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.