Death, ducks, daring and dereliction in the Dales

Frosty in Ribblesdale this week – Penyghent from Selside

It’s always great seeing the lovely northern Dales on Channel’s 5’s documentary about Amanda & Clive Owen’s family at Ravenseat. This week we were told about their intention to convert derelict Smithy Holme farm (I took the photo below in May 2014). There are lots of stories told about the farms and old pits in this area at the very top of Swaledale and Birkdale.

Smithy Howe bought by Amanda Owen
Smithy Holme

A neighbouring farm is Hoggarths, but this was once situated on the other side of the river in Great Ash Gill before the great flood of July 1899. The original farm housed William and Elizabeth Kilburn and their daughters.

William had just arrived home from fetching a cart load of coal from Tan Hill pit. A storm started and they heard water rushing down the hillside, into which the house and barn had been built. The family headed upstairs but as the water reached the height of the doors on the lower floor, the desperate family smashed a landing window and escaped onto the hillside.

When the storm subsided, William found his horse still tied up in the stable with only its head sticking out above the mud. Their dog had slipped its lead and headed for neighbouring Stonehouse Farm, while a puppy was found straddling a mangle in the yard. Two pigs were swimming, exhausted, in a sty – and the family’s coal had been completely washed away. The farm was almost a ruin.

Fortunately, they also held Ellers farm so had somewhere to stay. It is said that crockery from the house was found several miles away downstream. Stone from old lead mining buildings were used to build the new Hoggarths. The mine had an engine house which contained a cage for miners to descend to the workings. One night a poacher was chased over the moor here. He thought he would jump into the cage to hide – unfortunately, the cage was already at the bottom and he fell to his death.

Hoggarths Bridge, which crosses the young Swale here, was washed away in the 1899 flood which caused massive problems for the area’s residents. July in the Dales, eh?.

I love this time of year in Ribblesdale and I can sit for hours watching the lambs daring each other into some kind of mischief. The village has been coloured yellow as daffodils and primroses took over.

There’s a duck on the roof!
the little girl shouted in excitement and awe.
It’s a mallard, I said, sounding rather aloof.
No! said the girl with dismissive reproof
It was definitely a duck what I saw.

I got some strange looks from a group of youngsters when I stopped at a junction in the car. They saw (and probably heard) me singing (trying, anyway) along to Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf. I was 15 when the song was first released – fifteen is a very impressionable age to be. I never really fulfilled any wild ambitions. Although … I read recently that old people like me shouldn’t be using mobile phones, wearing jeans or growing long hair. I do all those things now so maybe at 68 I’m just reaching my ‘wild’ stage. I also play air guitar to Status Quo (when I’m on my own) and sometimes I stay up until 10.30pm.

There has been some fine evening light and sunsets over the last month. Above, Penyghent seen from Helwith Bridge. Below, looking west from Austwick.

On seeing this skull near Selside I was reminded of a tale told by Bill Mitchell. He often talked and wrote about Edith Carr, who with her late husband farmed at Capon Hall near Malham Tarn. Edith moved to my village of Langcliffe where she displayed a sheep’s skull in her garden. She told Bill that one day while out walking with her daughter Anne in the 1980s, they found the skull and noticed that the burn mark on the horn was RC – the mark of her husband Robert Carr. The skull must have been laying around for 40+ years at the time it was discovered. She remembered that Robert had been very upset when the animal had vanished during the bad winter of 1947.

If you’d like a longer read about my latest family tree discoveries I’ve reproduced an article I wrote for a recent edition of Dalesman – see Me and Alfred the Great.

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