Illustration by Barry Van-Asten
WITCH WALKS IN PENDLE
by Barry Van-Asten
by Barry Van-Asten
Old Pendle, old Pendle thou standest alone
‘Twixt Burnley and Clitheroe, Whalley and Colne
Where the Hodder and the Ribble’s fair waters do meet
With Barley and Downham content at thy feet.
[Folk song – Milton-Allan]
On Friday 6th April 2012 my companion, Rosena and I took a train from Manchester to Clitheroe; from there we took a bus to the village of Downham, a beautiful and unspoilt corner of Lancashire also known for being the location for the 1961 film starring Hayley Mills, ‘Whistle down the wind’. We walked the quarter of a mile or so along the lane until we came to an old barn which was to be our home for the next four nights! It was a stone barn standing alone in a small clearing at the side of the road which was really quite out of the way.
The structure had been made habitable for camping and there were a few basic needs such as the toilet and shower. Inside the barn in the main area was a long table with benches either side, a sink and cupboards and a small two ringed gas cooker. There was no electricity so everything was run on gas which was piped in from a large cylinder at the side of the barn. There was a water heater for washing up and taking a shower and a large heater for warming the barn which did not work! The upstairs was completely bare, just flooring and exposed beams with a small window at either end of the room. So we unpacked our sleeping bags and decided to head back to Clitheroe for further investigation.
At the Swan and Royal Public House (built 1830’s to replace the original 15th or 16th century Inn) we began walking a town trail.
We walked to Market Place near the White Lion Public House where there are still iron tethering rings for horses in the facade. The reopened Library (1990) incorporates Clitheroe Town Hall and Mayor’s Parlour of 1820; the Carnegie library of 1905. Church Street used to be the main route to Chatburn and Skipton and there are some beautiful Georgian houses on the way to the Church [Church Brow]. There is a Victorian building (Prospect House) opposite the Victorian terraced houses. Hazelmere, a Victorian mansion (1880’s), St. Mary’s Well (one of three). York Street (1826 development) was part of the new road to Chatburn and here you can see Clitheroe Royal Grammer School, which was founded in 1554 by Queen Mary. At the bottom of Wellgate is Clitheroe’s town or Heild Well. The walk ended at the Castle and its grounds.
The view of Pendle Hill from the barn
It began to rain a little as we returned to Downham and got back to the barn around 9.30 p.m. It was a full moon and Pendle Hill loomed large in the distance, visible from the front of the barn. Today, 6th April [Good Friday] happened to be Rosena’s birthday so we sat down to a hot cup of tea and a slice of ‘Birthday Cake’! Unfortunately we were unable to work the gas meter so we had no form of hot water or any heating but luckily we decided to pack our small camping stove, which saved the day! After playing several games of Ludo, at 11.30 p.m. I ventured out and faced the great and mysterious Pendle Hill [557 metres/1,827 feet]. There was an owl to my right and in the distance was the odd car light winding along the country lanes. In the field before me were a heard of sheep. The sky was dramatic and cloudy, though the moon lit the night sky with a strange glow that made everything around very visible. To my lips came the name ‘Alice Nutter’ which was sent on the breeze towards the dark hill of Pendle.
After another game of Ludo we decided to retire to bed. Walking up those wooden stairs with our breath swirling in the cold darkness was straight out of ‘The Exorcist’! Since my solitary stand facing Pendle earlier I had the definite notion that something was with us in and around the barn and perhaps ‘something’ would ‘materialise’ later! My companion also felt a ‘presence’ and she is much more of a psychic than me! The cold was immense and it would prove to be impossible to have a good night’s sleep. As soon as I lay down on the floor in my sleeping bag images began to flood my mind. I did not ask for them and I could not remove them, no matter how hard I tried and they were very strong! Not long after settling down, I heard strange noises downstairs: one noise I heard was of the box of matches which I left on the long table being dropped onto the table top. I then had the unwanted image in my head of a man in his early thirties, leaning against the wall in the barn and looking at me. He had round glasses and wore a tweed suit so his period was probably the 1920’s or early 1930’s. The grin upon his face was eerily ‘sinister’!
I then saw two men during the English Civil War (1642-1651), one man was a Royalist ‘Cavalier’ and the other man was a Parliamentarian ‘Roundhead’. They were great friends and had a bond of brotherhood between them. They were ‘pretending’ to fight each other, putting on a show with their swords as there were other Roundheads in the vicinity and they had to hide their friendship. The Cavalier made the mistake of chasing his friend the Roundhead into a dell, which proved to be an ambush. The Cavalier was cut down and his head and limbs were hacked off! But no emotion could his friend the Roundhead show as his fellow soldiers would suspect, but there was great sadness in the poor man! It is a fact I later found out that Cromwell’s men were stationed at Downham on 15th August 1648, previous to the Battle of Preston.
The next ‘vision’ I received entered my head at an incredible pace and flashed upon my consciousness. It was much more disturbing than the previous images and as soon as I received it I was firm in my belief that it had actually occurred! I had the distinct impression that two centuries ago a woman was raped and murdered in this very barn! As I said earlier there was not much sleep that night what with the extreme cold and the noises downstairs! If indeed the Pendle witches looked in on us they did not stay long, but we both felt a presence lingered with us in the barn. The next day, Saturday, Rosena confirmed that she too had images in her head of ‘roundhead’ soldiers during the Civil War and unwanted faces which seemed menacing and too close for comfort!
I woke up and on opening my eyes my vision fixed upon the wooden beam in the barn roof above my head. On it someone had written ‘R.I.P. Jennet 1805’ and ‘Remember’!
We got the 11.49 a.m. bus to Barley and did a circular Pendle Witch walk, beginning at 12.30.
Footbridge at Barley
The Lower Ogden Reservoir with Old Pendle in the distance
The ‘Walking with Witches Trail’ takes in some beautiful scenery and even some of the ‘Pendle Way’ and it starts at Barley. From Barley we crossed a stream and followed a footpath up a hill and across a field. We then descended to the road at Newchurch in Pendle. It was here on Maundy Thursday 1610 that the witch Demdike is said to have sent her grandson James to the church to bring her back some communion bread. On his return journey, he is supposed to have met a ‘thing in the shape of a hare’ which threatened to tear him to pieces for failing to deliver the bread. James testified at the trial that another witch named Chattox had stolen teeth from the dead in the graveyard at Newchurch!
We then looked in the delightful little shop called ‘Witches Galore’. After that we paid a visit to St Mary’s Church to see the ‘eye of God’ set into the wall of the tower and have a look inside the church which still has pews and is well worth a visit! Outside near the porch is a ‘witch’s grave’ reputed to be connected to one of the witches of Pendle: Alice Nutter, though the surname is the same there is no real evidence for this.
St. Mary's, Newchurch in Pendle
From the church we turned right into Well Head Road and past Faugh’s Quarry. It is here that the witch Demdike claimed to have met the Devil near the stone pit in Goldshaw Booth, and the devil was in the shape of a ‘boy wearing a coat half black, half brown who said his name was Tibb’. Demdike sold her soul to Tibb in return for anything she desired! We continued until we came upon the witches’ cottages in the valley below – Tinedale Farm, Moss End Farm, home of John and Jane Bulcock and Bull Hole Farm, which was the home of John Nutter. We tried to distinguish the site of the old ‘Malkin Tower’ and we walked past Saddlers Farm, which could have been the site of Demdike’s ‘Malkin Tower’ (now the Shekinah Christian Centre) and climbed the steep hill at Drivers Height Farm, following the dry-stone wall.
The ascent following the dry-stone wall
Stunning scenery all around!
We soon descended and came upon the pleasantly surprising Upper Ogden Reservoir, where we walked back through some spectacular woodland lanes to Lower Ogden Reservoir and back to Barley. The number four bus took us to the town of Nelson and then back to Downham where we had a look inside Downham’s charming Parish church, St. Leonard’s. The Assheton Arms opposite proved to be very popular and they have a good selection of food available!
The Upper Ogden Reservoir
A view towards the Lower Ogden Reservoir
We reached the barn at 7 p.m. and began collecting firewood in the hope of an enormous blaze later but we decided against it. We managed to get the gas working so took the luxury of a hot shower and it was around 1 a.m. when we went upstairs to sleep. There were more noises downstairs and I definitely heard the wooden bench scrape along the floor as if being dragged! We also learnt today that yesterday, Good Friday, 6th April was the 400th anniversary to the day, when in 1612 twenty witches gathered at Malkin Tower, home of the witch Demdike and the Devices. They feasted on stolen mutton and plotted to blow up Lancaster Castle and free the imprisoned witches who are awaiting trial there!
The next day, Easter Sunday, we went to Clitheroe and caught the train (Settle to Carlisle Line) to Dent, the highest station in England, which took us over the Ribblehead Viaduct, built between 1870 and 1874. At Dent we began our walk at 11.10 a.m. following the Dales Way route and the River Dee. The sun was shining and the scenery was magical as we followed the winding course of the river.
The beautiful station at Dent, the highest in England!
There were some great views of the Artengill Viaduct and the waterfall as we continued to Bridge End Cottage and the footbridge opposite.
The Artengill Viaduct from the Dale's Way
Old farm cottages
The River Dee
One of many small waterfalls on the Dee
A mossy dell after the Bridge End Footpath
We now left the Dales Way and headed up the side of a hill where a bit further on we came to a small farm defended by two aggressive turkeys who challenged us and seemed to say in some sort of turkey language: ‘none shall pass!’
'None shall pass!'
We did pass and walked on until beside a little waterfall we decided to have lunch. A perfect little spot that cut out some of the wind as it was quite an exposed place.
A nice little spot for lunch!
Then we continued our walk and we came to the point where the railway track disappears into the Bleamoor Tunnel. Walking up the wooded slope where steps (81 in total) have been laid to assist the walker, it was a wonderful sunny day.
The entrance to the Bleamoor Tunnel
Upon arriving at the top where we looked out over the bleak expanse of Blea Moor the weather suddenly changed. It rained, sideways with the gusting wind and in no time at all we were soaking wet and there seemed no end to it! Mud! Mud! Mud! We attempted to follow the course of the Bleamoor Tunnel beneath our feet but it was difficult with the weather trying to get a bearing. We passed the Air Shaft s for the tunnel and eventually began to descend into Little Dale and to see the railway track again.
Blea Moor towards Ribblehead
We followed the curve of the line all the time with the rain and the wind at our heels and no letting up. Suddenly the great Ribblehead Viaduct came into view and we reached it around 4.30 p.m. cold, wet but still very impressed at its magnificent presence!
The great Ribblehead Viaduct!
Onward over the wonderfully named ‘Batty Green’ and to the Station Public House where the walk ended at 5 p.m. The train back to Clitheroe was not until 7.07 p.m. so there was time to dry off a little and for tea, glorious tea! We got the train and walked as usual from Downham. At the barn we could see we had a visitor in the form of another ‘camper’. Whoever he or she was they were upstairs tucked-up in their sleeping bag so there was no introduction. However, there was always tomorrow! And we climb the wooden stairs to our sleeping bags around 1.00 a.m. taking care not to wake the new ‘barn guest’, which Rosena, who takes a lifetime preparing for bed, fails to do beautifully!
The next day, the mysterious woman (for she was a woman, Rosena being able to see the curves of her sleeping bag which no man could make!) rose early and so we did not see her go. We in turn rose and went again to Clitheroe. There was a gentle rain; it seems rain is necessary in these parts and a day without it must surely appear ‘unnatural!’ Anyhow, we decided to look at the Castle but before we did we looked at the free exhibition in the Steward’s Gallery, titled ‘Spellbound: Perceptions from Pendle Hill’ [running from 1st March-5th June 2012]. This is work by local artists within the community, such as the Green Close Studios to mark the 400th anniversary of the Pendle witches. There are some really wonderful works on view from artists such as Clare Drew, John Toms, Pat Ellacot and Sue Marsden, to name a few. There was the delightful ’36 views of Pendle’ and two of my favourites: ‘the Bone Tree’ photograph and ‘Poison Posy’.
The view from Clitheroe Castle Keep towards Pendle Hill
Then we went and looked around the remains of the castle. The Castle Keep was built in 1186 by Robert de Lacey on a limestone mound. The Norman Keep was damaged after being captured by Parliamentarians during the Civil War and it was repaired in 1848. There is a legend that the Devil threw a boulder from Pendle Hill which hit the castle, causing the hole still visible today.
The Castle Keep
Within the gloomy roofless walls of the castle, was a sound installation called ‘Taken’, by the renowned contemporary classical composer Ailis Ni Riain, who just happened to be there when we were, and she was with her mother whom we talked to. The sound installation is utterly mesmerising, and inspired by the twelve Pendle witches and how they might have felt being incarcerated and awaiting their trial at Lancaster Castle, in those last harrowing months. The piece of music features an acoustic harp and twelve Lancashire men and women, humming a tune which has a personal meaning to each individual. There is darkness, a fear and even a sense of peace in these intimate soundscapes of thought, which is totally bewitching!
We then looked in the church of St. Mary Magdalene, Clitheroe and around the graveyard. There are elements of the church dating back to the 15th century. Back at Downham, we made our way towards the barn, arriving at 4 p.m. and after a cup of tea and some grumbling over the rain, we decided to do the Downham circular walk number three. So we left the barn at 4.30 p.m. and trudged across a field to the footpath and on to the Jubilee Barn where we crossed the road (5.15 p.m.) and stood at the base of the hill.
View from the base of Pendle Hill
The next section of the walk is rather steep and can be quite wet. We followed the route across Downham Moor and headed for the zig-zag path up the side of Pendle Hill. It was somewhere near here when in 1652; George Fox [1624-1691] had his vision which inspired him to found the Quaker Movement!
View from Pendle towards Downham showing the
stone barn in the central avenue of trees on the ridge!
We could see no further than a few steps in front of us as the clouds had descended, but they suddenly cleared and as if by magic the way ahead was clear to see. We reached the summit at 6.45 p.m. and the trig point had a bunch of daffodils and a cluster (or should I say ‘coven’) of eggs with painted faces, probably to represent the witches as a celebration of the anniversary! The wind howled and the clouds grew dark as the misty rain fell on the great Hill.
At the summit!
We retraced our steps to the wooden stile and then turned left until we came upon the stone shelter where we hid from the wind for a short while at 7.25 p.m. Then we walked past the Scout cairn memorial, built to commemorate the 75 and more recently 100 years of scouting. We continued on to the edge of Mearley Clough and followed the old track downwards, which is quite steep. It got dark very quickly as we followed the stone markers to the old Drove Lane and then to the road which we reached at 9 p.m. Staying with the road and avoiding the footpath which goes towards Worsaw Hill End Farm, where much of the film ‘Whistle down the wind’ was shot, we reached the familiar sight of Downham’s small stone bridge at the lower end of the village. Onwards we walked towards the church and then on to the barn which we reached at 9.55 p.m. and declared it the end of the walk! We had walked around eight miles and at the barn the ‘mystery lady’ was upstairs asleep, we knew that because there was a deep sound of snoring resonating throughout the barn! Tired, we went to bed around 1.50 a.m.
The next day the woman rose early and left; I never saw her at all but Rosena had a few words with her before she left! We packed our camping equipment and left the barn at midday and got the train from Clitheroe where we then got the train to Manchester and later that evening, to London!
A brief history of the Pendle witches:
18th March 1612: Alizon Device, Demdike’s grand-daughter is begging on the road which leads to Colne. A pedlar refuses to give her some pins and Alizon curses him. Just then a black dog appears and talks to Alizon and she orders it to lame the pedlar, who suddenly collapses, paralysed on his left side.
30th March 1612: Alizon Device confesses to using witchcraft to harm the Pedlar before Justice Roger Nowell. She incriminates her own family and says that Demdike, real name Elizabeth Southern, had cursed Richard Baldwin after his daughter became sick and died. Alizon also mentioned how Chattox, real name Anne Whittle, turned the ale sour at a Higham Inn and used a clay image of the landlord’s son to kill him.
2nd April 1612: Roger Nowell orders that Demdike, Chattox and her daughter Ann Redfearn must give evidence. Demdike confesses her evil ways, saying that the Devil appeared to her as a little boy named Tibb in a quarry near Newchurch, and that he sucked her blood which left her ‘stark mad’.
3rd April 1612: Demdike, Alizon Device, Chattox and Ann Redfearne are sent to Lancaster Castle by order of Roger Nowell to await their trial for witchcraft.
Good Friday 1612: Twenty people gather at Demdike’s home Malkin Tower. They eat stolen mutton and plot to blow up Lancaster Castle and kill the Castle’s Keeper Thomas Covell to free the imprisoned women.
Late April 1612: Human bones are found at Malkin Tower which has been stolen from Newchurch and also clay images are found. Roger Nowell orders that James and Jennet Device and their mother Elizabeth be sent for questioning at Ashlar House in Fence. James confesses to causing the death of Anne Townley by the use of a clay image. Anne had accused James of stealing peat for his fire.
Jennet Device, aged nine names all the people who attended the Good Friday meeting at Malkin Tower which includes: Alice Nutter, a gentlewoman who lives in Roughlee. The Malkin Tower conspirators are sent to join the other women at Lancaster Castle to await trial for witchcraft. Demdike dies while at the Castle before her trial.
17th August 1612: The trial begins at Lancaster Castle. There is no defence lawyer for the accused and Roger Nowell produces little Jennet Device as his star witness and she gives evidence against her own family and other local families accused. Elizabeth Device, Jennet’s mother is dragged screaming from the courthouse and Jennet identifies Alice Nutter as being present at the Good Friday meeting.
The Pedlar is in court and Alizon faints and then confesses her guilt as to harming him by a curse. Old Chattox sobs to hear the evidence against her and asks God to forgive her; she also pleads for mercy for her daughter Ann Redfearn. They are all given the verdict of guilty and sentenced to death.
20th August 1612: Ann Whittle known as Chattox, Ann Redfearn, Elizabeth, James and Alizon Device, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt known as ‘mould-heels’, Jane Bulcock and her son John are hanged at Lancaster in front of a massive crowd.