Bleara Moor was barely starting to get light as I packed up impatiently at seven in the morning. I fumbled around in the slowly easing darkness taking the tent down as the fog clung around. Descending from the access land onto farm paths, Earby stretched down beneath me and then disappeared behind. I came to my first cowfield of the day and decided to be a big girl and just get it over with. I made up a little tune as I crossed to allow the cows to know I was there. An awful lot of the spontaneous lyrics were variations of “please don’t eat me”.
The cows within the field itself were briefly quizzical before going back to their grassy breakfasts and I thought I’d made it. I would have done, had it not been for one stubborn cow standing right in front of the gate I needed to exit by. I did a little dance for her. I continued singing. She barely moved; just stood there and stared. What was I meant to do? Push her?
I hung out on the edge of the cowfield for fifteen minutes trying to wait her out. The fence to the side was barbed and, besides, there was no southwards exit from that or the further field so a jump and scarper would achieve nowt. The cow was very happy by her gate and did not intend to move. Now I was getting slightly prickly on the back of my neck as I realised the rest of the cows had stopped chomping and were just watching., silently circling their jaws on morning grasses. I gave it another fifteen minutes.
Dammit, this cow wasn’t going to shift and I wasn’t cosy staying here. I backtracked and fumbled down a lane to a dog walking path which then meant I needed to pretend I was happy to have everyone’s dogs jump up at me and that they were such good boys. The first few hours of the morning became me patchworking paths down to Laneshawe Bridge as there was no other convenient entry path back to the trail. Annoying, but it would be a long day with short light and I didn’t want to faff.
The Meeting at Malkin Tower
Based on the first interviews, Nowell committed Granny Demdike, Alizon Device, Old Chattox and her daughter Anne Redfearne to Lancaster Gaol to be tried for causing harm by witchcraft – maleficium – at the next assizes. And maybe that would have been then end of it had word not reached him of a meeting that had been held by Alizon’s mother, Elizabeth, at the Devices’ home of Malkin Tower.
Whilst the word ‘tower’ implies some sort of grandiosity, the word ‘malkin’ was a slang term at the time for a woman that was slovenly with loose morals. The dubbing of the home as such was likely to be a nickname given by others, rather than one appointed by the Devices themselves.
On Good Friday Elizabeth Device held a gathering and her son, James, stole a pig to feed their guests. The assembled were family and friends sympathetic to what was happening, but the assembly occurring on such a religious day alarmed Nowell and he began an in inquiry into what had occurred there, why the meeting was held, and who had attended.
Now accusations started to fly back and forth as the Devices pointed fingers at the Whittles and had fingers pointed right back. The suspicion, gossip and slander spilled over to bring others into the fray and, as a result, seven more people were sent to Lancaster Gaol to await their own trials for maleficium. Elizabeth and James Device went along with several associates of themselves and the Whittless.
Odd among them was Alice Nutter, a woman from a background of significantly more wealth and social standing who had barely any reason to associate with the accused families, let alone be present at a gathering at their homes. None the less, she was accused of the murder of a man called Henry Milton by power of witchcraft and lead away also to share the dark and awful cell with the other alleged witches.
It would be four months before their trial. But whilst Granny Demdike, Elizabeth, Alizon and James Device waited, where was the youngest member of the Device family? Nine year old Jennet had watched all that happened, but there is no record of where she went in this time. Many believe she was taken in by Nowell for those four months and schooled for the witness stand. Which is entirely believable given what occurred next.
As I passed through Laneshaw Bridge, I heard voices a hundred feet or so behind me as a group’s pace kept time with my own as I wound through the riverside nature park to Wycollar. Wycollar was amazing.
A small hamlet that apparently the industrial revolution never reached, it had a small beck running right through the centre of its main street between the stone buildings and a packhorse bridge right in the middle. The ruins of Wycollar Hall, the inspiration for Fearndean Manor in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, sat forlornly at the edge between the water and the woods.
A café was serving food and drinks through a window hatch and advertising the ‘best bacon teacake’ in Lancashire. I was briefly curiously excited by this prospect of a savoury teacake before realising that they just meant a bap. In the regional wars of England over what a small round of white bread is called – is it a roll? A bap? A bun? A barm? A cob? – Lancashire seems overly proud of its own choice of ‘teacake’ which is particularly annoying to the rest of us for whom a teacake is already a thing that exists. How do Lancastrians differentiate between the bap-teacake and the teacake that is a dense bread/scone studded with currants? I tell you, there’s doing things differently, and then there’s doing things just plain weird.
The chattering group had now caught up with me. A gaggle of around thirty adults and children squeezed through the street. It turned out they were doing the Pendle Way over four weeks to raise money for Cancer Research after one of their number had sadly passed away in June only a couple months after her diagnosis. They were headed to Reedley today, as was I, and they invited me to join. It would be nice to have someone else navigate for a change and nicer still to chat and I was happy to.
We crossed a dodgy stone bridge that, surprisingly, no one fell off of. This single 12 foot slab of gritstone, however, has lain across these waters since the Iron Ages. Believed to have originally been a standing stone from an area nearby to the northwest, it is thought it was rolled down here on logs in much the same way the stones of Stonehenge were thought to be moved. Here was once a hub of neolithic life, and arrowheads can still be found hither and thither in the dirt.
Following the path briefly through woods and then through pasture, we emerged onto the great moors, higgled between browning grasses, stoic green tussocks and dying purple heather. I’ll be honest, I didn’t take much of it in because I was having a very intense discussion with a a couple of ten year olds that completely baffled me.
One freckled boy had had his birthday recently and decided I was the perfect audience to hear all about his new game – Goat Simulator
“Sorry, did you say goat ?” I asked
“Like the animal?”
“Yeah” No biggie, fine, I can roll with this. I mean I thought I could but he was talking about goat zombie apocalypses and magician goats and microwave goats and the X attacks and Y attacks. I think the last gaming device I owned was a gameboy. Even if this hadn’t involved some bizarre goatworld, I’m not sure I would have understood much.
“I’m the undefeated champion” barged in another boy, bristling with pride. I congratulated him. It felt expected. The conversation then went on with the first boy talking about Goat Simulator and the second loudly talking over him about dinosaurs.
This wasn’t how I’d envisioned travelling around the packhorse route that leads around the many contours of Boulsworth Hill, but you learn a new thing every day and today I was learning about Goat Simulator. The path was popular with mountain bikers and every so often the chap at the lead would yell “bike!” and the message would be screamed down the line with increasing volume by subsequent children.
We stopped next to the ruins of an old barn for lunch and the group started unzipping bags and bringing out copious amounts of tupperware. I had already reaped the benefits of a truly beautiful array of snacks; every ten minutes or so while walking a child would run down the line with a plastic box from a parent’s bag full of fudge or meatballs or lemon drops or flapjacks. I had the feeling each small daypack contained more food than I had brought for three days.
I fired up the Jetboil to make some pasta that I would have to eat as we walked because the kids just inhaled food and were anxious to continue. Eventually the path came to a brow above the woods and curled around a reservoir. Or tried to. The ‘pleasant green path’ was the only part of the whole trail that ended up hard to find as the side of the reservoir was full of small, steep hills and long grasses. A small bit of mayhem ensued as everyone tried to forge their own path to the next point. Children bounced and slid down hills into bushes and stubborn men got caught in thorny overgrowth, but eventually we made it past the reservoir to the track beyond. A gloopy mess of mud from an overnight of rain and a drizzly day.
I stomped through in my gaiters, boots and waterproof socks, and when a couple children got yelled at for trying to copy my methods I realised I was being a bad example.
“But she’s doing it!”
“Her mum doesn’t have to wash her clothes!”
The children were forced to edge more nervously around the sides of the mud. I waited guiltily on the other side when a little voice popped up to my side.
“Another thing about Goat Simulator is that…”
Apparently I hadn’t learnt all there was to know yet.
A short but hectic shepherding along the tarmacked lane saw us back into woodland and then pasture, following a stream again, and back onto a lane. A pillbox that had existed at the time of the guidebooks writing no longer appeared to stand, but eventually the witch waymark was spotted to guide us across the fields. The kids were starting to tire now and the parents were all reassuring them with lies – “We’ll be there so soon! Nearly there!”. It was a pretty big walk for a bunch of seven to ten year olds; even starting in Lanshawe Bridge they were going eleven miles. I was amazed none of them had started fussing sooner.
However, the position of the town of Nelson way off in our sights seemed…wrong. It was wrong. Now I didn’t want to go hurting anyone’s ego so I just asked if we were meant to be heading north. The chap at the lead stopped, studied the guide book, looked around him, looked back at the guidebook, then quietly asked where west was. I gave a subtle point to our left and he managed to smoothly change direction as if that was meant to happen.
The Witch Trials
The eleven accused stood trial in Lancaster on the 18th August 1612. Roger Nowell was the prosecutor, and brought as his witness nine year old Jennet Device. This was a shock to everyone, as the use of child witnesses was not encouraged and was very much frowned upon…except that King James had suggested an exception for it in the case of witchcraft in his own text Daemonologie.
The child stood on a table to be tall enough to be seen, and told the court how her mother, Elizabeth Device, had been a witch for three or four years and had a familiar called Ball that took the form of a dog. She claimed to have heard conversations between her mother and Ball about the murders that her mother was accused of committing. Elizabeth screamed at her daughter to stop, didn’t she understand that what she was saying would lead to Elizabeth’s death? Elizabeth was removed from the courtroom as her child finished giving her evidence.
Jennet was then asked about her brother, James, and she claimed to have seen him conversing with a big black dog about a murder he was behind as well. She then identified which of the accused she had seen at the meeting at Malkin Tower, even picking one out of a line up amongst members of the public.
Her identification of Alice Nutter as being present at Malkin Tower on Good Friday appears to be the main piece of evidence against the woman. Alice didn’t say a word throughout her trial other than to enter her plea. It is believed that she attended a secret Catholic Mass that day and didn’t wish to speak and incriminate her fellow Catholics, especially as two of her family had already been hanged for following the forbidden faith.
Ten of the eleven were found guilty. Only one, whom Jennet had not testified against, Alice Fearne, was found not guilty.
Granny Demdike had died in Gaol, and had never stood trial. The convicted witches were executed and hanged the following morning. It was not the only local witch trial occurring at the time; on the same day a group of accused from Salmesbury stood trial, along with a woman from Padiham and another from Windle. Of all these Lancashire Witch Trials, only the Pendle Witches were found guilty.
We found a mark for a public footpath eventually. It wasn’t the Pendle Way, but figured that these footpaths would all lead to the vicinity of the next reservoir where the Pendle Way was headed as well. So we tussled with some overgrown and muddy paths but eventually plopped out by the reservoir, crossed it and started up by another field of cows.
“Another thing about Goat Simulator is…”
The man in front of me quickly moved to the righthand-side of the child next to him, looked back, caught my eye and gestured uphill where a large cow, far larger than the other cows, probably a bull, definitely a bull strode fast and purposely amongst the lady cows downhill towards us. I gave the same look and gesture to the man behind me and placed the Goat Simulator child to my left who carried on chatting without realising anything was amiss. Great. I was now a bodyshield for a child that wasn’t mine.
One by one the adults down the line positioned themselves between the bull and the children and kept moving. The bull stopped about twenty feet short, snorted, stared, lowered its head and glared. Its beady eyes waiting for one of us to trip out of line.
“LOOK AT THAT COW’S WILLY!” screamed one child mirthfully. We had so nearly got away with it.
“OH MY GOD IT’S A BULL!”
Every adult promptly told every child to shut up and not make a noise as we hustled the rest of them across and away from the herd. The laggers at the back of the group were now anxiously trying to quick march and not be left behind and vulnerable to the overly interested bull. When we were all through the top gate up the hill, it was slammed close and the kids erupted into nervous giggles suddenly making up stories about bulls that never happened.
Now it genuinely was just a couple miles more. One more trek across a golfcourse and a dogwalking path and into Reedley itself, where the main road ran down to where half the group had parked their cars earlier that day to ferry the rest of them back to the cars at the start.
It had been a long day for me, let alone a bunch of tired children. The freckled boy told me how much he was looking forward to playing more Goat Simulator this evening. I hope he had a good time. I said goodbye to the group and continued on the path down to go under the motorway and find the campsite I had booked for the night.
I arrived just as it was starting to get dark and set up my tent quickly before I let myself rest. I hoped all those kids appreciated their hot dinners prepared by their loving parents and fluffy, cosy beds and hot running water as I sat with my pot noodle and a thin piece of nylon between me and the outside world. I hoped they would also look out the window tonight, as the big and white moon was beautiful and sparkling; the clouds gathered round it like velvet catching light.
- Distance: 18 miles
- Total Elevation:1,312ft
- Terrain: farm tracks, waterside, moorland, some overgrown paths; potentially very muddy
- Toughness: 3/10
- Maps Used: Hiiker Map; Pendle Way (downloaded for offline use). Use Ordance Survey Explorer 021: South Pennines