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Ogden Clough, Pendle

The lady on the car park at Downham is anxious she can find nowhere to pay. I reassure her it’s free, no honesty box or anything. She’s not sure if she can believe me, searches high and low again. I’ve stopped here only briefly to wipe the wax spots off the windscreen, before heading up over the moor to Barley. I washed the car last night, but didn’t make a proper job of it, and we’ll have the sun in our eyes, scattering over the glass, hence the quick pit-stop to restore clarity. Downham begs us to stay, and it’s tempting, but we walked from here last time, so today it’s Barley’s turn. We set off into the sun, leaving the lady still looking for somewhere to pay.

I suppose it’s a sign of the times, that we don’t expect anything to be free, especially not somewhere so beautiful as the village of Downham. Indeed, we expect prices to be soaring ahead of our ability, or perhaps our willingness, to keep up with them. Unlike at Downham, you must pay on the car park at Barley. This used to be an honesty box, but we arrive to find a new fangled machine has already read our number plate, and we must pay on exit. Still, £3:00 all day is not unreasonable. I wonder how long this machine will last before it breaks down, and what does one do then? As if anticipating the question, a notice tells us we must, in that eventuality, pay online. But the world is leaving behind those who are not web-savvy, I counter. The machine, being a machine, has no answer to that.

It’s a beautiful day in early autumn, and there is a rich light lending deep contrasts to the old stone of the village houses. Above the chimney pots, rises the great whale-back of Pendle Hill, aglow in morning sunshine. Of the various ways to Pendle’s summit, the direct route up the Big End, from Barley, is the quickest, but also, I find, the most brutal, and the least interesting. I prefer the approach via the reservoirs, then into the Ogden valley, and Boar Clough, which is the plan for today.

Repurposed Waterworks Buildings

First we pass the old Nelson waterworks, re-purposed as apartments. As we go we fiddle with the camera, and ponder once again this morning’s Wordle, which has me stumped: it’s the usual five-letter word, last three letters I.S.T. first letter E. But the venerable New York Times must have made a mistake, for such a word simply does not EXIST, right?

The reservoirs are low, but as we enter the clough head, we find the moor and the brooks are running healthily after recent rains. There is something awesomely bleak about the Ogden Clough as it cuts its way deep into Pendle’s flank. There is a route that follows its length, curving round eventually to meet the summit, but we shall save that one for another time. Today, our route climbs out of the valley, up Boar Clough, and across Barley Moor.

Clough Head from Boar Clough

It strikes me I have been wandering various Lancashire moors since August, and have either blinked and missed the season entirely, or the heather has not bloomed this year. Drought, heat, … changes in land management? I don’t know. I had thought Barley moor, would be a blazing sea of purple today, but it’s just your usual shades of straw and khaki, and brown. The flower heads are pale and dry, looking like last year’s blooms, and the ferny tips are blackening.

Trig Point, Pendle Hill

Is this another sign of the times, perhaps? Speaking of which, I read a couple of youngsters, protesting climate change, have thrown a tin of soup over Van Gough’s “Sunflowers”, at the National Gallery. Their argument runs: what good is art if the planet dies, and us with it? So, wake up! There is, I admit, a brutal logic to this. Which is finer: a moorland ablaze with heather, or a Van Gough? But I find I am nervous at the thought of sharing a world – should we be able to save it – with angry people who would sacrifice beloved works of art.

View from Pendle Hill, towards Barley

The view from Pendle is dramatic. The land falls away sharply, runs off in all directions, and lends a tremendous airy feeling, above a patchwork of green. Bowland, Yorkshire, East Lancashire,… and in the valleys nestle the old industrial towns, Burnley, Nelson, Colne, faded to the edge of perception by a faint Autumn haze. As we sit, a Kestrel entertains, but refuses a photograph. Such a beautiful day, I’m reluctant to come down, but down we must come, and via the knee-breaking direct route, up which pilgrims are now plodding the other way, and looking the worst for it.

“Are we nearly there,” they ask?

How does one define “nearly” Five minutes? Ten Minutes?

“Yes, nearly there, and well worth it.” We try to sound encouraging. Many who would not think to climb another hill will have a go at Pendle, and for many, Pendle was their first taste of the hills and a lifetime of enjoyment.

The downhill is as challenging as the up on this route, such a long, steep, descent it has the calves all a-tremble, long before we reach the bottom. Paragliders soar on the thermals. I do hope the Van Gough is all right. They say it was covered with glass. I wonder if the soup throwers knew that, and had it not been, would they have done it anyway?

We know we are nearing civilisation when we are once more assailed by notices claiming “private land” and “beware of the dog” and “no footpath”. Fortunately, the tide of adventure up Pendle is not deterred by such land lubberly sourness.

Autumn on Pendle Hill

Down on the car park, there is a queue of elderly ladies at the ticket machine, working out how to pay. This is not encouraging. When it’d my turn, though, it is relatively straightforward. I press on my registration number, which the machine has captured, and I pay the £3.00 gladly for a day well spent. And off we would go, but there is now an almighty and seemingly intractable snarl-up in the narrow streets of Barley, designed for horse and cart, and is caused by overlarge, luxury SUV’s, which, it is a well known fact, are not equipped with a reverse gear.

So, we settle to wait, and while we wait,.. a five-letter word, beginning with E, ending with I.S.T. No, I’m sorry, such a word simply does not EXIST.

Oh,.. Wait a sec. Got it, now. Very funny.

Thanks for listening

Graeme out.

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Pendle Hill Summit

Lancashire, driving roughly north and east along the A59, in the vicinity of Whalley. It’s a fast road, whisking you towards Clitheroe, then beyond to Gisburn and the Dales. Just here though, to the right, there comes into view a big hill, dun coloured, or sometimes more darkly dappled according to season and cloud. Or sometimes, in the wet, the clouds will take it, and you won’t even know it’s there. But on the clear days, like today, depending on how the light falls, the hill will sing a siren song, and if you’re susceptible it will infect you with a strange longing, calling you to a closer intimacy. This is Pendle.

I was heading for the Dales, but the shifting light on Pendle’s warm western flank seduced me, brought me off the A59 at Chatburn. Then it was the perfect little road, through Downham, and on to Barley. Imagination and myth lends this area an atmosphere of mystery; this is the heart of Lancashire, one in which abides dark tales of ancient witchcraft.

There are also accounts of holy visions. George Fox, founding father of the Quaker movement, had one. Others have told of doors that open onto other places, and of unspeakable ghostly encounters befalling travellers alone on the hill by night. And there’s a mess of lies too, like those that fetched up ten souls in 1612, had them hanged at Lancaster for murder, supposedly by witchcraft. As late as 2009, a petition was presented to parliament to have the condemned posthumously pardoned – the Witchcraft Act itself having been repealed in 1957. But the petition was refused, and the convictions stand. In Pendle it’s still official: death by witchcraft. And so the myths perpetuate.

But there are lighter stories too, a sense of humour in the tales of Sabden’s treacle mines, and the Boggarts who eat the treacle, and then there are the Parkin Weavers,… and maybe the Black Pudding Twisters too, or maybe I’m mixing up my stories now with a greater Lancastrian lore.

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Barley

It’s a big hill at 557 meters, and somewhat bleaker in appearance here on the steeper eastern face, at the bottom of which the little grit-stone village of Barley nestles in a broad green vale. Barley welcomes. It’s just a pound to park your car all day, and a welcoming tea-room close to hand. Most visitors come for the hill – either to look at it, or to climb it.

There are many ways up Pendle. I’ve done them from all points of the compass, in all weathers and seasons. The most direct and least interesting is the shortest, by the eastern face, from Barley, just a couple of kilometers up the stone-set tracks that slant diagonally across the face to left and right. But a more interesting, and less direct way leads you away from the hill for a while,  by the reservoirs of Ogden Clough.

I last did this route with a friend, some twenty years ago, when I recall the hill being alive with little frogs, black and shiny, a vast hoard of miniature obsidian reptilia, all crossing the moor, leaping over the toes of our boots, sweeping purposefully east, as if answering the call of a biblical plague. But the route that day, being shared with another happy soul, did not seem so lonely then as it did now. Today there were no little frogs, only the sound of the wind, and the feel of the curious eyes of the Faery on my back.

Don’t believe in the Faery? Well why would you? It’s a ridiculous notion. They are simply my own daemons, and not an unkindly breed – it depends which windows of imagination you go poking your head through.

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Ogden Clough

There are two reservoirs in Ogden Clough, the lower and the higher, both narrow slits of water, reflecting alternately the lead grey, the shock white, and the deep blue of a changeable September sky. Beyond the higher reservoir, the track bends to reveal the far reaches of the Clough, and no more desolate a place will you find anywhere in England. For a moment here the silence took my breath. It was what the hill had wanted to say, I think, or rather to show, to remind me of this silence, this emptiness, this palpable stillness. Of course the feeling, like the feel of the Faery, was as much to do with an inner frame of mind as by the mere lay and remoteness of the land, but it was a connection I had been lacking of late, and I was glad for a fresh glimpse of it. Hills are always different when you walk them alone; they have so much more to show you.

A stone bearing the chiseled image of a falcon marks the parting of the track, and the route to Pendle. It goes up the Pendle Way, along the narrow nick of Boar Clough, then a couple of kilometers, moderately steep, across an open, windy, heather-hissing moor, to the summit trig-point, and the company of other pilgrims. Until now I had not seen another soul since leaving Barley.

The obvious reward for your efforts is the view of course, opening suddenly from the ridge to the north and east – lush farmland, little hamlets and the shining eyes of ponds and reservoirs. The character of a hill is first felt in the look of it from below, then in the pleasure of its routes, and in the change of perspective it offers the climber on his lowland life. For a moment, from the top of a fine hill like this, we cannot help but transcend the ordinary. In all of these respects, Pendle pleases, but also it reminds us that for all of our modernity, the land can still be a daemon haunted place, one still bound up in myth-making, a place where the imaginary can still be felt as a physical presence.

Not all hills can do this.

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