Walking with Witches

by Northern Life

Pendleside Hospice intends to bring a world record back to its rightful home in September when it aims to host the largest gathering of people dressed as witches. Emmerdale star and children’s book author Samantha Giles is helping to spearhead the campaign along with Pendle Witches expert and tour guide Simon Entwistle. It is hoped the event will also raise around £100,000 towards maintaining the services Pendleside offers to people with life-limiting illnesses in the Burnley and Pendle area.

When Emmerdale star Samantha Giles was looking for inspiration to write her first children’s novel she became fascinated by the story about the Pendle Witches and researched the history to help set down her book ‘Rosemary And The Pendle Witches’ which has won much critical acclaim. The Pendle Witches were a group of 10 – including two men and a woman in her 80s – who were hanged in 1612 after being accused of murder and witchcraft.

“I believe that magic is all around us; from the beauty of the setting sun to the power of our own thoughts”

Mother-of-two Samantha, 50, who has played Bernice Blackstock in the ITV soap since 1998, delved into the facts behind the Pendle Witches and believes they were wrongly accused. She said: “They were women who used herbal and natural remedies but were accused of casting nasty spells on individuals. They were blamed for everything that went wrong in the area – from landowners’ crops failing to farm animals going lame and even people dying in unusual circumstances.”

Emmerdale star Samantha Giles who plays Bernice Blackstock in the ITV soap drama

Samantha, who has also appeared in other TV favourites Doctors, Dangerfield, Midnight Man, Hollyoaks and Where The Heart Is, explained how she became involved in supporting Pendleside’s attempt to break the world record and how she is hoping to work her own magic to help make it a success. She said: “Pendleside Hospice is situated at the heart of the Pendle Witches’ part of Lancashire and when I heard about the Witch Festival campaign I immediately wanted to get involved. I intend to be there on the day and be part of that record-breaking gathering and more importantly helping to raise £100,000 for such a fantastic cause.”

From a young age Samantha has been interested in the Wicca folklore and culture. She said: “Wicca is about following the rules of nature. Watching the cycles of nature, the way it changes, the way it affects us in the way we live. Samantha was born in Maidstone, Kent, but now lives with her husband Sean and daughters Eve and Olivia on Merseyside. She studied English and Drama at Bristol University at the same time as another future TV star and children’s author David Walliams.

The launch of the Pendleside Witch Festival at the Pendle Inn, Barley

Off set Samantha, who has been promoting the Witch Festival during visits to local junior schools, now spends a lot of her time writing – her third book is about to be published – and creating spells and charms for her website which she launched a year ago.

She said: “I provide a range of spells and charms which are all aimed at being for your greater good. I believe that magic is all around us; from the beauty of the setting sun to the power of our own thoughts which can create our reality. My charms and spells enable people to harness the power of natural white magic and help improve their life.”

Following a tour of the hospice Samantha said: “Pendleside offers so much beyond what you would expect. It’s not just about end-of-life care but also about respite and offering people with life-limiting illnesses the support they need. Tour guide and radio personality Simon Entwistle was born in the shadow of Pendle Hill and as a child often looked up at its slopes and tried to imagine what life must have been like in the days of the Pendle Witches.

Samantha Giles, centre, and Pendleside staff and volunteers, get into the Witch Festival spirit

He said: “It has a hypnotic seductive feel. The atmosphere still grips me today some 50 years later and if Steven Spielberg had to make a film about the Pendle Witches it would be a blockbuster.”

Simon, who is part of the organising committee for the Witch Festival, hosts regular tours of the Forest of Pendle area describing to tourists from all over the world the mysteries of the area.
The Pendleside Witch Festival takes place in Barrowford Park, on Saturday, September 17, and incorporates a sponsored circular Witch Walk from the park to Barley and Roughlee. This will be followed by the attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the ‘Largest Gathering Of People Dressed As Witches’ during a family fun festival.

Schools, colleges and businesses as well as the general public have been approached to take part.

It is hoped 2022 people – to correspond with the year – will take part in breaking the record. To attend costs adults £10 and children £5. To buy tickets and register please visit The purpose is to raise a minimum of £100,000 to
support the continued palliative end-of-life care; health and wellbeing services; and bereavement counselling services provided by Pendleside.

Pendleside previously held the record set during the 2012 700th anniversary of the Pendle Witches’ Trial when 482 people gathered dressed as witches and more than 1,000 took part in a sponsored walk. The record was broken by La Bruxia d’Or in Sort, Lleida, Spain, in November 2013, when 1.607 people dressed as witches. Schools, colleges and businesses as well as the general public have been approached to take part. To encourage schools an art competition to find the best drawn, painted or sculpted witch has also been launched.

During the day-long festival there will be a live music stage with bands and a DJ and an array of stalls selling witch-related goodies, face painting, food and drink. Pendleside has also engaged with pubs, restaurants, cafés and shops in Barrowford to adopt them as official partners.
Pendleside’s chief executive Helen McVey said: “We really appreciate the time and effort Samantha and Simon are giving us to help make the Witch Festival a success. Our intention is to bring the world record back to its rightful home and raise the £100,000 our hospice so sorely
needs after the impact of the pandemic over the last two years.”

NorthernLife July/August 2022