Sunday, 13 September 2015

A September walk in Lancashire's Ribble Valley.

We are meeting today at St Mary's church in  the village of Newchurch in Pendle, and walking to St Leonard's church at Downham.
 The Demdike family of witches lived at Newchurch, although at the time the village was called Goldshaw Booth. The eye of God is carved into the clock-tower to monitor witch activity.
   If you look to the right of the porch you will see a sign. This informs us that the grave situated there is the witches grave. It is reputed to be the grave of Alice Nutter, who was hanged as a witch, although it's debatable whether the church would allow a convicted witch to be buried in consecrated ground.

Alice Nutter was reputed to have been a gentlewoman with no history of witchcraft,  Alice denied being a witch to the very end, and seems to have been arrested purely for attending a Good Friday meeting to oppose the arrests of the Demdike clan.
  Alice lived in the village of Rough Lee, which is close to Newchurch in Pendle, and to the best of my knowledge this is the house in which she lived.

 Newchurch is now a tourist village for witch finders, and I discovered a coven of them sitting outside of a souvenir shop which sells all manner of witch related  items. I've purchased two books there in the past, Mist over Pendle by Robert Neill, and The Lancashire Witches by Harrison Ainsworth. I can recommend both of them. 

You may have realised by now that we are not in the Ribble Valley at all, but in the neighbouring district of Pendle. The road from Newchurch, which is situated at the foot of Pendle Hill, travels over the hill until it arrives in Downham village, which also sits at the foot of Pendle Hill on the other side in my home district of the Ribble Valley. You may  be able to make out the village of Downham in the valley below, it looks a long way off, but at least it's all downhill. On sunny days, some rather more daring people than I, para-glide from the top of the hill and float on the thermals.
   Pendle Hill dominates both the Pendle and Ribble Valley landscapes, and is regarded by locals with affection. Listen to the folk song 'Old Pendle' recorded by the Pendle Folk. 
At this time of the year the summer flowers are beginning to come to an end, and it's all about the berries. The one you probably know the best is the blackberry. There is nothing quite like home made blackberry pie, or even better apple and blackberry with custard. When we were kids we would spend whole afternoons, with a Tupperware box, collecting blackberries, but no matter how long we spent collecting them the container never seemed to fill. Perhaps that's because we ate more than we collected, grubs and all.

Rose hips are the fruits of the dog rose, and can be used to make Rose hip syrup, jam, herbal tea, wine, and as it's high in vitamin C, vitamin C supplements.

Sloe's are the fruit of the blackthorn and can be used to make sloe gin, brandy, jam or chutney.

Hawthorn berries are winter food for the Blackbird and thrush species of birds. Redwing's and Fieldfare's visit us from Scandinavia to feast on our winter supply of berries. They are also used to treat high blood pressure and angina.

Elderberry wine, or Sambucus, is a favourite, and elderberries are reputed to ward off the winter flue and alleviate allergies.

We have arrived in Downham, our destination, the church, can be seen at the top of the hill.
 Richard Assheton, my 11th great uncle, bought the village of Downham from Ralph Greenacres in 1558, and bequeathed it, along with the village of Whalley, to his nephew Ralph, my 10th great grandfather, on his demise in 1579. The Assheton family still own the village of Downham to this day.
  The village was used in the filming of the 1961 film Whistle Down the Wind, with Hayley Mills and Alan Bates, and the BBC television series Born and Bred, starring James Bolam, Richard Wilson, Clive Swift, Nigel Havers and John Henshaw, was filmed there. The building that you can see on the right was used as the doctors surgery and cottage hospital.

 St Leonard's church, our destination. Around the back of the church, and out of sight, where you would least expect to find it, is  the  tomb dedicated to members of the Assheton family.
 The Assheton Arms, which was named, I think, the Railwayman's Arms, or sum such, in the television series, even though there isn't a railway line to be found for miles, let alone a railway station,  is situated directly across the road from the church, and that, as you might expect, is our final destination.

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