AROUND PENDLE AND BEYOND
Stephen Dyster was enchanted on the road to Lancaster, taking in a circuit of Pendle Hill and following the Witches Trail over the moors to Lancaster Castle.
Pendle means witches to most. Ride round Pendle Hill and you’ll be unable to miss references to them; you’ll also get a good deal more aerobic exercise than you would on a broomstick. Follow the witches to their doom in Lancaster and you’ll enjoy the benefits of cycling amongst the moors even more.
I read in one of the many histories of the Pendle witches, some of which are very flowery others of which deal with the issue seriously, that Pendle Forest was very remote in the early seventeenth century, even by the standards of the time. In many ways it still is. Standing between the valleys of the Rivers Ribble and Calder on the northern boundary of industrial Lancashire, Pendle Hill looks like a doorstop rising to a summit near the eastern end. It lords it proudly over all around, but its lower flanks conceal deep valleys; valleys that hide peaceful villages and farms; valleys that could, even today, keep a secret. Steep and stark; a cycle round Pendle Hill may only be some twenty miles, but it is a classic ride offering a challenge to those who undertake it.
If there are more attractive market towns than Clitheroe in the country, I am pushed to think of many I prefer to this outpost of Lancashire. The castle stands above all, the high street is busy, the market draws crowds and there are tea shops aplenty. For me, despite such fleshly temptations, it was away over the famous Nick o’ Pendle.
There is little time to warm up before the climb starts, and there are steep sections. Despite this it is a gratifying ride with open views confirming progress upward is actually being made.
Surprisingly, or so I thought at first, the road over the Nick o’ Pendle was pretty busy with numerous white vans buzzing along as white vans often do. It was one of the busiest roads of the day. Having said that, the pulses of traffic were desultory and most of the time the birds sang and the wind brushed against my face. Of course, this is the quick route between two industrial valleys, so the nature of the traffic should have come as no surprise.
A pause at the Nick itself is a must, either for a spell or for a look around. Take a good look. I was tempted to climb the hill, but it is a bit far in cycling shoes. Any cyclist standing at the Nick will see Sabden at the bottom of the valley ahead. Yes, it is time to lose most of the height gained. You will notice, sooner or later, that riding round Pendle Hill is either up or down. If you find yourself on the flat, check the map urgently.
Descending to Sabden has some very steep sections and the surface was not uniformly good. However, the village at the bottom is worth a good look around. It has stories of its own, but they were not for today. I was tempted by the Malkin Pie on offer at the Sanwithches Deli on Whalley Road. It seemed to be anticipated by the locals as a notice heralded its availability. Makin Tower was the home of Old Demdike, one of chief characters in the cast of the Pendle Witches story, and her family. Following the arrest of the first four it was the scene of a treasonous gathering or a satanic ritual or fearful crisis meeting, depending on your level of cynicism, on Good Friday, 1612, where, allegedly, a rescue attempt was planned including the murder of the constable of Lancaster Castle.
From Sabden one ascends, taking a left turn. On reaching the top, turn right along the ridge. Whilst not flat, it does maintain height for a while. There are very good views of Pendle Hill’s bulk, to the north, and the Calder Valley to the south. With the gorse in bloom and the blossom adorning the isolated farmhouses, this is joyful cycling. Along here I met a retired gentleman, pedalling his bike, though “a bit out of practice”. He pointed out the best way to Barrowford. It turned out to be the way I had planned. We rode for a while, praising the scenery, the colour of the local stone and talking about discounted tickets on trains and buses and the potential of folding bikes. Had I dropped down to Fence, I could have found Ashlar House, which was used by Roger Nowell JP to interrogate witnesses and some of the accused.
On leaving my companion, it was a short ride down to Barrowford, where the Witches Trail officially starts. You do not have to descend to Barrowford to circumnavigate Pendle. I was aiming to kill two birds with one stone - round the hill and follow the trail. To miss out Barrowford, drop off the ridge to the north and head for Newchurch or Barley.
There is a Heritage Centre at Barrowford, on the opposite side of the bridge by the old toll house. Set in charming grounds and with a café, you’ll find plenty of “witch” info, including a pamphlet guide to the Pendle Witches Trail. This contains an outline history and route guide.
It was some way from here that Alison Device, Old Demdike’s grand-daughter, cursed John Lawe, a pedlar, in Colne Field. He collapsed and was taken to an inn semi-paralysed. This set in motion events that lead to the trials and executions. Enquiries that followed involved shocking confessions, evidence from credulous children and a good deal of manipulation. For those arrested, the journey to trial began somewhere around here.
The Witches Trail uses the main road as far as Blacko, where a sign for Roughlee points to the left. There is a Malkin Tower Farm near Blacko. Traditionally this has been identified as the base of the Demdike sect. However, other evidence suggests that this was actually elsewhere and that the name is a corruption with a totally different origin and a dose of folklore thrown in.
There wasn’t much traffic on the road and there are pleasant views. It is always good to find the lanes, though, and that to Roughlee descended delightfully and ran alongside a stream into the village. Alice Nutter, one of the executed witches, lived here. Unusually for the witches she came from a well-off family and may have lived Roughlee Hall or one of the nearby farms. She was one of those at the Malkin Tower meeting.
The route from here is to Newchurch-in-Pendle (where a more direct route round Pendle Hill would be met), passing the Clarion Tea Room. Totally non-witch related, the Tea Room is open on Sunday afternoons and is run on socialist principles. It is the last of the Clarion Houses which offered Clarion members shelter as part of Robert Blackford’s Clarion Call to Socialism. Drop in, take your own sarnies and pay what you can afford for drinks.
The climb to Newchurch is stiff, and could have been avoided by turning right, directly for Barley, at the cross-roads after Roughlee. The village is interesting and you can get refreshments, too. A long descent follows, to the equally attractive village of Barley, where more refreshments may be had. The church records of Newchurch are vital in identifying the families and antecedents of the people involved, the parish covering an extensive upland and valley area. One can easily imagine the dread with which the aggressive beggar families of Demdike and her rival Chattox were viewed by the their neighbours in spots like this.
After Barley the road rises round the highest shoulder of Pendle Hill. This would be very exposed in bad weather. If cycling the Witches Trail there are several spots like this, so best to be independent and prepared for bad weather, puncture and “bonk”. Follow the road, speedily running down towards a sharp left bend in the direction of Downham, said to be one of Lancashire’s prettiest villages.
From Downham Manor, go up the hill, and follow the road to Chatburn and back to Clitheroe. A better way though is to turn left before going up the hill, to follow a tiny little lane to Worston, and back to the main road where useful infrastructure and signs will take you back into Clitheroe. Your heart and your head will remember Pendle for many years; your legs for a little less.
The journey to Lancaster begins with a roll into Waddington. Another charming village, with a stream by the road, a handsome church, two pubs named The Buck (Upper and Lower), a post-office and tea-room. Few areas can provide so much temperate refreshment on such a scale as this little slice of northern England. It was outside the post-office in Waddington that I met a cyclist out training on his winter bike. He was a racer. Aiming to cycle for four hours a day he went as fast as he could and would have beaten me up the hill on child’s tricycle, no doubt. As we talked it became clear that we had little in common in our attitude to cycling; he wanted speed and fitness; I wanted sights and sites to see. Even so, cyclists can appreciate their differences and recognise that riding a bike is whatever we want it to be.
What I really wanted it to be for a while was flat. The climb from the village to Waddington Fell is long, rather than steep. The summit is marked by a cattle-grid, small car-park, and a remarkably pointless blue-sign advising cyclists to dismount before the cattle-grid. I sincerely hope that no cyclist feels compelled to risk a broken ankle by walking across the grid.
Needless to say, the few yards of flat road soon give way to a fabulously long descent into Newton-in-Bowland with a bird’s-eye view of the River Hodder ambling through its valley and then , once again, one is amongst the hills. The route towards the Trough of Bowland follows the undulating valley road to Dunsop Bridge. Here is Puddleducks café and a broad riverside green on which to picnic. Several cyclists went through, enjoying an evening ride, some in lycra, some in gentler clothing. Most headed along the valley, but for me it was the turn up the Trough that beckoned.
For those who don’t know the Trough of Bowland - it is well-worth getting acquainted - it is a narrow valley that once marked the boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire, but is now thoroughly Lancastrian. The road twists and climbs steeply from the south, but is less strenuous from the north. I have never ridden it in sunlight, and, though today was a bright day of broken cloud and golden light, this sally was no exception. There was even a spot of rain from the blackening clouds that easily shut out the sun in such a narrow defile. At the top it had been raining, but within a handful of pedals the brighter weather was back.
Descending to the Marshaw Wyre, and turning off, near its confluence with the Tarnbrook Wyre, in the direction of Quernmore, came the last major ascent. This was new territory to me and the final stretch did not let me down. Scenically it was as glorious as the rest of the ride, though different. The moor rises to the east, but the views to the west are open. There stood Blackpool Tower, there lay the pancake-land of the Fylde, the whole of Morecambe Bay, Heysham power station, the Lake District; a feast for the eye of the romantic and the modernist alike.
At the Jubilee Tower, the elevation of which enhances the view in similar proportion, I met three cyclists who had ridden up from “The Box” (as they referred to their power station workplace). Training to ride the Way of the Roses, from Morecambe to Bridlington, this was the first bike ride for one of their number. It must be said that his cycling friends had kitted him out with a fine light-weight bike and that the forty-five minute from coast to tower was no mean achievement. They turned to head back home and I trundled - at a very rapid trundle – in their wake. The run down to Lancaster, as I thought of it at the time, was very long and potentially very fast. I took great care with one or two speeding rush-hour motorists heading out to their country homes.
Soon closer views of the well-known Ashton Memorial, situated on the outskirts of the city, signalled that my destination was near. I was pleased to arrive at Lancaster Castle, especially after the cheeky climb through Scotforth just before the final descent.
Lancaster has some very good cycling infrastructure and this came in handy, avoiding one-way systems and such like.
I wondered what the accused felt as they were brought to the castle gate? We may have had aching legs in common, but that was probably all.
It had been a long journey for all. This would make a great challenge day because of the climbing, or a fine weekend. At some forty-six miles, you’ll do longer rides, but you’ll rarely see as much or follow the trail of a more intriguing tale.
Distance 76 km Ascent 1872 metres.
Clitheroe, Nelson and Lancaster all have railway stations, accommodation aplenty and refreshent facilities. Many of the villages around Pendle, and onward as far as Waddington and Dunsop Bridge, have cafes. There is no café on the route between Dunsop Bridge and Lancaster.
Much of the route is exposed and one should be prepared for bad weather and ensure you have something to eat and drink.
For information on the route http://www.visitlancashire.com/dbimgs/witches-map-web-download.pdf Described by Visit Lancashire as a Driving Trail, it is, obviously, best done by bicycle.
I stayed at the excellent Ashton, conveniently situated on the road into Lancaster, shortly after passing under the motorway. www.theashtonlancaster.com Telephone 01524 68460.
For general accommodation go to www.visitlancashire.com
You’ll find many books on the Pendle witches and the Lancashire Witch Trials. That John A Clayton does not follow the sensationalism of some does not detract from the entertainment to be had from his telling of events. The story told through the filter of serious research makes the events even more gripping. I recommend his “The Pendle Witch Fourth Centenary Handbook” by John A Clayton, published by Barrowford Press www.barrowfordpress.co.uk isbn 978-0-9553821-9-2
MORE FROM LANCASHIRE: THE LANCASHIRE CYCLEWAY AND 17 DAY RIDES, FROM CICERONE.
PUBLISHED MAY 2017