Drive & Stroll, with RON FREETHY

THIS stroll begins with a bit of pleasant controversy relating to the name of the White Bear, at Barrowford.

Most think that it refers to the fact that an albino bear was baited here. Others, albeit a minority, think that it may have been named after a warship at the time of the Tudors.

The building itself was built in 1607 as a private residence, but it was in use as an inn by 1775. This was at the time when the Industrial Revolution was fast developing and a close look at the houses of Barrowford records this history.

Some were obviously the bases of handloom weavers but, as mills developed, workers' houses were built. Initially these industrial units were called Cotton Factories but, as most of them were converted water mills, they became known as cotton mills.

To my right I looked over the wall to the river. The old mill weir provides a magical sound. After a period of rain it almost drowns out the noise of traffic.

I can never resist taking a long diversion here to explore the Pendle Heritage Centre. This building was the home base of the Bannister family. Although he never lived there Sir Roger, the first man to run a four-minute mile, has taken a great interest in the building, which is now a fine museum.

Apart from telling the history of Pendle, the Heritage Centre has a cafe, book shop and at the rear is a walled garden growing fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs. Nearby is a 17th century cruck barn and a collection of domestic animals.

Opposite the Heritage Centre is a Toll House dating to 1803, which is part of the museum complex. For those who do not want to follow the main road a twisting path follows the meander of the river and meets the road to Gisburn at Higherford Bridge.

As I follow the steep road up to Blacko I always see the dual attractions of the village. It seems at first sight to be a steep ribbon of an industrial community dating to the days when cotton was king. A closer look, however, will reveal why it won the Lancashire Best Kept Village Award in 2002. Flowers are present throughout the year, the white painted cottages are a delight and Blacko Hill is dominated by a small restored tower which is something of a folly. This was built by a local grocer called Jonathan Stansfield in 1891. For those with time to spare a well-marked footpath leads up to the tower. Some books say that this is the site of Malkin Tower, near which lived Mother Demdike, one of the Pendle Witches who were executed in 1612.

The hovel in which Demdike lived, however, was sited close to the present Malkin farm. Stansfield's tower has a much more romantic feel to it as Jonathan built it so that he could see the home of his girlfriend, who lived near Gisburn. Sadly the lass did not fancy him and the tower is indeed a folly. To the right of the road is Blacko Methodist Chapel, where the young Jimmy Clitheroe first performed by playing an accordion which was bigger than the kid himself.

Just around the post office I found the footpath I was looking for and turned sharp left and descended into one of Lancashire's most beautiful little valleys. Here is natural history at its best. Resident birds include kingfisher, dipper and grey wagtail and on most days of the year the heron can be seen.

The riverside scenery overlooking Blacko Hill is splendid in each and every season and my next stop on my history trail revealed one of the most historic bridges in Lancashire, which the locals call the Roman Bridge.

This is situated near Higherford and is obviously on the site of an old ford. The bridge dates to the 16th century, the heyday of packhorse traffic, and provides an excellent viewpoint for walkers ready to enjoy a quiet rest.

Before the Turnpike road was built the White Bear was a private residence owned by John Hargreaves who was, a powerful textile magnate. In 1748 he gave protection to John Wesley after he tried to preach his message standing on the packhorse bridge. Although he was given a rough ride, some must have listened because there are plenty of Methodist chapels in the area, including Jimmy Clitheroe's first "gig" at Blacko.

Near the bridge is an old mill complete with a waterwheel which has been restored by the same Trust which looks after the Heritage Centre.

On the days when this mill is open to the public it is well worth a visit; the Heritage Centre is open daily.

Directions: The White Bear is on the main road through Barrowford, at the junction with the road from Roughlee. There is a large car park at the junction. Barrowford is a ribbon-like village reached by turning off the M65 at Junction 13. This walk is four miles. Take at least three hours.

From the White Bear turn left. Ignore the right turn to Colne with the Toll House on the corner, along with the Pendle Heritage Centre. Continue along the main road, bearing right over the bridge and then left. Ascend main road into Blacko.

Around the Post Office on the left a footpath indicates Water Meetings. Descend into the valley of Pendle Water. Bear left and cross river. The footpath leads left to a hamlet and to the left is an old packhorse bridge. Continue to Barrowford. Turn right and return to the White Bear.