Do witches exist? Whatever your views are, back in the 17th century witches were feared immensely – especially in the UK’s Lancashire. The scene of one of the UK’s most notorious witch trials, take a step back in time and discover more about Lancashire’s spooky past with a journey along the Pendle Witches Trail.
There are several ways to explore the area, including by car, by foot, and by bicycle. You can also join a guided tour, the Pendle Witch Experience, from Pendle Village Mill near Burnley. Tours cost 15 GBP (approximately 21 USD) per person, and last for around two hours.
Self-guided walking routes generally begin in a quaint village called Barley. Barley is within Lancashire’s district of Pendle. There are two marked walking loops, covering 5.6 kilometres (3.5 miles) and 6.4 kilometres (4 miles). You won’t get lost – just follow the wooden markers engraved with a witch on a broomstick! You can download a map from the official Visit Lancashire website. Encompassing historical sites associated with the witches and places of stunning natural beauty, the walks are perfect for the warmer months (May to September).
If you want to cover even more ground, the driving trail is highly recommended. It starts at the Pendle Heritage Centre in the village of Barrowford. Passing through cute and interesting villages, crossing Pendle Hill and the Forest of Bowland, and finishing at the imposing Lancaster Castle, the trail stretches for 72.4 kilometres (45 miles). It is also suitable for keen and active cyclists. It is well-marked and directions can be downloaded. Follow the route that the infamous witches followed several centuries ago, from their homes around Pendle Hill to the place where they were ultimately sentenced to death.
This review focuses mainly on the driving trail. Here are some highlights to inspire you to get out and about and drive across Lancashire:
Pendle Heritage Centre: a hive of interest
The starting point of the Pendle Witch Trail (driving route), take some time to learn more about the infamous witches, their alleged crimes, their trials, and their punishments at the informative Pendle Heritage Centre. Admission is 4.50 GBP (approximately 6.40 USD). UK tax-payers can add a Gift Aid donation, if they wish, making the entrance fee 4.95 GBP (approximately 7 USD).
Taking you back to the early 1600s, visit a period of strong superstitions, political upheaval, and religious persecution. Many people lived in poverty, and fear was a regular part of life. In a nutshell, the eerie tales started when a young lady supposedly cursed a travelling trader. Brought in front of a local court, the lady confessed to using witchcraft, subsequently implicating her family and neighbours. The “witches” were eventually put on trial at Lancaster Castle, with the main evidence against them comprising rumours, speculation, and hearsay. One person was also tried in York. A total of ten people were found guilty of witchcraft and hanged. Only one of the accused was found innocent, and a further person died whilst in custody awaiting trial.
There is more to the Pendle Heritage Centre though. The area is where George Fox had the idea to form the Quaker movement. It also has strong ties to the historic Bannister family, the ancestors of the first person to run a mile in less than four minutes, Roger Bannister. Stroll around the delightful walled garden and have an interesting start to your adventure!
Witches Galore and the Pendle Inn: shopping, eating and drinking
As you continue the trail you will come to a fabulously quirky shop that really plays off the area’s heritage – Witches Galore. It is in Newchurch in Pendle. A sign hangs above the doorway telling you to “Gerrit Spent”, further advising that “they don’t pupockits i shrahds” (they don’t put pockets in shrouds)! If that’s not enough to make you want to part with your cash, the unusual assortment of goods inside might just tempt you. There are model witches in all sizes, a wide array of witch memorabilia and trinkets, kooky outfits, numerous herbal remedies (marketed as spells), and, of course, broomsticks!
Call into the Pendle Inn for a quick drink or a bite to eat. A traditional pub in the village of Barley, it serves a delicious selection of homemade local pub favourites, including hot pot, lamb, and pies. You’ll notice the pub as you’re driving thanks to its huge sign with a flying witch!
Pendle Hill and quaint villages: scenery and countryside living
There are plenty of scenic views and beautiful photo opportunities as you drive across Pendle Hill. You’ll also pass by several charming villages, with stone cottages, local churches, and farms. Stop and explore wherever takes your fancy!
You can see places associated with the witches, particularly Ashlar House (now a private home) where some of the witches were questioned about their activities, the cute village of Downham, and Roughlee Old Hall (now a private residence) where one of the witches used to live. Blacko Tower is where the witches are said to have met up, and the village of Higham is particularly interesting. It is where some of the witches lived and where one witch is believed to have dug up graves in the local churchyard to obtain human skulls and teeth!
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Clitheroe: a charming town
The route continues through the beautiful historical market town of Clitheroe. Whilst there isn’t so much witch-related history, you will still find plenty terrific distractions!
A fantastic attraction is Clitheroe Castle. Dating back to the 12th century, it is thought to be the smallest Norman castle in all of England. Explore the atmospheric ruins, enjoy the large gardens, muddle your way through the labyrinth, and admire the views of the surrounding hills, countryside, and villages. The museum provides more information about the Pendle Witches. Admission is 3.85 GBP (approximately 5.50 USD).
The Ribble Valley Sculpture Trail is also well-worth a visit. Home to an interesting selection of sculptures, it is also a great place to enjoy nature.
Forest of Bowland: Lonely roads and natural beauty
Enjoy the sweeping vistas as you traverse the often-deserted roads of the expansive Forest of Bowland. Sheep graze in fields, and, if you visit in springtime (March – June), you might even see lambs frolicking and skipping.
Whalley Abbey is a great stopping place. The stunning ruins were once part of an impressive Cistercian Abbey, and date back to the 14th century. Another interesting abbey, although you will need to take a bit of a detour, is Sawley Abbey.
Lancaster: The end of the road for the witches
The Pendle Witches Trail ends at the same place where the convicted witches met their end - Lancaster Castle. Admission is 8 GBP (approximately 11.40 USD), including the fascinating castle tour. Still in use today as a criminal court, Lancaster Castle has played a pivotal role throughout the area’s history. Learn about other historical cases tried in the court, including the sad cases of the so-called Catholic Martyrs. Between the 1580s and 1640s 15 people were executed at Lancaster Castle on account of following the Catholic faith. It is a great place to learn more about witchcraft, persecution on the grounds of religious beliefs, crimes of the ages, and punishments that were meted out to wrong-doers and law-breakers. Peer into medieval cells, and see where people were held awaiting trial right up until 2011.
Other great attractions in Lancaster include Lancaster Cathedral, Lancaster University, and the Ashton Memorial.
Other cool witch-related spots around the UK
If discovering the Pendle Witch Trail has left you hungry for more tales of ghastly deeds, sorcery, and magick, other fantastic places with a witchery heritage include Essex, the scene of some of England’s earliest witch trials, Flint, where the first person in Wales was executed for witchcraft, and Scotland’s Paisley and Berwick. It’s not only Salem, Massachusetts, USA that has a long and strange history of witchcraft!
Discover the mysteries of Lancashire with a journey along the Pendle Witches Trail.
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