The Best of Pendle

Unlike the other two featured walks (thus far anyway), this one is not a challenge walk. You don’t get to register for an exclusive club of ‘completers’ or get to wear a weird embroidered badge…perhaps you should but that’s a debate for another day (a very long day if you ask me!).

No, this is Pendle, it has its own challenge walk (In the Shadow of Pendle) which I swear one day I will enter, the reward for completing this walk is the satisfaction of having ascended and descended one of the finest hills in the world (and really stiff legs).

We set off from the village of Barley. This is a quaint hamlet of a locale (at least I don’t remember seeing a church so it can be regarded as a hamlet), which lies within five miles or so from Clitheroe. As far as urbanisation goes this is no sprawling metropolis, as can be verified by the absence of your mobile phone’s signal until you get near to the top of any of the three hills which we are going to go up. Yes, I said three – all the truly great walks climb up at least three hills (I’ll get to the Fairfield and Kentmere horseshoes some day soon).

Barley has a visitor centre (café with toilets and leaflets featuring walks in the area) and a car park which leaves and strange sandy-chalky substance on the soles of your footwear – top tip number one: Take some carrier bags with you to put your footwear in in-between changes. From the side exit of the visitor centre car park, we are going east / left / alongside a stream for a little under half a mile, on route to our first peak – Stang Top Moor.

The route is altogether deceptive, a nice easy almost pastoral (apart from the fact that you are on tarmac / stones and under a canopy of leaves – in fact not at all pastoral!) but you know, it’s nice. After a good ten minutes we veer from under Slacks Wood off to the left into the heart of White Hough. The path we are on is part of yet another long distance path (the Pendle Witch walk) and if you were to continue to follow it in this direction you should end up in the town of Barrowford. We aren’t going that far but do have to do a little bit of uphill work here – for not at all far and it is not steep (just tends to be damp under feet – hey, have you seen how many reservoirs there are around here!).

White Hough village is lovely, albeit totally devoid of any comercial assets other than the White Hough Outdoor Centre which for all intents and purposes has either kept hold of its beautification budget for quite some years, or just doesn’t have one! That’s one ugly building which you steer well clear of as we pass under another deciduous leaf canopy and keep going alongside of a wall. Notice there is now a superabundance of trees on your left, there’s quite a few beyond the wall on the right too!

Eventually we arrive at the closest that this area has to a ‘col’ essentially the easy to follow stone and mud path gives way to…a sheep-filled field where you should be able to make out the footprints of previous frequenters to the area – most of the people who climb Pendle Hill don’t go this way (something about it being 180 degrees and four miles in the other direction I expect!) so the way ahead depened on just how hungry the sheep have been as to whether you’ll be able to see a path at all. Go north! Okay, go uphill and then bear right. You’ll then be walking along the crest of a little hill and should notice something white and kind of columnar in shape – yes, that is a trig point (o/s column) that you can make out. You’ve made it to the top of Stang Top Moor, there now, wasn’t that easy? Remember this well, because Pendle will!

Care for a long descent, sir? Good because this one goes on for about two miles. Bad news walking purists, it’s all on paving / by the side of the road, get over it! Go through that enormous gate, yes it does give you the impression it’s going to collapse but…if it does well erm…turn left and head downhill. At the end of the road, turn left and head downhill some more! The purists hate this but for me I see this as the pay-off for what will descend upon us in time.

Oaky so we’ve now gone through most of upper Rough Lee and seen some lovely foothills in the nearby area, now we have to take a left hand turn after Black Moss Farm and it’s off-road again. There are two large stretches of water in front of us, the upper and lower Black Moss reservoirs. We are going to pass the upper (the first one) and veer to the west (turn kind of right) in front of the second one. Take time to have a good old nosey about though as sometimes you might see the odd heron or other big bird looking for fish. Okay so back on the route and now amongst the many paths which are clear as day on the map and pretty much invisible on the goround we want to be heading in the direction of Windy Harbour Farm it’s essentially the second right hand turn if you stick to the path we took after the first reservoir. Just after the last building hop over (yeah, right) the stile on your right and plot a course for 305 degrees (or 45 degrees to the left) across the slightly unulating field – essentially see if you can find the opposing wall stile.

Once at the stile cross over the road (Barley Lane) and turn right for a little distance – about 100 feet, then turn left. This is Pendleside ‘cos guess where you’ll be going next? Pendle Hill. This is where you pay back for the earlier easy times! First of all it’s (again) all quite nice (ignore the sign on the left about dog feces, they are not all grumpy ’round these parts!) and keep on going on this tarmac meets nature path. Soon, all too soon, you will see a large house looming in front of you, this is Pendle House and around the rear of it (which is where you are going) you will see a set of gates on your right – turn here and behold…here are the infamous / notorious / damn painful at times, Barley steps – enjoy!

Believe it or not there are four ways up Pendle hill from this juncture, we are going to be taking the path to the right hand side of the hill, you can bolt straight up the middle if you want…it’s far quicker but your calf muscles will issue you with a restraining order afterwards. Not that our way is in any way easy.  If you’ve already done Pen-y-ghent from Brackenbottom then this is similar…but further and because of the exposure it’s never warm here…and it gets very, very ,windy, and full of people moaning about how soddin’ steep it is! Personally, I think it’s an amazing path, mulitextured – yes, a little bit slippery in places – yes, oh my god it’s so damn steep – hell yes! Life is meant to be experienced, and believe me you will experience this path – on every possible level!

In total, this path in its steepest form only goes on for just over 2,000 feet / 660+ metres in distance. You will climb 900 feet in altitude from Pendle House. Keep going. If it helps, keep looking backwards in awe at the progress you’ve made up this slope. When you start seeing rocks big enough to sit upon with comfort on your left hand side then you’re nearly there, there is a freakish point when given the right conditions the wind actually drives you forward and upwards, I call this the Pendle lift! Soon, (honestly) you will see a wall with an enormous wall stile on it – turn away from this it leads down to the village of Downham. Turn around so that you (should) be able to see the trig point a few hundred feet in the distance. The path ahead is on top of peat – there’s no two ways about it, if there’s been rain you’re going to get a bit of a coating of mud / peat on your soles. This is not the flattest path but then they’re boring anyway. Keep on going, it’s possible to build up quite some speed as you pass by people who look far fitter than you, they are just a bit spent after that monster climb! In time you reach the trig point and if it’s clear enough’ spend a long time on this peak, you’ve certainly earned it.  You might get to see the Yorkshire Three Peaks from the summit, Whernside is the easiest to make out and so many others look like Ingleborough from a distance. The nearer ones are Parlick Pike and Longridge Fell – both of whom have steep ascents (the south face for Parlick and the entire northern half of Longridge) which both lie in a westerly direction.

Just before frostbite sets in; it’s time to set off, you’re going to be going down a flagged staircase. Bear right and after less than fifty metres you should see some large flat stones which sprawl their way down the west side of the hill. They’re actually really easy to walk on and progress is all too swift. Before very long at all you cross over Pendle Water (a stream) and go through a gateway. We are going to be ascending part of Ogden Clough, but only in part. For the next mile or so we will stay at a reasonable height as the path gets narrower.  Ultimately and just for the hell of it we cross Pendle Water once more and make our way along Boar Clough gaining only slight height. Another stile / gate is traversed and yet another reservoir comes into view: the unremarkable Upper Ogden, it’s far nicer looking sister you will pass by shortly enough.

In time another stretch of tarmac is hit, ironically enough this is named Barley Green and if you were to follow it all the way to the end you would be back in the centre of Barley near the visitor centre. But we don’t want to do that, yet. Before the beginning of the Lower Ogden reservoir you will see a stretch of grass with a sandstone path running stright through it. Take this right hand turn pass the latest sculpture / information post about the Pendle witches and head off to the woods. Yes, this is spooky Pendle and you didn’t think you were getting away without some kind of fright did you?

As you head off into the forest you notice that the steps are:

  • Narrow
  • Steep

They really are the sort of thing that you just have to concentrate upon when stepping into this: Fell Wood. Notice too, just how quiet it all got around you. Eerie isn’t it? What was that sound? And that? Fell Wood in daylight can be pretty damn creepy, at twilight it can be utterly terrifying and I don’t know anyone who has ever experienced a night here… Did I mention just how damn steep this path is? As long as you stay on the very clearly marked path you should come out the other side…and then there’s a less steep but infinitely slippier path to take you to the final summit of the walk. The apex of this rise is known as Saddlers Height and it’s 377 metres about sea level, so not that innocuous really.  Again, take in the scenery, the dark beauty of Fell Wood, be totally astound at the looming spectacle of Pendle Hill and be proud that you just climbed that beast!

Okay now slip and slide your way down to Lower Wellhead Road via yet another sheep-filled pasture (Saddlers Height), the last few feet offer an amazing diemna – either stay here for the rest of your life or risk twisting an ankle getting into that narrow wall stile / gate. Eventually you’ll just go for it, (or else the demonic sheep will eat you, this is Pendle remember!) and then turn left (I was going to send you past Tynedale Farm but you’ve had enough scares and exertions for one day!). Follow the road to the t-junction, an opportunity arises here to have a little wander around St. Mary’s Church at Newchurch in Pendle, a name that takes longer to say than to traverse!  Turn left again and then you have to go uphill a little (sorry, forgot about this part). You notice an oddly named shop on your left-hand side, Witches Galore, go in it’s great but take your rucksack off first, spacious it isn’t!

Having bought a Witch, or fridge magnet, coaster, mug etc take your left hand turn on leaving the shop. You’re still going uphill but compared to the other two climbs you’ve done today it’s a walk in the park, you’re now less than a mile from the car park. And it’s a pretty easy mile at that as essentially you are just walking down the hill by the side of the road. Oh it’s steep, believe me, you would not want to go up this way, it’s a real calf-buster!

Soon enough you come down Cross Lane, pass by a severely under-used lovely large building on your left and arrive at Barley. Cross over the road (carefully as there are blind corners and all sorts of crazy speed limits in these parts) and turn right, a few feet later, turn left and hey presto you’re back at the car park having completed one of the grandest walks in Lancashire.

Roughly 8.9miles and as for the total ascent…