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Pendle Witches



Two female Adders tangled together on a bed of bracken in Bowland.

ALTHOUGH MOST PREDATORS APPEAR TO VANISHED FROM THE BOWLAND FELLS a pair of beautiful tangled adders was a wonderful highlight of a spin around my former local patch with Alan McBride. The snakes were presumably freshly emerged from hibernation, one still had mud on its eyes, and they flattened their bodies as much as possible to absorb the warmth of the sun's rays on another chilly spring day of occasional hail showers and sunny intervals. I love the way the patterning on the snake's spine mimics the leaves of bracken. Ironically I spotted a buzzard in the valley en route to Bowland. 'Should I stop?" said Alan. 'Nah'. It was the only one we saw all day. There may be some raptors bigger than a kestrel left in Bowland but if there are we did not see them today. Where there used to be Hen Harriers, Peregrines, buzzards and ravens there was nothing. We were also a little early for the wheatears and Ring Ouzels, which will surely return within a few days. Nevertheless, the sound of curlews and lapwings on the upland pastures was a delight, as always and it is an ill wind that at least they will benefit from, following the illegal eradication of raptors that has surely been going on in this region. After all, the absence of raptors in suitable habitat is regarded by many as a strong indication of persecution. This is one of the reasons I have stayed away for the last couple of years. Bowland feels empty to me without them.

The Lancashire Witches 400 marker in Croasdale with the dark shadow of Pendle in the background.

We also had a look at the new Lancashire Witches marker in Croasdale, which bears a poem by Poet Laureat, Carol Ann Duffy:

"The Lancashire Witches

1.     One voice for ten dragged this way once by superstition, ignorance.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

2.     Witch: female, cunning, manless, old, daughter of such, of evil faith; in the murk of Pendle Hill, a crone.

3.     Here, heavy storm-clouds, ill-will brewed, over fields, fells, farms, blighted woods. On the wind’s breath, curse of crow and rook.

4.     From poverty, no poetry but weird spells, half-prayer, half-threat; sharp pins in the little dolls of death.

5.     At daylights gate, the things we fear darken and form. That tree, that rock, a slattern’s shape with the devil’s dog.

6.     Something upholds us in its palm – landscape, history, place amd time – and above, the same old witness moon

7.     Below which Demdike, Chattox, shrieked like hags, unloved, an underclass, badly fed, unwell. Their eyes were red.

8.     But that was then – when difference made ghouls of neighbours, child beggars, feral, filthy, threatened in their cowls.

9.     Grim skies, the grey remorse of rain; sunset’s crimson shame; four seasons, centuries, turning in Lancashire.

10. Away from Castle, jury, judge, huge crowd, rough rope, short drop, no grave, only future tourists who might grieve.


2012 marked the 400 years anniversary of the trial and execution of the Pendle Witches and a group of local artists and historians started a fascinating project Lancashire Witches 400 to commemorate the event as well as to highlight the modern day issue of the persecution of witches. I also learned about Lancaster charity Stepping Stones Nigeria, who defend children's rights in the Niger Delta, where children are still labelled as witches and blamed for all manner of things including affliction by HIV/AIDS. It is remarkable that in the 21st century stuff like this is still going on.