Tracy Chevalier - the Girl with a Pearl Earring author on why she loves Pendle Hill
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 July 2019
The woman who wrote the best selling novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, tells Lancashire Life why Pendle Hill means so much to her
When Tracy Chevalier was writing her bestselling novel, Girl with a Pearl Earring, she pinned a poster of the Vermeer painting of the same name on her study wall to give her inspiration. It could be that the next picture to inspire her is Lancashire's iconic Pendle Hill.
It is a place the American born writer has come to know well thanks to a new trail that celebrates its links to the Quaker Movement.
Tracy, whose book was turned into a film starring Colin Firth and Scarlett Johnansson, told me: 'It would be nice to write a novel that features Pendle but I think I'd avoid the witches as they've been pretty well covered.
'Besides, I wonder if the whole episode was just politically motivated. Maybe I could take that angle - watch this space!'
Tracy is a Quaker so she knows about Pendle Hill's links to the movement but it wasn't until 2016 that she first saw it while visiting Lancashire for the events celebrating the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Bronte's birth.
'I went to the fabulous Wycoller village that she visited regularly, using the ruined manor house there as the basis for Mr Rochester's house, Ferndean,' says Tracy, who doesn't believe the legend that Charlotte caught her literal death of cold at Gawthorpe Hall in Padiham.
'It's a good tale but, like many good tales, it's not the truth,' says Tracy, who didn't have time to explore Pendle Hill on he earlier trip but knew that sooner or later she would return. 'It just looked so magnificent, such a huge part of the landscape. I knew that needing to climb it one day was an itch that just wasn't going to go away.'
Tracy's opportunity came when the new trail, celebrating Pendle's importance to the Quaker movement, was launched. 'Like all Quakers everywhere, I knew the famous story about George Fox, who climbed Pendle Hill in 1652 and was inspired to found the Quaker Movement. So, when I was invited by Pendle Council to come along and follow his trail, climb Pendle and walk in his footsteps, I didn't need much time to decide.
'But I did rope in my friend, Amy, to come with me. The first word that sprang to mind when we saw it on the morning of the planned walk was 'looming'…it looked pretty big, bigger than I'd remembered, bigger than I'd described to Amy.
'But it was all planned and others were coming along including, including our guide, Wendy Hampton, of Clitheroe Quakers, so there was no backing out, not that I'd ever seriously considered doing that…honestly!' laughed Tracy, who donned her thermal vest, filled her backpack with water, chocolate and waterproof trousers and set off.
'It was raining, which was a bit of a blessing as we couldn't actually see the top before setting off so we could fool ourselves that it was pretty close. I did wonder at one point whether to stop and put my waterproofs on but, you know, it would have been more trouble to faff about and besides, George Fox managed without them,' laughs Tracy, who climbed from the village of Downham.
'That side is beautifully green, which contrasts with the bleak drama from the Barley side but I can't say which is my favourite as they are both absolutely essential to the presence of this wonderful hill. I loved them both and they both contributed to the dramatic, moving experience which I just knew it would be,' said Tracy who felt the climb touched her deeply, giving her a profound connection with the past.
'When we reached the top, the rain had gone, with just enough blue to make a sailor a pair of pants and, although it was blowy, the views took my breath away. The 360 degree views towards the sea and the dales can't really be described…breath-taking doesn't sound good enough but they were and more. I could totally understand why George Fox was inspired here.
'As I wasn't on my own, it was difficult to touch that very deep inner peace but I'm coming back just with my husband because that moment is within reach,' said Tracy who, on her next trip, will remember to fill her bottle with water from the spring from which George Fox drank.
'I was so overwhelmed, I just forgot but as I say, I'll be back and more than once I should imagine,' said Tracy, who finished her walk with a drink at The Assheton Arms in Downham.
'Well, George Fox came straight into the pub when he finished his walk, had a drink and converted the landlord. I had a drink but I didn't do any converting. If anything, it was me who was converted to being a fan of this gorgeous part of the world.
' Now all I've got to do is sort through the pictures I took and then pick one to maybe go on my study wall and just wait for the power of this magical hill to inspire.'