The villages around Pendle Hill in east Lancashire are renowned for the famous witch trials of the 1600s, a time of religious persecution and superstition.
But this area and the nearby Ribble Valley boasts some of the most glorious in the country. With Pendle Hill looming between the two, it is one of Lancashire’s most impressive landmarks. Rising to 557 metres, above an ancient hunting ground and former home of boar and wolves, Pendle Hill is part of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Sadly, in 1612, Alison Nutter and 11 others accused of murder by witchcraft were made to walk in chains around 35 miles to Lancaster where they were imprisoned for five months, fed on meagre rations and, eventually, found guilty at their trial.
It didn’t end well.
Our walk, via the hamlet of Wycoller, through Wycoller Country Park, sited between Colne and Haworth, takes us across the burbling beck over seven old bridges, thought to be around 1000 years old. Wycoller is a historic settlement dating back beyond 1000 BC. In1973 the village was declared a conservation area and the surrounding 350 acres of farmland designated a country park. We pass the ruins of Wycoller Hall, linked to Charlotte Bronte’s Ferndean Manor in Jane Eyre and her sister Charlotte’s Wuthering Heights. Charlotte is believed to have been a frequent visitor to the area. After about two rambling miles, our walk culminates in a climb to the circular landmark, The Atom, a Panopticon sculpture, completed in 2006, where we’re rewarded by spectacular countryside views with only sheep to share them. Nothing new for the sheep, though!
In Clitheroe, just a 45-minute drive away, we drop in to The Holmes Mill complex, built around Clitheroe’s last working cotton mill, which comprises hotel, beer hall, cafe, micro brewery and micro cinema. The complex also includes the fabulous Bowland Food Hall, showcasing a wealth of Lancashire’s incredible local delicacies and features tastings, drinking and live demonstrations. Within the Holmes Mill Beer Hall, at 105ft 4 inches, is one of the longest bars in Britain. A total of 42 hand pulls and hosts a minimum 24 individual cask beers at any one time, plus keg beers, lagers, bottles and cans. It’s a huge, industrial-design hub with a big warm heart. Small plates of haddock goujons and fried Haloumi strips with coleslaw go well with a pint!
Built in 1840, the award-winning Whitaker Gallery and Museum, Rawtenstall, in the centre of Rossendale Valley, recently benefited from a £2.2m National Heritage Lottery grant. The venue is run on a non profit-making basis, supported by a team of volunteers. It celebrates the area’s heritage and is a cultural treasure of diverse and educational activities. The Whitaker Gallery and Museum has just received the Lancashire Tourism Award ‘Cultural Venue of the Year 2021.
I’m fascinated by the room full of what appear to be Victorian curiosities.
There’s a natural history section and a strong focus on animal preservation and climate change. Children’s ‘Save the Planet’ drawings with comments make us think.
In the contemporary cafe, the lively buzz comes from families with grandparents, chattering children and chuckling babies. We tuck in to a fantastic Sunday roast – rump of beef with roast potatoes, huge, fluffy Yorkshire puddings, perfectly-cooked, roasted root vegetables, broccoli and cauliflower cheese. It’s so good that there’s no room for pud but we share a freshly-baked, warm scone with clotted cream and jam.
Our base is the delightful Alma Inn, in Laneshawbridge, Colne, Lancashire, which offers us a warm hug as soon as we step inside. A team of ever-smiling staff greet guests with genuine friendliness.
Set on a hill, this former coaching inn dates back to 1725 Wood panelling, stone floors, comfy sofas and chairs plus a crackling log fire add to the cosy atmosphere.
I open the door to my bedroom, one of 10, to be surprised with a breathtaking, panoramic moorland view from the window. Comforts include tea and coffee making facilities plus biscuits, en suite bathroom, smart tv and heavenly Egyptian cotton bedding.
There’s a patio and parking for cars and helicopters, yes helicopters! The bar, which beckons, is open to locals as a traditional pub with a selection of real ales and a varied wine list. At dinner in the restaurant, the Devilled Crab, Salmon & Brown Shrimp Pate and Queenie Scallops with Garlic Butter and Gruyere Crumb deserve a special mention. But most particularly, the breakfast, served in the bright dining room is excellent. I choose smoked salmon with sliced avocado and buttery scrambled egg on sourdough toast. Across the table, the full English Breakfast is declared a triumph.
After each day of sightseeing and walking, I look forward to coming home to the Alma Inn.