Reading the trial transcripts against the grain, I was astounded how her strength of character blazed forth in the document written to vilify her. She freely admitted to being a healer and a cunning woman, and she instructed her daughter and granddaughter in the ways of magic. Her neighbors called on her to cure their children and their cattle. What fascinated me was not that Bess was arrested on witchcraft charges but that the authorities turned on her only near the end of her long, productive career. She practiced her craft for decades before anybody dared to interfere with her.
Bess’s life unfolded almost literally in my backyard. To do justice to her story, I had to go out onto the land—walk in her footsteps. Using the Ordinance Survey Map, I located the site of Malkin Tower, once her home. Now only the foundations remain. I board my beautiful Welsh mare at a stable near Read Hall, once home to Roger Nowell, the witchfinder and prosecuting magistrate responsible for sending Bess and the other Pendle Witches to their deaths. Every weekend, I walked or rode my mare down the tracks of Pendle Forest. Quietening myself, I learned to listen, to allow Bess’s voice to well up from the land. Her passion, her tale enveloped me.
History is a fluid thing that continually shapes the present. As a writer, I am obsessed with how the true stories of our ancestors haunt the land. Long after their demise, Bess and her fellow witches endure. This is their home, their seat of power, and they shall never be banished. By delving into their story, I have become an adopted daughter of their living landscape, one of many tellers who spin their unending tale.