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The Myth and Magic Behind the Mountain ... Pendle Hill.

View from the summit of Pendle Hill on a UK walking tour.
Magical views on the summit of Pendle Hill.

We were lucky enough recently to spend a couple of days exploring Yorkshire, Lancashire and some of their well-known locations. We spent a wonderful morning climbing the majestic Pendle Hill, whose slightly strenuous ascent offers incredible 360-degree views which far outweigh the effort of the climb. The area of Pendle in the northern English county of Lancashire is probably best known for its tales of witchcraft trials in 1612, these stories have cast spells over visitors throughout the centuries ever since. It’s not just the legend but also the breathtaking beauty which makes the area truly bewitching.

The imposing Pendle Hill dominates the landscape, once home to ancient woodland, wolves and wild boar. Its 5,827ft (557m) stand tall over nearby Clitheroe, Burney, Colne and Padiham and gives its name to the surrounding borough of Pendle. ‘Pendle Hill’ actually combines words from numerous different languages; the 13th century Pennul or Penhul which combine the Pen and the old English word Hyl.

The hill is separated from the majority of the Bowland Fells by the delightful River Ribble (on whose banks the beautiful Sawley Abbey sit; a place we were also fortunate enough to visit on our trip.)

Pendle Hill in Lancashire on a UK Walking tour.
Pendle Hill, Lancashire.

The actual plateau of the hill is formed from Pendle Grit (the names of certain rocks are attributed to the places they were first identified or described.) This particular form of grit is coarse, carboniferous sandstone and overlies the thick layers of limestone beds throughout the area. It is assigned to the Millstone Grit Group which forms many of the landmarks and rock formations across the North of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Many of the lower slopes of Pendle Hill are wrapped in thick deposits of glacial till dating back to the last Ice Age. Decomposition of sphagnum moss on the hill throughout the years has resulted in it becoming coated in peat. All of the visible rocks in the Pendle area and the upper Ribble Valley belong to the Carboniferous Period, laid down between 350 and 290 million years ago. The folding of these rocks and the subsequent erosion have resulted in the distinctive shape of the landscape we see today.

There is evidence of human habitation and activity in the Pendle area dating back thousands of years. Small flints including some stone axe heads dating back to the Mesolithic Age (Middle Stone Age) suggest man settled here as early as 14,000 years ago. During the Bronze Age era (3,000 – 10,0000 BC) the Pendle Area formed part of a main trade route between Yorkshire, the coast and Ireland. Remains of Bronze and Iron Age burial sites have been found including one called ‘The Devil’s Apronful’ on the summit and Jeepe and Knape’s Grave, a Bronze Age tumulus. Indeed, the thousands of years since have seen the area inhabited by Iron and Bronze Age men, Anglo-Saxons, Romans and Vikings.

Pendle Hill Witches on a UK Walking tour.

The area of Pendle is probably most well known for two key events; the Pendle Witch Trials and as the site where George Fox was inspired by God the form the Foundation of Religious Society of Friends, more widely knows as the Quakers.

The infamous Pendle Witch Trials took place in 1612 and the 12 accused of witchcraft all lived in the shadow of the hill. Towards the end of the 16th and start of the 17th centuries, Lancashire was regarded as a wild and lawless region. The strongly Catholic areas of the North were deeply affected by Henry VIIIs reformation and the dissolution of the nearly Cistercian Abbey at Whalley hit the local people hard, most notably the regions poor. It was thought, by some, that the closure of these holy hoses left somewhat of a ‘moral vacuum’ across vast areas in the north and this led to an increase in witchcraft.

The 12 accused were charged with the murder of 10 people by use of sorcery. One of the most important and damning witnesses in the trial was 9 year old Jennett Device, whose evidence led to the guilty verdict handed down to many of her own family, including her mother, brother and sister. Of the 12 people accused of witchcraft, 1 perished in prison while awaiting trial and the other 11 were found guilty and sentenced to death, 9 were at Lancaster and 1 at York. While there is little doubt these days that the accused were wrongly convicted (that they were not actual witches and the trials were a result of numerous family rivalries), the centuries since have seen an influx of people drawn to the area, indeed the numerous trinkets, ales and attractions based on the tales seek to attract even more tourists. A farmhouse in the shadow of Pendle Hill is said the be haunted by the ghost of one of the witches. When Yvette Fielding and her team visited the spot for a Most Haunted Halloween Special in 2004, many of the crew reported having felt as if they were being choked. Many people ascend the hill to the summit every Halloween in the hope of experiencing the supernatural, and perhaps some magic, for themselves.

Pendle Hill is also famous as the spot where George Fox was inspired to start the Quaker Movement in 1652. While travelling from Yorkshire to Lancashire, Fox is said to have felt ‘led by God’ to climb Pendle Hill.

‘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.’”

It was this vision that inspired Fox to create the Quaker movement (so-called because its followers are said to tremble at the word of God.) He travelled to Sedbergh (where he envisioned a great number of people gathering and foresaw as the home of his Church), where he addressed a gathering of 1000 people at Firbank Fell. His vision, movement and words spread quickly across Britain, Ireland and the American Colonies. Today more than 200,000 follow the religion, whose most well know home lies near Sedbergh to this day,

Pendle Hill on a UK walking tour.
Spectacular views across the Lancashire landscapes.

Our trip up Pendle Hill was a wonderful one, while the local saying goes that: “If you can see Pendle Hill it’s about to rain. If you can’t, it’s already started,” we were extremely blessed to experience glorious sunshine and flawless views. Although the walk up to the top is steep at times and the ground often uneven, it is certainly a route, if taken carefully and at a steady pace, many walkers would be able to accomplish and joy. We’ve certainly added to our Embark repertoire and cant wait to incorporate it into some of our tours. We’re looking forward to exploring more local routes including the Pendle Witch Trail which runs from the Pendle Heritage Centre to Lancaster Castle, where those accused of witchcraft were held before their trials. The area has certainly cast a spell over us here at Embark.


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