Soaring pandemic footfall figures show true importance of Pendle Hill

It's been a busy few years for one of Lancashire's most famous landmarks.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 3:45 pm

Pendle Hill has always been a special place for special days, where reaching the trig point for many remains a time-honoured rite of passage.

It’s an everlasting, reassuring backdrop to the lives of anybody living in Burnley, Pendle and the Ribble Valley; a sign of home, a useful weather vane.

“If you can see Pendle then it is going to rain, and if you can’t see it, then it is already raining.”

Pendle Hill. Photo: Lee Mansfield
Pendle Hill. Photo: Lee Mansfield

During the Covid pandemic, our beautiful almost-mountain (it’s still 43m short of that magic 600m mark), became an increasingly important place for people to get their daily dose of exercise, to meet friends, and to seek headspace.

An electronic people counter was actually installed at the foot of the hill in July 2019. Over the course of the following year, 42,000 walkers were recorded passing it, at an average of 115 per day.

That number rose significantly during a year of lockdowns, with 68,000 people making the trig trip from July 2020 up to the end of May 2021; an average of 200 walkers per day.

“Pre-pandemic, busy days were usually Sundays, Easter and Christmas and New Year, with 550 people hitting the hill on January 1st 2020,” said Cathy Hopley, Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme programme manager.

Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership Scheme's launch event, "Meet you at the Top", in 2018. Photo: Mark Sutcliffe

“We had a massive peak on March 20th and 21st, 2020, with 1,200 people visiting over the Mothers’ Day weekend before lockdown. Then it went very quiet, with just 20 to 30 people a day until May, when we suddenly had over a thousand visits over the May Spring Bank Holiday and the start of half-term. Numbers then stuck at 200 - 300 a day through to the end of July, with over 1,000 on one day in early July.

“During the November lockdown visits remained fairly high, 100 to 200 a day most days, then in one week from December 28th 2020 – January 3rd 2021, the hill was climbed by nearly 4,000 people.”

Pendle Hill is part of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, designated in 1964. It is a protected landscape, of equal importance to a National Park in terms of its beautiful landscape.

Much of the hill itself is owned by the Downham Estate, although large parts of the highest land are classed as common where local farmers have the right to freely graze their sheep and cattle.

Tracks on the summit have been repaired under through the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership scheme.

This still means it is private land and should therefore be respected as such when visited.

In 2018, the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership scheme, led by the Forest of Bowland AONB, was awarded a National Lottery grant of £1.8m. by the Heritage Lottery Fund, matched by a further £1m. raised locally.

The ambitious four-year scheme set out with five aims:

1. Restore, enhance and conserve the heritage and landscape of Pendle Hill.

2. Re-connect people with the landscape.

3. Re-connect people and the past.

4. Bring together the two sides of the hill.

5. Create a sustainable future for the environment, heritage and for visitors’ experience of Pendle Hill

With more people than ever using Pendle, the work carried out by the partnership has taken on even greater significance as they attempt to combat the major erosion problems that come with increased footfall.

Work so far has included:

○ Repairs to the cart track path up the hill, and to the stretch of path approaching Pendleside from Barley village

○ Repairs to tracks on the summit itself, reducing erosion and boggy paths

○ Carved summit stones set around the trig point by artist Henrietta Armstrong

○ Restoration of the peatland across the summit to help to re-vegetate this fragile and important habitat and the creation of mini dams to hold back heavy rains and to help prevent flooding

downstream

○ Creation of a walkers seating area near the summit, now also incorporating a stone plaque commemorating the visit of George Fox who had a vision on the hill that led to him setting up the Quaker movement

○ Carved stone waymarkers and a welcome sign.

This year the partnership will continue to repair the paths, restore lengths of crumbling dry stone wall, and create a mini meadow near the foot of the steps.

Pendle Hill Access for All officer Sarah Dornan said: “Since 2021 started we have seen between 1,000 and 2,000 people a week climbing Pendle, and there are many days seeing over 500, which used to be an annual peak.

“The hill has become a major destination, and with that comes major erosion problems.

“The partnership is working hard to make the paths more erosion proof: building tougher surfaces and channels to remove flowing water.

“It’s difficult because the hillside is very unstable and as the vegetation is worn away the loose stones beneath start to shift. Once people make a new track or cut a corner, others follow and the track wears deep and wider fast.

“At the moment we are trying to fix this on the zigzag section of path: we need your help! Please keep to the path at all times and watch out for workers.”