Stirk House Hotel
Witches, Ghosts and The Hangman...
At the beginning of April, I went on a two-day Pendle Witch tour of the glorious Ribble Valley region of Lancashire, organised by Stirk House Hotel. At the start, I knew little local history and less still about how women in the early 1600s were tried and sentenced to hanging because they were believed to be witches.
It was little to do with curses and spells and everything to do with the ruling monarch, James I’s paranoia and scepticism about witchcraft being prevalent among the common people. I was shocked and saddened to learn over the two days about the way in which women were treated, simply because they demonstrated courage and intelligence.
The tour began at Stirk House where we were introduced to tour guide Simon Entwistle and our minibus driver. The first port of call was the breathtakingly beautiful village of Downham, where Whistle Down the Wind and Born and Bred were filmed. Here, Simon gave some insight into the local area before we continued along up and around Pendle Hill to Roughlee village, where we stopped to see the statue of Alice Nutter, one of the Pendle Witches, immortalised in 2014 to commemorate the 400 years since she was hanged. Following a visit to the Pendle Heritage Centre in Barrowford, we returned to Stirk House for a lunchtime buffet in PRIME Restaurant. It was excellent; homemade, superfresh mini beef burgers, a selection of sandwiches and mini goats cheese tarts, served with salad and fries. Exactly what we needed to refuel before setting off for the afternoon which was spent at Samlesbury Hall, a beautiful stately home in Lancashire, believed my many to be haunted. It is full of history and original features with exquisite stained-glass windows, huge open fireplaces and stunning grounds. Its black and white timbered exterior is quite spectacular and this magnificent manor made the perfect backdrop to learn about the Samlesbury witches and to hear thrilling tales of alleged ghostly sightings!
We returned to the hotel where we stayed in The Manor Suite, which is in a lodge, detached from the main building, with far-reaching views of Pendle Hill and the 22 acres of woodland in which Stirk House is set. A three-course meal in PRIME is included in the price of the Pendle Witches Tour.
It was an outstanding as one would expect from head chef Chris Dobson and his team! Breakfast, also included in the price of the tour, was buffet style with orders for tea, coffee and hot food taken at the table.
Day two started with a picturesque drive to Dunsop Bridge through the Trough of Bowland where we stopped for elevensies at the charming Puddleducks cafe. From there, we headed to Lancaster Castle for a guided tour and learned a lot more about the witches, (it was there that they were tried), and about the legal system both back in the 17th century and in the current day. Photography inside the castle is prohibited because it is still a working civil and criminal court, but the civil courtroom was particularly spectacular and quite a sight to behold with rows and rows of heraldic shields, wooden benches and ornate decor. We were shown the prison cells and were privy to some of the instruments of torture used in centuries gone by. The guide spoke about the gruesome hangings and although slightly macabre, it was both fascinating and insightful. We finished back at Stirk House for afternoon tea, again included in the price.
This two day tour is excellent and outstanding value for money. For just £295 per couple, lunch, dinner, bed, breakfast, afternoon tea and the brilliantly informative guided tours were included- tour guide Simon Entwistle is a fountain of knowledge and presented everything with enthusiasm and passion. It was thoroughly enjoyable, something different and I learned a lot. The hotel has glorious views and an award-winning restaurant and nothing is too much trouble.
The next Pendle Witches Tour will take place on 17th and 18th October so do visit the website for further details and bookings.
Stirk House Hotel
Lancashire BB7 4JL