Pendle Way: Information, Advice and Personal Reflections

Eastward From Barrowford

Start and Finish: Barrowford, Pendle Heritage Centre

Distance: 45 miles (72.5km)

Total ascent: 5,993ft (1,836m)

Traditional Sections:

  1. Barrowford – Barnoldswick (7 miles)
  2. Barnoldswick – Earby (5.5 miles)
  3. Earby – Laneshawbridge, (7 miles)
  4. Laneshawbridge to Coldwell Inn, (6.5 miles)
  5. Coldwell Inn to Reedley, (4.5 miles)
  6. Reedley – Newchurch, (6 miles)
  7. Newchurch – Barley, (5 miles)
  8. Barley – Barrowford (3.5 miles)

I chose to begin at Barrowford and walk over three days. To see my itinerary, click here

Map from Hiiker app

What was the trail like?

The Pendle Way is a trail that follows rivers, streams and canals through valleys and crossing moorland expanses, weaving in and out of villages before finally ascending Pendle Hill. It is a lovely and accessible journey exploring the Lancashire landscape.

The Way is made up of generally well maintained footpaths and tracks in a well walked part of the county. It is a fairly sociable trail; more with other day walker and locals than other long distance walkers, and visits a number of old villages that still have many original elements to them. It is easy to keep spirits up knowing that a pub is never too far away if the weather gets moody.

It is a picturesque jaunt for those curious about not just topography and nature, but social history and architecture as well. Even as a long distance hiker that relishes the challenge of more remote or difficult terrain, I have a strong appreciation for trails that journey that through a story or a part of history and multifaceted paths, like the Pendle Way, St Cuthberts or The Snowdonia Slate Trail have been a total joy for me in that regard.

How challenging is this trail?

This is a very accessible trail. On the second day I met a group doing it in four stages over four Sundays and at least half the group were children who were were hindered only by their parents demands to slow down or not go jumping in mud. Aside from the ascent and descent of Pendle Hill, the ground could at best be called gently undulating and, for the most part, is pretty flat.

Pendle Hill is, however, a lot tougher to climb than it appears and is particularly steep and gruelling (though the terrain is sound – there’s few trip or slip hazards and no scrambling). If you wish to skip climbing Pendle Hill due to injury, the weather or anything else, it is incredibly easy to just cut across from Newchurch to Barley down the lane in probably under half an hour.

The biggest challenges are really just the many stiles, kissing gates and squeeze gates and the many cows. The former is more an annoyance for those carrying a backpack like myself or if you are a hiker that hikes with their dog. Cows are not a British hiker’s best friend and unfortunately there’s no easy way around most of them. As these trails are very well used the cows are used to people (as long as they stay on the right of way) and if you are unnerved and solo, someone will be walking your way very soon; there’s always strength in numbers!

There’s plenty of villages and a couple towns that the trail goes through so it is very well supported in the way of shops, pubs, restaurants and toilets in an area that is very welcoming to walkers. Other long distance trails cross the Pendle Way, from the literary Bronte Way to the renowned Pennine Way and the more recently relished Liverpool Leeds Canal Path, This means that you get the little coffee shops, smaller campsites and honesty boxes that pop up to target us as their patrons. It also means establishments are used to slightly smelly patrons.

It is a path that could be achieved even by those that have doubts around their health, fitness or age.

How long is the path?

The path is 45 miles long with no real continuous ascent before Pendle Hill is reached.

What is accommodation like?

This area of the country has long distance paths running through it like you wouldn’t believe. As well as the Pendle Way, there is the Bronte Way and the Liverpool-Leeds Canal Path and then the grandaddy of the National Trails – The Pennine Way. It is an area used to hikers, backpackers and bikepackers and all types of dirty, active, smelly people. It had a whole economy built around them.

Sadly, that economy has taken a hit from covid and many campsites and hostels have closed or had to reinvent themselves as motorhome/camper sites and sole use establishments. Whether the area will bounce back is to be seen but knowing the well established paths that travel through I am hopeful that it will. There are only a handful of campsites on the path itself, mainly in the first half, though there are others within a couple miles off the path. There is now only one hostel in Earby which books up quickly with Pennine Way walkers.

I wildcamped the first night on the open access land on top of Bleara Moor, and stayed at a slightly overpriced campsite about ten minutes off the path near Reedley on the second. To investigate campsites, you can just google the area or go to pitchup or ukcampsite. Don’t bother with the sites that have started advertising ‘wildcamping pitches’ and then charging you twice what a normal site would do; they are a real pisstake. Either pay less and take advantage of having hot water and actual facilities, or properly wildcamp whilst respecting the code. If you are looking at official campsites during the Autumn or Winter, be aware than many shut up shop from the end of either September or October until March.

Whilst it is usually alright to make your mind up as evening comes, do be aware that because this is a well hiked and biked area it is still worth calling around in the morning to see where may potentially still have space in the evening. Even in October.

In regards to Guesthouses and B&Bs, they are all over the place, as are pubs with rooms. However, if you don’t have a guesthouse budget but want the convenience of a room to return to each night, I would recommend booking a few nights at Earby and travelling out to your section via bus, hitchhike, kind stranger, or taxi each day.

For more information on accomodation, check pitchup, ukcampsites, the Independent Hostels Guide and the LDWA.

Can I wildcamp?

Legally, no. In theory, yes. This is an area that is more used to the concept of wildcamping, but that doesn’t mean you can get laid back or act in any way that is disrespectful of the environment or the people. It isn’t an area like Snowdonia where there’s a lot of wilderness. Avoid the farmland wherever possible, and instead choose areas of open access land (pale yellow/brown on the OS maps). This will normally be on open moorland or towards the hills.

Pendle Hill itself is a popular wildcamping spot, more so during summer months. Unfortunately whilst it is embraced as such, it does mean there can often be irresponsible wildcamping behaviour such as littering and firelighting that occurs. Please don’t be part of that number as it is cumulative experiences like that that make the local population opposed and unhappy.

If you do choose to wildcamp, please adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Where possible, obtain the landowner’s permission
  • Preferably camp solo, or with a single tent.
  • Camp in the one space for only one night. Return for a second at the maximum.
  • Pitch up as it is getting dark, leave early
  • Choose a space that is out of the way of main paths, is unobtrusive and discreet. Be aware that where you choose to pitch is not an area of protected growth or where ecological restoration attempts are being carried out. An area of only grass is definitely preferred.
  • No fires. Definitely no fires sourced from trees in the area. Even if you are going to use an official campsite where you are allowed a fire and need wood, don’t go chopping into standing trees.
  • Leave no trace. Understand that this encompasses more than just picking up your litter, it means leaving no impact. Nothing that will cause damage to the ground or surroundings, or disturb the environment (no fires, no music, pitch somewhere clear and unprotected). If you need the toilet, bury your waste and pack everything else out, this includes loo roll and female sanitary items. If this all sounds like effort, no fun and kinda icky to you, please don’t wildcamp.

How easy is it to resupply?

Easy. Whilst there’s no big Sainsburys slapped on the path outside of Wycollar, there’s plenty of local coops, farm shops and other food shops in each village you pass through. Barrowford, Earby and Reedley all had a variety of provisions.

If you have the budget, it’s also easy to just leave the stove and the supernoodles behind and eat your three meals in various establishments as you go. Be conscious that village opening times are not necessarily as convenient or predictable as they might be in larger towns. Sunday trading laws apply.

How frequent are water sources?

To be honest I just filled up in the towns I passed so wasn’t much on the lookout this time for natural sources. If you do find yourself running low and will struggle to reach the next tap, there are sources of running natural water, but they do pass through heavily farmed areas so do not use without filtration and purification.

What guidebook and map do I bring?

I used The Pendle Way Guidebook by Paul Hannon. It was written in 1997 when I was nine, but much of it still holds true and it doesn’t really require any updating. It does not go into the details of accommodation or supply, but is instead a succinct mix between being a guide of route descriptions and also historical information. It is small and easily referred to and is really charmingly illustrated with a number of line drawings.

The map you should bring is the Ordnance Survey Explorer, OL21: South Pennines (Burnley, Hebden Bridge, Keighley & Todmorden). Whilst I am absolutely someone that bangs on about always bringing a paper map, I admit I didn’t on this occasion. I figured that between Paul Hannon’s route guide and the map downloaded from Hiiker for offline use with the waymarks as confirmation I would be fine and, if I wasn’t, it would never be a far walk in any direction before I met a village, lane or person.

I’m not going to recommend this approach to anyone as I would not want to be responsible for any misfortune, but I will say that it was fine. Certainly if going into more challenging or remote terrain absolutely bring a map. And always bring a compass wherever you walk (I did).

How do I get there?

Via public transport, to get to Barrowford can be a mish mash of buses and trains. From Manchester, I took a train to Burnley Manchester Road, and then the number 2 bus towards Higherford and got off in Barrowford.

However, it would have been half an hour quicker to take four buses instead. Depends on what you prefer and how much you trust that each bus would remain on schedule and not affect the next link.

The nearest train station to Barrowford is Nelson, however this is poorly served compared to Burnley Manchester Road station a little further out. If you have the means, just take a taxi after arriving in Burnley. It will set you back about £20 and, as ridesharing apps are hit and miss in these parts, you’ll have to do the old fashioned thing of finding a taxi rank or picking up an actual phone to ring a local company (Like Burnley Crown Taxis on 01282 455555).

There are several buses that go via Barrowford, and really it’s easier to ask or google when you arrive rather than me listing them here. Burnley has a big bus stop less than a ten minute walk away from the station.

It took me just over two and a half hours from my home in Manchester to travel under fifty miles. It is out in the sticks of witch country after all.

What other reports would I recommend?

There aren’t really any that I could find that cover someone doing the whole thing in one go as a hike. Occasionally someone writes up a day walk, or a trail runner smashes out the whole thing in a single digit amount of hours, but these reports are not particularly useful for a long distance hiker. I will say that the Visit Pendle site does give nice printouts for each of the conventional seven sections.

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