You’ll never be short of a wonderful place to walk, breathe in the fresh air and take in the gorgeous surroundings in and around Manchester. But what if we told you you can have all this just an hour from the city in Pendle, where 2% of all witch trials in the country were held, making it one of the most mysterious and haunted areas in the UK?
Just and hour from Manchester, Pendle is internationally renowned for the witch trials of 1612, where 12 local women were held in custody, one dying before trial due to the awful conditions, one being found innocent, and 10 being eventually brutally hanged.
These women were mostly from two rival families in the area – Demdike and Chattox – the widows of which were seen to lead Pendle witchcraft, named Elizabeth Southerns AKA ‘Old Demdike’ and Anne Whittle AKA ‘Mother Chattox’. The fate of Old Demdike was pretty grim, with her not reaching trial, dying in custody due to the awful conditions.
The Pendle witches were held on account of anything from cursing locals, to signs that they’d sold their souls to the Devil, all against a backdrop of religious unrest, with Lancashire seemingly leaning more towards Catholic thinking during dissolution from the ruling class.
The Pendle witch trials were held at Lancaster, where the accused mostly confessed out of fear, or had very public breakdowns in the courtroom, overcome by terror and emotion, but we’ll never really know whether the women were truly guilty of anything other than alternative ways of living.
Witch trials, in general, have admittedly been overhyped in the centuries following them, and often the instances of trials and punishment were actually fairly minimal. Take Pendle, in this instance, as there were only 12 ‘witches’ tried over a three day period.
These women were also often victims of misogyny in a mostly puritanical society, led by King James I, with most women accused of witchcraft being widows, healers or just having done something a man didn’t like. Therefore, witchcraft was a fairly patriarchal construct – now reclaimed in a more positive light, often by those following Paganism or similar.
Pendle Hill rises above this ancient hunting ground, once the home of wolves and wild boar and to this day dotted with tiny hamlets and farms. It is still an untamed place, full of mystery and beauty, and you can feel the history beneath you as you walk. Long distance walks, such as the 43-mile Pendle Way and parts of the Brontë Way, combine history with stunning scenery, with plenty of country inns and farmhouses, and many nods to the past as you go.
Set in the heart of Pendle Witch Country, you’ll find the famous Witches Galore shop where fiendishly ghoulish delights will thrill and chill you. Step into the Aladdin’s Cave of supernatural specialities, browsing through a whole host of spooky merchandise. Witches Galore also has a quaint little cafe to rest your feet and enjoy a lovely cuppa – just check for rat tails before you sip.
A climb to the summit of Pendle Hill, which is officially designated as the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), also inspired George Fox in 1652 to set up the worldwide Quaker Movement. It’s also a ramble you can replicate yourself, with views of the surrounding towns of Burnley, Nelson, Colne, Brierfield, Clitheroe and Padiham.
Pendle is truly a wonderful area for a bit of fresh air, but is not for the faint hearted when it comes to its gruesome history. Whether you’re a witch at heart, or just intrigued by its heritage, Pendle is a relatively short, worthwhile trip from Manchester.