Bill Mitchell’s funeral service at Skipton Parish Church on Monday proved to be a fitting send-off for a Dales icon. His children David and Janet spoke eloquently as they recalled life with their famous dad. He would have been very proud of them. After the service I thought I’d pay a private little tribute to Bill by visiting one of his favourite spots. I once asked him to tell me of his best-loved places in the Dales – a terrible question to ask, and one to which I usually give a very wishy-washy answer. He preferred peaceful out-of-the-way locations where he could contemplate life rather than those featuring great long hikes over mountains. He liked Cotter Force (pictured above) and other waterfalls, and also Thorns Gill, near Ribblehead, where I took a little wander on Monday afternoon. The beck was low and the trees were changing colour and losing leaves, which meant I could see more of the quaint old bridge.
When I joined Dalesman Publishing Company in 1993 Bill had retired from being editor of Dalesman and Cumbria magazines some five years earlier but he still contributed to them and for a while continued to edit from home another magazine which the company owned called Pennine Magazine, later to become Peak & Pennine. Alongside Bill I subedited and laid out the pages, the old fashioned way to begin with – cutting and pasting bits of paper for an outside typesetter to prepare for press. Bill was very fond of the magazine. It gave him chance to write about areas and subjects not necessarily associated with the more rural dales region. His interesting and popular Milltown Memories articles stemmed from this. On Tuesday I had the chance of a whistle-stop tour of some of the areas featured in the magazine which sadly is no longer published.
The gritstone towns and villages clinging to the steep hillsides here are full of character. They sit in dramatic country where for centuries Man has tried, usually unsuccessfully, to tame inhospitable land and conditions. The higher boggy moors of the South Pennines are really fit for nothing bar rearing game birds and a few hardy sheep. But it is the perfect place for collecting water, as witnessed by countless reservoirs which supply major industrial towns and cities of the north. They break up desolate landscape and provide some fine photography.
At Dovestone (pictured above), close to where the four counties of Yorks, Lancs, Derbyshire and Cheshire shake hands, the autumn colours brightened up for me what can sometimes feel to be a dark, claustrophobic – but exciting – landscape.
The sky and weather changes rapidly here on the high hills and this has proved inspirational for many leading artists, writers and poets. Holmfirth-based artist Ashley Jackson loves these moors and he has helped people visualise their beauty with the installation of metal frames around the district – see www.framingthelandscape.co.uk. I called to see one at Wessenden, a bleak spot on the edge of Saddleworth Moor, and after a brief stroll around the picturesque Digley Reservoir, it was up the winding route to Holme Moss, 1719ft above sea level. Here another of Ashley’s frames (pictured above) highlights a wide-reaching and varied panorama of moorland, industry and history.
As if the hills aren’t already high enough in these parts, Man has decided to extend his reach even further. Holme Moss transmitter station stretches another 750ft high above the frame, while in the distance the giant TV mast of Emley Moor stands a whopping 1084 ft high with its tip almost touching 2,000ft above sea level. Tall wind turbines grab the considerable breezes to the south-east, while in the centre of the scene the grand Victoria Tower of Castle Hill is clearly visible. While I’m in full-flowing anorak mode, I can tell you that the tower is 106ft high, which means that by standing at the top you are 1,000 feet, plus however tall you are, above sea level.
I drove down to the monument (pictured above) before dusk and although it wasn’t the clearest of evenings the 360 degree views were still a joy to behold. I then watched Huddersfield Town win 2-0 … also a joy to behold (but not as frequently available).
Being very busy for the rest of the week I’ve had little chance to do much more photography or walking, but strolling into Settle along the Highway on Friday I was rewarded with a view of some fine autumn colours.
Pleasing news this week is that the government have at last (it’s taken more than two years) decided on enlarging the Lakes and Dales national parks to bridge the gap between the two. Important places like Orton Fell, Mallerstang (pictured below) and the northern end of the Howgills will from next summer fall under the Dales authority. The government now has to find a way to pay for this extension at a time when they are slashing all park and local authority budgets. Will they eventually decide to sell off the Dales National Park to the highest bidder? Will my forecast in an earlier blog of there being a McDonalds or a Starbucks at the top of Penyghent one day become reality? Let’s hope they remember that the national parks were created to protect our countryside for future generations, not to solve financial cock-ups, or make someone a fat profit, or place in private hands.