Fifty Shades of Green - Lancashire's Ribble Valley - Northern England
Springtime in Lancashire's Ribble Valley
Fifty shades of green, or maybe more, soothing green, glorious trees, sheep grazing in fields and fells, country gardens, hedgerows and narrow country lanes.
Here I am in the county of Lancashire in northern England. My parents lived here, I was born here. I’m always eager to explore my birthplace. It's full of surprises, nostalgia, and a reminder of how things change.
No dark satanic mills now, just pastures green.The air, once heavy with soot, is now breathtakingly clear.
After a long harsh winter, spring has arrived, lightening up the darkness. Tawny, sandblasted stone buildings are adorned with fragrant, colourful, hanging baskets.
I hadn't considered the Ribble Valley as a holiday destination, but how wrong could I be? The places I once took for granted are now a tourist's delight.
Much of this countryside is unchanged since Oliver Cromwell marched through in 1648. Roman and Norman invasions are also chronicled.
The red rose is the emblem of the county, proudly displayed as the tourist logo. The valley stretches into the county of Yorkshire, the white rose emblem. Ah, the war of the roses is still evident.
Presiding over the valley looms the majestic Pendle Hill. It’s known as 'more than a hill and less than a mountain.' Misty and brooding, or mottled with sunshine, it reeks of history.
In days gone by Pendle Hill was a link in the chain of beacons. Many a bonfire has summoned the locals to take arms and fight for Lord or King.
In 1652 when George Fox climbed to the summit of Pendle he claimed he had a vision, resulting in the emergence of the Quaker movement.
By 1612 Pendle Forest was in the throes of witch hunts. Three generations of local witches were hanged at Lancaster. Whether witches, or merely feisty, persecuted women, they are now established in the folklore of the valley.
Every Halloween hordes of visitors climb up the hill, all hoping to hear the ghostly cackles of the witches. In the villages some early cottages have crooked windowsills, a device for keeping witches away.
At Newchurch village, you'll find the 'eye of God’ in the Tudor tower of the church of St. Mary's. The eye is a window protecting the cemetery against witches.
You’ll also discover the Witches Galore gift shop where you’re invited to drop in for a spell. Try to unravel the Lancashire dialect phrases. ‘Gerrit spent – thi’ don’t put pockets i’ shrouds.’ Translation: Spend up – you can’t take it with you when you die.
Pendle has a Heritage Centre and its own walkway - a 45-mile circular route marked by a witch and broomstick.
Around the Villages
Today activities on and around the hill include walking, paragliding, abseiling, caving, cycling, and horse riding.
My preference is leisurely driving along narrow country lanes, flanked by hedges, stopping to explore the numerous unspoiled villages.
Nestling under the bulk of Pendle Hill is Downham, a perfect postcard village. Serene and sleepy, village green, stone-built cottages, babbling brook complete with ducks, 15th century church, and the Assheton Arms hotel.
The ancient riverside village of Ribchester is built on the site of a Roman station. In 1796 a young boy had a remarkable find - a roman helmet. Scores of artifacts discovered in the area are now on display in the Roman museum.
The Ribble valley's tiny village of Dunsop Bridge has the title, Centre of Britain - Heart of the Kingdom. It is the geographical centre of the British Isles. Debate over the geographical centre of the UK has been ongoing for centuries. In 2002 studies by the Ordnance Survey pinpointed the area more precisely.
Check out St. Hubert's Church. The painting of horse on the ceiling above the altar is claimed to be Kettledrum, a winner of the prestigious Derby race. The story is that the church was paid for by the horse's winnings.
The bustling village of Whalley boasts a Cistercian Abbey that Henry V!!! knocked about a bit but well worth a visit. The Church of St Mary’s dates from the 13th century.
Dominated the landscape Whalley Arches a 48-span railway viaduct crosses the river Calder. Whalley Nab, a large picturesque, wooded hill presides over all.
In the glorious village of Chipping the Sun Inn boasts the ghost of 20 year old Lizzie Dean. She hanged herself in the pub when her fiancé wed another. Her last request was for her grave to be dug on the church path so the ex would have to walk over it every Sunday. Taking revenge a little far, Lizzie!
Clitheroe Market town
In the centre of the Ribble valley is the market town of Clitheroe, dominated by the remains of a Norman castle.
The castle grounds are extensive the surrounding gardens a maze of colour in summer – a rose garden, traditional bandstand, playgrounds and cafes.
The castle museum is intriguing covering the history of the area, geology, the local people, the war years – plus activities for children. Opening hours vary with the seasons.
And then there’s Simon Entwistle, who conducts heritage guided tours in the valley. Coach tours or Range Rover, tailor made for groups large or small, choose your own hours - he’s a consummate host and passionate about the valley.district
He entertains with local legends, myths, heroes, villains and witches. There’s also his weekly ghost tour – if you dare.www.tophattours.co.uk
Satlhill Geology trail, despite being close to the freeway, is worth a wander. This is a series of limestone crags formed 300 million years ago on the bed of a warm sea. The fossil remains of crinoids and corals can be seen on the trail.
I can't believe that as a child I considered my room with a view boring. I could see a serene river, hedgerows, stone walls, patchwork fields in varying hues of green. grazing sheep and cattle, and in the distance the shining dome of Hurst Green's Stonyhurst College.
Stonyhurst, a world famous Catholic college, boasts a museum collection including the private seals of James 11, the embroidered cap of Sir Thomas More and volumes of priceless books, some printed by Caxton - viewing is by appointment only.
Oliver Cromwell is said to have slept here before his journey to the Battle of Preston - the rumour is that he slept on a table. Historians say he was in fear of attack but to me it sounds more like a bad back.
Food and Ale
No need to be hungry or thirsty in the Ribble Valley. Pubs are welcoming, quaint, historic, with good food, and locals who love to talk.
The Inn at Whitewell has a reputation of excellence for dining and accommodation. Fishing, walking, wine tasting or just relaxing, this inn is recommended.
The Parkers Arms in the Trough of Bowland is welcoming – eat, drink, sleep, shop. Enjoy a pint of local ale, a coffee, a snack or a hearty meal.
Dating back to the 13th century, the Hark to Bounty at Slaidburn is one of the oldest pubs in Britain. It once doubled as a courtroom; a guilty verdict meant immediate hanging on the premises.
At Mitton, the Three Fishes Hotel has a restaurant boasting local produce. Mmmm, when I visited I chose an old favourite local dish, - Lancashire hotpot. It has lost its peasant origins and is now a gourmet dish.
Not to be outdone the nearby Aspinall Arms, a traditional country pub has top food, B&B accommodation and real ale.
It’s an unusual feeling being a tourist in the place where you grew up. I’m overwhelmed with the sheer beauty of the area now engraved in my memory, blessings in shades of green.
Useful sites www.visitribblevalley.co.uk www.visitbritain.com