Perilous Pendle Perhaps

The walk to the summit of Pendle Hill on 31st December, 2014.

For most of 2014 I had been promising myself another walk up Lancashire’s iconic Pendle Hill – I even had Halloween scheduled in as a definite, but I just kept on failing to make it to Barley…it’s a long drive for someone whom does not drive much. However, New Year’s Eve-eve brought forward a new resolve to do the walk, no matter what and with my partner working on New Year’s Eve, indeed working early (at 07:30) it was like I was being handed the opportunity on a plate and who was I to refuse.

Frost was all around as I left the car park at Meols Cop, Southport so I pledged that I would take the less hilly – Downham route to Barley if there was evidence of much snow or ice. Fortunately for me the fields of frost seemed to abate by Osbaldeston so I stuck to my normal route of A59, A671 then Barrowford Road the A6068 (yes I did Google that!) up to Fence then turned left one stop earlier than normal (not intentionally) but still came out on to Saint Anne’s Drive whereby I took the narrow lanes up passing Nogarth Ridge before dropping through Roughlee past Jinny Lane and arriving at the Cabin at Barley at around 8:45 ready for a departure at 09:00.

The steps from around the back of Pendle House
The steps from around the back of Pendle House

Although I did not cover myself in many layers of clothing I did bring and wear my scarf and gloves as there was a definite chill in the air, underneath my coat I had only worn my hi-wick walking polo shirt as in the past I have worn too many clothes and spent a good deal of the first few minutes of the walk sautéing away! As the ice was visible on the slope of the hill from the village centre I believed that the route I had planned – Under Pendle, would probably be a treacherous, sliding nightmare, so with no sense of dread (to which I was ready to admit) I decided to tackle the infamous Barley steps for the first time since the Pendle Witch Walk of 2012. Another resolve that I had was to not take any photographs until I had reached the summit trig point as this is a great impetus spoiler (for me). I was quite pleasantly surprised when I checked my watch at  the iron kissing gate and discovered that I had only taken twenty minutes at what I had thought was a leisurely pace. More that a few moments passed before I was facing the beast at the back of Pendle House – after gingerly negotiating the emerging quagmire in the normally black-faced-sheep paddock (none were around today), the steep climb up the south east face of Pendle Hill. My drive was simple, just keep on walking, don’t sit down (mother nature saw to that one for me with a deliciously icy breeze).

Others were en route up and down the hill today and I was lucky enough to see one lady descend the slope with caution but at least she did it…then my eyes and ears were captured with the sight and sound of a lovely young east Lancs lass falling in her own shadow at pretty much the same place where I fell in 2011! She was as embarrassed as I had been but I had been lucky to have no witnesses. I smirked to her “I did that” and added “and even worse was I nearly impaled myself on my plastic cigarette” which brought a radiant smile from her. I asked what was the condition atop the hill and she responded that it was windy but manageable but the worst part was the slide down the slope. I asked as to the condition of the steps and she replied that they were free of ice. Then she shouted after her walking companion who was by now the best side of an hundred yards across the fields and we parted ways.

Pleasant distractions ( I like talking to people when I am out walking) over with I began my slow but deliberate ascent. Every so often I would stop and have a five second breather but I am happy to say that only one couple caught up and passed me – the lady of which muttered something about it never getting any easier – she had a point! However, I felt then that the weather was aiding progress as stopping for more than a few seconds was a chilly experience. After what seemed like a good forty minutes (I had resolved not to check my watch on the steps) I was within sight of the border wall – the separation of the villages of Downham and Barley which is the sign that the steep ascent is now over and done with and the next few hundred yards to the trig point is a gentle amble…if one observes the late Alfred Wainwright’s guidance about watching where one puts one’s feet – ice was in abundance at the summit plateau.

I've made it!
I’ve made it!
You want ice?
You want ice?

And so was the wind! The last few times that I’ve ‘done Pendle’ I have been rewarded with no view worthy of photography, today was no exception. The colours were all a bit washed out and the sky was very hazy. Add to this the fact that simply the art of holding the camera steady was escaping me because of the wind chill factor…whatever photographs I took were hurried and of no great quality. I was extremely pleased to see that I had beaten my previous personal best time – today’s ascension had taken just one hour and fourteen minutes compared to 2012’s one hour twenty five. I had believed that the walks up Great Gable and Sca Fell would aide me today (not to forget Cross Fell), but here was the evidence – although the cold conditions must have played some part.

 

A passer by ..passing by!
A passer by ..passing by!
My choice of beginnings of the descent route.
My choice of beginnings of the descent route.

I began my descent, choosing to ignore the falling girl’s warning of the ice I opted for the slope back down to Pendle House as within twenty feet of the Downham wall there had been enough ice and frost to instil in me a fear of taking that route back down. I had considered dropping down Under Pendle but that route is very steep and would therefore be a sliding exercise in bottom bruising. Perhaps Boar Clough – afraid not, in wet weather this route is also one for those with a sense of balance – mine abandoned me a few decades back and I don’t see any sight of him coming back! No, it had to be the slope…for posterity I took a few photos of the thing that might kill me! I opted for the more shiny route that was not as steep as the one at the lowest part of the photo. I should mention that as this point I was overtaken by another walker who opted for the route that I would take – after setting off down this slope he seemed to vanish and I never saw him for the rest of the walk.

The slope from the merging of the routes.
The slope from the merging of the routes.
Ogden Clough
Ogden Clough

I carried on my increasingly slower walk. A very narrow gully which is in effect a small stream bed drops down about two thirds of the length of the slope, in parts this was very icy. After a yard’s worth of a slide I opted for walking at the side of the path…essentially walking in a sloped manner on the slope! I heard a couple very obviously encountering the same difficulties as I had (and still was) but all the same they managed to catch up to me. We exchanged greetings and opinions on our current task and I could sense that he was enjoying the experience as much as I was – ‘though I couldn’t say the same for his female partner who at one and the same time looked rather pale and nervous. Such was my growing confidence that at one point I even got the camera out again and took a few more pictures.

I reached the point at where the girl (oh she was easily in her twenties but I still call her a girl!) had fallen over and decided not to try her particular route instead opting to take a very slight rise and drop that would lead me directly to the steps. Much more people were now in sight and I exchanged greetings with any whom met my eye contact. I got talking to one chap who was trying to shake off his Christmas Cold – with no luck so far. At one point I was going to tell him the time but realised to my dismay that I no longer had my watch on my right wrist! As I had definitely checked the time at the trig point and at the top of the slope the blasted thing must have come off my wrist whilst I was taking my right glove off in order to take a photograph. I had the option of carrying on regardless or retracing my steps.

I already have something like twenty watches…and it was cold and exhausting work just walking on the side of this hill, I decided to carry on regardless. This had been the watch which I had worn to the gym and on all of my walks across the Coastal Road so I was a bit gutted but ce la vie! I do hope that someone stumbles across the watch, puts a new strap on it (as I think this must have snapped when I was taking off my glove) and carries on its’ life. Farewell my favourite walking watch!

More gravel please.
More gravel please.
Eyes on your feet here as this stuff is as slippery as an MP on Question Time.
Eyes on your feet here as this stuff is as slippery as an MP on Question Time.

I carried on passed Pendle House and Brown House, pausing to take more photos. I must concede that the path really needs repairs in a few spots – mostly near Brown House – the blue shale-like substance that was applied in 2011 has all but gone, I’d imagine that 482 pairs of feet trampling over the route on 18th of August 2012 had much to do with this. Otherwise I was delighted to be able to amble my way taking as many photographs as I could on the easiest section of the route – the journey back to the Cabin at the car park.  The weather had by now taken a turn for the warmer and there were more couples emerging, I passed one couple where the girl had sought to wear probably the most inappropriate pair of trainers imaginable, her poor boyfriend had to pick her up and carry her over puddles that I (in my waterproof hi tec boots) simply strode over.

The Whomping Willow...whomped!
The Whomping Willow…whomped!
Breathe in and throw your backpack over the stile.
Breathe in and throw your backpack over the stile.

The same couple were in the vicinity when I decided to take a photo of a tree which had apparently blown over – given the size of it and the location was a more than a little bit shielded I can’t begin to imagine what kind of micro tornado had uprooted this poor Hawthorn tree. I squeezed through the slimmest stile that I’ve seen – apparently the builder of this is not aware that the intended users of this piece of land furniture will probably wear backpacks! Eventually I could hear a distant intermittent hum of traffic from Cross Lane and Barley Lane. I was now in the final stage of the walk which involves crossing over a road (carefully) crossing over Pendle Water, which by now was in full spate and finally the lovely gentle stroll over the green to the car park.

Summary

It had been cold at the start and hardly tropical at the end but I was nothing short of elated to have done the walk, taken the most arduous ascent, not fallen over and only a bit gutted to have lost a watch. Before I set off from the car park I had almost felt guilty for not visiting Pendle more times this year, after all it is my favourite hill. I had taken two hour forty five minutes to walk the 5.5 miles and I am quite proud of that. I do think that the year’s previous walks had contributed towards my walk’s process and as such am now resolved to do more and more often (starting with a walk around Longridge on the 4th). Maybe this coming year will be the year that I finally do both the Mearly Moor path and the route straight up the middle – the most direct route, who knows. For now I bid a hearty adiou to this wonderful and beautiful hill and vow that I’ll be back soon.

Song of the walk: Ólafur Arnalds – So Close (feat. Arnór Dan) – YouTube


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