A Vast Land Fit for Witches, a Pendle journey

On a sunny early summer’s day, the countryside and villages that surround Pendle Hill are beautiful. Green valleys almost glow in the light. I know from bitter experience that on a cold, wet day when the sun doesn’t make an appearance, the area can be far more foreboding. On those days it’s easy to understand why Pendle Hill has a reputation for being sinister. On my recent visit, I was lucky to have blue skies and bright sunlight.

This is an area soaked in history. It’s most famous for its association with the Pendle Witch Trials of 1612, when the villages that fall beneath Pendle Hill’s shadow were centre stage in a scandal that saw ten people sent to the gallows for witchcraft. The area has another history though, built on centuries of farming and cloth making. Ancient churches, medieval villages and Victorian-era mills are scattered across the landscape.

Pendle Hill, Pendle, Lancashire

Pendle Hill, Pendle, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

This history and landscape lend themselves to folklore, and the people who live around here have a very strong sense of place. When I was in the Pendle Heritage Centre in Barrowford, I came across a folk song summing up that feeling:

Oh Pendle … oh Pendle, thou standest alone,
Twixt Burnley and Clitheroe, Whalley and Colne,
Where Hodder and Ribble’s fair waters do meet,
With Barley and Downham content at thy feet.

Oh Pendle, oh Pendle, majestic, sublime,
Thy praises will ring till the end of all time,
Thy beauty eternal, thy banner unfurled,
Thou dearest and grandest old hill in the world.

And when witches fly on a cold winter’s night,
You must not tell a soul, and you’ll bolt the door tight,
You’ll sit by the fireside and keep yourself warm,
Until once again you can walk in her arms.

Oh Pendle, Oh Pendle, o’er moorland and fell,
In glorious loveliness ever to dwell,
Through life’s fateful journey where e’er we may be,
We’ll cease in our labours and oft think of thee.

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

This area was isolated from much of the rest of the world until the 19th century, one of the reasons why superstitions such as witchcraft held such a powerful influence on local communities. It was also one of the reasons why alternative Protestant religions flourished here. It was on Pendle Hill in 1652 that George Fox had a vision that led to the foundation of the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers.

Fox recounted the experience as, “When I was come to the top of this hill, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire, and from the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places He had a great people to be gathered …” Following this tradition, the subversive preachings of the Baptists found fertile ground in the area and, later, John Wesley journeyed here, establishing Methodism in the region.

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Downham, Pendle, Lancashire

Downham, Pendle, Lancashire

Downham, Pendle, Lancashire

Downham, Pendle, Lancashire

Downham, Pendle, Lancashire

Downham, Pendle, Lancashire

Downham, Pendle, Lancashire

Downham, Pendle, Lancashire

I left Barrowford behind and followed the Pendle Witches Trail, which passes along the exact route those accused of witchcraft took to Lancaster to be tried. Today, a mere 405 years after that fateful journey, the route is filled with picturesque villages and beautiful views. I passed through Roughlee and Newchurch, where I bought some Eccles cakes in a shop called ‘Witches Galore’, before reaching Barley which still has a Methodist church.

Further on I passed in front of Pendle Hill, and there were sweeping views of the valley below. Like Fox before me, I swear I could almost see the Irish Sea from this isolated spot.

Sawley Abbey, Pendle, Lancashire

Sawley Abbey, Pendle, Lancashire

Sawley Abbey, Pendle, Lancashire

Sawley Abbey, Pendle, Lancashire

Sawley Abbey, Pendle, Lancashire

Sawley Abbey, Pendle, Lancashire

I finally arrived in Chatburn, from here I’d planned to go to Clitheroe to visit its 800-year old castle. I didn’t have enough time on this trip, so headed in the other direction to make a quick stop at the remains of Sawley Abbey. Founded in 1147, the abbey played a role in the Pilgrimage of Grace, the widespread but short-lived uprising against Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.

The monks of Sawley returned to the Abbey during the uprising, but once it was defeated they were forced to flee, not before the abbot had been executed though. It’s a tranquil spot that doesn’t seem to attract too many visitors. I had a wander around and then jumped back in the car and headed north towards the Lake District.

The Dark Corners of the Land, on the trail of the Pendle Witches

Four hundred years ago, amongst bewitching Lancashire countryside in the brooding shadow of Pendle Hill, one of the most extraordinary events in English history took place: the Pendle Witch Trials. The discovery, in 1612, of a circle of witches living in this remote area of northern England proved to many that evil supernatural forces were at large. The resulting execution of ten innocent people is now regarded as a tragedy, but was pretty normal for the time.

The Pendle Witch Trials came during one of England’s most turbulent periods, a time of religious persecution and superstition. King James I came to the throne in 1603, inheriting a country recently converted to Protestantism and facing strong Catholic opposition. England simmered with religious divisions that threatened to boil over into outright rebellion.

Alice Nutter statue, Roughlee, Pendle, Lancashire

Alice Nutter statue, Roughlee, Pendle, Lancashire

The uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, an attempt by Catholic rebels to kill King James and ferment a country-wide uprising, led to hysteria about Papist plots. A wave of anti-Catholic persecution swept the country, Parliament introduced the Popish Recusants Act, punishing Catholics for their beliefs. An England consumed by fear and superstition was the setting for the Pendle Witch Trials.

Lancashire in the 17th century was an isolated place. Education was almost non-existent in remote villages, many of which had little communication with the outside world, and the area remained strongly Catholic. Many Jesuit priests were in the area to perform illegal religious services for the faithful. Amidst Lancashire’s wild landscapes, Catholicism and superstition thrived, and became entwined in the popular imagination.

Pendle Hill, Pendle, Lancashire

Pendle Hill, Pendle, Lancashire

Roughlee, Pendle, Lancashire

Roughlee, Pendle, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

This included the mind of King James, who firmly believed witchcraft and witches to be real. He wrote an influential book, Daemononlogie, and oversaw the trial and execution of hundreds of people for witchcraft. The 1604 Witchcraft Act imposed the death penalty “for making a covenant with an evil spirit, using a corpse for magic, hurting life or limb, procuring love, or injuring cattle by means of charms”.

Previously, society accepted ‘wise women’ or ‘traditional healers’ who cast spells for good and bad. These mostly poor single mothers or widows lived in many communities. Now, under King James, all witchcraft was assumed to be evil. Worse though, and with profound consequences for those accused in Pendle, was the belief that witches never acted alone. Where one witch was found, there would be many others.

Pendle Hill, Pendle, Lancashire

Pendle Hill, Pendle, Lancashire

Pub sign, Barrowford, Pendle, Lancashire

Pub sign, Barrowford, Pendle, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

Countryside around Pendle Hill, Lancashire

In the villages near Pendle Hill, two families of ‘witches’, the Demdikes and Chattox, survived by begging, stealing and providing cures to local villagers. The unravelling of their lives started when Alison Devices of the Demdike clan met John Law, a peddler from Halifax. She demanded he give her some pins for a spell. He refused, she ‘cursed’ him. Bizarrely, he immediately fell to the floor paralysed, probably from a stroke.

Witchcraft was assumed and Roger Nowell the local magistrate was informed. A zealous man keen to impress the government of King James, Nowell cast his net wide. He quickly extracted confessions from barely literate peasants and had nineteen people arrested to await trial in Lancaster Castle – a trial at which they were not allowed to defend themselves.

Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Witch, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Witch, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

St. Mary's Church, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Graveyard in St. Mary's Church, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Graveyard in St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Amid accusations of murder, causing madness, cursing cattle and bewitching horses, clay models of people and human teeth stolen from graves at St. Mary’s Church in the village of Newchurch were discovered. More damning, a meeting of the families at a place called Malkin Tower was portrayed as a Witches Sabbath. Some confessed to meeting the Devil in a place called Faugh’s Quarry.

What is surprising about all of this, is that those accused seemed convinced of their powers, and even exaggerated them to the authorities. They openly confessed to all manner of things guaranteed to get you hanged in the 17th century. In total, ten people were put to death for witchcraft, one other died in prison. They were hanged on a bleak moor outside of Lancaster. Today, it’s a children’s playground.

Graveyard in St. Mary's Church, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Graveyard in St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

'Eye of God', St. Mary's Church, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

‘Eye of God’, St. Mary’s Church, Newchurch, Pendle, Lancashire

Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford, Lancashire

Pendle Heritage Centre, Barrowford, Lancashire

Contemporary report of Pendle Witch trials, Lancashire

Contemporary report of Pendle Witch trials, Lancashire

Faugh's Quarry where the Devil appeared, Pendle, Lancashire

Faugh’s Quarry where the Devil appeared, Pendle, Lancashire

It’s rumoured that the body of one ‘witch’, Alice Nutter, was returned to Pendle and buried in St. Mary’s Church in what is now called the ‘Witches Grave’. Alice was an oddity amongst the accused. She was from a well-to-do family and never spoke at her trial. It seems likely that she was hiding the fact that she had been attending secret Catholic services, and died condemned as a witch to protect that secret.

There is a statue of this innocent woman in the village of Roughlee, which now forms part of a ‘Pendle Witches Route’. In Barrowford, the route’s start point, the Pendle Heritage Centre does a good job of explaining the story. I visited a number of places associated with the witch trials including Newchurch village, home to St. Mary’s and close to sites such as Faugh’s Quarry, where the Devil is alleged to have been seen.

St. Mary’s Church tower has an ‘Eye of God’ to ward off evil spirits. These symbols were often found in people’s homes, but seeing one on a church is a reminder of the power of superstition.

The Thankful Village to Lancaster, a ramble in the Vale of Lune

Arkholme is a sleepy village with a cluster of houses dating from the 17th century. Walking through the village you would never guess that something extraordinary happened here. Arkholme, along with the nearby village of Nether Kellet, is one of only two Thankful Villages in Lancashire. A Thankful Village was one where all the men who served in the First World War returned alive. Fifty-nine men left Arkholme to fight, miraculously, all returned. Some of the men were wounded, other severely traumatised, but all were alive.

Given the carnage on the Western Front, its not surprising that only 52 villages in the whole country can claim to be Thankful Villages. If that isn’t remarkable enough, Arkhome is a Doubly Thankful Village. All the men who served in the Second World War also returned to the village alive. By some quirk of fate, Nether Kellet (only 5 miles from Arkholme) is also a Doubly Thankful Village. Only 14 villages in the whole country were fortunate enough to be Doubly Thankful Villages, and Lancashire the only county with two.

Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Arkholme Church, Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Arkholme Church, Arkholme, Lancashire, England

The River Lune flows past Arkholme on its 44 mile journey from Ravenstonedale in Cumbria to the Irish Sea at Lancaster. After walking from Burton-in-Kendal, I joined the Lune Valley Ramble at Arkholme and headed through glorious countryside towards Lancaster. The pastoral setting hasn’t changed much since it inspired 19th century poets and artists, including John Ruskin, William Wordsworth, JMW Turner and Thomas Grey.

The landscape is predominantly farmland and floodplains (the river can rise several feet); occasionally the route takes you into lovely wooded areas that rise up the hillside next to the river. All the time, the backdrop to this lovely lowland route is of high moorland and the distant hills of Ingleborough, Leck Fell and Whernside. Its simply beautiful. Occasionally you pass historic villages or structures, like the 17th century Loyn Bridge and 18th century Lune Aqueduct. Now and then you come across a pleasant warning from a friendly farmer…

Ingleborough, seen from the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Ingleborough, seen from the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Loyn Bridge on the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Loyn Bridge on the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Danger! The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Danger! The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

At the point where the River Wenning flows into the RIver Lune, two towers loom large over the tops of trees. This is the village of Hornby, the towers the 16th century St. Margaret’s Church and 13th century Hornby Castle. Like many country houses, Hornby Castle has seen history and personalities wash over it. The estate has passed through numerous hands throughout its history. Its owners chose the wrong side during the English Civil War and had the estate confiscated by Parliament. They got it back following the Restoration of Charles II. Only to sell it again shortly afterwards.

Hornby, the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Hornby, the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Hornby, the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Hornby, the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

The most notorious owner, and one of the most notorious men in Britain in the 18th century, was Scottish Lord, Colonel Francis Charteris. Charteris was dubbed a ‘rake’ by his peers – a hardened gambler and womaniser, while tens-of-thousands of ordinary investors lost everything, he made substantial amounts of money from the South Sea Bubble. His crimes went further though. He was found guilty of raping a servant, an act which earned him the nickname, Rape-Master General. As an aristocrat, he was quickly pardoned, but he was parodied by artists such as William Hogarth in A Harlot’s Progress.

The route brings you to the Crook ‘o Lune, so-called because the meandering of the river creates a shape like a shepherd’s crook – a scene immortalised by JMW Turner. It was here I took an unplanned detour. Inexplicably, I’d picked up the wrong map when I set out, the Crook ‘o Lune was one of my many ‘wrong map’ diversions. Still, it was very peaceful walking along the banks of the river, and I saw first hand what Turner had found so alluring about this place.

The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

The Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

IMG_4274 IMG_4273

A few miles further west I found myself passing underneath John Rennie’s Lune Aqueduct, which I’d passed over a few days earlier walking along the Lancaster Canal. I plunged onwards towards Lancaster – only a mile and half from the aqueduct – and found myself on a well worn path enclosed by trees with other walkers and cyclists.

Lune Aqueduct on the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

Lune Aqueduct on the Lune Valley Ramble, Lancashire, England

I finally arrived in Lancaster ten hours after setting off. This walk was more of an endurance test than a ramble; by the time I’d arrived at the finish line in the city centre, all I could do was seek out the nearest public house, take a seat and hope that a pint of the local Mitchells beer would help the recovery process.

A pub in Lancaster, Lancashire, England

A pub in Lancaster, Lancashire, England

The Hanging Town, the Red Rose of Lancaster

In the early 17th century, England (not for the first or last time) descended into a period of collective insanity. Viewed from an age of science and reason, its easy to deride the hysterical fear of witches and witchcraft that gripped the country, from King James I down. For the average person though, witches were very real. Nowhere in England was this hysteria more destructive than in the wild northern county of Lancashire.

Here, amidst the remote hills and villages of Pendle, Protestant England undertook it own version of the Catholic Inquisition. There were a number of factors, religious and societal, that collided in the early 17th century to give rise to the madness. In the popular imagination, witches were real and dangerous emissaries of the Devil; whichever way you slice it, Lancashire was a dangerous place to be a woman of independent mind.

Lancaster Priory, Lancashire, England

Lancaster Priory, Lancashire, England

Headless memorial, Lancaster Priory, Lancashire, England

Headless memorial, Lancaster Priory, Lancashire, England

King James I was obsessed with witchcraft. He wrote a book, Daemonologie (1597), encouraging the exposure, capture and death of these ‘slaves of the devil’. At the same time in Lancashire, the Protestant Reformation was struggling against a conservative and Catholic rural society containing a large number of ‘traditional healers’. These predominately poor women became the focal point of accusations of witchcraft. Religious fear of difference created a tinderbox environment ripe for persecution.

Three Lions Passant, Coat of Arms for Kings of England, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Three lions passant with label azure seme-de-lis, Coat of Arms the Earls of Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Those accused of witchcraft invariably ended up in Lancaster Castle awaiting ‘trial’ before execution. So many witches were put to death in Lancaster that it gained the sobriquet, ‘The Hanging Town’. For some reason, the City Council have deemed this an inappropriate motto for Lancaster, favouring instead the motto ‘Luck to Loyne’. ‘Loyne’ being the original name for the River Lune.

Lancaster Castle, Lancashire, England

Lancaster Castle, Lancashire, England

Lancaster Castle, Lancashire, England

Lancaster Castle, Lancashire, England

The Pendle Witch Trials of 1612 were only one of many extraordinary moments in Lancaster’s history. The huge and solid Lancaster Castle occupies the site of a former Roman fort, and was an important Roman military settlement for several centuries. The Roman’s loved a good bath, unsurprisingly the foundations of a bath house have been found near the Castle.

Lancaster Castle is still used as a prison. There are actual convicted criminals imprisoned inside this ancient monument. Which is a bit weird. It must be hard enough being in prison, but being in a prison that is also a tourist attraction – tours available daily – just seems cruel. As an aside, its claimed that the portcullis printed on the official paper of Parliament is modelled on the portcullis of Lancaster Castle.

Lancaster Castle, Lancashire, England

Lancaster Castle, Lancashire, England

Three lions passant with label azure seme-de-lis, Lancaster Castle, Lancashire, England

Three lions passant with label azure seme-de-lis, Lancaster Castle, Lancashire, England

Although Lancaster itself wasn’t really involved, it was to be the House of Lancaster that won the War of the Roses in the 15th century. This series of feudal conflicts, between two sides of the Royal House of Plantagenet, dragged on for decades and was littered with violence, bloody intrigue, double dealing and backstabbing. In the end Henry Tudor, Henry VII, won the throne. Paving the way for Henry VIII and the Reformation which would, in turn, lead to the Pendle Witch Trials.

The Red Rose of Lancaster, Lancashire, England

The Red Rose of Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Memorial to World War I, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Memorial to World War I, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Its from this period that Lancaster and Lancashire derive their most recognisable symbol, the red rose. This mirrored the white rose, symbol of the House of York, the other combatant in the War of the Roses. When Henry VII took the throne, he married Elizabeth of York, uniting the two warring factions. He also merged the Red Rose of Lancaster with the White Rose of York to form a hybrid, the Tudor Rose.

If the Pendle Witch Trials were a bleak period in Lancaster’s history, it was surpassed by an even greater injustice in the 18th century. Lancaster is a small town, but it played a major role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Lancaster was the fourth most important English port for the Slave Trade; its ships carried upwards of 30,000 Africans, predominately from Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and The Gambia, into slavery.

Weather vane, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Weather vane, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Detail on Lancaster City Hall, Lancashire, England

Detail on Lancaster City Hall, Lancashire, England

Almost every prominent Lancaster family and business had connections to the slave trade, but the Rawlinson family were the wealthiest Lancaster slavers. Perhaps the most unusual industry to benefit directly from the slave trade, was Lancaster’s famed cabinet making industry – epitomised by the Gillow company who dominated fine English furniture for 200 years. Most of the mahogany used to make cabinets arrived on the final leg of the triangular slave trade.

Lancaster ended its role in the slave trade in the 1790s, but the coming of the canal to Lancaster in 1797 was the stimulus for an industrial boom, enhancing the city’s wealth further. Mills sprung up along the banks of the canal, and Lancaster canal boats plied their trade up and down the new waterway: coal to power steam engines in the mills, and limestone from quarries near Kendal for use in iron, steel and glass manufacture. Lancaster became a centre for cloth production. The Moor Lane Mill, built in 1819, made bombazine (silk twisted with yarn) before switching to cotton in 1826.

Statue of a female mil worker, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Statue of a female mil worker, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Moor Lane Mill maker of bombazine, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Moor Lane Mill maker of bombazine, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Lancaster grew rich from the slave trade and industrialisation, and there are many grand buildings still standing which testify to that fact. City Hall is a classic piece of imperialist architecture, in front of it stands a giant statue of Queen Victoria adorned with metal sculptures of the great and the good from Victorian Britain. Its quite remarkable, and interesting how few women make an appearance. George Eliot and Florence Nightingale the two exceptions I spotted.

Statue of Queen Victoria, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Statue of Queen Victoria, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Florence Nightingale, Franklin and General Gordon in relief, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Florence Nightingale, Franklin and General Gordon in relief, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Salisbury, Disraeli, Gladstone and Palmerston in relief, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Salisbury, Disraeli, Gladstone and Palmerston in relief, Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Lancaster, Lancashire, England

Today, despite the presence of Lancaster University, the town feels down on its luck – its Georgian and Victorian buildings seemingly out of place and at odds with the tawdry city centre of its present.

Walk back in time on the ‘Black and White Canal’

Its almost impossible to spend any time in Britain and not find yourself marvelling at some ingenious engineering project of epic proportions dating back to the 18th or 19th centuries. That immense burst of creativity and energy, the Industrial Revolution, changed society, art, politics and economics for ever, and has left an indelible mark on the landscape of these islands.

A few legendary names recur, associated with some of the most extraordinary engineering feats in an age renowned for the extraordinary. John Rennie (1761-1821) is one of the most luminous of alumni of this period. Rennie made his name building canals, but he was also rightly famous as the builder of exquisitely designed bridges (including Waterloo Bridge in London) and aqueducts. He was responsible for dozens of projects during his lifetime, including the docks at Liverpool, East Indian Dock in London and the Leith Dock outside Edinburgh.

19th century mile marker on the Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

19th century mile marker on the Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Call me a nerd, but it was with some excitement that I set out to walk south on the Rennie-built Lancaster Canal to visit one of his most famous creations, the glorious Lune Aqueduct. The route would take me from the village of Holme all the way, 15 miles later, to the centre of the City of Lancaster. Along the way I’d pass some of Rennie’s lesser known achievements, including the Tewitfield Locks, the smaller Keer Aqueduct and a host of bridges.

Plaque to John Rennie, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Plaque to John Rennie, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Locks at Tewitfield on the Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Locks at Tewitfield on the Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Locks at Tewitfield on the Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Locks at Tewitfield on the Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Locks at Tewitfield on the Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Locks at Tewitfield on the Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Rennie was a genius. If you want proof of this, straight from the ‘strange but true’ catalogue comes this: Rennie spent one and a half years driving sixty specially imported Russian tree trunks into the River Lune, to act as the foundations of the aqueduct. Over 200 years later, they are still the foundations of the aqueduct. Wood doesn’t rot when it is permanently wet – who knew? A little risky, given the huge cost of the Lune Aqueduct and that this giant structure took years to construct. The aqueduct became a tourist attraction – JMW Turner visited to paint it.

John Rennie's Lune Aqueduct, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

John Rennie’s Lune Aqueduct, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

John Rennie's Lune Aqueduct, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

John Rennie’s Lune Aqueduct, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

John Rennie's Lune Aqueduct, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

John Rennie’s Lune Aqueduct, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Every structure along the canal – bridge, aqueduct, swing-bridge – is numbered. As you walk you either count upwards or downwards as you go. My journey south took me from bridge number 153 to bridge number 99. Which, in a 15 mile journey, gives some idea of the level of construction that went into building an 18th century canal. Refreshingly, the canal is still being used. I passed dozens of canal boats, some holiday rentals, others homes. The artistry of canal boat painting is also alive and kicking.

Only 12 miles to go, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Only 12 miles to go, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Swans and canal boat, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Swans and canal boat, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Canal boat, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Canal boat, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Moon Witch canal boat, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Moon Witch canal boat, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

The route is a lovely mix of landscapes, largely cutting across country through sheep, cattle and arable farms. At the sizeable village of Hest Bank, I took a quick detour to catch sight of the coast. This area of Morcambe Bay, known as the Kent Channel, is where the River Kent empties into the estuary. This provided access to the Irish Sea and the world in the 18th and 19th centuries. When the Lancaster Canal opened, Hest Bank was its closest point to the sea.

Hest Bank, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Hest Bank, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

A specially constructed wharf allowed ships to load and unload goods onto the canal, connecting the canal to the world. This part of the estuary is notorious for its incredible tides and shifting sands. When the wharf fell into disuse around 1850, it was quickly submerged by sand. It reappeared in 2001, when tidal activity moved millions of tons of sand. This movement of sand – from Hest Bank to Grange – follows a cycle that occurs every 150 years.

Bizarre art, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Bizarre art, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Railway viaduct, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Railway viaduct, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

My final destination, Lancaster, is an historic city (of which more later). The canal gave it an enormous economic boost at the end of the 18th century (when its involvement in the Transatlantic Slave trade was diminishing), but connecting the city to other industrial cities required a man of Rennie’s genius. This is evident when you pass over the Lune Aqueduct. When you arrive into the city you can still see the canal-side warehouses and factories which thrived off this new form of transport.

Canal-side church, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Canal-side church, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Canal-side mill, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Canal-side mill, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Canal-side mill, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

Canal-side mill, Lancaster Canal, Lancashire, England

These new industries gave the Lancaster Canal its nickname, ‘The Black and White Canal’. The abundant white limestone of south Cumbria was required to manufacture iron, steel and glass in Lancashire, while black coal from mines in Wigan was needed to power the steam engine driven factories of England’s heavily industrialised North West.

The Devil’s Bridge, Ruskin’s View and the Vale of Lune

Legend tells us that in the fourteenth century the good people of Kirkby Lonsdale wanted to build a bridge across the River Lune. They didn’t have the means to build it, so the Devil appeared to a local woman and promised to build the bridge for them. In return, the Devil wanted possession of the first soul to cross the bridge.

The town folk agree to the Devil’s terms and overnight the Devil built the bridge. The following morning the woman came to the bridge and, outwitting the Devil, threw bread onto it for her dog to chase. The dog crosses the bridge and the Devil has to accept its soul instead of a human soul.

This legend isn’t unique, there are many similar folk tales across Europe. When I was at school in Kirkby Lonsdale an alternative version of the tale told of how a local farmer drove a herd of sheep over the bridge. In this predominately sheep farming community, this version seems more appropriate, and fits with the tradition of the canny, or even cunning, farmer.

The Devil's Bridge over the River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

The Devil’s Bridge over the River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

To reach Kirkby Lonsdale I walked over Holme Park Fell and Hutton Roof Crags, two beautiful areas of protected landscape. The weather wasn’t great, with regular showers, but the forecast was for sun and by the time I reached Kirkby Lonsdale it had broken through the clouds.

Signpost on Holme Park Fell, Cumbria, England

Signpost on Holme Park Fell, Cumbria, England

The view from Hutton Roof Crags, Cumbria, England

The view from Hutton Roof Crags, Cumbria, England

Scarecrow, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Scarecrow, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Foxgloves and gate, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Foxgloves and gate, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Traditional stile, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Traditional stile, near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Kirkby Lonsdale is an historic market town with Roman origins. Mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086, it gained market town status by Royal Charter in 1227. By then several cross-country packhorse routes converged here as a strategic crossing point on the River Lune. The current St. Mary’s Church dates from Norman times, but is built on an earlier church. Queen Elizabeth School, founded during the reign of Elizabeth I, dates from 1588.

Houses, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Houses, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Houses in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

St. Mary's Church, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

St. Mary’s Church, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

A walk through St. Mary’s churchyard brings you to an impressive viewpoint over the Lune Valley known as Ruskin’s View, after the famous Victorian art critic. John Ruskin is credited with standing in this spot and proclaiming it the “finest view in England, and therefore the world”. No patriotic chauvinism there then.

Signpost, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Signpost, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Ruskin's View, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Ruskin’s View, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

River Lune, Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

From Kirkby Lonsdale its possible to walk down the Lune Valley, all the way to the coast at Lancaster. I set off along this route, at some point crossing from Cumbria into Lancashire, until I reached the lovely village of Arkholme-in-Cawood. From here it is possible to take footpaths back to Burton-in-Kendal.

River Lune near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

River Lune near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, England

Water Lilies, Lune Valley, Cumbria, England

Water Lilies, Lune Valley, Cumbria, England

Weathervane, Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Weathervane, Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Farm land near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Farm land near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Of course the English countryside isn’t without its dangers. Those chocolate box pictures can give a false image of the perils that await the unwary. At this time of year there are a lot of young cows in the fields. Generally this is fine, but on occasions can be hazardous to life.

As I crossed a field with young bullocks I saw the herd mentality at work: skittish and excited, they charged towards me. Like this bullocks can easily trample a person to death, so I was delighted to be chased by the group of idiot cattle below – the one on the left definitely has a satanic look in its eyes.

Bullocks near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Bullocks near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Flower meadow near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Flower meadow near Arkholme, Lancashire, England

Farm land near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Farm land near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Farm estate building near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Farm estate building near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

I was born the county of Westmorland. A few years after my birth the Government abolished Westmorland and combined it with the county of Cumberland (famous for its curly sausages), to create Cumbria. However, you can still see some of the old Westmorland road signs dotted around.

I always felt irritated that Westmorland had been abolished. Yet, the name ‘Cumbria’ dates back to more ancient times in the history of the British Isles. It comes from pre-Roman Celtic tribes that inhabited this part of the Isles and who spoke Cumbric, a language closely related to Old Welsh. Cumbria is an corruption of the Welsh word, Cymru. This whole area was the heartland of the old Celtic kingdom of Rheged prior to the Roman invasion.

Seems like a good replacement after all….this history is covered brilliantly in Norman Davies’ excellent The Isles: A History.

Old county road sign near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England

Old county road sign near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria, England