part of the Pennine Chain of hills that run north-south through the northern half of England. It is included in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, though Pendle is a discrete hill, separated from the main upland area of Bowland by the Ribble Valley.
The summit of Pendle Hill is formed of tough gritstone and is 1,830 feet (558 metres) above sea level – far too small to be considered a mountain, but still a serious lump if you’re inclined to struggle to the top. I had been considering trying to heave my bloated old body up Pendle Hill for some time, while I still can, and finally tackled it on a bright, but cold, winter’s day with the encouragement and delightful company of Daughter of Britain. To my mind, there are few greater pleasures in life than a decent, companionable, walk – especially with the prospect of a couple of beers and some food afterwards as a reward. We had a grand day, including exploring some of the places associated with the aforementioned witches. Our quest entailed navigating steep gradients along narrow country lanes, much pitted by frost damage, many running with water (no wonder the area is so green) and with lovely views around each corner.
The Pendle Witches were, mainly, poor women who got caught up in the fashionable frenzy of 17th century witch hunting. They were brought to trial in Lancaster in 1612; ten were found guilty and hanged on the moors outside town. Their sad story will be told on ABAB someday – meanwhile, you will find the Pendle Witches website useful.
Pendle Hill is also famous as the place where George Fox (1624-1691), founder of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, had a vision in 1652.
“As we travelled we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up… When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.”
George’s vision helped inspire the birth of the Quaker movement. He went on to preach to a crowd of one thousand at a remote spot some 50 miles to the north, now known as Fox’s Pulpit – another place associated with the birth of the Quaker movement.
On his way down Pendle Hill, in the direction of Downham village, George
“… found a spring of water in the side of the hill, with which I refreshed myself, having eaten or drunk but little for several days before”.
Fox’s Well is still there, although we did not see it on this visit. If anyone is interested, George Fox was buried in Quaker Gardens, near the fascinating Bunhill Fields in London.
There is a variety of walks around and over Pendle Hill. We took a short, direct, steep, path up to the summit. It is not the prettiest walk in the world and you could hardly describe the landscape on Pendle Hill itself as interesting, but the views over the Lancashire countryside are sublime. And so green – did I mention that? The haul up the path to the top of the hill certainly tests your lung function – and leg muscles. Really, it’s all a bit much at my time of life. Even so, stone steps have been set into the path at most places and, apart from the incline, it is fairly easy going. It was a little slippery and snowy near the top on the day, but nothing team Britain couldn’t handle. The top, a curved plateau, is reached after a couple of false horizons, and the path then heads west and more gently upwards to the trig point, which has been usefully and attractively decorated with a protective circle of cobbles. This makes a change from the muddy boot-worn patches surrounding most significant summits and must have taken some effort to build. There was no one else there, apart from a nearby melting snowman and – with apologies to any serious climber reading this – to a lesser mortal it was one of those ‘top of the world’ moments.
I was much intrigued by a sign pointing to ‘Ogden Clough’, which I imagined to be some kind of throat sweet, but a clough turns out to be northern speak for a steep valley or ravine and this was directing folk to an alternative route. On the subject of names, Pendle Hill has an amusing etymology: pen is almost certainly Celtic from the tribes that lived here before and during Roman times, and means ‘hill’. This has been combined with Old English (Anglo-Saxon) hyll – which also means ‘hill’, corrupted over time to Pendle – ‘hill hill’. In modern times, the original meanings being long forgotten, the word hill was added: so the name now means ‘hill hill hill’.
For anyone wanting to follow our path, the keen ones among you will find it on OS Explorer map OL41, below. We set off by parking on Barley Lane (put post code BB9 6LG into your trusty sat nav) near the junction with a private road leading to ‘the Cauldron’, Pendle Hill Snack Bar. You cannot drive or park on the private road – an incongruous notice sternly warns that you are on CCTV and you may well be. Anyway, walk over a cattle grid along the private road, bear right and the stepped path to the top is hard to miss. If you’re reasonably fit, it will take you between 30 and 45 minutes from bottom to top. We came down the same way, with thankfully fewer lung gasping and rattling noises than on the ascent.