During the long, hot summer of 1976 the Yorkshire Dales were my playground. I was 23, fit and energetic and starting to create a career in journalism. Move on some 42 years to another sunny summer, and here I am: overweight, fond of an afternoon doze and I’m a pensioner – but at least the Dales remain my playground.
While idling my time away on the slopes beside Ribblehead Viaduct one day last week, waiting to photograph a steam train crossing the mighty structure, I thought about how the place had changed since the 1970s. Yes, the topography is pretty much as it was back then but the atmosphere is very different.
Today I walked up the track towards Blea Moor alongside people who were wearing flip-flops. The recently extended car parking areas were full to the brim. A group on a sponsored Three Peaks hike ploughed through the sightseers. A small helicopter landed and took off again ten minutes later. A chap tried out his new drone (unsuccessfully).
Two noisy Chinook helicopters made their way over the Dales like annoying flies, circled over the viaduct then headed back over Cam Fell. Flashes from mobile phones greeted their arrival and departure.
I’d arrived to my spot early to find a good uninterrupted view of the viaduct with Ingleborough in the background. Two minutes before the train was due a family of four plus a loose and inquisitive dog plonked themselves right in my sight-line. The Dales were never so in the 1970s, or perhaps in those days it was me who was being the nuisance?
I’ve taken so many photos since my last blog – even a cartload of snaps from a few days in the Scottish Borders around Kirk Yetholm at the end of the Pennine Way – that I’ve had difficulty narrowing down the selection. Anyway, here I share a few. The top pic shows the view from above Buttertubs Pass back towards Ingleborough.
What, no train photos? Fear not, train buffs, I will be putting up special page for you when I get a spare moment. Meanwhile, here’s a moody Ribblehead Station.
I’ll not bore you with my snaps of the Scottish Borders but here’s one from a garden in Yetholm Town … it’s not gnomal, is it?
A sea of buttercups forming lazy waves caught my attention. Young trees were showing off new clothes, and birds flitted busily and noisily along the hedges and walls. Standing there in this mini paradise I wondered whether the young man who callously murdered and maimed in Manchester had ever witnessed the delights laid out in front of me. Would he have nurtured the same hatred inside him if he’d been given the chance to see and feel first hand the beauty of Nature here in this countryside? Had he grown up with a vision of this different world in his head would he have taken on such evil advice? None of us knows the answer. What I do know is we continue to fill young people’s heads with violence and depravity via TV and internet; we play out futile and barbaric scenarios and conflicts on gadgets. Many of the younger generation are now learning about ‘life’ through manufactured media – and a distorted, corrupt and perverted media at that – or on soulless city streets. Government continues to drive children away from the countryside by closing village schools and local amenities; cutting funds for outdoor activities. Youngsters are corralled into urban ghettoes. I’m not claiming that places like the Dales hold all the answers to our problems, of course not. The peaceful world I’m so fond of won’t stop human bigotry or greed, or the acts of lunatics, but it can help to teach fresh perspectives and open the mind. I held my own silent moment for those unfortunate, innocent victims who have now been deprived of the kind of days in the Dales I’ve enjoyed this week.
Knowing I was heading off for a couple of days in London – yes, you heard correctly; me, deserting Yorkshire for more than a few hours (but don’t worry, I’ll be there with 40k other Tykes supporting Huddersfield Town at Wembley) – I’ve been gorging myself on the Dales all this week. So much so in fact I’ve too much to show in this blog so I’ll save some for next week.
I had a crackpot idea on Thursday, the hottest day in the Dales since records began (fake news that). I decided to walk beside the Swale – still very low at the time but no doubt swollen since Saturday’s storms – then up the hill to Crackpot. I probably walked less than 4 miles but was still exhausted because of the heat. The views up and down this part of Swaledale were superb and I took far more photos than would be considered normal.
Half 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.
I think I developed an RSI problem with my camera clicking finger while photographing the Dales this week. Trying to capture what I believed would be the last of the best autumn colours I’ve driven many a mile through many a dale and taken many a picture. I won’t bore you with the full collection but here are some highlights plus a quick rant. The top photo is my favourite of the week. On Monday, reaching the highest point of Buttertubs Pass coming from the Swaledale end, this view opened up. It’s a bit of an unsteady hand-held zoom shot showing a distant Ingleborough, Widdale and hills in between. The light autumn mist in the dales and a mild pink sky created a beautiful sight. Better seen first hand than on a screen.
Dales town disgrace
At first I thought they were a Trick or Treat prank. But no, they were still in place the following day – I’m talking about those ghastly luminous yellow double-lines that now disgrace Settle’s lovely town centre. I’m in favour of preventing stupid parking but this vandalism is well out of proportion. They are garish, ugly, unwelcoming and urban. They can be seen from the surrounding hills and the Dales National Park, and probably from the Moon. I’ve been to other popular country places where a subtle thin line with appropriate notices about parking restrictions have satisfied the law, suited the town’s character and appeased the residents. Had some yobs daubed such graffiti in the town there would have been an almighty Halloween witch hunt. Which bureaucrat sanctioned this unsightly mess and why? Sorry about that Daily Mail reader rant but I really do find this particular excessive painting offensive and unnecessary.
There’s a fabulous 360-degree Dales view from Stone Rigg at the head of Barbondale. If ever you want to know why more parts of this area have been roped into the revised Yorkshire Dales National Park then this is the place to go. Standing on the small rocky outcrops at the top of Stone Rigg – just a short walk from the steep, narrow road from Dent – you see the Howgills to the north. The lower end of the Howgill range is already in the park but further north towards Ravenstonedale is rightly being included later this year. Swinging right you stare across at Aye Gill Pike and down Dentdale to Great Knoutberry, then on to the western slopes of Great Coum and Crag Fell.
At 180 degrees you’re looking down Barbondale itself with the steep side of Middleton Fell glaring down on your right. I’ve been here several times before and never tire of the all-round beauty. Further down the narrow dale heading towards Barbon is a little boundary stone which signals the end of the current park. The lower slopes of the dale become thickly wooded before it opens out to reveal some glorious views along Lunesdale.
Later in the week I also revisited another part of the new park, heading up Mallerstang and stopping off at the enigmatic 12th-century Pendragon Castle. The view down towards Wild Boar Fell was, as always, a pleasure to see.
From the castle it was on towards Nateby. Gypsies were camped ready for the final part of their annual journey to Appleby – it seemed an appropriate spot for their camp and surely much more of a pleasure for the horses than beside the busy A65 (where they’ve been causing enormous traffic jams). I love the journey between Nateby and Keld through Birkdale. Here is a very different Dales character to my normal Ribblesdale habitat: bleak and rough; fewer walls and tougher sheep. But you’re soon into a greener Upper Swaledale; enclosed by steep sides but gentler, with the young Swale dancing over exposed browned bedrock. A grand drive over Buttertubs Pass to Wensleydale, up Widdale and home via Three Peaks country of Ribblesdale. I might not be exercising my legs much at the moment but my eyes are certainly active.
I wonder, had Kirby Misperton fallen within their land, if the Dales National Park would have allowed last week’s fracking fiasco to happen? Seven councillors who are supposed to represent Yorkshire on matters of planning, ignored the 92 per cent of locals and instead pandered to what the government wanted them to do – a government which is currently keeping secret a report on whether fracking causes climate concern. Hell, even Lancastrian councillors had the sense to boot out the get-rich-quick fracking cowboys. Hang your heads, seven shameless Yorkshiremen.
Which brings me on to another whinge I have, stirred up by this week’s ‘news’. There’s a decline, says a study, in the humber of people using regional accents. It seems we are all starting to sound like we come from the south east. That certainly won’t do. And some teachers have been told to change the way they speak to children by cutting down on local accents. Sometimes I listen to people in their late teens/early 20s, using that very boring generic university accent, in which almost every sentence seems to end with a question mark, and I thank mi Mam n Dad for teaching me to speyk Yorksher.
Talking of moaning – an acquaintance was moaning about pot-holes in Ribblesdale’s roads the other week. This week he is moaning that ‘they’ are closing the roads throughout the region to mend those potholes. Now I’m moaning about him moaning.
Bridge of Sighs
I was very saddened to see that someone had a go at demolishing the pretty packhorse bridge over the Ribble at Knight Stainforth this week. Obviously, the person didn’t go out to deliberately wreck the ancient structure – whether it was caused by someone using a sat nav instead of a brain cell, or by careless driving, I don’t know. But it’s going to be costly to repair the National Trust-owned bridge. The original stonework is going to have to be recovered from the river before it is washed away, and the bridge will probably not look the same when rebuilt. It wasn’t meant to take motorised traffic. I realise this will inconvenience a few local users but I think the current diversion via Stackhouse Lane or Helwith Bridge should be made permanent and the bridge left for cyclists and pedestrians only. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that during the Bank Holiday weekend, which brings all kinds of folk to Stainforth Foss, we don’t see more damage or accidents.
It’s been a pleasure hobbling around Ribblesdale this week while spring really blossomed. By the Ribble in Langcliffe were thousands of rampant ramsons like riotious football fans charging down the packed terrace, hopping over the fencing and spilling on to the pitch.
Sitting here listening to the birds and a gently trickling river was simply beautiful. However, one youngster licking its lips as it approached me was a little disconcerting…
Last Sunday was one of those grey Dales days which have been all too familiar this summer. Nevertheless I drove to Ribblehead where often on a summer Sunday there can be more people than on Blackpool prom – but it wasn’t too bad. Knowing that a steam train was due to be heading back from Carlisle I walked up to Blea Moor until my head almost reached the height of the low cloud. Approaching Blea Moor signal box I recalled a diary piece I wrote around five years ago for Dalesman concerning the lonely house which is situated next to the box. It was in a poor state and the ‘garden’ was covered in tons of scrap metal – a real eyesore. This was the first impression many travelers got of Ribblesdale as they entered from the north-west and so the owner was asked to clean it up, which he did to a fashion. As seen in my pic above, It doesn’t look too good again today and the house seems deserted – a great shame.
However, looking back down the dale I managed to capture something more cheerful as a brief shaft of sunlight illuminated the valley while Penyghent remained shrouded in mist.
I could hear the cat growling while he was sitting on the internal window ledge. This usually means there are birds outside which he can’t get at. Together we watched a group of sparrows and finches having a bath in the puddles – but our thoughts about ‘capturing’ them differed somewhat.
It’s steam train season here in Ribblesdale and during the peak summer period there can be five a week passing up and down the Settle-Carlisle railway. They attract people to the area and help keep the grand old line open. The politically correct may consider these great machines as eco-unfriendly. If they were running an hourly service every day of the year I might agree with them. But I’d still rather see one of these chugging up the dale than a hundred polluting cars any day. On Tuesday I captured this one as it was leaving Settle.
With a good forecast for Wednesday I’d planned to pollute the dales myself by driving over to Wensleydale through Mallerstangdale, then head back via Birkdale and Swaledale. Perfect timing saw me meeting another steamer on the line near Aisgill (above pic) where the line leaves Yorkshire and enters Westmorland. This is the final major climb for the train and a popular location for train buffs.
On clear days the views as you climb the road out of Nateby are breathtaking. With the Eden Valley, North Pennines, Howgill Fells then bleak Birkdale and Ravenstonedale plus the uppermost reaches of Swaledale all visible, this journey is one of the best in the dales. In the distance can be seen the Air Traffic Control’s radar station on top of Great Dun Fell (2782 ft), in the North Pennines. The private road which ascends to the ‘giant golf ball’ is the highest surfaced road in England. Slightly further up the Pennine chain is Mickle Fell (2585 ft) whose summit is the highest point in Yorkshire (proper boundary).
Sadly I couldn’t manage the rest of Swaledale as the road was shut from near Thwaite (where I took the above pic) because of work on Usha Gap Bridge. Not for the first time a vehicle failed to negotiate the narrow bridge – and also Ivelet Bridge further down the road. These bridges weren’t built for big loads so the authorities need to do one of two things: forget about preserving the past and knock them down and build ones suitable for the 21st century; or ban unsuitable vehicles from the road. Knocking some common sense into drivers might also be a solution.
After being in the car for such a long period I needed a walk that evening and managed to capture this heron when it dashed passed me as I walked by the Ribble. Technically it’s not a good shot but it does show the superb aerodynamic nature of this ancient bird.
Thursday: the farmer created a new view on my regular walk by cutting one of his fields, while back in the village the memorial fountain was colourfully dressed for today’s VJ Service.
Lo and behold, I also encountered another train this time completely by accident. As I walked to the Hoffman Kiln in Langcliffe I saw photographers waiting for the arrival of the engine Galatea. The footpath is right next to the line and you can feel the ground rumble as the great monster gets up close and personal.
Yesterday was a big day in the village as the efforts of talented locals were on view at the annual show. Sadly I was otherwise engaged but I did participate and was lucky enough to earn a first for three of my photos and a second for this black and white photo of New Street…
I’ve decided that sheep get a bad press. I like to think they can be proud, strong leaders. And this character, encountered on a short walk on Monday, definitely agrees. The start of the week was grey so I continued on the black-and-white theme with a shot of the lane leading to Stainforth Scar from Langcliffe, and another of a farm in Swaledale – a different kind of Dales landscape.
Wednesday was Budget Day and those Tories really do see everything in black-and-white don’t they? The chancellor has a misguided impression that his friends in business will solve all our economic and social problems. Yes, of course George, all businesses will now start paying their workers decent wages and abolish zero-hours contracts. Business owners and shareholders will immediately stop hiking off as much profit as they can for themselves, they’ll cough up all the tax they owe, won’t go live abroad and will stop hiring cheap immigrant labour. Not all businesses are so greedy, I know – there are shades of grey in everything. Smearsett Scar, below, is a good example.
Thank goodness Thursday brought some colour into my life. I rose early for some fabulous shots up Ribblesdale which looked stunning.
Then it was on to one of my favourite spots of all: Thorns Gill, at the very head of the dale. Two hours I spent at the gill and the abandoned grange of Thorns – and I never saw another soul. From the top of a small rise just beyond the ancient settlement, on the path to Nether Lodge, the 360-degree views are outstanding. I took far too many pictures to show here: ruined buildings, strange rock formations, lichen encrusted signposts, moss covered walls and overgrown ancient tracks and, of course, Ribblehead viaduct and the Three Peaks (I may in future publish a blog on Thorns only). The waterfalls were tranquil compared with how I’d seen them in the past, but nevertheless hypnotising. Gayle Beck, looking like well-brewed Yorkshire tea, cackled excitedly over the rocks. The dark, still pools were inviting on this hot day – dare I strip off for a bit of wild swimming? Not with all those sheep watching.
Friday reminded me that folk actually work in the dales and don’t just aimlessly flit around the place as I do. Near Austwick, half a dozen farm workers, in a kind of synchronised, motorised dance movement expertly cleared the meadows.
Exhausted by the thought of all that work I took a stripey photo of Moughton Scar (which might look better in b&w) before heading home for a brew of Yorkshire tea. By the way, has anyone ever seen the vast Yorkshire tea plantations?
(Bear with me during this lengthy blog – the sun’s gone in now and I’m reminiscing for my own amusement about the week just gone)
Two fine days in a row last week – or, what we in these parts call summer – saw me out and about with the camera once again. The pastures beneath Stainforth Scar shone like gold lamé carpets. They brought out the poet in me and I penned the following verse – but re-reading it now I wish the poet had stayed inside and had another glass of something strong. Choose me! Choose me! Plead the buttercups to a bee. Come by! Come by! Hears the languid butterfly. Hopeful hosts of gold — Such a sight to behold.
Further up the dale, Dry Beck Farm, which I must have photographed a hundred times, lured me in once more. I made a mental note to put together some kind of time-lapse sequence showing the shot through the seasons … one of those jobs I’ll probably never get round to. There’s a splendid beech tree in one of the fields – its fresh foliage looked vibrant against the meadows, limestone walls and bright blue sky.
Horton was busy with Three-Peakers – must be the time of year for charity fundraisers. Even fans of my footie team, Huddersfield Town, had groups out on the fells raising cash to help deprived youngsters in the Kirklees Community. I thought of those walking the 24 gruelling miles to raise a few pounds to help the under privileged while their idols were idling away their time on a beach somewhere earning up to £??k a week.
I stopped near Selside, close to the spot – a notorious bend on a hill – where a motorcyclist had sadly died after crashing into a road sign just a few days earlier. Last year a few hundred yards away, I came across another accident where a biker was killed. Dales roads weren’t meant for thrill seekers. I mentioned this on Facebook where locals added words of sadness for those involved, their own grief at witnessing and encountering these scenes, and also their annoyance at not being able to get home because of the road closure.
I’m not sure what the collective noun for train photographers is (an Orak, perhaps?) but when I saw a gathering at Ribblehead I presumed something important must be imminent. Here it is. Anyway, nice view of Whernside. I took in the exhibition at Ribblehead station while I was there – I’d been before but failed to notice the stained glass windows on previous visits. There are several depicting old railway names and emblems plus this one which lines up nicely with Ingleborough.
I motored on through Widdale which seems to be rapidly losing its clothes. the pine and spruce forests planted during the last century are gradually all being replaced by the kind of tree species that once thrived here before Man brought his hatchet into the dale.
Hawes was waking up when I travelled through on Thursday, even the ice cream sales had not begun but the parking chaos had; delivery trucks haphazardly abandoned amongst dirty farm Landrovers and unwary tourists looking for a free spot. The first bus full of grey-haired visitors was attempting to barge its way through to Wensleydale Creamery.
My mission was to try get a decent picture of the Buttertubs. The pass was quiet apart from the sheep who despite having hundreds of square miles of perfectly good moorland to wander over, prefer to meander aimlessly down the middle of the road. The mums appear unkempt at the moment with their fleeces falling apart at the seams. Their ’teenage’ lambs stay a few paces behind looking embarrassed and thinking ‘Is she really going out looking like that? I hope I don’t see any of my friends’.
I was lucky to grab one of the few parking spots at the Buttertubs which were dark and cool and had only a minor fall of water echoing in its depths. I always fear for the road’s foundations here as it spans the chasms but perhaps it’s best not to ponder too long and instead head down into Swaledale. I’ll have to try again at Buttertubs as the pics didn’t turn out too well.
Muker was thrang as Throp’s wife; I was passing through to capture the hay meadows and barns. Mainly comprising buttercups and daisies at this time of year the pastures were nevertheless a beautiful sight which I never tire of seeing. Made a mental note to come back shortly for a greater variety of plants.
Parking near Low Row, I headed for the river on the Crackpot road where I once again gazed enviously at a lovely row of cottages which overlook the Swale and the smart bridge. There’s a delightful path (partially blocked at present due to work by Yorkshire Water) which runs beside the river. The path actually goes along the top of a wall for a 100 yards or so. I felt as though I needed one of those vehicles ahead of me warning oncoming traffic of a ‘wide load’. I’d no need to worry as I didn’t see another soul for the next hour. There’s a nature trail here; flora and fauna abound, there were rabbits, too, and I heard all kinds of birds accompanied by the sound a low, brown river cackling over rocks and mini falls.
There was a small market in Reeth and every parking spot with a mile radius seemed to be taken, even on the village greens. It’s a pleasant village but I needed a bit more solitude today and headed for one of the glorious passes between Swaledale and Wensleydale.
Don’t ask me to pick a favourite road between the two dales because they are all spectacular. On Friday I took the one from Grinton over to Redmire. The lonely isolated grouse moors are certainly not where I’d choose to be on a winter’s night but this day a wonderful place to get out of the car and sit, look and listen to the cries of curlew and lapwing cries and the wind rushing through the heather which was still brown but showing signs of budding in sheltered area.
The previous day I’d taken on the pass between Askrigg and Muker/Gunnerside where I came face to face with a car on a 1 in 4, 45 degree bend. The other driver looked terrified so I reversed blindly, praying there was nothing following. Last year I took the Satron road – more of a track really but it is surfaced – which runs parallel to, and joins on to, this one. It’s not signposted and feels like a private road to a farm but it is a public way (I think!). It’s scary and you require a gate-opening passenger and someone to mop your brow. The views of Wensleydale dropping into Askrigg are vast and I was lucky to capture a glimpse of Semerwater across the wide valley.
Heading back to Ribblesdale I was tempted to park up for a walk to Snaizeholme and see if the red squirrels would come out to pose for me but it was getting late. When I returned home my neighbour’s clematis was basking in the late evening light … sadly, I’ve not seen much of the sun since.
Had a lovely day in Swaledale yesterday ending with a walk around Richmond. Tour de France cyclists were rushing dementedly through the dale like they were being chased by some unseen force. It’s one thing doing this when the roads are closed to traffic but they’re asking for trouble when plodders like me are gawping at the scenery and stopping every five minutes to take photos. Fortunately, no mishaps this time.
Someone chucked a huge grey blanket over north Ribblesdale today. The forecasters promised so much – surely they can’t be that wrong? I got into my grey car, caught the reflection of my grey hair in the window, and headed off into the gloom searching for inspiration…. “T’blog weean’t write itssen,” I thought, in my best West Riding twang. I was momentarily transported back some forty years to my earliest days in weekly newspapers when on a Monday morning the grumpy editor would poke his head around the reporters’ room door and bark something about there being “God knows how many column-inches to fill” and that they wouldn’t be filled by reporters sitting on their backsides in the office. Those were days before lifting stuff from t’internet and readers with mobile phones helped filled the space – reporters were paid to go out into the streets, courts and – all in the line of duty – pubs to seek out the local tittle-tattle. Back to today. Someone stealing the Three Peaks would have made a good tale for the newspaper… they were definitely missing on my journey to Ribblehead Viaduct where even the tea wagon hadn’t bothered to turn up. Limestone grey walls and limestone grey buildings against a grey backdrop. Even the sheep looked grey. The National Park won’t allow anyone to use their imagination and paint something bright red by way of a change; I’m surprised they allow cyclists to ride on the roads wearing those luminous tops. I love seeing bright red post boxes and telephone kiosks dotted around the Dales, but try making your garden gate the same colour and some jobsworth or a haughty neighbour will be on your case before the paint’s dry. Anyway, back once more to today. Anyone who’s lived in the area will tell you that there are times when it seems every dale has its own weather system and so it proved on this little adventure. Dropping into Wensleydale was like waking from a coma… there was blue sky, fluffy clouds, tourists in T-shirts and alfresco drinkers on the setts by the Black Bull. I walked along to Cotter Force where bright red rowan berries (are they allowed in the National Park?) added some extra pizzazz to a beautiful rural scene. High on Buttertubs Pass, peering down on upper Swaledale (pictured), everything became crisper and clearer; the contrast with dowdy Ribblesdale could not have been greater. Perhaps it will be Ribblesdale’s day tomorrow.