Dec 11 2011

Witchcraft, cake and wine

The car parking is suspiciously cheap.

Maybe I don’t want to go to a town that offers four hours of car parking for a pound and free car parking on December Saturdays. This must be a rancid desperate whore of a town.

But I do love a bargain. We leave the car. We will probably never see it again in such a frontier town frowned over by the misty misshapen satanic Pendle Hill, too far away for celebrity, too close for pleasantry.

We slither up the first ice we have encountered this winter. It would be here, darkly shadowing the paths up to the castle. Because how can we not go to the castle first? It has a Grim History. And I do love a Grim History.

But where were once gargoyles heads and revolving smouldering oxen’s bodies are now too bright lights, fake heat, cheery informative placards and MDF plastered over ancient dank walls. I can see why.  Schools will not pay to witness a dank ruin and risk a small modern knee smote through with an ancient rusty nail.

And now here is an over lit room with fossils and timelines. I have always hated fossils and timelines and little displays showing soil changes through the ages. Which is annoying, as I have always wanted to be an archaeologist. But without the boring bits. I find it sad though that the castle looks more like a Little Chef with display cabinets and a good view than an ancient building perched high on a hill.

But now is the Witchcraft Bit, which makes it all ok, and you can hear people with Lancashire accents talk through a speaker about long dead malevolent servants enticing people into a local river. And here is a tiny ancient shoe found hidden in the eaves of a nearby cottage. And the owner of that tiny shoe is forgotten, dead, unnamed and blown to the wind. And so is the optimistic owner of the supposedly charmed shoe.  Heh.

The Keep, also  at Clitheroe Castle has a sound installation based on the Lancashire Witches Trials. In a sleet swept happily unmodernised crumbled building, next to the castle, it is the only building in Clitheroe, which has the height and the bloody history to stare Pendle Hill in the eye.

Sighs and murmers echo and chasten, murmer and fold through the ruined prison where an ancient door on a floor that nobody earthly can access stays forever locked. The sighs and hummings are through a speaker but in this desolate spot so near humanity but so far away, it is hard to tell the difference between the past, nature and a heavily advertised sight specific musical installation. Which means in my head at least it worked. I suspect letters to the local paper might suggest otherwise. Although on my brief perusal it seems the good citizens of Clitheroe are more obsessed with cat murder and dog shit.

A licensed café built into an historical site is what the world needs and the Atrium Café is very impressive with its alcohol list wider than its food range. I think I will move to Clitheroe I decide after soup, chips, and wine which is pretty much all one needs to be happy and alive and with change from a tenner.

I do not want to leave the castle, its over lit history, shops featuring glass bracelets, highly censored children versions of witches, well priced shiraz and crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside chips is pretty much all I have I have ever wanted out of life.

But then I discover a market with cheap butter pies, a shop that sells expensive cheese and bread with fancy stuff in it, the most ludicrously gorgeous trendy café featuring antique rocking horses, flamingo wallpaper and mulled wine tea.

People are so friendly I keep looking for a TV camera. Because this is Islington meeting the North in the shadow, the ever looming and ominous shadow of Pendle Hill.

And I shall return.

Apr 23 2011

Failing at the paranormal in Lancashire and Cumbria

I have always had a strong interest in ghosts and witches. Unlike with most people however, it did not stop when I was nine.

It is an interest on the periphery of my life, I do not spend vast sums of money on occult paraphernalia or obsess over ‘orbs’ which are clearly dust but I like the thought of ghosts existing. It is pleasing. I also like witches.  I believe in witches less than ghosts and feel faintly guilty being interested in them at all as I think a lot of slightly eccentric women who loved cats and had an interest in herbs died very nastily as a result of people believing in witches.

The Pendle Witches have made the victimisation, persecution and murder of women a tourist trail featuring a witch on a broomstick.  I have though always wanted to visit Pendle hill, scene of their alleged naughtiness because of the way it glowers over East Lancashire, always in the distance, always dark and long and strange, it being not a hill as such but a long looming landmass.

We finally have a car and it is my first destination, it previously being pretty much inaccessible via public transport from Lancaster, the scene of the witches’ sorry demise.  It is annoyingly a beautiful day. Even more annoyingly, the fact it is so beautiful thwarts us. I have a small baby, even more annoyingly a small ginger almost translucent baby and the sun beams unseasonably down and there is no shade whatsoever on the cold dead slopes of Pendle hill. Apparently people with a dark side climb Pendle hill on Halloween night. Maybe they are just ginger and freckle easily.

Reaching the no doubt impossibly eerie summit of Pendle hill is out (for now) but there is a Pendle Inn at nearby Barley featuring a pub sign of a witch on a broomstick. It’s practically dancing widdershins with Aleister Crowley except for the fact it sells tagliatelle for 9.95 and has self-catering cottages in the car park.  Oh, and was built in 1935.

The picnic area opposite is pleasing in that it looks like a poster in Nursery Times magazine celebrating diversity. There are saris and old men in shorts and sandals sitting in deckchairs.  Kids run around with nets on sticks, big scary looking men enjoy strawberry ice creams and don’t litter.

But I am still in search of the unknown and so we head to Newchurch in Pendle, home to Witches Galore. The name should perhaps have given away the fact there are no dark grimoires to be had here but esoterica lite, incense and car stickers that say ‘My other car’s a broomstick.’

And among the fluffy black cats, gemstones and wind chimes. a display of royal wedding memorabilia, Kate Middleton’s bland face next to some rune stones and books on walking in the northwest. It’s what Alice Nutter would have wanted.

We head to Burnley to a vegetarian café so meticulously researched on the net that we can’t find it and even of we had it would have been closed anyway.  The rest of Burnley looks to be honest, fucking awful so we head to Colne as the Internet says it has a ‘restaurant quarter’. A restaurant quarter must have some nice veggie inoffensive fare but we search the streets of Colne in vain. There are a surprising amount of butchers, deep stretching grey terraces than make Coronation Street look like Kensington but no restaurant quarter. Is Mr Chips the restaurant quarter?

We finally find an Italian restaurant offering three courses for ten pounds. It appears an oasis in the desert and I rhapsodise until the food arrives. I never learn the whole quantity versus quality thing. The ice-cream (third course) remains untouched and research on the net suggests that the restaurant we are in and the two closed ones nearby are in fact the restaurant quarter. I curse council press releases. And the meal costs with two drinks and the garlic bread thirty quid, which is actually more than we have ever paid in our lives for a meal. My partner leaves most of his and we bicker the whole way home about whose fault it was that we went there. We both admit we should have known from the plastic ivy. And in retrospect the angry people on the Internet who say they went to environmental health after a meal there. But first the toilet.

A new day beckons and the search for adventure and somewhere to take the taste of the oily orange pasta away beckons. First Sedburgh, a wonderful market town also nestled under hills but more benevolent hills-God seems to smile on Sedburgh, its higgledy piggledy quaintness, bookshops that still exist like their patrons have never heard of Amazon, a church and graveyard in the middle of the town and a charity shop where after chatting to the people within, you feel like sending them a Christmas card. We have 90p chips which are far pleasanter a dinner than the thirty quid horror we are still apportioning blame for.

We have a picnic today and yomp into the wilderness albeit with a printed map outside Kirkby Stephen (another almost too quaint market town which in Devon would be heaving with tourists with cameras but in Cumbria, just is) we walk along viaducts, past abandoned cottages, through moorland and woods and everything is utterly perfect. People say hello when we pass and it is all so utterly English and pleasant.

But even more excitingly in the car on the way back I see not only ghosts but also murder. In one of my guiltily read books about ghosts I read of a pub ensnared in Northern wilderness, perched amongst moorland and with a dark bloody history and with a name I instantly recall as being the name of the self same pub.

The car screams to a halt, we enter, I try to stop the baby shrieking. I sense no evil presence but to be fair it is a sunny bank holiday. And maybe the undead feel at unease where peach vinyl wallpaper still exists. Its one of those pubs where the décor may be stuck in the seventies but the prices are definitely Now. I always think of a tenner for a meal in a pub to mean it comes with coulis, foams and all the other things I read about in out of date Good Food magazines at the doctors. But I am clearly old, poverty struck and out of touch and an old skint vegetarian needs to bring her own picnic or suck it up.

But now lets’ look for atmosphere! I have no blue light to hold under my chin and the sun is still blazing, there are no bloodstains but I can envisage the ghastliness of the murder, the horror on the windswept night, the restless spirit still prowling. Then the baby starts crying and we have to go.

I am trying to convey the sacred terror of the place to my partner who sneers as he has seen the residents lounge enshrouded not in unearthly terror but in brown velour. I look it up on my phone to show him the true unearthly bloody history of the car park we now reside in. Then realise we are in the wrong pub.

I decide not to ghost hunt anymore.