“She was a very old woman, and had been a Witch for fiftie yeares. Shee dwelt in the Forrest of Pendle, a vast place, fitte for her profession. Shee was a generall agent for the Devill: no man escaped her, or her Furies.”

So wrote a chronicler at the 1612 Pendle witch trials; an episode that culminated in the hanging of 10 ‘witches’. After arriving in Lancaster at night, I’m primed to feel the spirits of the women wafting around every corner.

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%TNT Magazine% pendle witch trail

Checking into the uber-swanky Ashton hotel temporarily distracts me from ghost stories, but the mood is recaptured when the owner warns me the hotel may be haunted.

I rise early the next morning and drive across the wild, bleak hills of the Trough of Bowland, through which the doomed women were marched, barefoot, to execution. Under slate-grey skies, the snow smatters down, making 
the atmosphere even more eerie.

On a whim, I jump out of the car and pound up a hill towards a solitary tree. Standing beneath it, I survey the Lancashire scenery and imagine how it would have looked 
to the unlucky accused.

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%TNT Magazine% pendle witches

Two peasant families were involved in the affair, both of which were led by charismatic old women – Demdike and Chattox – who, it appears, played on their reputation as witches, an enterprising response to extreme poverty.

However, while Demdike’s granddaughter, Alizon Device, was begging one day, a pedlar refused to give her some pins. Screaming curses at him, one can only imagine her shock when he did indeed fall to the ground, paralysed.

It now seems likely that the pedlar had a stroke, but for Alizon Device and those around her, it was the beginning of their demise. Hauled up before Justice Roger Nowell, Alizon broke down and confessed to being a witch, also naming Demdike and Chattox, accusing them of killing people by way of making clay effigies.

For her part, 80-year-old Demdike admitted to meeting the devil, in the form of a little boy called Tibbs, and letting him suck her blood. Alizon and Demdike were the only ones of those hung who ‘confessed’ to their crimes.

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%TNT Magazine% pendle clitheroe castle

At Clitheroe Castle, I meet tour guide Simon Entwistle and we set off to Pendle Hill. The tour is a firm favourite with psychics and ghost-hunting tourists and Entwistle is happy to play along, ratcheting up the fear factor.

The snow comes down steadily as I drive higher and it’s touch and go as to 
whether the car will make it. But the witches are on my side and I arrive in Newchurch, at the foot of Pendle Hill.

We’re now tantalisingly close to Malkin Tower, where Demdike and her family are said to have lived. It was here, back in 1612, that investigators were sent to gather evidence on the unlucky women, discovering human bones. In December 2011, fuel was added to the story’s fire when workers found the remains of a mummified cat in a ruined cottage on Pendle Hill.

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%TNT Magazine% pendle witches lancaster

In good weather, Pendle Hill is beautiful and the views from it panoramic, inviting you to linger and picnic. But as the sky darkens and snow drives down, it’s easy to imagine something sinister lurking here. Undoubtedly, though, the real evil perpetrated was that of Justice Nowell – politically ambitious and eager to impress witch-obsessed King James 
I – who sentenced so many to death.

After being dragged 100 miles from their hovels, the accused were thrown into Lancaster Castle. I shut myself into one of the windowless cells in the dungeon and try to conjure up some trace of those 10 unlucky souls – the fear, the claustrophobia, the stench of unwashed bodies.

My final stop on the path of Demdike, Chattox and crew is the place of their execution. Still mildly giddy from drinks in the Golden Lion – reportedly the place where the condemned had their last pint en route to the gallows – I get up early in the morning mist.

Houses have been built on the spot where the Pendle witches once hung, but I walk into the trees opposite, stand still and swear I feel Chattox’s gaze, across the centuries, boring into my back. Perhaps?

More at  visitlancashire.com

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Getting there

Trains from London Euston to Lancaster from £28 return pre-booked. (virgintrains.co.uk) To visit follow the Witches Trail, you’ll need a car. (visitlancashire.com)

Where to eat

Refuel in a cosy booth at The Borough, a listed Georgian building with stained-glass windows above the bar. The steamed mussels are to die for and the staff is as friendly as they come. Mains from £11. (theboroughlancaster.co.uk)

Try something from the grill or sample a delicious  homemade pizza in the light and airy Penny Street Bridge. The sticky toffee pudding is the best we’ve ever eaten. Mains from £8. (pennystreetbridge.co.uk)

Where to drink

Apparently the place where those condemned to hang were allowed a final drink, The Golden Lion is now  popular with Lancaster’s students. Live music 
at weekends. (33 Moor Lane)

If it’s sunny, have a pint in the beer garden of The Merchants. (merchants1688.co.uk)

Where to sleep

Worth a trip to Lancaster in its own right, The Ashton is the epitome of stylish, boutique luxury. We were plied with homemade damson vodka and delicious food the moment we stepped in, and breakfast will blow your mind. Rooms from £95pn. (theashtonlancaster.com)

Rooms start at about 
£56pn at Lancaster’s Holiday Inn. (holidayinn.com)