Walking Pendle Hill’s new path: The Two Toms

Walking Pendle Hill’s new path: The Two Toms

Walking Pendle Hill’s new path: The Two Toms

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Pendle Hill can be a frustrating lump of rock. The most popular access road, from the village of Barley, just skims the north-west edge, reaching the summit by means of a flight of steps. Another classic route, the zigzag climb from Downham, does not reveal the full scale and shape of the hill.


Then there are the worn-out sorcery associations to be managed. Far more than Bideford in Devon or Manningtree in Essex, or nearby Samlesbury, Pendle Hill is lodged in the national psyche as the backdrop for the unjust trials of 11 women in 1612 – a story that has been, if not quite romanticized, then horrified and horrified. broom stuck into a dubious fiction over four centuries.

A new trail, The Two Toms, provides a refreshingly witch-free ride that takes in the full hump of Pendle Hill. The trail, developed by local walkers Nick Burton and Bob Sproule in partnership with Mid Pennine Arts (MPA), is 25 miles in total. It splits neatly into three legs – three separate leaflets with detailed notes are available – with B&Bs easy to find around Whalley, Colne and the slopes of Pendle Hill.

The Two Toms honors two local hiking heroes who deserve proper national recognition. Tom Stephenson (1893-1987) grew up in Whalley and championed the creation of national parks and the right to roam. He was secretary of the Ramblers Association and, as a Daily Herald journalist, wrote a seminal 1935 article about a “long, green path” linking the Pennines with Scotland. He campaigned tirelessly for 30 years to create the Pennine Way, which was officially opened in 1965.

Trig point at the top of Pendle Hill.

Trig point at the top of Pendle Hill. Photo: Tom Richardson/Alamy

Tom Leonard (1864-1948) worked as a vicar in Colne and took mill workers from the town on an outdoor holiday to the Lake District in 1891. He went on to set up the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Holiday Fellowship and was a founder member of the Hostels Association.

I walked the first two stages on the balmy weekend of 9-10. July, with Burton and Sproule as guides. The outing was part of the MPA’s ongoing Pendle Radicals project, which celebrates the work and legacy of local freethinkers and artists. I grew up in Lancashire and moved back there last year after a distance of over 30 years; Pendle Radical’s social media posts are always interesting and their hikes and events have been a way for me to get back to my home turf.

This walk is a celebration of the heritage of youth hostels and the first official long distance footpath, the Pennine Way

Nick Burton

The first section is a slowly building uphill, from the ancient ecclesiastical center of Whalley – where Stephenson lived, on Princess Street, with his parents and siblings. The route runs through woodland, along the edge of a golf course and over a series of moors – with good views back to a prominent hill called Whalley Nab and the arches of an impressive railway viaduct. A bridleway leads to the Nick of Pendle, a large pass on the western flank of the hill. During the trip there we had a picnic on a slope of Pendleton Moor where Chartists once gathered for a meeting – the OS map (OL41) records the site with a “Chartist’s Well”. Benet joins Newchurch in Pendle, where I was told that a grave containing the remains of members of the Nutter family recently attracted a busload of black magic enthusiasts. Alice Nutter was one of the so-called “Lancashire witches”. Like I said, the old story has gotten a little ridiculous.

The second section, which we did the next day, is mainly downhill, taking in the last Clarion House – a socialist walker’s talk and tea shop from 1912 – and a lovely ridge through sheep-speckled hill country. We passed through Barrowford, perhaps the prettiest of the mill towns in this corner of east Lancashire, and crossed the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, before scaling a steep street up into the center of Colne – where Tom Leonard was pastor in the 1890s.

When we think of “radicals” we usually picture union fighters or battering rams. But for their time, Two Toms were very much on the fringes, and their campaigns were absolutely revolutionary. Landowners kept open countryside for themselves and their grouse-shooting friends and resisted appeals from working-class walkers who just wanted a space to breathe clean air, think and stretch their legs. Even those who only wanted access as a shortcut to work were routinely denied access. There was also a growing awareness of the health benefits of outdoor life. While Blackpool and other seaside towns provided most people with the kind of holiday they needed, there were always mill and factory workers who wanted something other than freak shows, mechanical rides and fish and chips.

For Leonard, access to nature and the landscape was linked to his religious faith. “The best things any mortal has are those which all mortals share,” he said. For Stephenson, walking was an educational pursuit—he studied geology at night school—as well as a political act. He said it was the view north from Pendle Hill that fired him up when he was still 13 years old, working as an apprentice block printer in the same calico press as his father.

The Pendle Heritage Center Tea Room in Barrowford - an excellent pit stop.

The Pendle Heritage Center Tea Room in Barrowford – an excellent pit stop. Photo: Mark Waugh/Alamy

Our two-day trip was also filled with views, but more to the other three cardinal points – a rich collage of green hills, masts and wind turbines, and the former industrial cities that drove the two visionaries to seek fresh air and exercise for themselves and their fellow men and women.

There were always factory workers who wanted something other than freak shows, mechanical rides and fish and chips

The new route is open to all, and the MPA is working to have plaques placed at key points to commemorate Two Toms. Burton and Sproule will guide a small group to complete the third leg on Sunday, September 4 – and anyone can join. The 11 kilometer walk starts at Colne and finishes at Earby hostel, taking in spectacular views from Pinhaw Beacon across the Pennines; the route was always intended as a way of connecting Pendle Hill with the Pennine Way, which does not pass through Lancashire. All participants will receive a copy of the Two Toms walking brochures to aid future outings.

“This tour is a celebration of the 20th century heritage of youth hostels and the first official long distance trail,” says Nick Burton. “It links the achievements of both Tom Leonard, founder member of the YHA, and Tom Stephenson, creator of the Pennine Way. The walk, through the classic scenery of the South Pennines, takes in a landscape enjoyed by generations seeking fresh air and recreation away from the textile towns of Lancashire and the West Riding.

The trip starts at 9.30am on 4 September at Colne Library. Complimentary refreshments will be available at the end of the tour. Free to participate; register at eventbrite.co.uk

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