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.
Ahh, spring in Upper Ribblesdale. As I write, snow flakes are doing a drunken dance, not knowing which direction to take next. The village looks like a Christmas card, and I have to conjure up a vision of the surrounding hills because they’re shrouded in cloud, or should that be clouded in shroud. Let my photo diary record that this is all the fault of the Russians. They seem to be getting the blame for everything at this moment in history, so why not the weather? I’d best not go all political here. I was around when Russia got it the neck during the Cold War, today I have a war against cold around my neck. Top photo shows Penyghent just before the latest snow Ribblesdale.
I watched some new-born lambs looking distinctly miserable in temperatures that with added wind-chill dipped as low as -12 in Ribblesdale this week.
The bathroom needs a lick of paint. Unenthusiastically, I dug out a half-full tin of emulsion and a brush from the cupboard under the stairs. Of course, everything had to be removed from the abyss before I found said items at the back. I took them to the bathroom, wondering if I formally introduced them to the walls, would they strike up an instant rapport and just get on with the job themselves. As I turned to fetch a dust-sheet, sunshine burst through the bathroom window. Within minutes I was driving up Ribblesdale, camera by my side. The tin of paint and brush are still on the bathroom floor, walls remain unpainted. I’m presuming they didn’t form any kind of relationship. Perhaps they just need a little more time to get to know each other better.
Happy Christmas from the Yorkshire Dales. It’s not been a good week for photography with there being so much fog around here in Ribblesdale. Add that to my annual catch-ups with old friends, visiting family and having a stinking cold means my photographic output has been practically zilch. It has, however, given me chance to search through this year’s archives and pick out a few Christmas and wintry scenes featuring the Three Peaks area and further afield in the Dales. The top picture and this one of frosty trees were both taken in Wharefdale, near Appletreewick.
Just as I find satisfaction in kicking my way through autumn leaves, I get the same childish thrill crunching along on a frosty Dales track. Cracking the small iced up puddles (after admiring their wondrous patterns) and feeling the crispness of the frozen grass under my boots, while being well togged up of course, is still a delight. I know, I know, I should really leave those lovely ice patterns for others to enjoy, but I’m just a big kid. Such conditions were plentiful in the Dales this week …
As you drive out of Settle over the top of Buckhaw Brow, just after the old road veers off towards Feizor, there’s a pull-in on the right. I remember many years ago tramping through the small wood here with friends who said there was good climbing to be found. I’m not the climbing sort and didn’t partake other than a bit of line holding. I can’t remember if climbing was allowed there at the time – perhaps I was also the lookout for approaching landowners. Anyway, despite passing this place hundreds of times over the years, this week I took a little saunter through that wood for the first time since those carefree days. It’s a tricky place to walk but there are surprises along the way. The caves are well documented (do a search for ‘caves Buckhaw Brow’) for those who like that kind of thing. I also saw many signs that climbing still takes place here. If you look closely on this photo you can make out hooks on the overhang.
Banks are closing down at a rapid rate throughout the Dales- yet another blow for rural communities around the country. Still, it’s not a new thing … this one in Dent, which I photographed on Monday, closed in 1972!
St Andrew’s, Dent, dates back to the 12th century, was rebuilt in 1417, restored in 1590, and again in 1787. A further restoration was carried out in 1889–90.
There’s a gravestone by the church porch which is said to be the final resting place George Hodgson who died in 1715, aged 94. Local legend has that if you saw George’s ghost around the churchyard in the moonlight then you would quickly die. Dent’s God-fearing folk decided he was probably a vampire and that his body should be exhumed from its original grave and placed by the church door. It is said that on exhuming his body, George’s hair and nails had grown and his skin was a glowing pink. Just to make sure he was dead a stake was thrust through his heart. His ‘new’ gravestone appears to have a hole in it, in case an extra stake is ever needed. Those misery guts who like to pour cold water over such fanciful tales say the gravestone is a gatepost that has been reused, and the hole is simply part of the mechanism. I say let’s dig up the old beggar and ask him.
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. http://www.countrymanmagazine.co.uk
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.
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.
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.
Funny how we take everyday things for granted. Postboxes for example. On my regular Ribblesdale stroll this week I noticed snowdrops growing by a postbox — and have to admit that until I’d seen both snowdrops and postbox together I’d not taken much notice of that bright red metal thing. It got me thinking about other postboxes around the Dales. I hunted through my photo archive for some more examples … and found these in Chapel-le-dale, Langstrothdale (above) and Mallerstang.
If you know of any postboxes in picturesque Dales locations let me know – I might do a bit of ‘collecting’ myself. Apparently there is such a thing as the Letter Box Study Group www.lbsg.org with a website and more than 600 members. I shan’t be joining, but surely taking photos of postboxes is more acceptable than searching the country to capture gas holders? I read this week about one chap who has this as a hobby. His pastime came to the notice of the newspapers when it was decided that the famous gas holder beside the Oval cricket ground in London (yes, non-cricket fans, it really is famous) is to be saved from demolition because it is seen as some kind of icon. Historic England adds: ‘…but our other beautiful gas holders are going’ [to be demolished]. Beautiful? Come on! Seems it is acceptable to churn up hundreds of miles of priceless countryside for the pointless HS2 railway, and to allow our green and pleasant land to be fracked up to kingdom come, but not to knock down a rusting, useless gas holder? It’s a mad, mad world.
Took my first sunset shots of the year last Sunday up on Winskill Stones in Ribblesdale. The late evening sunshine lit up the limestone and also the distant western side of Penyghent. The last few minutes before the sun disappeared over Lancashire provided some startlingly vivid colours.
The following time-lapse shots are a bit arty-farty for me, I know, but I display them only to show the speed of the water at Stainforth Foss on Tuesday following heavy overnight and morning rain in Ribblesdale. The shutter speed is set at just one-fifth of a second which tells you much about the volume and speed of the water passing in front of my camera lens. If you’d like to join me for a couple of minutes at the popular spot you can see a video here https://youtu.be/Agba6D6Txvg Excuse the quality — it’s taken on my normal camera not a video camera, and I was being buffeted by a strong wind.
After the rain came Wednesday’s snow. The village (Langcliffe) took on a different persona — cosier, somehow. The photo of St John’s church (above) looks like a black-and-white, but it isn’t. And despite seeing them a thousand times before, I just had to take a trip further up Ribblesdale to see how the Three Peaks were looking in the snow – and they didn’t disappoint.
This week I’ve had to endure one of life’s greatest hardships. It’s not been easy for me, especially living on my own. Having no kids or partner around to help out has been a total nightmare. Yes, the TV remote broke. Getting up to manually change channels or just to turn the damn thing on and off has left me exhausted and frustrated. Must be the batteries (the remote’s, not mine) I thought, so off I trotted in the snow in search of power. Alas, new batteries didn’t solve the problem. So, another trip to town for a replacement zapper — no one had anything suitable for my TV. Amazon it was then. Three days delivery they said. Aargh! Just how did folk manage before remote controllers?
Regular readers will know of my fondness for the deserted Ribblesdale hamlet of Thorns (pictured above), just a mile or so from Ribblehead Viaduct. Thorns was an important location on a former packhorse route. Records of the settlement I often visit for quiet contemplation, date back to 1190, when it belonged to Furness Abbey. Wills, parish records and censuses indicate that there were five tenements in 1538, three households in 1841, and one uninhabited dwelling in 1891. Those stats are courtesy of the charity Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) which this week announced it was looking for budding archaeologists to take part in an archaeological survey of Thorns. Visit the website www.ydmt.org for more information.
Yesterday was my birthday. It’s the 63rd time this as occurred so I’m used to birthdays and I don’t take much notice of them now. However, I must admit I was a bit taken aback when I read that a birthday flypast tribute by the Red Arrows had been arranged. How pleasing too that my big day was also the 80th birthday of the Spitfire and I could share my special display with that great invention.
The village school closed back in 2007. It was sold six years later for £230,000 and remains unoccupied, the new owners’ plans being refused permission by the National Park. I’ve often wondered who pocketed the money and what was done with it. What I do know for certain is that some accountant somewhere declared that the school as an education establishment was ‘economically unviable’ and shut it down. Its closure certainly wouldn’t have been decided by locals or teaching staff. Village schools help keep dales communities together – but that’s not something an accountant working on behalf of government can quantify in monetary terms so it is ignored.
I know a lot of teachers – or more precisely ex-teachers (many of them jumping ship as soon as their pensions would allow them to do so) – and I’m probably more sympathetic to the plight of teachers and how the education system is being run than a lot of the general public. I attended teacher training college before finding an opening in journalism and I was married to a teacher for many years. So I’ve kept an eye on education matters – as we all should, really … after all, this is the country’s and our children’s/grandchildren’s future we’re talking about.
The problems and solutions are far too numerous and complex for me to go into in depth here. But I will say that I wish politicians would just leave alone something about which they know and understand very little. Many of them attended expensive private schools which bear no co-relation with the education of the masses. Most have no idea about the everyday life of teaching a class or running a school, yet ministers (and accountants) decide the rules and regulations by which our children are educated. I have the feeling that government would prefer if teachers just brainwashed children so that they don’t have any individual thoughts, or think creatively or question their elders.
One of my singer/songwriter heroes is Tom Paxton, and this week I listened again to one of his songs from the 1960s, called ‘What did you learn in school today, dear little boy of mine?’. The verses, although based on the USA at the time, could well ring true today in this country and elsewhere. Here are some of the words which his little boy said in response to the question:
I learned that Washington never told a lie.
I learned that soldiers seldom die.
I learned that everybody’s free.
And that’s what the teacher said to me.
I learned that policemen are my friends.
I learned that justice never ends.
I learned that murderers die for their crimes.
Even if we make a mistake sometimes.
I learned our government must be strong.
It’s always right and never wrong.
Our leaders are the finest men.
And we elect them again and again.
I learned that war is not so bad.
I learned of the great ones we have had.
We fought in Germany and in France.
And some day I might get my chance.
The unmistakeable outline of Ingleborough greets those motorists driving from Hawes towards Ingleton near Ribblehead. This afternoon the sun was getting low in the west; there was icy blue sky to the east, while snow clouds were building up all around me. There’ll be much more of the white stuff here by the morning.