Wandering in the Yorkshire Dales (2012-09-02/08)

Creative Commons License

Wandering in the Yorkshire Dales, and all the linked pictures
, by Andy Pepperdine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Needing a break, on Sunday 2 September 2012 I headed for a holiday in the South of the Yorkshire Dales, in Malhamdale to be precise near the village of Airton. The hotel was Newfield Hall, an imposing place set in typical upland farming country, surrounded by fields of cows and sheep. It was built in the middle of the 1800s, and included, as was normal for the time, some arbitrary stone wall decorations and a self-satisfied lion standing guard on the stone fence.

After a good breakfast on Monday morning three groups set out directly from the hotel for a stroll around the area. The one I was in headed along roads to the nearest village of Airton, after which we spread out across typical pastureland to the slightly larger village of Kirkby Malham, in which there is the principal church of the region, St Michael's, known as the Cathedral of the Dales. In the graveyard is a unique watery grave. A small stream runs through the centre of the plot in which Col John Harrison and his wife Helen are buried, The story is that as John was so often away abroad, they spent more time spearated by water than together. She therefore wished that they were to be also separated in death by this stream. When she died, she was buried on the south side of the stream. He died about ten years later. However, when they tried to dig his grave on the north side, they found impenetrable rock, so they pout him in with her after all.

The country is good sheep country, and the breed we saw most frequently was the Swaledale. Both sexes sport horns, but those on the tups curl more.

The rock structure in the area is an excellent example of limestone caves. Whereas in hotter countries it shows as dry karst, in the cooler damper climate of Northern England, it is covered in grass. On the way back from Malham to Airton, we passed the traditional source of the river Aire at Airehead, where it flows rapidly out of an underground cavern.

Tuesday started with a coach trip to Settle, from where we set off to see more of the streams of the region. The first notable one was when we stopped for lunch at Stainforth Force. The bridge in the background is an old pack horse bridge, built over the wide fordable river. Later we got to the top of Catrigg Force, where the water falls 20 metres in two stages.

Victoria Cave is one of the larger in the district, with a long geological and human history. The trip back was uneventful.

The following day I went to see Fountains Abbey, a place I had not seen before. The name probably comes from the number of natural springs in the valley. The story starts in 1132 when a group of 13 monks at York wanted to return to the simple way of life. They were given the land on the river Skell and with help from France, had built their first abbey by 1135 in wood. In the next 400 years, it became a very powerful enterprise based on wool and wheat, until Henry VIII stripped it of its wealth and left it to decay, the stones being used to build local houses, like the present Fountains Hall, a curiously slightly asymmetrical building. Inside the hall, only three rooms are open, but include a pear-wood carving over the fireplace.

Looking at the nave of the abbey itself shows how impressive it must have been at the height of its power. You can see from the aisles that it has been modified over time; the main aisle arches are rounded, but the one at the end was added later in the Gothic style. The main tower was never completed, but was not torn down like the rest of it was.

The foodstores and refectory were built out over the river Skell. The river was important as it was the source of the power for the mill, which was kept operating continuously until 1927, nearly 800 years. Of course, it changed what it did, from grinding to grain, spinning wool, sawing wood to generating electricity.

Next to the abbey is Studley Park, the home of John Aislabie in the early 1700s, when he started work on sculpting the whole of the Skell valley to make views of the abbey, and lay out the park. But it was not until 1767 that his son William succeeded in buying the abbey itself. Then the views could be appreciated from the hills on the land. The family also built some odd items like this Octagon Tower, and created the Moon Lakes and sculptures.

A Chinese garden had been planned along a valley, but it was never completed. However, seven bridges were built over a dry bed that fills with water only when the Skell floods. One can go through the gate for a two mile walk. On the way there are views across to Ripon and its cathedral. Back in Studley Park, a sweet chestnut tree (Castanea sativa) shows its corkscrew-like bark.

I returned to the gardens, past the lakes, again, and on to the Abbey. Scattered around the park are a number of notices describing some piece of history that is now lost, like this notice, and the place it refers to. Another mystery surrounds the memorial to Major General James Wolfe in an area named Quebec, but why is it there? Answers to the National Trust.

A few miles away is an area of extraordinary shapes, naturally formed by ice and wind, at Brimham Rocks. Most are pillars, but there can be narrow gaps between them. Some have holes through them. From the top you can see a general view of the whole area, and by the car park is the obligatory notice describing the geological history.

On Thursday, we all set out by coach to Clapham (no, not the one in London, the one in Yorkshire near Settle) to see one of the wonders of the district. The walk soon left the village behind and we saw yet another packhorse bridge, and up a defile to the open land above. About noon, we arrived at Gaping Gill, where a stream drops 110 metres into a hole in the ground. We did not climb down.

As we were finishing lunch, the weather began to deteriorate and a cold wind got up, but considering the reputation of the area, we had been fortunate so far. We did not waste much time, and set off for Crummack Dale, where the limestone pavement is visible in the flat tops at the head of the valley. But the more interesting feature is further down where there are large number of so-called erratic boulders, the Norber erratics. These are older darker large Silurian sandstone that have been moved by ice onto younger lighter limestone. Some have been left in delicate positions.

At the end of the walk we approached Clapham through two tunnels that were built by the Ingleborough family so that they could not see the peasants as they went to and fro.

Back at the hotel, if you wanted to know what the weather was like, this is how you do it.

We used the same coach driver for all the visits, and he was always smartly dressed in tie and waistcoat, and the following day he took us to Malham to start our walk. It began over a clapper bridge, that is one made of large flat stones set on pillars. The next stop was at a log into which had been pressed a large number of coins. As this was close to Janet's Foss, and Janet (or jennet) was the queen of the fairies, we suppose the coins are the equivalent of throwing them into a fountain or well. We continued up the valley to Gordale Scar, but then retreated a little way to go up to Malham Tarn, where we sheltered in the lee of a wall for lunch.

The weather was changing, but there was time to contemplate the stream that disappears. It flows out of the tarn, and then drops into numerous small holes in the limestone coming out at Airehead, which we had seen earlier in the week. We passed belted Galloways as we dropped back into Malhamdale, and then up to Malham Cove, an 80 metre high cliff.

Before I left the region on Saturday, I visited East Riddlesden Hall, a small manor with lots of history, but unfortunately almost nothing of the original furnishings or fittings. The lake in front is largely natural with a stream flowing through it. There was some detail in the masonry, and the garden added colour. Then down the M6 home.

Andy Pepperdine


Creative Commons License

Wandering in the Yorkshire Dales, and all the linked pictures, by Andy Pepperdine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.