Last month the frost visited and crisped Pendle Hill with a white coating. It was pretty. I enjoy seeing the hill from various points throughout Pendle and find it a comforting landmark as I return home from work or longer trips away. Its prominence makes me think about the impact of landscape on us; how it subtly becomes part of our subjective interpretation of the world. When I worked in the nearby town of Nelson I used to enjoy seeing Pendle Hill standing tall behind the library as I walked down Market Street. The hill is no Mount Olympus, but I still had to lift my head to take in its horizon. That particular viewpoint seems to highlight the size of the hill, but it isn’t just the physical magnitude of the landmark that makes it so effective.
Symbolically linked with the trial of the Pendle witches and an important aspect of Pendle’s tourism, the hill represents the history and heritage of the area. It is woven into the discourse of life in the region with a local saying suggesting that if you can’t see Pendle then it’s raining and if you can see Pendle then it’s about to rain. From the top you can see for a considerable distance, with many claiming to see as far as Blackpool Tower – perhaps I’ve not had lucky enough weather…
Its impact as a feature of the landscape is, I think, enhanced by its accessibility; it is a steep climb, but achievable by a wide range of people. The hill works as a common ground for conversation because you’ll be hard pressed to find somebody who has not climbed it once. As a consequence there is shared use of landscape and spatial heritage, but also of corporeal heritage; while I am reticent to imply concepts of common sense based on the body (all of our experiences are different, affected by society, culture, history etc.), we nonetheless feel that we have a common frame of reference as our bodies tend broadly to be similar. For me, to learn that somebody else has climbed Pendle is to be sure that they have been to the same place as me and also that they have learned some of the same things that I have.
We feel the work in our thighs and in our lungs as we climb and we see the effect of these exertions in our perception of the landscape or the world – the fruit of the climber’s labour is to see, hear and feel all the things about being on a tall hill that you don’t feel at the bottom. Some of these things are sensual: the wind on our skin or in our ears; the view of the towns and villages. But there are also intangible elements associated with these, such as the concept of space and the awareness that we gain of being within a landscape. The view demonstrates geographical context for us; we perceive ourselves at once to be both in one place and not in the neighbouring places that we see. It is one of the most fundamental othering effects of phenomenology; a simple reminder of the multiplicity of the world and of reality.
De Certeau discusses the hyperreal effect of viewing a city from above, how we feel as though we are seeing the city as a whole; it’s essence captured for us in one vision. But we are unable to see the detail of the functions and lived experience that make a city real. So it is with the view from Pendle Hill. What we see is simplified, like a map of the land reduced to the distant Yorkshire landscape, the towns on Nelson and Colne and the misty horizon towards the west coast. This hyperrealised representation is not a bad thing. It is a beautiful and different perspective.
And afterwards, when we reach the bottom with tired legs and hungry bellies, there are even more subjective experiences to be enjoyed in the Barley pubs.