It was a passing thought- ‘I wonder if I could find the place again? Is it even still there?’ It has been a minimum of twenty years since I last saw it but it is still clear in my memory: a caravan site somewhere to the north, set on the side of a steep hill, somewhere in deepest, darkest Witch country, in the Ribble Valley. There’s a pub out front. The name of it I couldn’t possibly tell you for I can’t remember and I probably never took any notice of it in the first place. What I can recall about the pub, and this is a weird thing to remember, is that the main bar was upstairs and the staircase up to it was narrow, enclosed, and as much as I always wanted to go and see what was up there I was never allowed. I feel that if I saw the place again I would almost certainly recognise it. In my mind it seems like a pretty large chunk of my early childhood took place there.
It wasn’t really a place for children though. Sure, there was a very small play area out near the pub but there was nothing much else there. It was the middle of nowhere, just a bunch of metal boxes clinging to the side of a steep hill behind the pub. At that age I was too young to go off and explore by myself so there was really very little to do. Sure it was more tranquil than the back end of the hellscape I usually inhabited in those days, there were no burnt out cars, no gang violence and no wailing of police sirens, but tranquillity and young children don’t mix well. If children encounter tranquillity they’ll scream it into oblivion.
This was that strange time in the history of the world when every pensioner in the North of England bought a cheap caravan and pushed anybody and everybody they knew into using it whenever they weren’t, just so they could get their money’s worth. This was the reason I spent countless weekends of my childhood there. It belonged to a distant pensioner ‘relative’ and nobody else was daft enough to use it. Most people went for something on the North Wales coast, usually between Prestatyn and Colwyn Bay- And I know for certain that all of those are still there because I’ve passed them by on the rails lord only knows how many times- an endless melange of metal boxes crammed in between the sea and the A55, a place that is only marginally more interesting than this caravan site up north. At least in Wales you have the sea, the ocean, the big blue wet thing… Up north there is nothing like that. Just fields and distant rises, one of which I recall being Pendle Hill because I always wanted to climb that thing.
The name of Pendle will forever be associated with witchcraft and I’m pretty sure that I did once encounter a witch. At least she looked like a witch. I can’t remember any details about her other than the fact that my mind was screaming ‘WITCH! WITCH! SHE’S A WITCH!’ It didn’t help that at the time I was sat at a table outside the pub with Pendle Hill in the distance, right ahead of me. I can’t even remember how she got there or why she was there. My overriding memory is of this witch being sat opposite me and both of us just staring each other down, her with a creepy smile and myself terrified that she was about to hex me or turn me into a newt… Or maybe she did turn me into a newt and I just got better? I laugh now but as a child that woman gave me nightmares.
I don’t recall ever actually visiting any of the places to do with witchcraft actually, and there are plenty of them around there. In fact, besides visits to the Morrisons and Toymaster in Skipton… I was never allowed anything from the Toymaster, they were just random wanders around the shop. They had a big Lego figure of some kind in there as I recall. Never allowed a toy though, which makes the whole visit pointless IMHO- Besides visits to those places there was nothing. There were no walks in the countryside, no rambles over the fields, no visits to interesting places nearby, not even somewhere like Skipton Castle. It was only after these weekends were done with (when I was around six or seven) that I saw Skipton Castle and not until I began this thing of mine did I visit two of the places associated with the witches- Lancaster Castle, where they were tried, and the spot just outside the city where they were hung. Most of the time it was two or three days sat in this cruddy metal box with nothing to do except stare at the television/go mad.
There was an outside space but it wasn’t much more than a patch of scrubby grass between two metal boxes and an almost impossibly steep drop. That drop wasn’t guarded by anything; no fence and no protective barrier. These days health and safety would prevent this sort of thing from existing but this was the early nineties and so steep, dangerous drops and small children were allowed to mix at their leisure. Seriously though, the grass just ended and then there was nothing beyond but the open sky and death. You can see where this is going can’t you? I got too close to the edge one day and… It’s hazy as to what happened. I don’t think I was hospitalised or even injured. I just rolled down the hill a bit and the next thing I know there were people gawping at me, seeing if I was alright I suppose. I was fine but it taught me a valuable lesson: STAY AWAY FROM THE EDGE! It might explain my fear of heights actually.
This place was, it seems, was a huge chunk of my childhood but there is very little of interest I can say about it. It was the first place I encountered hailstones but that isn’t even worth this passing mention. Besides the witch and taking that tumble it didn’t have that much of an impact on my life. These days I actually can’t stand caravans but that isn’t entirely the fault of this place. That is also to do with my other childhood holidays- Which were for the most part either Centre Parcs or caravan sites on nowhere parts of the French coast. These days I prefer to stay somewhere where when it rains it doesn’t sound like the roof is about to fall in. I prefer somewhere made out of brick or stone, preferably an establishment that serves breakfast or is near somewhere I can get breakfast. I don’t want to have to cook for myself, I do that the rest of the year and I want a change. I want to be pampered and treated like a demi-god. I am paying for it after all.
Even if I could find it again, would I go back? Sometimes it is best to let the past stay where it is, in the past. If the caravan site is still there it won’t be the same. The hill won’t be as steep, there won’t be any witches about, probably. A return visit would likely be one huge disappointment. There are places around there I would like to see, most definitely. The story of the Pendle Witches is one that has fascinated me ever since those childhood days and I really want to go up there and explore where it all happened. In doing that, however, there are other places to stay, better places. Places that serve breakfast. So no, I wouldn’t go back to this particular spot.
The question of whether I can find it again still tantalises me though. I know that it was near Skipton and it had a view of Pendle, which places it somewhere in the Ribble valley. The obvious answer would be to look for caravan sites near Skipton, specifically ones with a pub out front. It would help to have more clues though. Thankfully for the sake of my word count, there is a small one- Boundary Mill, possibly the most boring shop I was ever dragged round as a child. It’s probably fine for adults but, really, there’s nothing there for young children. It’s directly off the motorway at Colne and I can remember stopping there, to be dragged round, on more than one occasion. Of course, to reach the Ribble Valley from Greater Manchester you’d have to pass through or near to Colne anyway so it isn’t much of a help. But to find it all I have to do is go to Google and look for…
Ahhh. Yes. That’s it, exactly as I remember it, right there on the A682, slightly to the north of Colne. The pub is there, couldn’t tell you if it’s the same name or not though. The tables are still outside, those tables where I encountered the witch. I can see the playground by the road, which is where I first encountered those hailstones. I can’t see the crag from the road but something tells me it’s there. Even after seeing it though, I still don’t think I would go back.
Here they hung witches!