Pendle Hill

Pendle viewed from Aitkin Wood
Pendle viewed from Aitkin Wood

Where is it? Near Burnley and Clitheroe in East Lancashire

In which area of outstanding natural beauty? The Forest of Pendle within the Forest of  Bowland

How tall is it? 1,827 feet (approx)

Write Up
This is a hill which truly can be referred to as iconic. I have seen photos of this looking like Ayers Rock – albeit on a smaller scale. It is noted in history for a number of varying reasons.

Place in History

  1. George Fox – founder of the Quakers, felt compelled to climb it and once on the top realised the scope of his task. Every once in awhile, when the conditions are just right, it is possible to see the surrounding countryside from the Forest of Bowland, The Yorkshire Dales, The Lake District and on certain days Blackpool Tower from the summit (although he must have been a true visionary to see that!) .
  2. Its association with the infamous Pendle Witch trials when several families from Downham decided to sling verbal mud at each other and get themselves executed!
  3. Richard Towneley’s barometer experiment (1661)
  4. On August 18th, 2012 in excess of four hundred walkers marched up Pendle Hill in celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Pendle Witch trials of 1612. As part of the same event on the same day 482 people each adorned with a pointed hat, broomstick and ankle-length cape set a new world record for the greatest amount of people dressed thus assembled in one place on Barley Green, Barley, Lancashire in the shadow of Pendle Hill.


The Pendle micro-massif rises from its’ immediate landscape majestically and with little competition from neighbouring hills appears much higher that what it actually is. Its’ width is not to be taken lightly as it has been measured with a diameter of some seven miles and a circumference of no less than a whopping twenty five miles – a walk around the Pendle Perimeter is equal to that of walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge – and it has to be said: much more rewarding.

There is a slightly eerie feel to Pendle hill. This has to be a case of ”what you have heard, stays with you” what with all the witch stuff an” all! Robert Neill penned the book “Mist Over Pendle” – this is well observed as all too frequently the mist that forms on top of this hill can sink the hearts of those whom have just ascended – from any direction, in order to gaze upon the utterly fantastic panorama available at the summit. To the east the Pennine chain unfolds across the horizon, to the west lie the tiny hamlets surrounding the slopes and foothills of Pendle with Blacko Tower standing tiny but proud. To the north are the Southern Lake District fells, closer afield are the Yorkshire big three of Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent. All around is beauty…as long as the mist backs off!


As befits such a large mass of land it should come as no surprise to find that there are a number of popular approaches to the summit at “Big End”

        • Barley

Of the thousands of walkers each year whom ascend this proud and infamous hill the majority will have arrived and departed on their walk from the lovely, well-kept, petite village of Barley which itself offers no less than five options:

        • From Pendle House:
          • The Steps: Possibly the most famous and utilised route to the top of the hill is the arduous trek up these steep and seemingly unforgiving steps. “Steps” is something of a general term as the make-up of the path varies from one section to another; with some stretches being cobbled path and others being compressed sand and stone. The route is simple, unrefined and challenging only in its’ toughness on the calves as one simply follows the path up a forty five degrees slope then turns left at the apex of the path and heads for the ordnance survey column.
          • The Slope: Occupying the same aspect as the “Steps” is a route that has witnessed a definite uptake of the Mountain Bike fraternity over the last couple of years. There is no denying the steepness of this slope but with it being more of an organic, natural growth type of path – the same just cannot be said of “The Steps”. The route starts at the same location as the steps route but veers off by possibly 120 degrees to bring one up to the apex of the climb on what might be termed as “the cairn path” owing to the regularity and in some cases the enormousness of the cairns created to assist summit baggers in their traverse of this infamously mist-prone landmass. From here one simply turns forty five degrees right and follows the ever-widening peat-track to the trig point a few hundred yards in the distance.
          • Via Under Pendle: As hard as it might be to believe, the path up from Under Pendle also starts here around the back of Pendle House. This lovely winding path heads roughly south west for some distance and then takes an abrupt almost 180 degree turn up the south-eastern flank of Ogden Hill before merging with the path from Boar Clough.
        • Via Boar (or Whim-berry) Clough: This is another very desirable yet not popular route up onto the plateau summit. The route is reached via Barley Green – a street and place name at the centre of the village which heads easterly towards Ogden Hill bypassing the beautiful Lower Ogden Reservoir. The route then climbs a gravel slope to the base of the Upper Ogden Reservoir, begins a very slow and gradual climb to Cat Holes and then takes a ninety degree turn up to the Clough itself, capped by what travel writers like to refer to as a “Lonely Hawthorne” that is perched atop the Clough in almost complete isolation. Many cairns are then passed on the mile trek to the summit crossing the same stream innumerate times.
        • Via Ogden Clough: This route can be reached via a continuation of the afore mentioned Boar Clough route (just don’t turn off for Boar Clough) or can be accessed after coming over the top of the notorious Spence Moor. Either way a minor stream fording is necessary and it has to be said that this is not the route to take for A:) company or B:) lovers of well-laid paths! Although the path is well-defined it is certainly not well made and the route down from Big End becomes a little treacherous in this local. The route up to Big End once the stream has been crossed is via a long series of stone slabs (presumably broken up Mill floors) which facilitates progress rapidly in both directions but at the cost of interest!
      • Downham: The one (official) route from Downham is very straight-forward in that it simply heads south at the side of Hookcliffe (tree) Plantation and ascends an eternally heavy-going, sheep-filled pasture to reach the steep winding path up to the hill’s plateau. This path is somewhat boggy at its’ base and rather ill-defined at its’ apex, the views tend to be all behind one’self and in this author’s opinion this is a weary trudge for no good reason – avoid unless route bagging!
      • Sabden: The Nick O’ Pendle, in terms of altitude only this route is probably the easiest. In terms of going under feet then it’s down there with the worst as this route involves another dalliance with the boggy and potentially ankle twisting phenom that is Spence Moor with its’ terror tussocks and fields of nothingness! Finally having avoided injury in the traversal of Spence Moor there is now just the minor matter of the drop onto Boar Clough and the slabbed path up to Big End. This is probably the second most popular route for Pendle Hill owing in no small part to its’ starting altitude of 303 metres – one is already almost halfway up the hill!
    • Worston Moor: The two hardest routes up Pendle Hill reside in fact on its’ western fronts: the ascension of Burst Clough has a reputation for making men out of boys for here the paths are made on the fly and the gradients are fearsome. By way of contrast this is Pendle at its’ most wild and untamed side. Here the beauty is the lack of refinement!

Pendle has many lesser hills and summits, names like Spence Moor, Stang Top Moor, Worsaw Hill and even the distant Weets hill all stand on the toes of Pendle, all have their roots in this benevolent giant. Pendle lends its’ name to the “Pendle Way” a forty five mile circular walk which takes in much of the local of the area. The “Ribble Way” also passes through parts of this region. It would be possible to ascend this hill a great number of times – encompassing many different destinations before one would start to re-tread one’s own footsteps.

It all began here!

Readers and enthusiasts of the late great Albert Wainwright may be delighted / horrified / intrigued to know that it was on this hill that Mr. Wainwright began his walking odyssey. In {insert date here} the great man ascended the hill in order to meet up with a work colleague {insert name here} for whom he held romantic attachments. The relationship with the lady in question never materialised….the relationship with hills proved to be much more fruitful and lasting!

Which Area?

Pendle Hill is the subject of some debate today. Some say that it is in the South Pennines and others believe it to be in the Forest of Bowland area of outstanding natural beauty. Although I have classified this hill as being in the latter, to me in all honesty it is in neither, Pendle Hill is in a group of special, personal hills that also includes Skiddaw and Winter Hill and that group has no name for such things are so personal as to transcend mundane matters such as labels and nouns, such things simply are!

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