We had seen something about the Way on the net, and the story of the witches aroused our
curiosity; also, crossing the Forest of Bowland would be new to us. The background story
of witches being hanged for being social outsiders looked gruesome, but engaged our
interest. Phil Bedson's book gave us the story, a ghastly account of the misfits of the
local society being rounded up for what sounded like being eccentric. As well as the
obvious associations with the Salem Witches, it gave us cause for thought about misfits
in our current society. Although what's reported of the story today frequently says
'allegedly', 10 people were actually hanged at Golgotha gallows in 1612 after being found
guilty of witchcraft. The other side of this dark bit of our past is that, by way of
celebrating history, plenty of local businesses are now making good from the story. We did
the walk in June 2013, when the cold jet stream delayed the spring - in contrast to the
distressing story, this meant we had lovely, colourful wild flowers throughout our walk.
We arrived in Sabden the previous night to the sight of glowing yellow fields, covered in
DAY 1. Sabden to Barley
The sweet, quiet village of Sabden was by the river, in the valley bowl, protected by the
surrounding hills. We had grey weather, in tune with the grey story - often the local hills
were cloaked in cloud; but sometimes it was higher, allowing broader view of the hills.
The churchyard at St Nicholas had a glorious deep-red rhodedendron bush, in full flower;
bright and dark made a striking contrast.
This first day introduced us to some of the places the unfortunate witches had lived,
though their actual hovels had long since disappeared. Other related buildings had survived, with solid houses of old stone.
We chatted with some of the locals, who seemed amused by the history and not bothered by
ghosts. Although the morning drizzle was on and off, we stopped, during a patch of sun,
for a picnic, just before the village of Fence (Higham). The almost luminous yellow of the
buttercups lit up many surrounding fields. Several local gardens also had splendid
rhodedendron bushes in a variety of bright colours, and there was lots of May blossom
At the pretty village of Newchurch-in-Pendle we were greeted, and then followed, by a
black cat with heavy hooded eyelids. Soon after, we saw a white horse. This place was certainly
living up to the old wives tales of its reputation.
The long ridge of Pendle Hill stood out, proud, on the skyline; an imposing presence above
the attractive village of Barley. The contrast of green valleys and hilltop views was a
good introduction to the area. Walking by the Calder River had made a change from all the
farms, with their sheep, lambs, and dairy cattle. There were also pigs - blotchy brown and
black, described by Jeremy as the ugliest he'd ever seen. One of the businesses taking
advantage of the story was the Pendle Inn at Barley, with the names of their dishes
playing amusingly around the witches theme.
DAY 2. Barley to Clitheroe
The self-catering accommodation meant there was no breakfast; as the local cafe opened too
late, and the weather looked OK, we set off on an empty stomach, by a sweet little green
path alongside a stream. The hillside was a veritable Watership Down of rabbit warrens:
I've never seen so many rabbits, all scurrying for cover. The views expanded as we went up
a long zig-zag path, across the side of a massive whale-backed hillside. It became a
grassy, rather barren slab, with big panoramic views all round. We took about an hour up
to the trig-point, where we chatted with a local graphic designer. Although farming and
tourism sustained the local villages, there were also work-from-home types around. He said
that Halloween was a major event in the village, but they hadn't had J K Rowling along.
The much promised rain only bothered us with a couple of 10 minute showers. But the wind
was strong and cold. We found a long set of steps cut into the steep hillside,
which helped our descent; we were pleased to be back down to the lower slopes of the hill,
with another brook surrounded by a variety of trees. Then we reached Clitheroe through
more farmland, buttercup fields and green lanes. For the afternoon, our map showed a
Geology Trail nearby; however, except for a small display of crinoids in the 340 million
year old rocks, it was a bit disappointing. A brief visit to the Castle (now just a Keep)
gave us views around, and a small taste of more local history. Through our evening meal at
Emporium we were entertained to see that Friday night in Clitheroe was clearly 'girls-night-out':
a veritable parade, with them all out in groups, in smart clothes, very high heels and
DAY 3. Clitheroe to Dunsop Bridge
This was a day of many small pleasures. Despite a poor forecast, we were lucky with the
weather. Heavy showers before setting off stopped as we walked out, and we were hardly
troubled by rain. We left Clitheroe by going along the side of the River Ribble; there
were some pretty, old bridges. The mellow, ochre-brown of the local stone is used
attractively, most notably in the 1600 Bashall Hall and Stables. This was a good day for birds, with a
heron standing stock still at the water's edge, ready to pounce on unsuspecting fish.
Later, picnicking by the River Hodder, a flash of blue kingfisher shot past, off over the
rapids. We saw several pheasants, heard lots of skylarks and a few curlews.
The afternoon began with pretty woodland paths, through the trees, but became more
difficult, both for navigating and underfoot, around Spire: we clambered over churned-up,
boggy, tufty mud. It was hard work. Then we came to a moor, with grand views across the
broad-backed Lancashire hills. Although it was a long day, it ended beautifully, with
the slanting sun warming our arrival in Dunsop Bridge.
DAY 4. Dunsop Bridge to Abbeystead
We had hoped for better weather (predictions by the Met Office were again not quite
accurate); the short showers of the morning were bad enough to make us put our heads down.
We set off by the Langdon Brook, again enjoying the soothing effect of the tinkling waters.
Then a good track took us into the hills, surrounded by heathers, sphagnum moss and
blueberry plants, with meandering streams coming down the side valleys. We heard lots of
different birds again today, though I couldn't identify any of the calls.
We reached the 'Forest' of Bowland. There were no trees: the name came from it being a
Royal hunting ground. Instead we had expansive views, with great, rounded shoulders of hills
spreading in all directions.
DAY 5. Abbeystead to Lancaster
The window of our B&B looked back to Hawthornthwaite fell - a lovely start to the day, and a good
reminder of where we'd been. Apparently 75% of the world's high moorland is in the UK. As
we were off the official Way, we took cross-country paths, going North-East to reconnect,
and joining again at the Victorian Jubilee Tower. This had a good view
of all the surrounding countryside, including our destination, Lancaster, and the Western
beaches. Next it was back with the sheep and cows in the farmland; the day really felt like our
last walking day. A diversion on the Way meant going via more little roads, but again, we
were accompanied by lots of birdsong. Having a little rest before reaching the pub, a pair
of curlews flew round us - perhaps we were near their nest. We were close enough to see
their fine, curling beaks. Going under the M6 wasn't too noisy, and then the last bit of
countryside took us into town.
Golgotha Park, where the witches were hung, had a different name and no sign of them;
perhaps it wasn't a surprising denial, where you want children to play happily. Next we visited the Golden Lion pub, where some of
the condemned (we were told) had had their last drink. Lastly we visited the Castle, where
they'd been held; however we'd missed the last tour. One of the Museum staff
showed us the entrance to the dungeon where they were shackled; clearly people were nervous
of them. As we talked it emerged that he was Graham Kemp, and had done an Arthur Miller on
the story: following extensive research, he'd written a play about the trial. He explained that the judges were the
real evil characters in this sequence. They didn't believe in witchcraft, but political
expediency meant they needed to deliver a good hanging. (In order to get one, they allowed
evidence from a 9-year-old girl, thus setting a legal precedent for Witchcraft trials that
caused the downfall of the Salem witches in Massachusetts some 80 years later.) Poor old
souls - the witches didn't stand a chance. Graham also made an interesting point about the kind of 'alternative' medicine
the witches practised actually being the standard medical practices of those times. It
made a striking end to our journey. And to finish: we ate our dinner in the Pendle Witch
pub, and Jeremy drank Pendle Witch Brew.
This was a satisfying walk, despite the ghoulish associations. We had made a strange kind
of pilgrimage, from the witches' homes to their place of death, via a variety of rich
lowland farms, and broad barren highlands and moors. Although the cattle farms were
diminished from some years ago, because of the foot and mouth outbreak, we
saw an incredible number of sheep farms, with loads of buttercups and wild flowers. The
local welcome ranged from the cold shoulder on one up-market estate to friendly and
hospitable people; overall I came away with a strong impression of Lancashire warmth.
© Diana Ambache 2013