It’s time to get your walking boots on. This Saturday a special walk up Lancashire’s Pendle Hill will mark the launch of a £2.5m Lottery-supported scheme to improve the hill’s landscape and heritage. Fiona Finch reports on the flagship project.
"If you can’t see Pendle Hill it’s raining, if you can it is going to rain."
That jocular, if less than positive, sentence sums up the locals’ weather report from Lancashire’s most iconic hill.
But its candid acceptance of the elemental Pennine climate does less than justice to the Lancashire hill’s majesty and mystery.
Now there is a new initiative to show that Pendle Hill and its surrounding landscape are about much more than the story of the fate of the Lancashire witches, important as that association remains. From evidence of Bronze Age settlement to the founding of the Quaker movement and radical dissent the dominating hill and its surrounding district have many claims to fame.
The public does make its way to ascend Pendle’s landscape dominating slopes on high days and holidays and in the past Easter or Halloween were key dates for such “hikes”. This Saturday (October 6) the new Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership (PHLP) is offering a “Meet You at The Top” invitation for the public to take a treasure trail walk up Pendle to officially launch the Partnership.
With a £1.8m Heritage Lottery Fund grant secured earlier this year, it is hoped to raise further funding locally.
The start point for the walks will be located at Downham car park for 30 minutes from 10am andfrom Barley car park for 30 minutes from 10.30am. Walkers will be guided to the top but can return unaccompanied and should collect trail information from the start points.
A spokeswoman explained: “The scheme wants to bring together communities from both sides of the hill, so the event consists of treasure trails which start at both Downham on the Ribble Valley side, and from Barley on the Pendle side: to literally meet at the top of Pendle Hill. There will be plenty of marshalls posted along the route to help walkers along their way, and fun and games are planned on the summit if the weather is good!”
The invitation comes with a cautionary note to bring food and drink, wear appropriate shoes and bring suitable clothes as the conditions can change rapidly.
Cathy Hopley is the Programme Manager for the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership. She has wide-ranging experience of driving Bowland projects - she is the Bowland AONB’s former Development and Funding Offficer, and saw the opportunity to extend the scope of research about thearea and ensure Lancashire residents can learn more about the great outdoors on their doorstep.
The Partnership has embarked on a dozen projects to safeguard the area’s wildlife and heritage and improve people’s access, ranging from archaeological digs on the Malkin Tower Cottages farm site where it is reputed the Lancashire witches may have met, to environmental work with youngsters, path repair and drystone walling projects.
Cathy said: “Pendle has some different issues to the rest of Bowland with so much community living round it ... and its heritage value is a lot higher.”
The Bowland AONB ( Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) designation covers only Pendle Hill, but the 120 sq. kilometre Landscape Partnership Area includes land running down to the rivers on either side of the hill - the Ribble and Pendle and Colne Water.
Cathy said: “The project has looked closely at the link between people and the landscape and has sought to actively engage the local community in the villages and towns around Pendle.
“We did a lot of visitor surveys - we found that the majority of our visitors came from within an hour’s drive. Three million people live within an hour’s drive. There’s a massive potential - but obviously we don’t want to overload the hill.”
She stresses a balance needs to be sought between making the public aware of Pendle’s attractions , particularly for those living literally on its doorstep and maintaining the landscape.
There is also a drive to attract a younger generation to the hill. She said: “It’s not about overloading the hill. It’s more about widening our audience - most of our visitors are very local.”
Surveys showed that most visitors are middle aged or retired, some of whom may bring grandchildren with them for a day out.
The Partnership is also keen to encourage ethnic minority communities to enjoy this facility on their doorstep. “It’s not just saying you should come here to learn, explore and exercise ... what might you want to use this environment for , whether it’s for family get together or getting involved in an arts event or whatever? It’s thinking about the wider public’s point of view...why do young people come out here and how can we make it more exciting for young people.”
BTech Computer Studies students from a local college have recently embarked on a project to devise a new digital application about the hill which would encourage their friends to take that step to explore and utilise it more.
Cathy said: “They’re looking at what they want to see and we’re looking to see if we can take it into development.”
The partnership has already carried out extensive footpath repairs, installed a stone seating area at the summit and now peat restoration works are also underway.
Another project will look at the area’s radical past including the role nonconformists and radicals played in local and national life.
The Pendle area was also home to Roman and Bronze Age settlers. On Saturday staff from the Partnership will be available to answer visitors’ questions about the projects and Pendle's past.
•Partnership partners include representatives from parish council, landowning and farming communities, Pendle and Ribble Valley councils, Lancashire County Council, tourism businesses and volunteers.
• See www.pendlehillproject.com for more information.