The Trough of Bowland (Lancashire) Elizabeth Gaskell
The Trough of Bowland (Lancashire) , Lancashire
Trough of Bowland by Philip Platt, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

About

Located in the Forest of Bowland, the Trough of Bowland (the steep upper valley of Losterdale Brook) is a stunning valley in Lancashire that has been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). There is a steep and narrow road that runs through the Trough which is not only the most direct route that connects Lancaster and Dunsop Bridge, but it was also the route taken by the Pendle witches in 1612. On this route the Pendle witches travelled to their trial at Lancaster castle, a trial that is considered to be one of the most famous in English history and where all but one of the women (Alice Grey) were found guilty and then hanged.

Gothic heritage

A popular Victorian author perhaps best known now for her 1854 novel North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell published many novels, short stories, and ghost stories. Regarded as being in the “Gothic vein,” Gaskell’s ghost stories including “The Poor Clare” were published in Charles Dicken’s magazine Household Words. “The Poor Clare” was serialised in 1856 and uses the backdrop of the Trough of Bowland:

“Starkey Manor-house itself stood on a projection or peninsula of high land, jutting out from the abrupt hills that form the sides of the Trough of Bolland.  These hills were rocky and bleak enough towards their summit; lower down they were clothed with tangled copsewood and green depths of fern, out of which a gray giant of an ancient forest-tree would tower here and there, throwing up its ghastly white branches, as if in imprecation, to the sky.  These trees, they told me, were the remnants of that forest which existed in the days of the Heptarchy, and were even then noted as landmarks.”

Residing near Starkey Manor-house and the Trough is Bridget FitzGerald, a former nurse at Starkey manor, and when a hunting party from the manor shoots and kills her dog Mignon Bridget calls on the saints to curse the man. This curse eventually proves to be successful (see also ‘Harrogate’ [link to page]), but before this is discovered Bridget is accused of witchcraft by the act alone: an accusation that appropriately takes place in the same location that the Pendle witches travelled centuries before.

Other Literary heritage

Further information

There are many designated walks around the Trough of Bowland and the Forest of Bowland, including the trail of the Pendle Witches. There are also various events, activities, and walks that take place around the area as part of Festival Bowland, and at night the forest is a perfect place for stargazing!

Interesting fact

As well as fiction, Elizabeth Gaskell also wrote biographies and her biography The Life of Charlotte Brontë, published in 1857, is thought to be the first autobiography of the novelist.

For Visitors

You can find more information about visiting the Trough of Bowland at the following links:

https://www.forestofbowland.com/

https://getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/local/trough-of-bowland-lancaster

https://englishlakes.co.uk/english-lakes-blog/lancaster-house/five-great-walks-in-the-magnificent-forest-of-bowland/

https://www.visitlancashire.com/things-to-do/the-lancashire-witches/on-the-trail-of-the-pendle-witches