Pendle Hill is probably one of the most famous walks in Lancashire. Partly famous for being a cracking walk with fantastic views, but mostly famous for its name: Pendle is synonymous with the Pendle Witches who were condemned in the area in 1612. The walk up the hill even passes along the Pendle Witches Way in places – but that’s a challenge for another day! Pendle Hill is the fourth highest hill in Lancashire – a reasonable accolade, even if it isn’t the highest. We set out with high hopes of a good day out, and we weren’t disappointed…
Even if you haven’t heard of Pendle Hill before, I bet the name Pendle rings a bell. This tiny town in rural Lancashire is the best known example of the European witch craze in England. From the 14th to 17th centuries, thousands of women across Europe were executed for the crime of being a witch, with the craze being particularly wild in France and the Holy Roman Empire (which was made up of large swathes of Europe east of France).
A pedlar was travelling along a road close to Pendle when a young woman tried to buy some pins from him. He refused, continued on his way, and a few minutes later appeared to suffer some kind of stroke. This was the start of a chain of events which led to the trial of twelve women accused of witchcraft, of whom one died in prison, one was found not guilty, and the remaining ten were executed.
I studied the European witch craze at university, and one of the richest sources of information we had to work with was about the Pendle Witches. Therefore I was very excited to actually see the landscape where these people lived! Pendle Hill offers a great vantage point to survey the surrounding countryside: you can see across the Forest of Bowland, Pendle AONB and even as far as the Lakeland fells! I’ve also heard that on a clear day you can see as far as the Blackpool Tower – we didn’t see it, but we only stayed on the summit for about two minutes, as there was a swarm of midges waiting up there for anyone standing still!
There are a few routes up Pendle Hill. The most popular route starts from Barley, so we took an alternative route that we found in our Cicerone guide to The Forest of Bowland and Pendle, which starts from the beautiful village of Downham. There’s a similar route available on Where2Walk.
The walk is a circular route of about six and a half miles. There is a reasonably sized honesty box car park in Downham – it’s not a huge car park, but there were plenty of spaces when we pitched up at 10am on a bank holiday Saturday. It was full though when we got back to the car four hours later!
There are views galore as you make the climb up from Downham. This is a good thing as if you’re as (un)fit as I am you’ll be taking plenty of breaks on your way up! The climb is pretty unrelentingly steep in places but levels out once you pass the large cairn erected as a memorial for the Scouting movement. The path from here is grassy and without noticeable features – we did the walk on a clear day so didn’t have any navigational issues, but I expect it would be very easy to become lost or disoriented if visibility was poor.
We had a bit of a shock when we got to the summit: we’d only seen two men walking a dog on our way up, but when we joined the track coming up from Barley a whole host of people appeared! Joking aside, there were quite a few people around, but nothing like the crowds we’ve seen on mountains like Scafell Pike, Pen Y Fan and the Yorkshire Three Peaks.
Dog friendly rating – 3/5. The beginning and end of the walk pass through fields with livestock in so dogs should be on a lead, as well as when you cross onto the Access Land which covers most of Pendle Hill. There’s a short stretch of about 400m along the road, but aside from this, the walk is almost entirely along footpaths.
On the plus side, taking the walk up from Downham was very quiet, and we hardly saw any dogs – great for Coal! There were quite a few streams at the beginning and end that both dogs loved to splash in, and the majority of the walk was stile free, with just a few appearing towards the end of the walk.
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