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Pendle Witches Way

The Pendle Witches Way is a 77km (48 mile) journey from Sabden in Lancashire through the Ribble Valley and the Forest of Bowland to Lancaster. It was launched to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the infamous Pendle Witch Trials. The route and the guidebook are the brainchild of Hyndburn Ramblers member Phil Bedson.

The first part of the walk takes in the locations around Pendle Hill which are synonymous with the Pendle Witches - Higham, Fence, Newchurch-in-Pendle and Barley. These are the places where they lived and 'cast their spells' through to where they were held and charged. The men and women were then taken through the Ribble Valley and the Forest of Bowland, either by cart or even on foot, to their final place of trial and execution in Lancaster.

The route itself will take you from the aptly named Pendle Witch Inn in Sabden all the way through the Ribble Valley and The Forest of Bowland to Lancaster Castle. You will travel through the area around Pendle Hill known to Chattox and Demdike and all the other protagonists in the Pendle Witches story before heading North West to the scene of their fate. Some of the buildings are long lost although some are still to be seen and it was the intention of the author to visit as many of these as possible on the walk.

Continuing north west from Clitheroe across the Forest of Bowland the author has chosen a route through Bashall, past Browsholme Hall to Dunsop Bridge before going straight over Hawthornthwaite Top to Abbeystead and on to Lancaster. The final descent into Lancaster takes you past their place of execution at Golgotha and on to Lacaster Castle where they were held for four months before being tried and sentenced to their deaths.

Virtually the entire route is on the OS Outdoor Leisure 41 Forest of Bowland map although you will also need OS Outdoor Leisure 21 South Pennines and the OS Explorer 287 West Pennine Moors for the early part of the walk.

Pendle Witches Way Route

More about the Pendle Witches

The Pendle witch trial took place in 1612 and involved two peasant families who lived on the slopes of Pendle Hill. Both families were headed by women, one called Demdike and the other Chattox. They were both poor and survived by begging and possibly stealing and were bitter rivals feared my many local people.

The grand-daughter of Demdike, Alizon Device, was accused of putting a curse on a local man which supposedly paralysed him. Local outrage led to her being charged of witchcraft and she confessed to this before Justice Roger Nowell. She also implicated Demdike in other acts of sorcery and in describing the feud between the families also accused Chattox of witchcraft. Nowell sent Demdike, Alizon Device, Chattox and her daughter to Lancaster Castle to await trial.

This led to a meeting of twenty family members and sympathisers, including James Device and his mother Elizabeth who hatched a ridiculous plan to rescue the women from the castle and blow it up. This became common knowledge and Nowell had some of them arrested and sent to the castle to join the others. The trial was held in August and all were found guilty. On 20th August 1612 the following were hanged in Lancaster before a large crowd: Chattox, Alizon, James and Elizabeth Device, Ann Redfearn, Alice Nutter, Katherine Hewitt, Jane and John Bulcock. Demdike had died in prison prior to the trial.

Witchcraft - the background

The word 'witch' derives from the Anglo-Saxon word 'Wicca'. This would have translated as 'wise', rather than the later inference of 'wicked' and its connotations with devil worship. Witches would have performed pagan rituals related to the seasons, the harvest, healing and the environment and would have been regarded more as magicians bringing good fortune to their communities.

During the 14th century the Catholic Christian church began to see witches often benign pagan rituals as a threat to its growing power and influence. Consequently the church began a long campaign to discredit witches' practices as wicked sorcery with evil intent.

By the 16th century the church had been so successful in its propaganda that witches were regarded throughout Europe as having a contract with the devil and of being a danger to church and state and were feared by society. The resultant 'witch hunt' led to thousands of hangings and burnings of many innocent women who had practiced healing or other rites. Often something as innocent as the keeping of a cat would put suspicion on a person.

The protestant King James became obsessed with fear of witches and made it a capital offence to practice witchcraft, or even to associate in any way with a suspected witch. He even published a book 'Daemonology' in which he outlined methods to identify witches and urged Lancashire magistrates to be diligent in prosecuting suspects.

The official website for the route, maintained by Phil Bedson, the route's creator is www.thependlewitchesway.co.uk


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Start: Sabden

Grid Ref: SD 780376

End: Lancaster

Grid Ref: SD 473619

Distance: 77 km

Walking Time: 4 days

Counties Traversed

Explorer™ Maps
OL41; OL21; 287

Pendle Witches Way