Pendle hill Midsummer 2012

Last year I walked to the top of Pendle Hill near Clitheroe, Lancashire, and thought that it would be a good spot to see in the shortest night/longest day. It gives long views of the Ribble valley and the West Coast. In the other direction on clear days the view of the Yorkshire Pennines and [possibly] on very clear dawns , the sun rising behind York Minster. One of the Quaker founding fathers George Fox, in 1652,climbed the hill [it is steep but quite flat on top] and drew inspiration from his sojourn there. The line of the midsummer sunrise runs through the Twelve Apostles, Ilkley Moor before it hits Pendle Summit.(ref. Shirley Toulson “Derbyshire – Exploring the ancient tracks” otherwise known as “exploring the ancient tracks and mysteries of Mercia” 1980).

I haven’t slept out under the stars [without a tent] since I was following the (English) Hippy trail in the late 1960s but decided to give it a go on June 20 2012. With a bivvy bag and sleeping bag I caught the 5.0pm train from Lime Street to Preston, then on to Nelson/Colne and up the hill, weather warm and dry,slightly mis calculated sunset and had to hike through bogs and field and up a long line of steps in the dark. Once I reached the top, I could not see the stone shelter I had spotted last year so kipped down on the sheltered, north facing side of a long dry stone wall. In the total dark it is interesting that after about an hour, you can see pretty well. As long as you don’t flash a torch in your eyes there is no such thing as total darkness, or maybe it was just the shortest night. The hill   sits above the Lancashire industrial towns of Nelson and Colne in the East, Preston and Clitheroe in North West and Bolton and Manchester to the South.Wrapped up warm

Getting some sleep was not easy although the ground was dry and grassy. The walk had taken its toll on my legs and shoulders and as soon as I lay in my sleeping bag, cramp took hold and leaping out of a sleeping bag onto a non existent flat stone cold surface whilst wearing thick socks is not the easiest thing.
Settling back in and then having to leap out to answer a call of nature did not make for the best of nights.

After a couple of hours sleep helped by good digital reception for my radio I packed up and walked towards the East side of the hill. Throughout the short night I could see flickers of light sky and reflections of the town lights on the clouds.

I was surprised not to see the hill swarming with odd bods, ageing hippies [like myself], white witches and maybe not so “white” witches. One torch light flickered in the distance, near the trig point summit. One young man had climbed the hill at some time during the night. A violent wind had blown from the East all night but I  remained dry until 0900 when I boarded the train  for home when 48 hours of solid rain dumped weeks of water onto Lancashire in two days,causing floods and mayhem; I will never go without a tent or tarp again). Although cloudy, cracks in the sky let the red streaks of pre dawn sunlight through. As I set off down the hill two middle aged women sat by the path sharing a cup of tea or whatever. They had come up the hill earlier with friends who had given up half way. Perhaps they were the white witches I had been looking for. The hike down hill to the station took four hours and it took me 24 hours to catch up on my sleep and a week to get my aching muscles back into shape. Next year…..? Continue reading


Pendle Hill August 15th 2011.

Walked from Clitheroe up Pendle Hill to the summit overlooking Nelson & Colne on one side, looking like a toy town below. On the other side I could see Northwards past Clitheroe towards the Trough of Bowland. Completed the circle of the hill in bright sunshine. From the top of Pendle hill, looking West, I could see Blackpool Tower and the Ribble flowing into the sea. Eastwards I could see the Pennines, one account  said that on the shortest night, at dawn, the sun could be seen rising behind York Minster.

.A Stone circle on the way up to Pendle hill summit, 6ft plus in height,with a narrow V-shaped entrance. A stone seat on the inside made it a comfortable stop. Worth noting as a shelter, from the wind if not the rain, although a tarpaulin pulled over the top would make it nice and cosy.  Possibly an “art installation” or perhaps a form of bothy, minus the roof. A grass trim lined the top. Perhaps the v-shaped entrance, facing East  would catch the rising sun at Midsummer? I may try it next year?


A darker side to Pendle, by coincidence, was illustrated that week in BBC4’s “Pendle Witch Child” presented by the poet Simon Armitage. Many people were imprisoned and hung during the early 17th Century  from this area as a result of the witchcraft panic. Armitage makes the point that many of the accusations were based on petty jealousy between neighbours. He says that this panic died out after the early 1600s, but during the 1640s during the chaos of the Civil war, Mathew Hopkins, wreaked havoc in the Lavenham area of East Anglia. He is known to moviegoers as “The Witchfinder general” played by the master of Hammer type horror, Vincent Price. Filmed in the Lavenham area it sits alongside “The WickerMan” as a classic British horror film. “Night of the Demon” might also be added to that list of films set in seemingly comfortable British surroundings. No bleak slaughterhouse in an Australian desert, or Texas scrapyard or even a Romanian Castle.

The witchcraft hysteria crossed the Atlantic and in 1692 in Salem,Mass. the same madness was enacted, hangings and in one case crushing to death under stones[!] before brave common sense prevailed twenty years later. It was only in the late 20th Century that the descendants of the Salem victims gained pardon for their ancestors.  The last prosecution for witchcraft in the UK was during the Second World war. No chance of such hysteria today eh?

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