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Witching Ways of Pendle

A grand loop around the flanks and subsidiary ridges of Pendle Hill.

Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 738ft (225m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Field paths and rough moorland, surfaced track, 10 stiles

Landscape Wooded foothills and moorland slopes

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL21 South Pennines or OL41 Forest of Bowland & Ribblesdale

Start/finish SD 823403

Dog friendliness Can run free in woodland and enclosed tracks

Parking Public car park in Barley village

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the toilets follow a path rightwards across the green then over a footbridge. Go right then up the street. Just past Meadow Bank Farm go left up a footpath alongside a stream.

2 Keep straight on up then cross another footbridge and join a lane. Follow this, with lots of signs, to a kissing gate and a well-marked path that leads up to Brown House. Go into the yard, right on a track for 60yds (55m) then left through another kissing gate. Go down and right, then up through new plantings and straight up to a gate left of Pendle House.

3 Go left to meet a path just above the wall. After another gate, climb a little, away from the wall. The path runs an undulating course, then dips more definitely and meets the wall again. From a stile (don't cross it) just above Under Pendle, bear right and follow the fence. Cross the stream then straight on up a clearer track to rejoin the wall.

4 Bear right on a trackway climbing alongside an obvious groove. Pass a couple of old wooden gateposts. There's another gate and stile just ahead but instead go left through a gate and straight down by a wall. Cross a track and descend steeply to a gate just below Upper Ogden Reservoir.

5 Follow the reservoir road until just above Lower Ogden Reservoir. Go right over a bridge, down a few steps then round right to a footbridge. Climb steps then go left and climb more steps through a plantation. At its end go up right to the ridge.

6 Turn left following a fence then a wall. At a signpost bear right, keeping roughly level until the rooftops of Newchurch appear. Aim for a water trough, then a stile and signpost. Descend a short path to the road.

7 Go down the road opposite, signposted for Roughlee. After about 100yds (91m) cross a stile on the left-hand side and follow a rising footpath. Fork to the left just inside a plantation. At the far end of the plantation keep straight on, gradually converging with the wall on the left-hand side. Follow the wall, changing sides halfway along, to join a sunken track. Cross this and descend to the road.

8 Go down the tarmac track opposite, cross the Pendle Water then go left alongside it. Continue on a stonier track past some cottages and an old mill. Finally a short path on the right leads back to the car park.

The name Pendle Hill means 'Hill Hill Hill'. The way this came about is typical of the convoluted history behind so many English place names. If you lived below Pendle, you might well call it simply 'the Hill', and early Celtic inhabitants did just that - 'Pen'. Later incomers, not realising this, called it Pendle, meaning 'the hill called Pen'. This meaning too became obscured, and the name was later applied to the whole district.

Pendle is also closely associated with witches. In 1612 seven women and two men were hanged at Lancaster Castle. Another old woman died in prison before the case had even been tried. All came from the Pendle area. It is a fact that several of the accused confessed, but whether any of them were witches is an almost unanswerable question today. The story is well told in several books, notably Robert Neill's classic novel, Mist Over Pendle. First published in 1951, it remains in print and is readily available in the area.

The walk starts easily, on a well-marked and much-trodden route (part of the Pendle Way) through green fields. While this shorter loop avoids the challenge of the steep upper slopes, it does make a fairly level, but moderately rough, traverse along their base, giving a taste of the wilder atmosphere of the high moors. Perhaps you can begin to appreciate how isolated and remote parts of the district may have felt in the 17th century.

From the plantations and reservoirs of Ogden Clough you climb on to a subsidiary ridge, which gives the best views of the walk, then descend to the small village of Newchurch in Pendle. It was new in 1544, anyway! Although no one knows for sure, it is thought that Malkin Tower, where the witches met, was situated near by. On the tower of St Mary's Church is the 'Eye of God', which was supposed to protect the villagers from witchcraft, and in the churchyard there's a 'witch's grave', possibly that of Alice Nutter.

Beyond Newchurch the route follows the continuation of the ridge, looking down on Roughlee, though caravan sites make it hard to visualise the 17th-century landscape. Roughlee was the home of Alice Nutter, a gentlewoman who was among those hanged at Lancaster. Although poor, old women, especially widows, were most likely to be suspect, no one was exempt from the paranoia of the times. Anyone who kept a dog or cat, for instance, ran the risk of being accused of consorting with a 'familiar spirit'.

Finally the walk follows the banks of bubbling Pendle Water, past cottages and an old mill, back to Barley.

Where to eat and drink

The Pendle Inn dates from the 1930s and the fine, panelled interior is original. There's an open fire, good beer and solid pub food, available all day at weekends. There's also a place to sit outside overlooking the beck, and an extensive play area for children.

While you're there

Pendle Heritage Centre is 2 miles (3.2km) away, off the B6247 on the outskirts of Barrowford. In a lovingly restored 17th-century house you can find out much more about the story of the Pendle witches, and about the general history of the area. You'll also find lots of 'witch' material and souvenirs at Witches Galore in Newchurch.

What to look for

The moors of Pendle are largely grassy, less dominated by heather than those of Bowland. There's much greater variety of plants than may initially meet the eye. Low growing tormentil has yellow flowers like tiny Maltese crosses: you'll have to get down low to see that it's actually a member of the rose family. The unmistakable fluffy white tufts of cotton grass, also known as bog cotton, are a marker for wet ground.

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