The past few days the weather has been messing about switching between good, bad and just plain old mediocre until finally settling to cloudy with possible showers and of course you can guess where the showers are centered can't you. If the BBC weather forecast is to be believed the only rain in Lancashire is located around Pendle hill! Instead of anticipated sun and views we got a rather more wild and wooly view of this historic lump, any witches flying today obscured by the low clouds circling the hill.
The wettest bit of todays ride is on the climb up to the 'Nick' where Dennis, not being one to break with tradition, promptly fell in the water and got 'rather wet' although his description was pehaps a little more poetic than mine. The track joins the Sabden road just below the Nick itself where Dennis and I rode the 200yards to the summit to take in the views over the Ribble Valley before returning to join the others. My intention was to investigate a permissive bridleway bearing off to the left before descending to Sabden itself. I can heartily recommend it as an alternative to simply dropping down the road, it has a decent surface despite but there were some rather deep puddles today. pedals and feet being submerged in the largest.
We squelched from Sabden via Ratten Clough and made our way on a mix of old tracks and farm lanes to the lovely steep climb of Well Head Road and on towards Newchuch in Pendle. We stopped briefly to search for a carved face in a disused quarry, something I must find out more about as it appears well weathered and not dissimilar in style to carvings in medieval churchyards. Another short climb to newchurch and a fast descent passing Clarion House (only open Sundays more of which you can find here) and we're homing in on the cafe in Barley in which, although being busy, we managed to find a big enough table for all of us. I think the rain had a hand in keeping everyone huddled over another coffee muttering about it clearing in a minute, whereas us tough RSF cyclists squared our shoulders, replaced cold, rather soggy clothing and helmets and strode purposefully forth to do further battle with the elements (yeah right).
The terrain could now be described as undulating so we duly undulated up past Blackstone reservoir, Black Moss Road and over Annel Cross Moor before dropping into the lovely time capsule village of Downham although there is no village sign to tell you this, it likes to keep itself incognito.
There aren’t any television aerials either, or obtrusive satellite dishes, overhead wires or even road markings. Downham hasn’t changed since the 1950s. The cars are the only giveaway.
You could be excused for thinking it had lost touch with reality, or that the decks had been cleared for filming a period drama (‘Downham’ Abbey perhaps?) But you’d be wrong. Although film and television producers have taken advantage of its unspoilt scenery in the past, the village looks like this because succeeding Lord Clitheroes have decreed it.
One of the witches, a certain Alice Nutter, was said to be hiding in Downham Old Hall when she was wanted for trial at Lancaster. It’s been suggested that Alice was guilty of ‘nothing more sinister than being a vegetarian spinster who owned a black cat.’ Evidence presented at the trial had little to do with fact and a lot to do with hearsay and superstition.
It's certain that the public toilets are also worth popping your head around the door just to look at if not to use them. How many places can lay claim to that?
From Downham we turned to continue skirting under Pendle Hill, glowering in the background, an isolated place detached from the Pennines and standing 1,827 feet above sea level. A mix of very quiet lanes and good farm tracks took us back to join the main road just a quarter of a mile short of the start point. The road is busy but wide and you can ride quite quickly on it so traffic is not really an issue. It's also a left turn into the car park unlike many of the other possibilities for a return route which require turning across the traffic.
Thanks to Geoff, Nick, Les and Dennis for a rather social if moist circumnavigation of the area. I am away next month so there is no Lancashire ride for September unless someone would like to add one to the calendar? We will return for another joust with the elements in October....keep an eye out and hope to see everyone then. ?
Spooky fact: Both my Garmin and phone unnacountably malfunctioned today. Could it be the rain or witchy interference?