A Pendle Witch roadtrip

"One voice for ten dragged this way once
by superstition, ignorance.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
Witch: female, cunning, manless, old,
daughter of such, of evil faith;

in the murk of Pendle Hill, a crone.
Here, heavy storm-clouds, ill-will brewed,
over fields, fells, farms, blighted woods.
On the wind’s breath, curse of crow and rook.
From poverty, no poetry
but weird spells, half-prayer, half-threat;
sharp pins in the little dolls of death.

At daylight’s gate, the things we fear
darken and form. That tree, that rock,
a slattern’s shape with the devil’s dog.
Something upholds us in its palm-
landscape, history, place and time-
and, above, the same old witness moon

below which Demdike, Chattox, shrieked,
like hags, unloved, an underclass,
badly fed, unwell. Their eyes were red.
But that was then- when difference
made ghouls of neighbours; child beggars,
feral, filthy, threatened in their cowls.

Grim skies, the grey remorse of rain;
sunset’s crimson shame; four seasons,
centuries, turning, in Lancashire,
away from Castle, Jury, Judge,
huge crowd, rough rope, short drop, no grave;
only future tourists who might grieve."

'Lancashire Witches' Poem © CarolAnn Duffy, commissioned by Green Close
To mark the 400th anniversary of the lancashire witch trials in 2012 
The year was 1612, a turbulent time in England’s history, an era of religious persecution and superstition. James I was King, and feared rebellion having survived the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. His fear and anger brought with it harsh penalties for anyone keeping the Catholic faith and his suspicious nature led to an obsession with witchcraft.
Local magistrates looking to find favour with King James became zealous in their pursuit of witchcraft. When the Pendle Witches were put on trial, a London clerk Thomas Potts recorded the trial and sent it around the country as a warning and a guide on finding evidence of witchcraft.
The “Witches” were believed to have been responsible for the murder by witchcraft of seventeen people in and around the Forest of Pendle (or Bowland as it is now known.) The accused lived in the area around Pendle Hill in Lancashire, a county which in the 16th century, was regarded by the authorities as a wild and lawless region:  fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity, where the church was honoured without much understanding of its doctrines by the common people. 

Read abut the Witch Trials here...

Driving from Barrowford (where the Pendle heritage centre is home to a museum with information about the Witch trials, including a huge selection of books on the subject) to the villages of Barley and Newchurch, at the base of Pendle Hill, we passed through a village called Roughlee.

This was once the home of a fairly wealthy woman named Alice Nutter. She became linked to the poverty stricken Witches of Pendle, & was tried along with them for crimes that she never admited to, except one. It was claimed that she conspired with the coven at Malkin Tower Home of Old Demdike) on Good Friday 1612, and she was hanged along side them.

This statue was created in 2012 to commemorate her life, as part of the 400 year anniversary events.

We soon found ourselves in the small village of Barley, at the heart of Pendle. From here you can walk right up the dramatic slopes of Pendle Hill.

Photographs can't do it justice really. It can be seen from miles away, and it's a very distinctive shape.

We walked along past the farm and up onto the lower slope of the hill, where my Husband & I sat for a while with no other sounds than the birdsong and the pottering of sheep.

Out of the chill wind & away from the other hill climbers it was perfect and peaceful. A suprisingly comforting atmosphere given the dramas and horrific tales told of the area. If our roadtrip wasn't only just at the beginning I think we might have stayed a lot longer. Perhaps we will go back again one day for a longer walk to the top.

After a coffee break in the car, enjoying the countryside views, we decided to head through the village of Newchurch. A well known place on the Witch trail. With many of the supposed witches having lived in & around these villages there are a plethora of tales recounting their deeds here.

We couldn't go past without stopping to visit the village shop, aptly named. 'Witches Galore'.

Its a bit tacky for me really, but we saw, we browsed, we smiled at the Witch memorabilia.

As we left the shop, & walked back to the car, my Husband chuckled and exclaimed

"well look who's here..."

I turned to see a beautiful black cat sauntering towards us past the signpost, as if right on cue.

She wandered over for some fuss before I reluctantly got back in the car, but I was pleased nonetheless that we had now been officially welcomed to Witch country by a local Witch's familiar

*smiles and winks*

And so continuing our journey onwards we came to the town of Clitheroe. And Clitheroe Castle - the smallest Keep in the Country apparently.

One of the Women in the trials, who was not found guilty and hung, had apparently been paraded here and left to public humiliation before being further imprisoned.

There is a spectacular view back across Pendle hill from the Keep, and while not much remains but a shell, its a castle keep worth visiting. You can also see one of the Waymarkers created for the 400th anniversary, on which each one across the trail is written a piece of the poem by Carol Ann Duffy (see the top of this blog post for full poem or visit the website http://lancashirewitches400.org/ )

The Witches journey saw them arrested & taken from their homes in and around Pendle, and up through the forest of Bowland. http://forestofbowland.com/

The drive along this route takes you via what is called 'The trough of Bowland', some spectacular scenery, narrow high roads and pretty villages.

It's tinged with sadness however, when you know that 400 years ago a cart full of women were on this road bound for Lancaster prison, and very unlikely to ever return home.

Climbing higher and higher across the moors we suddenly realise that our final destination of Lancaster is in sight. Not only Lancaster, but from up here you can see the yellow and blue of Morecambe Bay. The sea. It's a breathtaking vista. And the closer to the coast you get, the more you can see until even the magical distant mountains of our beloved Cumbria are within sight. (We visited Cumbria back in February for the first time. That is a blog post I am looking forward to sharing.)

The city of Lancaster was to be the end of the journey for the Pendle Witches. Lancaster Castle has been used as a prison right up to recent times and in spite of its alterations over the centuries, it's dark imposing stonework must have been a frightening place to arrive at for the trials.

Old Demdike, otherwise known as the 80 year old Elizabeth Southerns lived in the forest of Pendle, and had by her own accounting been a witch for 50 years. She claimed to have met the devil one day, near the stone Quarry in Newchurch, and sold him her soul.
Her age & the poor conditions in which she was imprisoned led to her death in the cells and she never had to endure the hangings that her co-conspirators experienced.

While we were looking around the exterior of the Castle, we overheard the tour guide telling stories of the secluded courtyard in which we had been exploring. (see image number 3 below).

This courtyard, in front of the steps, was where prisoners were hung. Just a few small steps to a noose. The ground beneath the courtyard is the resting place of a hundred skeletons. All standing upright beneath our feet.
That made for an interesting moment amongst the crowd while we stood there & looked at the paving stones.
People were also hung outside the walls, and then they moved proceedings further away, to what is now the City Park.
As we drove along the busy city streets from Lancaster Castle to the last place on our trail, Gallows hill, where the executions took place, we noted that our route took us right past 'The Golden Lion' pub. http://www.goldenlionpublancaster.co.uk/pub-history
While it isn't the original building, a Golden Lion pub on this spot served prisoners their final drink as they passed by en route to Gallows hill. It was where the Pendle Witches too, would have swigged back a jug of ale to see them on their way. It was quite strange to be following the same route some 400 years later.
Williamson park is home to the spectacular 'Ashton Memorial' and while no one knows exactly where, the infamous 'Gallows hill' was situated somewhere in this location when it was decided to take prisoners out to the moors to be executed.
The park is now a beautiful and tranquil place to walk through. Once an old quarry you now walk along woodland paths around lagoons and play areas. Wind your way up the hillside and you come to the Ashton memorial with spectacular distant views.

We headed back down the forest slopes towards the car park, to end our own journey at the coast with a slice of cake, flask of coffee and a view across Morecambe Bay, and I thought, what a fitting end for a story such as this. A place of such horrors should now be so beautiful and full of joy. I have found no spooky, scary atmospheres today. Only a sense of contentment and peacefulness.
Whoever those women were, and whatever crimes they truly committed, I do indeed think they rest in peace and their story is brought to life through the dramatic but magical landscapes of the Lancashire countryside.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing this journey - very, very interesting and the landscape looks so beautiful. Love the black cat. ;)


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