PENDLE Hill will be the focus of one of the country’s largest free walking festivals which kicks off this weekend.

The week long Pendle Walking Festival, which last year attracted people from as far away as Australia, features almost 60 guided walks from Barnoldswick and Wycoller to Weets, and will also include the 45 mile Pendle Way.

The 15th annual event will be launched on Saturday morning in Barley by the mayor of Pendle, Cllr James Keith Starkie, who lives close to Pendle Hill.

Council leader, Cllr Paul White, said:“This year we’re launching our festival in the beautiful village of Barley as a special homage to our most iconic landmark, Pendle Hill.”

The council’s tourism officer, Mike Williams, said those attending Saturday’s launch would have a choice of four walks, ranging from easy to hard.

“Last year we attracted hundreds of walkers from as far as Sydney, London and France and we got rave reviews.It’s a great opportunity to explore the hills and valleys on and around Pendle Hill, including the classic climb up Pendle,” he said.

He added: “Legendary Pendle Hill has inspired many, including George Fox whose climb up Pendle in 1652 gave him a vision which led him to found the Quaker Movement.”

Pendle Hill is part of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It recently received a £1.8 million Heritage Lottery grant to enhance the landscape and explore the special character of the area’s history and culture. Walkers will already have noticed improvements to the paths leading to the summit, and the installation of new seating.

Mr Williams added: “We want people from near and far to enjoy stunning far-reaching views and our fascinating history from the Pendle Witches of 1612 to visionary George Fox and the Brontës.”

Pendle’s countryside access officer, Tom Partridge has co-ordinated the programme of walks for the festival’s 15th year, working with volunteer guides.

“People who’d like to explore this unspoilt corner of Lancashire can choose from 57 varied guided walks from the easy to the challenging, including the 45 mile Pendle Way over four days,” he said.

“For the past four years the Pendle Walking Festival has been in the school holidays and so our programme includes family friendly walks with engaging stories, treasure hunts and games.”

The full programme can be downloaded from the website: whichincvlu a range of self-guided routes to choose from and great places to stay in this unspoilt area.