Around Pendle on Foot
by Allan Bolton
ALLAN BOLTON, NORTHERN LIFE CONTRIBUTER, WALKS THE PENDLE WAY
“I’m trudging up the road out of Trawden towards Boulsworth Hill, the way I’d descended yesterday – except that overnight, winter conditions have swept away the sunny warmth of late March. Trawden’s superb volunteer-run community shop has supplied me with enough food for the day and friendly citizens have shown a slightly concerned interest in where I’m going.
The hillsides are snow-scattered. I note with relief that the snow line seems to be just above the high trail I’m out to join. Upland birds whistle in the high pastures as if summoning me onwards and I’m gladdened by the familiar burbling call of curlews. All else is silent. Other abiding images from these days are of vibrant daffodils, new lambs and drying footpaths.
Now looking back, I regard this as one of the highlights of the trail – the Pendle Way, a 45 mile tour taking in Barnoldswick, Earby, Wycoller, Brierfield, Higham, Barley and Barrowford. At its hub off-route are Colne, Nelson and Trawden. I’ve chosen it for a relaxing break to prepare me for a longer section of the South West Coast Path.
But I’m still in Lancashire: from my home near the Cumbrian border to Pendle near the Yorkshire border, it’s around 50 miles. This area is unknown to me so I’ve booked to stay four nights at the Earby Holiday Hostel, the base from which I can access the excellent Mainline bus services – and my senior bus pass is an extra benefit. I’ve planned four one-day walks with a lighter backpack than if I toted the full load staying in different locations.
The hostel proves a great success: an attractive house in a terrace with a stream running through its garden. It’s compact with rooms of varying sizes and it’s good for all the essentials. Self-catering is the normal option. Matt Oddy, the manager, is helpful with advice about the area. See earbyhostel.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Back on the route, the walk from historic Wycoller to the Coldwell Reservoirs is over three miles heading south-west along a broad track. You’re shielded by higher ground to your left while you promenade at altitudes between 1000 feet (305 metres) above Trawden. Water is clearly important around here: the trail passes close by seven reservoirs and the spongy green folds of these hillsides are seamed with mini-ravines and watercourses named as Clough, Syke, Dyke, Beck – and Water.
Other highlights are the steadily rising section from the meeting of Pendle Water and Blacko Water north of Barrowford by way of Admergill to Weets Hill at 1300 feet (400 metres), the second highest top on the Pendle Way and an impressive viewpoint; the beautiful award-winning villages Wycoller, Higham and Barley; and Pendle Hill itself.
You learn to expect surprises: after crossing the old Gisburn-Barnoldswick road, there was a field, perhaps a small petting zoo, with rare-breed sheep, goats, ponies and donkeys
This morning I’m glad to have heeded the forecast and climbed Pendle Hill yesterday for, in the distance, it looms coated by an indistinct but heavy covering of snow – indistinct because of a menacing cauldron of swirling dark cloud. I have a theory that Pendle Hill has a chip on its shoulder: at 1,827 feet (557 metres) it fails to qualify as a mountain (minimum 2,000 feet). On a good day it looks vast and benign enough to feature its own golf course (this isn’t a serious suggestion!) – and it’s undeniably an impressive beast. Yet its summit plateau is so extensive that it hinders the view which some climbers hope to enjoy.
From the slopes rising from Newchurch in Pendle, the atmospheric path through the forestry of Fell Wood brings you to the Ogden Reservoirs. You’re hemmed in by steep high slopes and need to check the route. You face a climb of 1,000 feet (300 metres) to reach the summit. Where the gradient is steepest, loose stones grind and shift under my boots – as if the hill is out to prove that it’s no pushover. It’s worthy of the over-used description ‘iconic’ but to me it’s a highlight because it demands respect rather than love.
The Pendle Way could do with more pleasant stopping places – cafes, inns, daytime eateries. Disappointments can arise: when I lost the trail in a muddy hollow and had to scramble over a stream among brambles, I was still happy because I knew that, tired though I was, it was lunchtime and I’d soon arrive at the Emmott Arms in Laneshawbridge which I’d seen recommended. A tasty sandwich and something long and cold beckoned. Not best impressed would understate how it felt to read a notice on its locked door announcing that today, 28 March, the inn would be closed because the staff are having their Christmas party. They owed me a seat at their picnic tables and, in the absence of alternative provision, I sulked there, nibbling reserve rations while watching cars and trucks trundle past on the A6068.
Some inns are known for historic associations. For example, the Four Alls Inn in Higham is named for the legend on its signboard illustrated by four painted figures – the priest who prays for all, the king who governs for all, the soldier who fights for all, and the working man who pays for all.
How hard is it to follow the Pendle Way? Newer versions of Ordnance Survey map 21 South Pennines show all of it highlighted as a recreational route. If you have the technology, you’d do well to download it to your device. There are also wooden markers showing the image of a Pendle witch, in yellow, on a dark background. These are reassuring, but not wholly reliable: long gaps can appear between them and the route often runs with or across other named ‘ways’. That’s not to be critical: the Way is not one of the umpteen national trails which are funded to provide posh waymarks, and Pendle has committed volunteers devoting their time to its conservation.
A small paperback, Pendle Way by Paul Hannon (Hillside Publications 1997), though clearly outdated, is very informative and worth obtaining second-hand from the internet. The route has scarcely changed in the intervening 25 years.
Twice I lost the trail owing to the occasional lack of a path on the ground. If, like me, you have no digital download and rely on map and compass, you should also take a simple GPS device. It will show your grid reference which you can use to find your exact location on the map and take steps to reunite yourself with the route. Some time and much cursing may be involved. Even going wrong can have consolations: as I leant against a high wall, I was hidden from the view of a brown hare which appeared under an adjoining gate, almost running over my foot. Suddenly alert to danger, it scratched hard for purchase like sprinters leaving their blocks, powerful back legs pumping as it scooted off at maximum speed.
You learn to expect surprises: after crossing the old Gisburn-Barnoldswick road, there was a field, perhaps a small petting zoo, with rare-breed sheep, goats, ponies and donkeys. The place was closed but the animals perked up and demanded my attention. Two lovely donkeys followed me and seemed sad that I was moving on.
The Way has plenty of variety: field paths, stream sides, stony tracks, woods, bridges, some tarmac and streets. It’s important to mention moors and hills – there’s over 6000 feet of ascent entailed in this venture.
It was a privilege, an education and a pleasure. That’s how I’ll remember it – also for the friendliness of the people I encountered around the way.
NorthernLife May/June 2022