Western Howgills

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Saunterings:  Walking in North-West England

Saunterings is a set of reflections based upon walks around the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire in North-West England (as defined in the Preamble). Here is a list of all Saunterings so far.
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20.  On the Sunny Side of Pendle

Pendle looks a sombre, brooding, featureless hump of a hill. But then I have usually looked at it from a distance and from the north – from Bowland or the Yorkshire Dales – to see only its shady side. Then it resembles a huge grey tent pitched in the green fields of Lancashire.

My image of Pendle is no doubt coloured by the story of the so-called Pendle witches, who lived near the hill and were tried at Lancaster in 1612, and also by the historical novel, Mist over Pendle (1951) by Robert Neill, that is based upon it. Is Pendle the only one of our north-western hills to feature in the title of a significant novel? Although our region is rich in poets and guide-writers, we seem to lack novelists that capture the spirit of the area, as Hardy did for Dorset. We have the Brontës focussed narrowly on the Haworth region but otherwise I’d be hard put to nominate a quintessentially North-West England novelist. There’s always Beatrix Potter, I suppose.

Perhaps Neill is a candidate, as most of his books are based in Lancashire. He certainly conveys the overbearing malevolence of Pendle to create an atmosphere reeking of devilry and witchcraft. He wrote: “She began to see, from each rise of the road, a great broad-backed hill which ran across the sky before them, a sweep of green set against the blue. She looked at it idly, then with interest, and at last searchingly; she began to feel under a compulsion to look at it – almost its compulsion. There was something odd about this hill … If a hill could have an indwelling Spirit, then surely this one had – and it might not be the most friendly of Spirits.” However, Neill was not the first to tie the witches to the nature of Pendle. William Harrison Ainsworth, in The Lancashire Witches (1845), wrote of Pendle: “Dreary was the prospect on all sides, black moor, bleak fell, straggling forest, intersected with sullen streams as black as ink, with here and there a small tarn, or moss-pool, with water the same hue … The whole district was barren and thinly populated.”

But a hill is a hill. Pendle is not intrinsically evil. It has a sunny side too, and I resolved to see it. I approached from the east, from the village of Roughlee. From the track to Barley Green a vista of the sun-bathed eastern slopes opened out. I was relieved to see walkers on the right branch of the V that scars the slope because I had feared that Pendle would be closed, after the recent fires on Winter Hill and Saddleworth Moor. The access areas of Bowland were in fact closed because of “extreme fire risk” but the landowners there no doubt welcome an excuse to close the moors before the shooting season starts.
Pendle

Pendle from above Barley Green

Beyond Lower Ogden Reservoir I climbed north to the top of Pendle. The path was being reinforced, which is no doubt a good thing, as the hill is in danger of being eroded away, and a sign that many people enjoy the walk up Pendle. Nonetheless, it is sad to have to walk on an unnatural surface like those of a local park. Still, judging by the hordes of people at the top (I think a local college were on an end-of-term outing), the work is necessary. It is, of course, a fine view of a quiet, green part of Lancashire, although less green today than it usually is, and of the Bowland and Dales hills to the north and east.
Pendle view

The view from Pendle towards Black Moss Reservoirs

Pendle top

The top of Pendle, with worn path being reinforced

I had forgotten all about the witches but as I wandered towards the Black Moss Reservoirs I remembered that it was near here in 2011 that a ‘witch’s cottage’ was unearthed, a find considered in a BBC report to be “in terms of significance, it’s like discovering Tutankhamen’s tomb” and to be “like discovering your own little Pompeii”. I looked out for signs to Tutankhamen and Pompeii but I didn’t see any. Perhaps Pendle’s reputation overcame the project manager, for he conceded that “Pendle Hill has a real aura about it, and it’s hard not to be affected by the place.” The find has since been dismissed as nonsense.

I returned to Roughlee, where, roughly speaking, three-quarters of the houses are static caravans. One of the caravan parks, I noticed, is ‘child free’. Is that even legal nowadays? It seems a clear discrimination because of age. I’d welcome children myself – but ban childless 16-35-year-olds instead. The one-quarter of Roughlee houses alongside Pendle Water are rather attractive old cottages and terraces ... but then I came upon a statue of Alice Nutter, one of the Pendle witches. The Pendle witch story is so full of half-truths and non-truths that it would take me far too long to work out why Alice Nutter has been honoured with a statue. I am not interested anyway: a sketchy legend is good enough for me. Why the locals wallow in diabolical deeds, of little historical significance, of over 400 years ago and relish being part of ‘Pendle witch country’ when they bask on the sunny side of the proud, friendly hill of Pendle I cannot imagine. I refuse to allow my new sunny image of Pendle to be darkened.

    Date: July 19th 2018
    Start: SD840401, Roughlee Crow Trees by Pendle Water  (Map: OL21)
    Route: W, NW, W through Heys Lane Plantation – Barley Green – W – Buttock – N – Pendle Big End – N, E – Pike Law, road – S over Ing Moor Head – Windy Harbour Farm – NE, E, S – Foot Gate House – SW, E – White Hough – E – Roughlee caravan park – E, SW – Crow Trees
    Distance: 8 miles;   Ascent: 375 metres



     21.   The Fortunes of Fleetwood
     19.   Viewpoints around Keswick (part 2)
             A list of all Saunterings so far

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    © John Self, Drakkar Press, 2018-

Blencathra

Top photo: The western Howgills from Dillicar; Bottom photo: Blencathra from Great Mell Fell