Pendle Hill: so good they named it three times. 


Pendle: That slumbering whaleback ridge that dominates the landscape of north-eastern Lancashire has loomed large over my life for as long as I can remember. She’s been a beacon, an anchor, a guardian and a sentinel. She has offered sanctuary and solitude, excitment and adventure, but her primary role has been simply to be there.

For in spite of her changing expressions, which in the capricious climate of the Ribble Valley can alter as rapidly as the clouds scud across the sky, her true nature remains immutable, unchanging, ever present. Few things in life are as dependable (dependl-able?) as Pendle.

The earliest Celtic inhabitants of these parts simply referred to this dominant feature in the landscape as Pen, meaning hill. The  Anglo-Saxons added the suffix Ull or hill, unaware that the Cumbric word Pen already covered it. Finally, the English added the separate word Hill to the previously compounded appellations of Pen-ull to effectively christen the local landmark hill-hill-hill.

Towards the end of summer, I ventured into the folds of her eastern flanks to find a hidden crag where a family of young peregrines had just fledged and were noisily defending their rocky eyrie. 0ver the last 2000 years, it’s a sight that could have been witnessed by Roman legionaries marching north to the wall, by Anglo-Saxon tribesmen scouting the terrain outside their fort, a hermitic sorority, trying to gain insight through the falcons’ wisdom or a religious visionary, seeking evidence of the divine in the natural world.

And now, many more people are poised to explore this iconic landmark. Because those nice people at the Forest of Bowland AONB have managed to secure a couple of million Quid from the Heritage Lottery Fund to underpin a four-year campaign to improve access, put in more footpaths and restore the entire 120km2 landscape to encourage more visitors to the area.

While there’s a slight unease about sharing Pendle with hordes of selfie-stick toting tourists, I’ve grudgingly accepted that her story is too good to remain a secret. From the Bronze Age hillfort atop her foothills to the Knave’s Grave on her southern flank, to the diabolical goings-on involving Demdike and Chattox and George Fox’s Vision at the summit, the legends swirl around this magical near-mountain like the pelmet of cloud that often wreaths the Big End.

This ambitious project will unite the sometimes estranged communities either side of Pendle and pull together the many threads of her story down the centuries into a shared narrative that will continue to live on down the generations. And it will mean many more walkers will be able to explore this mystical mountain on foot.

Author: Mark Sutcliffe

Freelance content consultant and editor specialising in the outdoors, environment, sustainability, walking and cycling.

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