Are there modern witches among us near Pendle Hill?

Written by Helena Clarkson

After every yearly short weeks visit to Holland to mom my sister Elly and I were in dire need for some special time together to wind down from the emotional roller coaster we experienced in the Hague with our elderly mom, who was losing touch of reality at record pace. Hubby suggested visiting Lancashire where he grew up as a boy and since I was somewhat familiar with the area I thought it would be a great place to recoup our sanity in the lovely Lancashire country side
Tom called his cousin Josie to inform her of our plan and she was agreeable to host us and found us a small b&b in Bellthorne which would suit our needs for a couple of days. The bed and breakfast was run by a friend of hers called Barbara and Josie’s charming “Plum Cottage was in easy walking distance. Josie had a spectacular view from her living room window all over the valley and she even was able to point out “Black Pool Tower” to us in the far distance!
Barbara refused payment for her hotel service too which didn’t hurt our feelings or our budget. Josie and Barbara, both in their seventies, had gotten quite friendly a while, as they shared a passion for cats! I should mention this area of Lancashire has an infamous place called Pendle Hill which is known for its witches that flew around there long ago. Many of you may not believe in witches, but if you look at Pendle hill in the moon light you might think different perhaps? I definitely would put a heavy padlock on my broom, if I lived in the area just in case…
Take our hostess Barbara for instance, an overly friendly somewhat stout and extremely chatty old lady, she also was a first-rate nosy Parker! From the pleasantly plump size of her we could immediately deduce that she was a great cook and enjoyed sampling her own cooking. We tasted a couple of very delicious home cooked breakfasts fixed by her and she seemed to enjoy our company. She liked to fix us tea in the afternoon while she quizzed us eagerly about every little detail how we had spent our day with cousin Josie. Cousin Josie took us around the area to show us around and had lunch with us and fixed us a home cooked dinner at night. We certainly got fed very well in Lancashire that way, perhaps even too well?
We also know that witches sometimes use cats as familiars so with all the cats inside and outside the house she could very well have been a witch!
Barbara had indeed some beautiful spoiled huge cats and Tippy which she pronounced Tippay in her sing song Lancashire accent. Tippy was a gorgeous big Tom acted like the man of the house and was a bit of a jealous bastard at that. It seemed dumb little me always managed to sit in his spot and if looks could kill I would never have survived deadly stare this cat threw in my direction time after time. He obviously despised the intrusion by these two humans that had arrived from the colonies without his “Furry-Majesty’s” permission.
Elly and I admired the splendid bouquet of red roses that dominated the décor in the tiny living room, but our charming hostess quickly set us straight that these long-stemmed beauties were not put there to please us, but to honour her dead and gone hubby. The very same fellow also had forbidden her to remarry after his death. We thought that a big odd, but then again I doubt that at her advanced age a whole slew of suitors would be knocking down her door any time soon either. She went into great detail how she took care of him while he was dying from terminal cancer and I am sure that was a very difficult time in her life. I also suspected she still had a small but deadly stash of heavy narcotics hidden in her medicine cabinet left over from the time she lovingly cared for her terminally ill spouse. I often wondered if she had seen her dear hubby suffer so much that in the kindness of her heart she helped facilitate his departure from earth straight into the arms of the Lord? Like I mentioned before, she was a tender-hearted woman and she truly hated to see man or beast suffer. Just remember how she had taken it upon herself to feed all the stray felines in her neighbourhood with tons of expensive cat yummies and I must say she did a splendid job for they all had beautiful shiny coats and looked quite healthy and rather well fed and they all adored her for obvious perhaps even selfish reasons.
During the day cousin Josie would show us around the old town of Ribchester which lies on the River Ribble, its peaceful stream keeps the surrounding valley fertile. This river is very dear to my own husband who used to walk on the banks of it, while visiting some of the family farms stretching along the riverside. The old family farm Sheepfold had a headstone dating from 1710 AD. Any town ending in the word Chester in UK is a clue that it was built near an early Roman settlement by the way. While strolling through Ribchester we decided to have some beer in the oldest pub of the town the White Bull to quench our thirst. Elly ordered a pint and cousin Josie told my sis in no uncertain ways that it was not very lady like to order a pint of beer. My sister was totally crushed I am sure, and we just may have to go back to Lancashire one of these days and cross that “pint of bitter” from her bucket list! We did not want to upset dear Josie for the world however, after all she went out of her way to show us around the area; so, we could have a good time in England.
We walked through the Roman museum which gave us an accurate account of the ancient Roman settlement which was now called Ribchester. We walked the banks of the River Ribble and passed the ruins of what was left of the original Roman baths. Ducks and swans make for an idyllic photo on the scenic river bend next to the village. We walked the grounds of St Wilfred parish church but were unable to visit inside because of ongoing renovation. Sis was inspired to photograph a lovely butterfly on one of the old big gravestones. We admired the almshouses and an ancient stone bridge near the Catholic school Josie and Tom attended as kids. On an earlier visit Tom and I also had visited the old Stydd church before said to be used by the Knights Templar. The Stydd church Tom likes to tell the story the holy grail was buried well let’s keep that our secret please for I would hate to see the old church yard dug up and destroyed by treasure seekers.
Cousin Josie had a male friend and they seemed extremely fond of one another Elly called him Josie’s “boytoy” she was quite amused with that expression for she actually was prim and proper lady in her late seventies.
Josie’s boytoy drove us expertly through the “Trough of Boland”, which apparently is a scenic valley in the area. During the outing we realized what unfortunately and sad shape the poor fellow was in. He was apparently at end stage emphysema and would pass out from lack of oxygen rather frequently sometimes even in his car. Josie finished up calling emergency several times in the past. You did not need to be a doctor or a nurse to see that this poor fellow was living on borrowed time. This opinion was also shared by our nosy landlady and her observation was that he was looking for a nurse and took advantage of cousin Josie sweet disposition that way. I suppose she was partly correct but the fact remains that they got along so well and were so very happy together even it was perhaps for only a short while. For them it was a carpe diem moment. Sadly, for Josie he passed away not long after Elly and I returned to the states.
Getting back to our not so favourite feline. Tippy truly hated us with a passion and would immediately occupy our chairs or sofa as soon as it saw us coming. It also would sit on the top of the stairs to the bedroom daring us to walk past him I think he secretly was plotting to trip us on the way up and hopefully we would break our sorry neck tumbling down that slippery steep wooden staircase.
Our bedrooms were nothing to write home about. Elly’s resembled a tiny walk in closet and I presume if she sat up straight in bed she was in serious danger to bump her head on the low hanging overhead of her narrow monk like cell. I inherited the princess room and it was a bit roomier and looked out on the main road which would get you out of the village of Bellthorne and eventually to Manchester airport and eventually home sweet home.
Barbara took her job as a den mother quite serious and hired a car for us. Over the phone she specified that the chauffeur come to the door in proper fashion and would be very polite and not honk the horn in front of the house like a peasant. He would have to come inside so he could withstand her scrutiny for she wanted him to be clean proper and most of all polite! He also should not overcharge us. Yes, we were in very capable hands with Barbara in charge. The evening before our departure she fixed us some lovely tea and cakes and then encouraged us to go to bed for a good night rest before our long plane ride back to USA. Elly and I had packed our suitcases earlier and I thought I saw glimpse of a triumphant grimace on Tippy’s furry face; it was obviously thinking thank the lord the American bitches are leaving in the morning and hopefully will never return!
Upstairs I drank some bottled water in my bedroom while getting ready for bed and suddenly got a feeling like I was James Bond in a spy movie and had been drugged. The room seemed to be spinning and I paced the room for at least an hour or so, as I felt I had been drugged and didn’t want to die in an overdose. Had the sweet old lady dosed our tea and cake? In the morning at the airport we compared stories and Elly and I both were of the same opinion that we had been drugged that evening except she could not get up out of bed because of the low ceiling in her bedroom so passed out in her tiny cell instead.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought, that one of the local witches from Pendle hill actually might have tried to drug us and perhaps kill us?
Dear Barb gave us each some homemade jam to take home and we both decided it might be safer to try these lovely treats on our husbands first. Almost lost my little jam jar at Atlanta but the TSA person felt sorry for me and decided to overlook it. Bob and Tom commented that the jams were quite delicious actually; so perhaps our quite hospitable landlady Barbara, besides being a good cook, was a good witch after all? Maybe she figured by drugging our tea, this insured her for us as well as herself to get a good night rest that night? I learned of Pendle hill and its infamous “Witch Trials”, first in 2003 when we visited some old schoolfriends of Tom in the village of Whalley and I recall how the wives of these friends gathered next to the piano and performed the old haunting song below:

“Pendle, old 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.
Pendle, old Pendle, majestic, sublime
Thy praises shall ring till the end of all time
Thy beauty eternal, thy banner unfurled,
Th’art dearest and grandest old hill in the world
When witches fly out on a dark rainy night,
We’ll not tell a soul, and we’ll bar the door tight,
We’ll sit near to t’ fire, and keep ourselves warm
Until once again we can walk on thy arm.
Pendle, old Pendle, by moorland and fell
In glory and loveliness, ever to dwell
On life’s faithful journey, where e’er I may be,
I’ll pause in my labours, and oft think of thee.”


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