FOUR hundred years ago, on Good Friday 1612, a gathering of locals in Malkin Tower, Pendle set the fuse burning on an explosive tale of witchcraft – a tale cloaked in spells and betrayal with those present becoming known as the Pendle Witches. Their trial and execution is still an intriguing story leaving more questions than answers.
During this historic year you can retrace this tale and why not enjoy the excellent Lancashire countryside and some of the finest local food along the way. Lancashire tourism has an informative Witches Trail set out and there are plenty of by-ways and food stops to keep you nourished and entertained. www.visitlancashire.com
Months after the Malkin Tower meeting 10 so-called witches were hanged, found guilty while eight others were acquitted, by a court intent on having a gallows verdict and on evidence that was equally strong or equally weak and absurd against all. They heard their inevitable fate: a short trip to the gallows, a short rope and a long, lingering death. A trial or a show trial? Hard to distinguish.
As you follow this historic and intriguing trail (even if you are a local) take some time to discover Lancashire, its history, great food and people. No matter what other counties claim, Lancastrian’s are the most welcoming folk in England but, as a proud Leyther, I would say that, wouldn‘t I?
A great place to start is Pendle Heritage Centre in Barrowford to get a feel of the witch trial story. There is a short and informative video and someone who can set the tale for you. I spoke to Simon Entwistle who turned out to be authoritative and a born raconteur. www.tophattours.co.uk
Then you are ready to find a great place to stay and some fine places to eat and drink. We stayed at Dam Head Barn in Roughlee, which has its own witch connection. Alice Nutter lived at Roughlee Hall but is believed to have stayed at the original farm.
There are more compelling reasons for staying there. It is an ideal place to explore the area; the accommodation is extraordinarily good, the breakfast excellent and the welcome more warming than a Bovril at a winter football match. Moira, a Lancashire lass, and Marc from the Welsh valleys between them know the Pendle Witch story well and certainly know how to create a great welcome. www.damheadbarn.com
Forget any negative, preconceived negative notions about British cuisine, Lancashire boasts some of the best food in the country, prepared by some of the best chefs. It is a true foodie county and this corner is probably the pick of the crop.
Not far from Roughlee, in Fence, The Sparrowhawk gets to grip with the term gastropub and gives it a boost – offering excellent dishes, many with made-in-Lancashire ingredients and served along with fine local beers. It is rightly renowned for great service and its award winning chef Chris Wrathall. www.thesparrowhawk.co.uk
Whether it is gastropub, fine-dining or just excellent local foods cooked by award-winning kitchens, enjoy the drive through the magnificent Trough of Bowland – follow the trail or create your own – and you won’t be disappointed and be prepared to enjoy the range of excellent food along the way.
At Wiswell (pronounced Wizzel) you will find the Freemasons, where chef patron Steven Smith has created a fine-dining haven in the heart of this delightful small hamlet. It is not easy to find but worth the effort. The restaurant’s charm starts as you walk through the door, where another of those warm welcomes is reinforced by glowing fires and bar staff who know their beer, wine and their chef’s food. Choose what you will, the range is wide, so let the meal be a journey of food and wine. www.freemasonsatwiswell.com
Steve is famed for his modern takes on traditional food - he has an armful of awards for food and drink and a menu full of great dishes, along with a talent for bringing out the best of fine ingredients. Try his take on Sixties favourite Maryland chicken. It is Maryland chicken but not as you know it – a sophisticated blend of 1960s and 21st Century. Also Anna’s Happy Trotter’s, pork roast loin, black pudding puree and pork pie sauce, Save yourself for desserts – they are a feast for the eyes and tastebuds.
Another few miles through appealing countryside in the Trough of Bowland and you reach Dunsop Bridge, the geographical centre of Great Britain. In nearby Newton-in-Bowland is The Parker’s Arms.
If ever “gem of a find” meant anything, then it’s here. Parkers is a shrine to local food prepared with imagination, putting the best local ingredients into the best cooking. It is a pilgrimage for those who seek excellent Lancashire cuisine with a French twist and where the food will probably have travelled far less than the diners. I have never tasted a game pie with such intense flavours, wrapped in a water pastry and looking like an up-market, fine-dining Cornish pasty. Simply superb. The chips are excellent too, as is the beef bourguignon and local hogget – even the watercress has a local stamp. www.parkersarms.co.uk
In the kitchen Stosie Madi is a chef who could, I suspect, bring the best out of any ingredients. Armed with all this excellent local produce she weaves an undeniable culinary magic. Front of house AJ revels in describing each ingredient’s local credentials. The best sausage dishes include bangers from arguably the best sausage butchers in Lancashire, Cowman’s of Clitheroe. The lamb comes from Hydes Farm in Newton and the excellent trout from Dunsop Bridge. How do I know? Because it says so on the menu.
I counsel you to add Clitheroe to your itinerary – look around the Castle and soak up some local history then call into Cowman’s, take in the extensive bangers’ menu and take some sausages home. You will not be disappointed.
While you are there visit The Emporium, a great place for a light lunch in a great setting and before leaving the town call into Byrne’s wine merchants and the Cheesie Tchaikovsky deli on Castle Street for a mesmerising range of artisan cheeses.
Don’t forget you original reason for visiting and wander around the impressive, moody presence of Pendle Hill it will provide a backdrop for all the memories while you enjoy your sausages, cheese and wine.
Dam Head Barn, Roughlee. Double room from £30. 01282 617190, www.damheadbarn.com
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