Witches Trail

Friday 12 September 2014. It was back to solo walking today so I returned to Barley to follow part of the Witches Trail. Although still dry, there was more cloud cover today and the mist hung around for longer. My 6.5 mile route with 1,100ft of ascent took me along the Pendle Way to the village of Roughlee where there were stepping stones across Pendle Water. The main climb of the day was the 400ft pull up to Newchurch in Pendle and on to the hills looking down on Lower Ogden Reservoir. From here it was downhill back to Barley.

Barley (the woodland clearing frequented by boars) is deep in witch country. Several novels (the first by Harrison Ainsworth) have been written about the events of 1612 which resulted in the hanging in LancasterCastle of a group of women from this area, from farms that are still inhabited and with family names that are still common in the district. The story began when a Halifax pedlar, John Law, refused to give some pins from his stock to Alison Device. She wanted them for her grandmother to use in a spell and when she was denied them she cursed the pedlar. Whether by coincidence or because of the curse, he had a heart attack a few moments later and died. His son had Alison brought before the magistrates and probably under torture, she confessed to having caused Law’s death. The whole situation escalated by the ‘witches’ boasting of their prowess and bringing in others. The star witness was Jennet Device, nine years old, who denounced in court her mother and others. As the king, James I, encouraged the persecution of witches, they stood no chance of an acquittal.

Blacko Tower is a folly built in 1890 by Jonothan Stansfield, reputedly to give him a view into Yorkshire!

St Mary’s Church in Newchurch was consecrated in 1544 and has the eye of God painted on the tower to ward off evil spirits, testimony to the strength of belief in the witches alongside Christianity.


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