Walking: Bewitched by Pendle: Andrew Bibby spends a short spell in Lancashire

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I INTEND to try very hard not to mention the Pendle witches, although it may be difficult. Thanks to a sordid episode in 1612 when nine women from under Pendle Hill were hanged for witchcraft, this part of Lancashire now suffers an excess of witchyness. Take a walk from Barley or Newchurch-in-Pendle, the two delightful villages in the lee of the hill, and even if you avoid the witches' gift shop the chances are you will end up following the witch footpath signs erected by the council.

Enough. The point is that Pendle Hill does not need witchcraft to attract visitors. The great hill looms up behind the former mill towns of Burnley, Nelson and Colne, dominating mid-Lancashire. Choose good weather, and the view from Pendle Big End, 1831 feet high, is tremendous.

I was less lucky. Pendle Hill was out of sight under white cloud which merged with the snow left on its flanks. I should not have been too surprised - there is a saying among walkers that when you climb Pendle you are rewarded by fine views of mist and fog. This was clearly going to be one of those days.

Barley is the usual place to start the Pendle ascent: leave the car in the car-park (perhaps visiting the small interpretation centre put up by North West Water), walk through the village and follow the well-worn path across fields to Pendle House for the long slog to the summit.

I had decided on a different route up Pendle, however. My walk was going to be a flanking attack on the hill. I was going to go to Big End via Buttock.

Buttock (Southerners may want to practice the proper flattened Northern 'u' vowel) is an old upland farm on the slopes of Pendle Hill. There is a pleasant footpath there from the centre of Barley village, running through a series of sheep pastures 100 feet or so above the Lower Ogden reservoir. The farmland stops once Buttock is reached, but a path continues up the side of the house on to the open moorland slopes of the hill.

About 300 feet beyond the farm I turned north, searching for the path which runs up the hill towards the trig point on Pendle Big End. This could have been a nasty moment. The path was not immediately obvious and I was now in the clouds, with visibility restricted.

Pendle is not a big hill but it is a hill which deserves respect. It is surprisingly easy for the unwary to get lost, particularly on the moorland plateau. I pulled out the compass just in case.

Fortunately I soon found the path, and after a relatively gentle climb for about 15 minutes, the cairn and trig point at the top swam out of the clouds towards me. It was a pity I couldn't see anything else: George Fox in 1652 found that the view from Pendle brought about a kind of visionary experience, firing him in his work of establishing the Quaker movement. He had obviously chosen a better day than me.

The steep path down from the trig point passes close to the site of Robin Hood's Well, a spring which has had pagan associations in the past and which is now also associated with George Fox. I scrambled and slid down the hillside on compacted ice and snow to emerge 600 feet lower at Pendle House, taking the popular path back from there to Barley.

Barley has two pubs and a tea-shop, ample reward for a walker. But I was going a mile or so further, to discover a more recent part of Pendle's history. Tucked in a field near the next-door village of Newchurch is the Clarion House, surviving from the days of pioneer radicalism in the North West.

This is a small clubhouse, built in 1912 by local activists from the Independent Labour Party at a time when the Clarion movement (named after an influential newspaper) was extending the hopes and ideas of the young Labour movement into activities such as cycling and rambling.

The Clarion clubhouses (several were built) were the places to go to relax and discuss political ideas. 80 years on, the Clarion House at Newchurch still keeps the faith and opens every Sunday, staffed by local volunteers who serve Tony Benn-sized pint mugs of tea to anyone who drops in.

Somewhere in the pathways of history must be a connecting route between George Fox's religious experience and the secular vision of the Clarion pioneers.

A day out on Pendle Hill, even in the clouds, provides an opportunity to ponder a few visions of your own. I think it is much more interesting than witches.

(Map omitted)

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