Old Pendle, Old Pendle, Thou standest alone
Twixt Burnley and Clitheroe, Whalley and Colne
Where Hodder and Ribble’s Fair waters do meet
With Barley and Downham Content at thy feet
Old Pendle, old Pendle Majestic, sublime
Thy praises shall ring to the end of all time
In beauty eternal thy banner unfurled
Thou dearest and grandest old hill in the world
So goes the old song by Milton and Allen Lambert about glorious Pendle Hill, the impressive landmark that stands guard over my part of Lancashire.
In the 36 years that I have now lived in Newchurch, I’ve realised what an important place Pendle Hill is, to so very many people. Visitors come to this area, sometimes by chance, sometimes just for the day, or on business, they discover Pendle and begin to understand what a beautiful, special, scenic area this is. Many return for a longer visit, coming back again and again captured by the beauty of the area.
I talk to walkers who have for many years enjoyed the Lake District or the Dales and nowthey have found Pendle, which they describe as being beautiful and unspoiled.
Some time ago, a small coach party arrived in my shop; older people, each one soberly dressed. They had come from Birmingham. Each one of the group wanted a picture of Pendle or some memento to take home. The reason for their visit, they explained, was to bring Dad home. Now these folk were elderly so ‘Dad’ must have been in his 80’s, I guess. He was born in Pendle and as a young man couldn’t find employment in the area, so he walked to Birmingham to look for work. He gained a job, married and had a family but all his life told his relatives “When I go, take me home – to Pendle.” So this day his ashes were scattered here. I hear similar stories all the time, people whose families emigrated to Canada, America, Australia and New Zealand, come back to visit their roots, and pay tribute to Pendle.
I once did an interview on camera for Granada TV, standing with Pendle Hill in the background. I answered questions about Pendle, when suddenly, the young woman stopped and said to me: “Just a minute, every time you talk about Pendle Hill, you say ‘she.’ Is Pendle feminine?”
“Of course,” I replied. “You can look at Pendle in the morning, balled in sunlight, and she’s bright and capricious. But look again later in the day and she might appear dark and brooding. She has different moods each day just like a woman!”
The year 2012 saw the 400th anniversary of the ‘Witch Trials’ of 1612 and there were many special events planned to commemorate the anniversary, one of which was to paint ‘1612’ onto the side of Pendle.
Initially permission was given by the landowner, but there was a backlash in the local press against the plan, and permission was withdrawn, but on the morning of August 18th, the actual date of the trials at Lancaster Castle, there appeared ‘1612’ on the hillside, not painted but using white fabric. And I have to say that although I was against the plan originally it did look very good and could be seen from miles away.
When I was a child I often climbed Pendle with my parents and friends. Grandad would say: “Right lass, take a big stone up with you, put it on top and if everybody did that, Pendle would grow to a mountain. At 1,831 feet she isn’t a mountain yet!” Some years ago I had both my knees replaced and at the time thought to myself: “Bother, that’s the last time I’ll climb Pendle.” However I found that I was able to puff and blow my way to the top, up the stone steps put there now to prevent land erosion, and the joy of reaching the top – particularly on a clear day when the view is wonderful – was so worth the effort of hauling myself up there.
I tell the visitors that the view from the top of Pendle is amazing. You can see Blackpool Tower, the sea, the Langdales and Penyghent on a clear day, and there’s a great serenity there.
I’ve also been known to warn people, first visitors, not to attempt the ascent when conditions are poor and not suitable to the poorly clad walker. The mountain rescue team are kept busy bringing people down from the hill when they haven’t appreciated how dangerous the hill can be in bad weather.
Some years ago a lady from Essex wrote a musical show about Pendle Hill and the witches, which was staged in a theatre in the South of England. The show was a success and the producers decided to bring the show to Barley Village Hall.
The cast of it arrived one Friday evening in winter and most of them – including the children – slept on the floor of the village hall. Overnight there was a heavy snowfall. When these people woke the following morning, there stood Pendle in a mantle of pure white, against a
clear blue sky. When that evening the show was performed and they sang a version of Old Pendle I found it quite a moving moment.
I cannot complete this item without including George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, into the story.
Many of the American visitors who arrive here come not because of the story of the Pendle witches, or the beauty of the area, but to find some reference to George Fox, who in 1652
climbed Pendle and saw a vision of a great multitude of people and was moved to find the Quaker movement.
Many of them expect to find a permanent monument on the top of Pendle. Pendle Hill continues to enchant and delight visitors from anywhere in the world, and when local folk come home from holiday they say: “Once I saw Pendle I knew I was home again.”
By Maureen Stopforth, New Church-in-Pendle