Days out: A trip around North Lancashire

Where witches and Nutters abound
Click to follow
The Independent Travel

Lancashire is a microcosm of England's north/south divide. In the south of the county, the Accrington brick Victorian terrace houses, red as raw steak, snake between grafitti-rich shopping precincts and the occasional Wesleyan chapel converted into a discount warehouse.

Lancashire is a microcosm of England's north/south divide. In the south of the county, the Accrington brick Victorian terrace houses, red as raw steak, snake between grafitti-rich shopping precincts and the occasional Wesleyan chapel converted into a discount warehouse.

Press on north for 20 minutes, and a landscape of verdant hills, rushing brooks, dolls'-house villages and country estates whisper of wealth so old and quiet you wonder if the locals of such an enchanted corner of England have cast a spell on holidaymakers who blindly speed north to the Lake District or west to Blackpool.

Just south of Clitheroe, Pendle Hill rises like a basking whale, the mellow villages of centuries-old, raw amber-coloured stone bearing silent witness to the eerily potent sense of mystery and tragedy. Pendle Hill's mood changes by the hour.

On a warm summer evening, viewed from the evocative abbey ruins at Sawley, it is shaped like a grand piano draped in a toffee-coloured chenille cloth. This landscape of pastoral splendour has changed little since 1612 when the jumpy King James I ordered the trial and public hangings of a posse of deranged local women whose undiagnosed madnesses led to their being deemed witches.

The tragic trek these wretched women made to ancient Lancaster Castle (the oldest working prison in England) inspires awe and sadness at the physical beauty and human suffering.

Pendle Heritage Centre boasts a wide range of thoughtfully designed trails.

At Pendle Hill's highest reaches, gashes of forest and craggy outcrops disappear in frequent mists. The Wells Springs pub (now rather tackily renamed B's Bar), was a stopping point for the witches, though it's hard to imagine "Mother Demdike", her aesthetically unfortunate daughter "Squintin' Lizzie" and "Old Ma Chattox" munching on a goat's cheese ciabatta as you can do today.

The church at dreamy Newchurch boasts a slate "eye" built into its tower after Ma Chattox, who scraped a living as a sort of 17th-century aromatherapist, plundered from the graveyard the human teeth needed for her potions.

You'll find the mossy tombs of the Nutter family. Alice Nutter was a Catholic gentlewoman who became embroiled in the saga, and was executed along with the others.

"There's plenty of Nutters around these parts still," agree the locals at the Aschesson Arms in Downham, just north of Clitheroe. "Some folk still keep their family trees locked up."

Downham is the quintessential English village yet nestling safely on the right side of twee. Spreading out beneath Downham Hall , it has no road markings, television aerials or phone wires to blemish its ancient patina.

Its post office tea room is the ideal spot for melting Lancashire cheese on toast before an open fire.

This swathe of Lancashire affords wonderful settings in which to gorge on fayre rather daintier than Lancashire hot-pot. Most glamorous is the Inn at Whitewell, an eccentic sprawl of well worn leather and stone and Lancashire's fishin'n'shootin' set who eat smoked salmon while calling a spade a spade. Home to the keeper of the royal hunting grounds of the Forest of Bowland, it is just north west of Clitheroe.

Just a little further, the delightful hamlet of Dunsop Bridge is recognised as the settlement that is geographically closest to the very centre of Britain.

A must for the sweet-toothed are the pillows of home-made caramel meringue in the Riverside Café at mellow Slaidburn a few miles east. With its 10th-century church, the time-warp quality is largely thanks to its having been owned by the King-Wilkinson family for the past 200 years ensuring no unslightly developments.

The landlord of the 13th-century Hark To Bounty will tell you how this cosy pub was the local court house. Just don't let him know that you know Slaidburn was in Yorkshire until 1974. Roses are firmly red, here.

Pendle Heritage Centre (01282 661704)

Comments