New book takes walkers in footsteps of the Pendle ‘witches’

The Lancashire Witches Walk Guide
The Lancashire Witches Walk Guide
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A detailed walk book produced by two local authors is now available for the sustainable long-distance walk commemorating the Lancashire Witches

Two years ago local walkers from Clitheroe, Burnley and Lancaster constructed the new 51-mile walk, starting in Barrowford and finishing at Lancaster Castle and commemorating the 400th anniversary of the hanging of the Lancashire Witches.

Ian Thornton-Bryar fixing a way-marker near Clerks Hill, Whalley

Ian Thornton-Bryar fixing a way-marker near Clerks Hill, Whalley

The idea has had such an impact that the Queen’s Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy, has written an appropriate poem. Stanzas from the poem are engraved on cast iron and sited in artistic installations along the way.

It is ironic that the post of Sovereign’s Poet Laureate was created by James 1st of England, under whose reign and strong political influence the so-called “witches” were hanged.

Likewise, the walk has been used by recent Clitheroe, Bowland and Pendle Walks Festivals to show off some of the most beautiful parts of North-East Lancashire.

Keen walkers are clamouring for copies of the new book so they can repeat their experience, and now take their friends along.

The two who created the walk are Clitheroe man Ian Thornton-Bryar, who is treasurer of the NE Lancs Area Ramblers, and John Sparshatt, chairman of the Long-Distance Walking Association.

Now they have put together the “walkers” book of the route, including detailed directions, abstracts of all the necessary Ordnance Survey maps, a short history and lots of helpful advice for those tackling the route. One-sixth of the walk is in the Borough of Pendle, half in Ribble Valley and a third in the district of Lancaster.

It has been published this week and is being rushed out to walkers’ shops and Visitor Information Centres ready for the Christmas rush for stocking-fillers. It is also available on Amazon and the Long Distance Walking Association websites.

The hanging of the Lancashire witches had a much deeper influence on the world’s life than many very knowledgeable Lancastrians are aware of. From the influence of James 1st’s 1597 book “Daemonologie”, the court decided that the evidence of Jennet (who was only nine, well under the then limit of 14) was admissible – and it carried the day.

For example, without that key legal precedent, the USA’s Salem Witch trials could not have succeeded, hanging 19 more “witches”, and these specific events set the initial rules for children’s evidence in court for all countries that were then, or are still are, under English Law.

The route sticks to the places thought most likely to have been followed by the witches, as they were going about their business, and then carted up to Lancaster to be tried and hanged.

Fortunately, this takes advantage of some of the most scenic and peaceful parts of Lancashire, as well as exploring some of the least-walked Fells in the county.

The detailed walk route descriptions, supported by many photographs and all the necessary parts of the Ordnance Survey maps, make finding the route easy.

There are also several hundred way-markers marking the route. For those still tentative of their navigation skills, GPX files, which should be loadable into any GPS mapping system, are also available to those who buy the book, so even the leaders can relax and fully enjoy the very varied countryside.

The first part of the walk wends its way past most of the key Pendle sites, as suggested by John Clayton (the Barrowford-based definitive history writer on the topic) and can be finished by stronger walkers at Read Old Bridge.

The walk carries on through Clitheroe, toward Slaidburn, via Waddington and West Bradford Fells. No-one really knows how the witches then got to Lancaster, or even if the Trough Road was built then, but the Roman Road track over Salter Fell certainly was, so that is then followed to Deep Clough or Salter Fell.

The route then loops up, through Caton, to the Lune Valley Ramble, then past the location of the gallows, and reverses the route the condemned would have followed from the Castle, past the Golden Globe.

In reasonable weather every day presents wonderful but very varied views, from lovely wooded stream-fed valleys to wonderful soaring fells giving really magnificent views.

The books is already available at most local Tourism and Outdoor outlets, as well as online via Amazon and the LDWA website.