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.

Dales in mad March and democracy (14 pics)

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.

The other 2 of the Three Peaks with their snowy caps on.

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 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’.

On a sunnier day I popped over to Malham and walked to Janet’s Foss and Gordale. The white-painted shop is what many people remember from their childhood visits to the village.
I had another fine-day stroll around Wharfe near Austwick. The blossom was out and it felt like proper spring … until the snow came.
dales horse
Again, not a brilliant photo but I liked seeing the pony with the sun on its back at Wharfe (below).

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 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.

Evening light on rushes at Helwith Bridge.

‘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:’

It looks like the end of a warm day up on Winskill – but actually it was freezing.

Inspirational Yorkshire women

My interview with Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess, appears in February’s Countryman magazine which is now on sale. Amanda is a remarkable young lady who with husband Clive and nine (at the last count) children live and farm at out-of-the-way Ravenseat in Birkdale. As I re-read the article I am reminded of a piece I wrote in Dalesman about another fine Yorkshire woman, Hannah Hauxwell. On the face of it they appear to be very different characters and their lives have certainly taken diverse paths. Hannah, before retiring, lived a solitary existence with just a few animals; Amanda, although isolated, is surrounded by her extensive family and hundreds of sheep and other animals. But they are similar in that both are strong willed and extremely hard working individuals, showing true Yorkshire grit. Both have beautiful complexions – that’s what clean Yorkshire air and clear Dales water does for you – with gentle mannerisms and caring attitudes. In my head I can still hear Hannah’s soothing tones, tinted with that North-East influence you find amongst those born near the Tees. Amanda, originally from Huddersfield, retains a hint of the West Riding in her speech which I recognise from my own childhood in the Heavy Woollen District. Both are completely unpretentious with a natural warmth, and I feel privileged to have met the two of them. Yorkshire women aren’t all Nora Batty stereotypes – they can be inspirational too.


Yorkshire amanda
Amanda Owen and two of her younger children at her Ravenseat home

Isolated Ravenseat

As relief from a spot of decorating, on Wednesday I drove through several Yorkshire Dales and up to Dent Station. Directly above me was as clear a blue sky I’d seen for ages, but looking towards the horizon the distant view was masked by a fine mist. The landscape west down Dentdale was still impressive but the bitterly cold wind meant I didn’t linger for long. Over the old Coal Road the views down Wensleydale, Mallerstang and Garsdale were similarly shrouded. I stopped off at Garsdale Station to pat my favourite metal dog, Ruswarp. He was still gazing out expectantly waiting for the return of his master. A quick stroll to Cotter Force proved as worthwhile as ever. The sound of tumbling water seemed to echo around like applause in a small theatre.

View from Dent Station

Garsdale Station with Ruswarp

Cotter Force

On Friday more blue sky in Ribblesdale tempted me out again. Penyghent and Fountains Fell looked great but further along the Silverdale Road I hit low cloud. I could hardly see 20 yards in front of me which meant the route along the narrow unfenced road and the steep descent into Halton Gill was interesting to say the least.

Day of contrasts. Heading along Silverdale Road into the fog.

A stunning morning yesterday saw me at Helwith Bridge. The view along Ribblesdale from above the fishery was grand (see top pic). My old friend Penyghent looked like an iced cake. I imagine plenty of people were tempted to trek up the mountain but I was f-f-f-f-frozen – no way would I have gone up there, so it was back home for some proper cake.

Snow on Winskill Stones ,Ribblesdale

Snow, a storm and a Dales star

dales ribbleHalf a dozen dales, a destructive storm, snow and a TV star … it’s been a funny old week. 14 pics to enjoy. My camera captured the last of autumn’s colours down by the Ribble (top pic). My cottage roof captured the worst of the storm, with several tiles being dislodged. Fortunately the storm and the worst (or the best, depending on your point of view) of the snow dispersed later in the week so I was able to keep a date with the ‘Yorkshire Shepherdess’ Amanda Owen on her isolated farm at Ravenseat.

Being short of time today I’ll let the photos and captions tell the story.
PS: A dales date for your diary… meet David and Janet Mitchell at The Folly, Settle on Tuesday Nov 29, 10am-4pm to help celebrate the launch of the new Dalesman book, Bill Mitchell’s Yorkshire.

dales pondpyg
Snow-capped Penyghent seen in the distance from the mill pond at Langcliffe

dales millpond
Late colours on the mill pond. 

dales ribble2
A cold start to the day in the Dales… frost on the higher trees and a lively River Ribble rushing by some late autumn colour.

dales walls
Before the storm – plenty of blue sky above Langcliffe. The snow line was just a couple of hundred feet away on this day.

dales giggchap
Giggleswick Chapel looking like a Victorian postcard.

dales snowmen
The sad sight of disappearing snowmen at Winskill. All that work just melting away.

dales winskill
A classic dales view. Looking across Ribblesdale from Winskill to a snowy Ingleborough.

dales pyg
Two views of Penyghent. Looks inviting but with icy winds blowing, the temperature up at the top was well below freezing – not that I went up to find out.


dales wainwath
Further north in the dales – Wainwath Falls near Keld in Swaledale.

dales snowblend
Looking across a frozen dales landscape from Buttertubs Pass. The sky seems to blend into the icy landscape.

dales inglelong
View from Buttertubs looking back towards Ingleborough.

dales ravenseat
Ravenseat, the isolated Dales farm of author, shepherdess, supermum and now TV star Amanda Owen and her husband Clive and their nine children. I interviewed Amanda for an article due to appear in February’s Countryman magazine.

%d bloggers like this: