The sun was out and the sky was bluer than even I had wished, so it was off to the village of Barley on Saturday morning for a first ascension of the infamous “steps” since 2010. The reason why I had to go this way was/is because this is the route that I shall be following on the 18th of August when I do the Pendle Witch’s Walk and I didn’t want it to be a nasty shock for me on the day – it will be for anyone that has never encountered these steps prior to their particular ascension.
I arrived at Barley having taken primarily the A59 all the way up to and through Preston then taking the A671 just outside Wiswell up to the A6068 at Padiham where I headed past Higham and Fence before turning off at St Anne’s Drive then over Heights Road, Spenbrook Road through the centre of Newchurch and down Cross Lane, for some reason my sat nav had decided to send me to “Witches Galore” as opposed to Barley car park; but as I am now familiar with the area I made it to the the said car park for 9.00. At this time there were but four other cars here, but it wouldn’t stay that way for long.
By 9:15 I was walking onto Barley road and was greeted by this wonderful,if only slightly threatening distant view of the steps route that I would have to take today and on the 18th of August. I really could not have wished for better weather and made it a mission statement of the day to simply enjoy the walk in this lovely weather and to not attempt anything in the least bit heroic. As I ambled over one of the three wooden footbridges that I would traverse the realisation of just how noisy the sheep were today began to set in. Stang Top Moor with Aitken Wood atop its’ summit
With the sky being a nice summer blue – not so clear that the sun beats down on oneself and drains one’s energy, but blue enough to allow for some views that are not normally associated with this rain, cloud and generally grey hotspot. In the grand design of things it has to be said that Stang Top Moor is quite insubstantial, a joy to behold granted but not something that normally imprints itself in the psyche…until this day. Today I could scarcely keep my eyes off it and promised myself that I would return one day strictly with the intention of finding the elusive o/s trig point somewhere at the edge of the summit!
The section of the walk in-between Brown House and Pendle House is always a delight – even in much worse weather than to what I was being treated. Again I drank in the views, this time focusing on the generally ubiquitous and somewhat eerie Fell Wood. Having walked through this gloomy yet captivating little forest with its’ treacherous eastern footpath I was more than a tad relieved that today I didn’t have to skid and slide around that path and I wouldn’t be on edge wondering ‘what was that noise?’ emanating from practically every tree. From here on the walk took on a tougher tone as I traversed the field linking the two “houses” (Pendle and Brown). Soon I would be at the foot of the Barley steps and from there the walk would take on a more arduous character.
Only from some distance had I seen any other walkers – a group of sexagenarians, now as I neared the infamous steps more became apparent as they also tottered their way up the very steep slope, no photograph which I have taken highlights these unfortunate yet masochistic soles so you’ll have to take my word for it…I was not alone. For a moment or two as I dwelt on the threshold (or leaned on a gatepost) I was joined by a little companion who hobbled around searching for items unknown! The time for procrastination was over I now began my assault upon the steps…so from the bottom of the steps to the o/s column there would be no more photographs. At roughly half-way I decided to have a bit of a break for a few minutes. I sat on a rock and watched as others further back down the steps also appeared to be struggling. I waited a few more minutes and eventually invited a chap wearing a “Black Cat Brewery” t-shirt to “pull up a rock” as he also sounded ready for a break. We did the usual guy thing and talked about the toughest hills that we had climbed so far – his was Snowdon, mine was this! Some moments later his wife caught us up so I bid my farewell and shot up the rest of the slope with all the speed of…someone overweight walking up Pendle Hill!
By this time, probably over an hour into the walk; other walkers came into view or bounded up behind me including one family with a rather reluctant son who was being “encouraged” by his mum! This gave me the impetuous that I needed to dig a little deeper into my reserves, I was overtaken by a rather attractive girl and her boyfriend whom both smiled politely as they powered on passed me and at this point I gave way to the “encouraging” mother and her kin (including a dog). Very close to the apex of the path the “encouraging” mother and her family were also now sat on some rocks and after a brief conversation I carried on to the top also passing attractive couple who for some reason now at the other side of the style over which the path to Downham begins.
The march onto the summit now began as my pace seemed to pick itself up! I glanced over my shoulder to see who was right behind me and noticed with some dread that it was the attractive couple once more! They were physically fit, attractive, dressed in expensive-looking walking gear and spoke with accents that portrayed a certain social standing…but this was my walk, on my hill and I’d be damned if they were getting to the O/s trig column before me. I dug deep, then even deeper and finally after pretty much a three hundred yard jog…I reached the ordnance survey column first, put both hands upon it, thanked God, stumbled to one side and had a good coughing spree!
It was some moments before I could compose myself and have a slurp of Ginger Ale and a chomp down at one of my rather drab Tesco Chicken Salad sandwiches. I took a number of photos but none of a decent enough quality to be able to discern which hilltops were which, the sky was a bit more hazy at this time and this did not lend itself to clear photography. The wind was beginning to get up a lot as well, the summit of Pendle is never a warm and welcoming place but the views on a very clear day are usually better than what I was experiencing I decided to head off in the direction of Boar Clough sticking to what I believe will be the walk of August 18th.
Herein lay the problem, I have never descended Boar Clough only gone up it and from 180 degrees the route for me was indiscernible. The rule is generally ‘follow the cairns’ but as a power Nordic-walking couple passed by me I opted to follow them…this would prove to be a mistake as they disappeared into the distance and all that I could recognise was Fell Wood and a reservoir that I assumed to be the Upper Ogden Reservoir which turned out to be the lower one! The route which I had taken back was definitely not the Boar Clough route but it also was quite picturesque and something of a nice diversion – but by goodness was it steep??? At one point I passed by a sign which indicated I could go in one direction towards “Under Pendle” or the direction from which I had stumbled was “Ogden Hill” I recollected seeing this on o/s maps and it was on my “to-do” list – hurray an unexpected tick-off!
An huge style had the potential of dividing me into two separate people (temporarily!) as I traversed it backwards, my right foot was searching for a step that it would never find but I did manage to keep my balance as I landed on my heels!
After descending some more and passing through a number of sheep-filled fields I finally hit tarmac no more that an hundred yards away from the path that starts out from Barley as the road Barley Green. This diversion had taken a mile off my journey and it was hard to be disappointed about that bonus! I stopped and chatted to two ladies whom asked me if I had been “up top, was it clear and had I managed to see Blackpool tower”? I replied that I had been at the top via the steps (which made then both ooohhhh and rub their thighs) and that with my eyesight I was lucky to have seen Ingleborough (I forgot to get a photo of that!). The drop down into Barley via the ever-improving Barley Green was sheer walker’s paradise and I made it with joy (the sensation – not a girl I had met!) at the car park and 11:47 – it had taken me just two hours and thirty something minutes to ascend and descend the toughest hill in Lancashire!