There’s no point me prattling on about what a mad March it has been. I turned 67 at the start of the month and can’t remember a more strange time to be alive. Although, I do have recollections of 1962-3 when winter seemed to go on for ever. There was an ice slide which we kids created that lasted from December into March. They had to extend the football season then, and it looks like that will now happen again except for entirely different reasons.
At the time of writing, the Dales countryside is open but judging by the ridiculous number of people who decided to spend their unexpected ‘holiday’ here over the last few days, I’m wondering if the government might well now crack down on travel. I’m all for people taking a walk, getting fresh air and enjoying the scenery, but let’s be sensible about it. All the usual Dales tourist hotspots were heaving with people – bigger crowds than at many football matches I’ve been to (but then I do support Huddersfield Town). The ice-cream even set up in Horton. Come on, folks. This is deadly serious. As some of you know, my son runs a cleaning-caretaking business and despite the fact that much personal hardship will follow, and the threat of losing customers, he has decided to cancel all bookings for the time being to help stop the virus from spreading.
So much for me not prattling on … anyway, the photos I’ve put together here were all taken on solo trips, during quiet times, close to home and far from the madding crowds…
A Walk at Sunset
When insect wings are glistening in the beam Of the low sun, and mountain-tops are bright, Oh, let me, by the crystal valley-stream, Wander amid the mild and mellow light; And while the redbreast pipes his evening lay, Give me one lonely hour to hymn the setting day.
I thought I’d better post my latest blog before the current storm blows my roof off and leaves me homeless. I already have some loose slates (no personal quips, please, I’m talking about my house) so a few more hefty gusts and the whole lot could go. The recent bombardment of stormy winds, sleet, snow and oodles of rain has not put me off living in the Dales though. The Three Peaks are continually changing their tops. Some days, I’ve not been able to see those tops except for tantalising glimpses as low cloud brushes by, other times they’ve been covered in frost, snow and even sunshine.
Too much of our lives is spent on Twitter, Facebook or whatever virtual way of life floats your boat. I’ve been trying to cut back on digital time recently. The Dales have always provided me with a better means of escape; they remind me that Nature drives forward and doesn’t look back. Wildlife – plants, and animals other than humans – tackle the next challenge regardless of opinions. We’re supposed to be more advanced and superior, but plants and other animals have been around much longer than us, have learned to survive better than us, and I reckon they’ll be around long after we’ve tried our damnedest to wreck the lives of other humans – and our planet.
Here in Ribblesdale, I’ve enjoyed seeing the steam train specials back on the Settle-Carlisle line. They create great theatre and are a welcome addition to the attraction of the Dales. While waiting on a freezing late afternoon at Ribblehead for a Dalesman steam special the other day, I thought about how the few inhabitants of this isolated part of Upper Ribblesdale might have felt when their land was being sliced through by Victorian entrepreneurs eager to build the line and make some money.
Today, we have HS2 constructors churning up ancient woodland, wrecking wildlife habitats, ruining people’s personal spaces and blighting properties for the sake of knocking a few minutes off journeys to and from London. It’s an extremely expensive vanity project through a country in which some inhabitants are having to use food-banks to feed their children. The money could be spent on social housing and creating a better local transport network – for example, making better use of structures already in existence such as the Settle-Carlisle line. I don’t suppose I’ll be around when (if) the HS2 route reaches Leeds. If I am, no doubt it’ll still take me longer to get from Langcliffe to Leeds or Manchester than the rest of the journey to London, so I’ll stick to shuffling up and down Ribblesdale in a storm-powered wheelchair.
I read recently that many Londoners, fed up with paying a fortune for a tea in the capital have ‘discovered’ that it’s cheaper to live up t’ North. Well, who’d-a thowt it? A little warning to anyone thinking of moving to my spot in Ribblesdale: you can’t always get a mobile signal here and you’ll need a big coat.
Some might find this a strange thing to say, but I have no problem with businesses and factories setting up in the Dales. They bring employment and revenue into our small towns and villages; they help fill our properties and bring families into the area. But what I don’t like is when those businesses don’t respect the surroundings or neighbours, or have complete disregard for landscape and wildlife …
PS: When I die, I want the Huddersfield Town FC team to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time.
There are now 136 names in my Yorkshire Surnames file – see if your name appears here
I’ve just realised that tomorrow (barring some monumental mishap during New Year’s Eve celebrations) I will be witnessing my eighth decade. Hell, that makes me feel old. From the 1950s to the 2020s each decade has been different on a personal and also on a wider level. How quickly those ten-year blocks of time have passed by.
I wonder if living in the Dales makes you feel as though times have not changed as much as if you had spent most of your days in a big city? The landscape around here hasn’t altered a great deal throughout those decades. Generations of sheep have chomped away at the Dales pastures and kept it looking pretty much as it was a century ago. There’s been some new building here and there, but overall the face of the Dales has aged a lot better than my own.
Waterfalls here in Ribblesdale continue to cascade as they always have, holding my attention as much today as they did fifty years ago. I stare at the majesty of the Three Peaks in wonder as much now as I did when I first saw them as a youngster. I walk the same paths – which, like me, are a bit more eroded and weather-worn. And I enjoy the changing Dales as the seasons pass by; spring, summer, autumn and winter all displaying their unique qualities on the landscape.
Since my last blog in November, we seem to have had all four seasons here in Ribblesdale. I hope my photos give you a flavour of what we’ve witnessed.
I’d actually written a wordy rant for this month, covering my feelings about the state of the country, its political leaders and those unelected (British) right-wingers who are taking over. But I decided to keep my thoughts bottled up, and instead to take a step back, enjoy the Dales a bit more and watch The Repair Shop as often as possible. They are such nice, polite people aren’t they? I’m voting for them in the next election.
I recently read a leaflet that stated it’s okay to have sex at 65. So if you’ll excuse me now, I’m just popping round to number 65 …
Autumn is a great time of year when you live in a well-wooded part of the Yorkshire Dales. Here in Ribblesdale, I’m surrounded not by great ranging forests but by many delightful small pockets of mainly deciduous woods. Beside the Ribble, on the dale’s sides and on fenced-off farmland where the sheep and cattle can’t wander, are colourful patchy reminders of how the dale once looked when it was fully clothed with native trees.
I find it hard to imagine what life would be like without trees around me. More to the point, there would be no life around any of us if it wasn’t for trees. It should be made compulsory to plant a new tree for each one that is felled; for every building that is erected and for every person that is born.
I’ve taken thousands of photos around the Dales and trees often feature, either as stand-alone subjects, as a foreground or as part of a panorama. Scattered around this blog are just a few tree shots taken in the last couple of weeks.
Back in the 1960s when I was nobbut a lad and living in the Heavy Woollen district, we’d travel by an ancient charabanc from my school to stay in The Hut, as it was known at Little Stainforth, or camp beside it in the field. The road to Stainforth wasn’t as wide or well made as it is today and the mini bypass hadn’t been built so all traffic went through the middle of Stainforth village.
Sometimes the bus driver wouldn’t risk going over the bridge by the Craven Heifer in case it got ‘marooned’ so we would all get off and carry our gear down the lane to Little Stainforth. More daring teachers driving the bus would attempt the route via Stackhouse Lane and drop us off at Stainforth Hall. Woebetide anyone coming the other way because I’m not sure the bus had a reverse gear and there was no way anything could pass. The old bus often over-heated so usually the journey was broken up with a cooling-off stop at what was then called the Tomato Dip just outside Skipton.
Seventeenth-century Stainforth Hall is one of many fine ancient buildings in this neck of the woods. Built around the same time was Lodge Hall, north of Selside (see my blog here) and of course The Folly, Settle’s only Grade 1 listed historic building. The area around the town does have more Grade I listed buildings though: St Alkeda’s church in Giggleswick; St Oswald’s in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, Lawkland Hall and St Mary’s in Long Preston.
One interesting building I pass every day on my way to Horton but have never been able to visit is Sherwood House hidden below road level between Stainforth and Helwith Bridge. It’s also well over 300 years old and apparently has a massive inglenook fireplace which contains 14 joggled voussoirs – but then you probably already knew that. (Google it – I had to.)
Summer in Ribblesdale is almost over but I look forward to autumn and the changing colours. The dale is blessed with a good covering of native British trees. Set against the grey backdrop of limestone scars which mellow in the autumn sunshine, they will provide many memorable moments.
Settle is becoming more and more vibrant. The flowerpot festival and folk weekend along with the success of Settle Stories and improvements to the Folly and continued excellence at Victoria Hall have helped attract more visitors. Local shops pubs and accommodation providers all benefit so a ‘well done’ from me to all those involved.
I travel to Horton-in-Ribblesdale virtually every day now, helping my son who has a business based there (http://www.cravencleaningservices.co.uk). This summer has seen an incredible number of walkers arriving in Horton to tackle one or all of the Three Peaks. Weekends have seen the tiny village jammed full of cars and large groups of walkers bedecked in T-shirts proclaiming the charities who will benefit from their efforts.
I’ve absolutely nothing against these good folk testing themselves against the Dales landscape as long as they are properly equipped and prepared. But I do sometimes wonder why they all find it necessary to start from Horton. When the first Three Peakers blazed the trail they actually caught the train to Clapham and walked up Ingleborough first. Starting at Ribblehead or Ingleton are also options. And if you just want to do Penyghent, then Helwith Bridge and Dale Head are both excellent starting points.
There’s one bit of Yorkshire I’ve gone right off. I’ve been trying to get through to the Yorkshire Bank helpline for 4 days now. If I hear that guitar loop or the Scottish lady telling me I’m in a queue just once more I’ll throw the phone into the Ribble. I can’t currently access my online banking account because they’ve changed the logging-in procedure. They’re sending a passcode to a phone number – except the phone number isn’t mine. Go into the local branch and give them what for, you say? What local branch? The nearest one up to last month was 15 miles away but Yorkshire Bank’s now closed it, so the next nearest one now means a round-trip of 52 miles. A while back I was told I should get the bank’s mobile app so I can bank ‘anywhere, anytime’. That’s a laugh – I can’t get a mobile signal in my rural home. And anyway why should I buy a mobile phone and spend money phoning the bank so they can make staff redundant and close down convenient town centre premises? I read this weekend that 28 percent of the population don’t have mobiles and 18 percent don’t access the internet. That’s a big chunk of the population who are badly catered for by banks. I suppose I’ll be labeled a dinosaur, but being a fully paid-up old fart I don’t care what people think. A bit like the banks really. I’ve been with the Yorkshire for more than 40 years now but I’m afraid that particular relationship will soon be coming to an end. But maybe they’re all as bad?
Future generations of visitors to the Yorkshire Dales may well miss out on seeing typical buildings like Garth House near Horton (above). Its roof is caving in and the walls are feeling the strain of facing up to centuries of rough moorland weather. I don’t know how long it’s been left to crumble (or if there are any plans for it), but I read that within living memory haymakers would swim in the nearby Ribble after a hard day working in the fields around Garth House.
There are hundreds of similar irreplaceable abandoned vernacular buildings scattered around the Dales, left to go to ruin because farmers have no use for them or can’t afford their upkeep; and planning restrictions often mean they can’t be developed for residential use.
Mind you, anyone wanting to renovate Garth House will need to be railway enthusiasts as the Settle-Carlisle line runs just a few yards away. I walked by the building recently on my way to see Flying Scotsman (below) tootle past. Garth House was there long before the railway was built in the 1870s but I don’t suppose the Victorians cared a jot about spoiling anyone’s peaceful Dales existence.
There have been some cracking days by the Ribble since my last blog and I haven’t needed to travel very far from home to capture some stunning Dales scenery…
Thousands of visitors head to the Yorkshire Dales as an escape from their workplace and urban life. It’s easy to forget that the Dales is actually an industrial area too. There are many relics of industry scattered around the hills and valleys, such as lead mines and limekilns. There is still large-scale quarrying being carried out just up the road from me here in Ribblesdale. Agriculture is an industry, too – and so is tourism. More Dales folk are involved in tourism than anything else today. Shops, pubs and accommodation providers not only benefit the visitors but offer employment and opportunities for locals too.
My son, fed up with zero-hours contract jobs, and extremely reluctant to head to the dole office, decided to go it alone and start a care-taking and cleaning business. The venture is growing and he in turn is now providing employment for cleaners wanting work in this part of the Dales. http://www.cravencleaningservices.co.uk
There are problems though, as with many rural areas, such as poor broadband and mobile networks and a lack of affordable start-up units.
Happy birthday Dalesman
Last week I also visited the village where another successful business began – Clapham, the original home of Dalesman, my former employer. The magazine celebrates its 80th ‘birthday’ this month and it amazes me to think it was only 54 years old when I joined. Working for the publisher helped cement my love of the Dales landscape, its people and traditions. I wish Dalesman every success for the future in what is a changing marketplace. http://www.dalesman.co.uk
I’ve not posted many pictures over the last month on the blog or on Facebook and Twitter, even though the camera’s been well used. I had a flick through what I’ve taken, choosing what I thought might be of interest. I selected more than fifty so I’ve had to whittle the selection down even further. Hope you enjoy this short trip around Ribblesdale.
This week a peewit (tewit, lapwing – whatever you want to call the bird) swirled around just above my head as I walked through the disused quarry which is now part of the nature reserve at Ribblehead. It screeched at me for being too close to its nest. Not my fault the daft bird built the blooming thing so close to the permitted path.
A Dales March can roar in like a lion and leave like a lamb, as the old saying (roughly) goes. This year March didn’t really know what it was supposed to be doing: pretty much like the government really. Sadly, the shutter broke on my overworked old camera so I’ve not been able to capture so much of this changeable weather’s effect on the Dales.
One day there’s snow on the Three Peaks, another day gale-force winds charge down Ribblesdale. The river almost burst its banks at one point and there were also some T-shirt days to boot. Top photo: not the best shot I’ve ever taken but I just liked the stark contrast in the dale around Horton-in-Ribblesdale on the day.
Whenever it snows during spring I think of the Dales hill farmers. Their job is tough enough at lambing time without having to cope with freezing conditions and difficulty getting around the fells.
In her book, Yorkshire Heritage, Marie Hartley writes about one of the isolated farms at Ravenseat. The place is better known nowadays thanks to the well-documented lives of that lovely couple Clive and Amanda Owen and their large flock of children. (See my post http://www.jacksoneditorial.co.uk/2017/01/). Marie Hartley talks about the place during the 1930s when one stormy night a family living there had to take a poorly child by sledge to the main road and then on to Kirkby Stephen. Sadly the young girl died shortly afterwards.
We take so much for granted today: phones, 4x4s, helicopters, Mountain Rescue, etc. The Dales can be a treacherous place to get stranded. One evening this week I was driving back from the top end of Ribblesdale in a snow/sleet storm. Windscreen wipers were in manic mode. Suddenly the road was completely white. I could see no tyre tracks in front of me and nothing in the gloom behind. It reminded me of how quickly conditions can change and how vulnerable you can feel here – even in ‘spring’.
Take care, son
Before retiring I worked with Tony Husband – a brilliant cartoonist who is also involved with dementia care. This poem, which always makes me shed a tear on reading, is from his lovely and thoughtful little book Take Care, Son: The Story of My Dad and His Dementia. You can get it on Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Take-Care-Son-Story-Dementia/dp/1472115562 or from book shops for under a fiver – and it is worth double that amount.
Democracy? What democracy?
There are a lot of people banging on about democracy at the moment. Many believe that because they shout the loudest they have some kind of democratic right to have things their own way. They then cry foul when those supposedly democratically elected don’t ‘represent’ them.
Because of our voting system, we don’t live in a ‘dictionary-defined’ democracy. That’s why MPs will never truly represent the majority of people. For example, in the last election the Greens got 512k votes but just 1 MP, whereas DUP received only 292k votes but 10 MPs. The Lib-Dems got nine times that number of votes but only 12 MPs.
In the ill-conceived EU referendum, leave got 17.4m votes, remain received 16.2m while 13m didn’t vote at all. So when people say ‘the majority of Brits wanted to leave’, that’s not strictly true is it?
The voting and political system in this country needs bringing into the 21st century; Westminster needs turning into a museum and some of its dusty inhabitants should be mothballed. Rant over.
‘And he had trudged through Yorkshire dales, Among the rocks and winding scars; Where deep and low the hamlets lie Beneath their little patch of sky And little lot of stars:’ Wordsworth
A Dales dawdle drive is something I enjoy greatly during retirement. My son, who runs a business in which he needs to travel the Dales roads daily, curses folk like me. His cab van fills with words I certainly didn’t teach him when he gets stuck behind the doddering old Dales dawdle driver. Set off earlier and enjoy the view I tell the impetuous youth.
If I’m not feeling too cantankerous I will pull over on seeing a ‘worker’ wanting to pass, as I did for white van man along the narrow road between Halton Gill and Arncliffe on a bright February day this week. Sadly, the Queens at Litton wasn’t open on that morning saunter along lovely Littondale.
Earlier I (yet again) called in at Stainforth to admire the ancient packhorse bridge (top photo in blog). I’ve been visiting this spot for more than fifty years now and never tire of it.
Looking back through photos from previous years I notice a few fabulous Febs, but last year I see snow in Ribblesdale during the month, while in 2016 the first week of March is a fair covering of the white stuff. I wonder if this year will be the same?
There is an abundance of snowdrops this year as well as crocuses and even daffs. Pink blossom is sprouting on a neighbour’s tree and the birds are getting excited. If you’re reading this in southern England you’re probably muttering ‘so what?’. I can tell you that here in the Yorkshire Dales it is unusual for February. My photos show bright blue skies, mellow sunsets, and grass much greener than normal for this time of year.
Lovely Dales church
I like the church of St Oswald at Arncliffe with its fifteenth-century tower. There’s been a church on the bend of the River Skirfare since Saxon times. One of its bells dates from around 1350. Sitting in the churchyard among the snowdrops and ancient trees, watching the river rattle by, it is easy to see how nineteenth-century author Charles Kingsley was inspired to write ‘The Water Babies’ while on a visit here.
The Falcon wasn’t open either so I head over the steep switchback via Darnbrook and by Malham Tarn back to Langcliffe. A delightful Dales dawdle drive.
The Dales wrapped in a white winter coat – a rarer sight than it once was. I wonder if today’s youngest generation will one day be telling their grandchildren about the time they witnessed the final snowfall in the region. Climate change is definitely happening.
‘Experts’ might disagree over the causes, and certain trumped-up heads of state might be in denial over it, but I’ve seen it happening in my lifetime. That’s not just through misty reminiscences of harsh winters – such as in 1962/3 when as a child I recall enormous ice-slides and endless sledging – but also through my work.
When editor of Countryman http://www.countrymanmagazine.co.uk/ I received hundreds of articles concerned with changes in animal behaviour, the disappearance of species, alterations to landscape, unusual flooding and strange seasonal variations etc. Left alone, Nature will take its course – the trouble is, humans are not always in line with Nature’s wider picture.
I received hundreds of articles concerned with changes in animal behaviour, the disappearance of species, alterations to landscape, unusual flooding and strange seasonal variations etc. Left alone, Nature will take its course – the trouble is, humans are not always in line with Nature’s wider picture.
This month’s photos show how different the weather has been over the last few weeks . One minute it’s green and warm, fooling spring flowers into poking through; the next minute the same plants are battling temperatures of -6C.
Seeing all the snow reminds me of some of the old Dales sayings I’ve come across over the years. Farmers up in Swaledale might say: “Snaw’s fair stourin’”, which means a strong wind is blowing snow strongly. If it is tewtlin’, it means the snow is falling gently and settling. In one of his many books, Bill Mitchell talks of farmers teeavin’ (wading) their way through snowdrifts to rescue sheep. Small 4x4s can help nowadays but hill-farming is still a very arduous job (with scant financial reward) when the Dales are in the grip of winter.
Penyghent – in fact, all the Three Peaks – display an air of majesty in the snow. Lovely to look at but their ascent should be tackled only by the fit and well-equipped. I did the Three Peaks this week – by car and photographically, needless to say – to capture the scene from some of my favourite locations:
What do you mean?
Folk often ask me, ‘What does Penyghent mean?’. You’ll discover a few answers but really no one can be certain of its origin. It’s (probably) a name that’s been passed down from the days when Celtic tribes lived in the area. But as our language changed and different people moved in, translations were often corrupted or deliberately altered. Even in the last century thoughts on the name’s meaning have varied. Today we’re told it means ‘hill of the winds’, whereas in Victorian times it was translated as Pennigant (from Pen-y-Gaint), meaning ‘at the field head’ or ‘end of the plain’. Another Dales mystery.
Trains in the Dales
There was a fair old gathering of photographers braving the chilly conditions at Ribblehead yesterday. For those who need to know … it is the Mayflower (front) and British India Line pulling the Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express excursion. https://www.settle-carlisle.co.uk/
While the posse kept an eye out for the main event, I was looking the other way at the setting Sun.