Beautiful autumn colours last far too briefly in the Dales. It’s as though Nature is embarrassed by us seeing her removing her summer clothes. A touch of frost in the valleys, or a chilling northeasterly wind, is enough to rid trees of the covering they’ve proudly displayed during the previous months. Fortunately, here in Ribblesdale I don’t have to travel far to enjoy autumn’s glowing glory. There are many pockets of woodland on the dale-sides and along the river bank. Trees and bushes feature prominently in our villages, and the higher fells display heathery hues and colourful grasses and mosses where the sheep don’t graze. I hope you enjoy some of this year’s autumn collection…
I thought I’d better tap in a few words just to let blog readers know I’m still plodding on. There’s not been much ‘plodding’ around the Dales on foot, or out with the camera for me since lockdown but unlike many town and city dwellers, at least I have my local countryside to enjoy.
We’re certainly living in strange times with a pandemic and a political coup going on, but thankfully the landscape of the Yorkshire Dales remains pretty much the same as it has been for centuries. Don’t ask me why, but over the last few months, I’ve been taking more notice of Dales architecture. Not just the 5,000 miles of walls and countless barns that identify this part of the world, but also the doors, lintels, date-stones, and gates many of which are unique to the Dales. Here are a few examples I’ve ‘collected’:
The walker sees so much more than the motorist – and the motorcyclists who seemed to have swarmed around the Dales more frequently since early July. I’ve nothing against the sensible bikers (don’t laugh – I owned a Honda 125 in my youth) but too many put their own and other people’s lives at risks on tricky roads they don’t know too well. Although over the decades the road from Settle to Ribblehead through Ribbledale has been widened in many places for lorries transporting lime and stone, it is still not suitable for fast traffic. I’m old enough to remember traveling the road in the 1960s before it was straightened out in a few places. Prior to the construction of the mini-bypass, winding your way through Stainforth was a nightmare.
During July farmers were busy in the fields, creating winter feed for their animals and I managed to capture a couple of shots of them at work. The long days and a short spell of sunshine have helped them gather in quite a bit, but damp weather can be disastrous.
Summer evenings became quieter in August. Wildflower meadows should be filled with clouds of butterflies and the buzz of bees, but devastatingly, we’ve lost over 97% of them in the UK. We CAN reverse the decline, but this can’t be done without help. Visit: http://ywt.org.uk/wildlife-recovery-fund
BREAKING I finally got my hair cut. I could have insulated my loft with the cuttings. The barber charged me £1 for a face mask. The previous day I’d bought 50 masks for £17 to use in my son’s cleaning and laundry business. You might see me selling masks from a stall outside the barber’s for 50p each.
My lad’s business depends on tourists, and after three months with zero income, the visitors came flocking back after July 4 to help him keep going. The majority of guests to the Dales are well behaved and considerate, but we’ve noticed an increasing number of disrespectful types compared with last year. Some are behaving like dogs being let off leashes; they’ve no care for the countryside or those who live here, or try to run a business … litter, parking … oh, don’t get me started.
You’d think in times of hardship that local people and businesses would help each other – and in the majority of cases, they do. However, some business owners are not so thoughtful. My son did a lot of work for Great Harlow Lodges of Clapham in March. Despite emails, phone calls, and letters he has not been paid. The matter will be passed on to a debt collection agency. It’s not much money for the owner of the company but a lot for my son. I saw yesterday that the same people are advertising for others to do work for them. My advice to anyone interested is to ensure you get paid upfront.
Since my last blog, my hair has grown a lot and I’ve baked two lots of bread and a batch of scones. Even the birds turned their beaks up at my first loaf. The second one was a little more edible, but considering the length of time it took me to prepare and bake, and the carnage left to clean and tidy up afterward, I won’t be attempting a third loaf. The scones were edible if a little deflated. I love scones but even I got fed up with them after the tenth one. No wonder I’m piling on weight. I tried to convince myself this was because of the amount of hair on my head, which is now as long as it was during my Hippy days of the 1970s. Oh, and during the good weather I did manage some splendid walks from home, so I do have a few new photos to show. The top photo was taken on my way up Giggleswick Scar on the opposite side of the dale.
Before the lockdown we used to curse about the time we had to wait at the checkouts at our local supermarket, now we bleat at having to queue outside waiting to get in. A former neighbour spotted me in the queue the other day and decided we should carry out a conversation despite us being four metres apart. The person between us appeared distinctly awkward but definitely unwilling to give up her position to allow the conversation to continue in a slightly less public manner.
Most conversations now seem to take place digitally. However, I’ve had a break from social media recently, just taking occasional peeks at my accounts but not back-tracking. So if anyone has been expecting a response from me, I apologise – you’ll have to message me directly, email or phone Why not write me a letter? A postcard would be nice.
In the shade of the hawthorn tree pictured above, which looks splendid in its spring clothes, is a simple plank bench. There’s probably been a seat here for many years, sited on an old track up the hill from Langcliffe to Winskill. It’s a handy resting place before tackling the path’s steep section, and gives you a chance to sit and admire a fabulous view up Ribblesdale (pic below shows part of what’s on offer).
If you’re still stuck at home you might have time to read this tale from the Dales, one of many I’ve picked up during my years traveling the region and working as editor of Dalesman.
There are no modern roads between Horsehouse in Coverdale and Middlesmoor in Nidderdale – a distance of just over five miles as the crow flies. The shortest route by car is nearer 27 miles. Between the two dales is a mighty ridge which for much of its length rises between 1,600-2,000ft high and is bleak uncultivated moorland. It generally marks the border of the south-eastern end of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Today, on the Nidderdale side of the ridge lie Angram and Scar House reservoirs holding vast amounts of water to be used by the citizens of Bradford. For hundreds of years before this top end of the valley was dammed in the 1920s, animal dealers crossed this barren barrier on their way from the north, as far as Scotland, to trade in the West Riding. There is still an ancient track between Horsehouse and Middlesmoor, settlements that were handy stopping-off points for the jaggers, as the packmen were called. Midway between the two places, just on the Nidderdale side, is Lodge. Now a farm, it was in the early 1700s a remote inn run by a mother and her daughter. The inn would have been a welcome sight for the men after tackling the long steep hill from Coverdale, battling against the worst Dales weather and the rough terrain. Unfortunately for some of those weary travelers, their journeys – and their lives – would end in this miserable place in mysterious and macabre circumstances. There are a few versions of the story of what happened to the poor souls, some perhaps being over-embellished during the last 300 years. Several of the packmen became well known after traveling the same route for many years. So locals started asking questions when some of them failed to turn up. It became more apparent that something was amiss when the wives of three Scottish packmen headed south to find out why their husbands had not returned home. They discovered that the men had been seen at Horsehouse but not in Middlesmoor. It had also been noted that the Lodge innkeepers suddenly seemed more prosperous, and that farmers in the area were using Scottish ponies, and that their wives were wearing Paisley shawls, having been sold to them by the ladies of the inn. Following a search of the area (now known as Dead Man’s Hill) near the inn, three headless bodies were found buried in shallow graves. The story goes that the two women got the men drunk and cut off their heads. Some say the bodies were discovered by travelers only when they spotted the packmen’s abandoned sheepdog digging at the burial site. What happened to the culprits is not clear. One version says they were taken to Pateley Bridge where they were tried and hung. Another claims that the pair were found to be witches who turned to stone on the hills. Known as Jenny Twigg and daughter Tib (below), the pair of stone sentinels stand isolated, overlooking the bleak moorland of upper Nidderdale.
The lambs and sheep have kept me amused on my local walks…
Sadly no trains yet so here’s one from last year at Settle station.
Well, that was a weird month, wasn’t it? I can’t come on here this time and brag about all the wonderful places I’ve visited and photographed recently around the Yorkshire Dales. Where I live is great, and I count my blessings that I don’t live in a city, but I still have the desire to get out and see, listen to, smell and feel different places.
Put a compass on a map and draw a radius representing an hour’s return walk from your house, and you’ll soon realise the restrictions we’ve been under. (Younger readers: maps and compasses are old fashioned tools, look them up in a book – ‘What’s a book, Granddad?’ – sorry, I mean visit Wikipedia.)
Fortunately, the River Ribble is within permitted reach for me, although it has been very low recently, and last week it resembled an abandoned quarry. In fact, I watched someone quite easily walk across the rocky bed to the other bank without getting their feet wet. I thought it was taking social distancing a bit too far, I was about 100 yards away.
I can just about manage a walk to Stainforth and back within the hour, depending on the number of camera halts needed. A same-day Settle return (with pensioner pass) is easily within reach. A trek up to Winskill Stones tests my stamina. My lack of exercise (and extra pounds) is starting to tell.
On the upside, lockdown has given me more time to investigate my family tree, something I started doing some 40+ years ago and which I’ve flitted in and out of ever since. A while back I discovered that my lot linked into a knighted Yorkshire family. During my latest investigations, I was able to follow this line even further, and it took me way back to the ancient kings of the north. The tree even ties into that of the current royal family. It seems that the Queen’s 28xgreat-grandparents were also my 31xgreat-grandparents and that we’re both related to Alfred the Great who lived in the second half of the ninth century. This is a satisfying discovery but shouldn’t be too surprising apparently, as it is thought that millions of today’s Brits are related in some way to our ancient royals. Finding the path back to them is the hard bit. I shan’t be waving serenely from my battered Polo to any passing subjects just yet.
I’ve been flicking through hundreds of old photos in my archive so that I can post a pic a day on Twitter and Facebook during the shutdown. My Daily Dales postings have helped me pass the time away. My thanks go to those who up to yesterday had clocked up nearly 90k visits on Twitter in the last 28 days, and also to my faithful family and friends on Facebook who are reacting well, too.
While rooting through my collection, I came across the above photo taken in 2013. The old stone sits lonely and exposed at the head of Coverdale just before Park Rash, the steep winding road that links Wharfedale with Coverdale, descends into Kettlewell. The tiny road was nothing but a track until the 1950s when it was first coated in tar, but it had been a monks’ way before that, and also a drovers’ road. It is believed that Iron Age people worked their way up here too, as evidence of extensive fortifications can be found (Ta Dike) across the brow of the hill. Back to the old stone, which is called Hunter’s Stone. It contains a small cross and was originally erected to guide monks traveling from Coverham Abbey to Kettlewell where they held land and took sheep to market. Local legend has it that every time the clock struck twelve at Hunter’s Hall, a few miles down the dale, the stone turned around. Hunter’s Hall is now called Coverhead Farm. Just a little bit further down Coverdale is West Close, which I’m told was once called Sod Hall. Shame they changed the name; it seems quite appropriate for today.
This weekend we rightly recognise the sacrifice made on our behalf by those who lost their lives in WW2. But I admit to feeling a little uncomfortable when people talk too much about ‘celebrations’ and ‘parties’ for VE Day. Remembrance and commemoration are more appropriate when thinking about humanity’s biggest catastrophe. Worldwide, 60 million people died during the war – take that figure in; it’s the equivalent of the whole population of the UK.
Dandelions are such useful plants for our pollinators – and therefore humans – so we shouldn’t kill them while in flower. The green in the village hadn’t been cut for some time and was covered in daisies, dandelions and clover: perhaps not too good for playing football but excellent for bees and butterflies… and it looked good, too – but perhaps only in mind, as the green has now been shorn and the bees and butterflies must now find their nectar elsewhere.
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 …
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.
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.
Another year passes by – and so quickly, too – here in the Yorkshire Dales. An outsider looking in via occasional visits might think very little changes in the Dales, and they are comforted by that thought. But those who have lived here many years have a different perspective.
Yes, there are still the beautiful rivers, waterfalls and hills (‘Nobbut gurt mounds o’ muck’ as one old Dalesman once stated), but Dales life has altered a great deal over the last few decades.
Village schools are closing at an alarming rate; local shops and businesses have gone; there are fewer jobs, bringing about the dispersal of many long-established families. Their homes are being bought by commuters, holiday-let owners and as weekend retreats (that’s not a dig at those people, by the way, as without them some villages would probably have closed down altogether).
Ancient agricultural buildings are being left to decay as farmers no longer have use for them, can’t afford their upkeep or are refused permission to sell off or develop the barns as homes. Bus and train services are poor, as is broadband in many areas.
But would I prefer to live in a large town or city? Not on your Nellie! (Apparently this expression stems from rhyming slang, originally ‘Not on your Nellie Duff’ – rhymes with puff – meaning breath of life. Your education is incomplete without this knowledge.)
Back in the Dales soon!
My nearest hospital is a 45-minute drive away, a journey I’ve had to make several times over the last few months for treatment on kidney stones. How something so tiny can cause so much pain and leave a person so debilitated is astounding, but hopefully I will be heading up and down the Dales again shortly.
Photos in this final blog of the year show some of the places I’ve been missing, but which I’ll be re-visiting during 2019.