Poundland Pendle (Burnley)

by chung swiatkowska

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Here’s my trip to Pendle in some bullet points.

  1. I didn’t climb the hill.
  2. A man in a pub exposed himself to me after passing gas very loudly, doing some press ups, asking me to buy him a drink, and offering me ketamine.
  3. I didn’t climb the hill.
  4. I walked for 7 hours and couldn’t get to the hill.
  5. I couldn’t find the hill.

After weeks of organising, taking commissions to raise money, and research, I finally made it to Pendle – or more accurately, Burnley. I discovered upon arrival – seeing naught but football paraphernalia absolutely everywhere – that I had probably chosen the wrong town to stay in. The first evening, Kay and I were talking to some incredulous locals in a pub; after explaining we came to see Pendle Hill, we were told that that was comparable to them ‘travelling to London to see a Costcutter’.

The following day, we got up bright and early, sketchbooks, inks, maps and cameras in hand, and made our way to the bus stop. It was at this point that we discovered the unreliability of three things: 1, the internet, 2, maps, and 3, public transport. For starters, the bus line I had researched and believed an option to travel to the hill trail with had apparently shut down some time ago, meaning we had to find alternative routes. In the same vein, what looked on the map to be about the same distance from our hotel to the train station as from our hotel to the start of the trail, was in fact approximately five hours of travel.

We went from Burnley to Fence, and from Fence to Newchurch and Sabden, eventually passing the Forest of Bowland; we were going to go in, but it was getting dark, there was no one around for miles, and we were two female 18 year olds unfamiliar with the area. Long story short, didn’t manage to climb the hill. The trip wasn’t wasted, though – we managed to find the grave of Alice Nutter, one of the women executed in the Pendle witch trials, in a Newchurch graveyard, and also visited a witch-themed souvenir shop – I bought a pestle and mortar which became very useful later in my project.

Newchurch in particular was a good place to be, atmospherically; the whole place was adorned with little signposts featuring witches, and witch statues, iron hanging signs, and black cats were quite literally everywhere.

I’d read a lot about Pendle having a certain spooky atmosphere to it, though, something I hadn’t felt until we reached the base of the trail up the hill right as it got dark – the hill looming over us, we stopped to catch our breath, and in those few moments of silence a man, half-clothed and covered in mud, ran out the path we were about to take, screaming bloody murder. We realised a few moments later as his friends chased him that it was just men playing around, but the scream in the dark in a deserted field under a looming hill was enough to make anyone’s heart stop. It was at this point that we turned back.

That night, I had visions while I tried to sleep, something which scared me into thinking I was having a psychotic relapse – many images flashed through my consciousness, and I constantly had that feeling of vertigo, where you jerk awake after the sensation of falling. The one that I remember clearest, however, was a plateau of thirteen women in black, each beheaded – twelve women died in the witch trials. After a few moments, one of the heads was turned around to face me; it was my own face.

Obviously, this was just my overactive dopamine levels being influenced by all the stress, exhaustion, walking and sights I had experienced that day, but even so, the image does stay.

The following day I overslept and Kay didn’t want to wake me, given my humiliatingly poor stamina compared to her meant I was exhausted after the previous day’s exercise, where she was basically fine. Five hour train journey back, and we went our separate ways, after which I proceeded to have a massive panic attack/catatonic episode which didn’t go away for several days.

Essentially, I did make a lot of mistakes, and therefore didn’t get as much out of the trip as I could have – though in fairness, not all of it was my fault, given how utterly terrible online information about travel and tourism for Pendle tourists is (r.e. closed bus line.) Still, I did see and learn some relevant things, and I suppose I know now should I ever go back to Pendle hill to do what I didn’t do the first time. Supposedly the tourism is much better around Halloween, anyway.

  1. Burnley, despite being easiest to access from London, was the wrong town to stay in – in terms of local culture, it was almost entirely a football town. For the Full Witch Experience ™, ideally you should try and stay in Newchurch, or failing that, Clitheroe or Colne – two nearby towns which are apparently closer to the witch history than Burnley.
  2. You are much better off with a car, especially if you don’t know the area, unless you want to walk through field after field with all your stuff, and get scared and lost, especially if you’re not a tall man with a dog or several friends. There’s a car park at the base of the trail.
  3. Leave early. Like, way earlier than you think you need to. I was told by various locals that climbing the hill/getting to the hill would take from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Kay and I were out for 7 hours, and didn’t even climb the hill. Keep that in mind. (I might be a Londoner, but I’m not completely useless. I can read maps and follow signs.)
  4. Make sure you know how you’re getting to the hill if you don’t have a car. When we arrived at our hotel and the lady at reception asked us what we were doing up in Burnley, we answered we were here for the hill. She said, and I quote: “Oh, you’re going to try to climb the hill?” I chuckled and asked if the ‘try’ implied it was going to be difficult, to which she said that the climb wasn’t difficult, but every time she had tried to climb it, she hadn’t been able to actually find the hill to climb. I thought, ‘how hard can it be to find a massive hill’, and I was a fool.
  5. Go with people. It might seem fine when you’re mapping things out on your laptop, but it’s quite scary when you’re exhausted, potentially lost, in the middle of nowhere, with no safe place like your car, a café, shop or station nearby, no people around, and it’s getting dark.
  6. Plan. Just plan. Don’t make the same mistakes I did.

All in all, though, not a wasted trip. Disappointing, obviously, but I’ve done my stressing over that. Next time I’m taking a car.