Walking Leyburn Shawl

One of the finest paths in Yorkshire runs along the two-mile limestone terrace of Leyburn Shawl, which offers such fine views up through Wensleydale. We walked its length again this week, on a beautiful day in this very wet June, starting from the town of Leyburn.

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On Leyburn Shawl

Legend relates that Mary, Queen of Scots, escaping from captivity in Bolton Castle, dropped her shawl along the way, giving this long hillside its name. That’s not actually true. Shawl is almost certainly a corruption of an old English word meaning Settlement. Whatever its origins it is a stunning vantage point, and the flowers were quite wonderful as we followed the path through woodlands and outbreaks of limestone.

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Wensleydale

The views are truly magnificent and the path divine. The first part of the Shawl, nearest to Leyburn,  was laid out as a promenade, with seats and shelters in 1841. A gala, known as the Leyburn Shawl Annual Festival was held there, attracting over two thousand folk in 1844.

The local newspaper remarked that the visitors were people “of the highest respectability.” That might seem like a throwaway remark by a local journalist, but let’s not forget that the 1840s were a particularly lawless decade, with a considerable amount of justified political agitation.

In the following years, grottos were provided for visitors, and annual tea parties were held.

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A path properly restored

There were no crowds as we walked the Shawl, just a few ramblers and dog-walkers. Towards the end of the Shawl, the path dips down to the fields below towards Tullis Cote. So pleased to see here that a good farmer has properly restored the public footpath after ploughing, an excellent example to others.

Tullis Cote is a scattering of houses, but the lower slopes are dominated by the ruins of the Preston Smelt Mill – a reminder of the lead mining that was once prevalent in this dale. Centuries ago, lead was smelted around here to provide the roof for nearby Jervaulx Abbey (see blogs passim). Now the industry has gone, following a great flourish during the Industrial Revolution, but the echoes of that hard-working past are there – at Tullis Cote and other places.

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Preston Smelt Mill

We crossed the railway line and the main road through the dale, and followed a long path through Wensley Park, where we took the driveway leading between the village of Wensley and Bolton Hall, built in 1678 by the Marquis of Winchester, who married the daughter of Lord Scrope – whose family had held these lands since medieval times.

Wensley itself is now a tiny village, but was much more important centuries ago, being the principal market town of the dale. Granted its charter in 1306 by Edward I folk would have used the paths we now walk on market days. However, a disastrous plague struck in 1563. The place never recovered and its decline led to new markets and the growth of population in the nearby towns of Leyburn and Hawes.

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Wensley Church

The great joy of Wensley is its parish church, one of the most interesting in England, so historically stunning that I’m going to devote my next blog to it. There’s just too much to say here. It’s not used for regular worship, but is maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust. If you love our old churches, put it on your “to visit” list.

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The Gateway to Bolton Hall

Interestingly, Wensley gives a name to this entire dale, despite being situated at its foot, and despite the fact that the river is the Ure or Yore. Some still call it Yoredale or Uredale, and quite properly too.

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Sundial at Wensley Church

We followed Low Lane, a quiet lane that runs alongside the river, making our way up the Low Wood Lane track back into Leyburn – the town that grew because of the plague wiping out much of the population of the once important market town of Wensley.

 

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Turnpikes, Toll Gates, Fly Agaric, the South Tyne and the Pennine Way

There was a wonderful cloud inversion as we drove up Hartside on the way to Garrigill, for a walk along the Pennine Way and the South Tyne Trail. One of the best we’ve seen for a long time, hiding the levels of the Eden and the Solway. The high Pennines around were high above the clouds, a hard frost giving a ‘first taste of winter’ look to this wild northern countryside.

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Garrigill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The road to Alston has one of the steepest climbs in the country as it ascends to Hartside – the once familiar cafe now a sad ruin after a recent fire. Interestingly, it was turnpiked in the 18th century at the expense of the Commissioners of Greenwich Hospital in London, mostly because they owned a lot of moorland around Alston.

Turnpikes were effectively toll roads, built at the expense of private companies. I suppose, given that there was no real income tax at the time, it was the only way roads could be funded. Companies did it for profit, of course.

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On the South Tyne (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The snag was that people had to pay for travel, no matter how poor they may be. Some rich travellers didn’t like to pay either. It wasn’t unknown for wealthy gents to leap the toll gates on their horses. George Templar of Stover, Devon, made rather a habit of it.

But in a round about way, the creation of toll roads might have preserved some of our old ways, our ancient tracks which are now rights of way. Cunning travellers, seeking ways to avoid paying at the tollhouses, would seek out any useful untolled track that took them in the right direction. Hence, old stretches of road, footpaths and bridleways gained a new and surreptitious use.

We had intended beginning our walk from Alston, but they were resurfacing the road through. Instead, we started from Garrigill, so familiar to walkers of the Pennine Way, who come down tired and thirsty from the wilderness around Cross Fell.

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Fly Agaric (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Garrigill a pretty little village, one of the remotest in England. It was once named Gerard’s Gill. During the productive years of the lead-mining industry over a thousand people lived in Garrigill. It has shrunk by several hundred since.

We followed the Pennine Way along the South Tyne, which also bears the route of the South Tyne Trail. A pretty walk this, along a particularly beautiful stretch of river. The autumn colours were at their best, and it was pleasing to see a considerable amount of fly agaric – associated so much with fairies and witchcraft. It’s a powerful hallucinegenic and dangerous. Witches, they say, used to make their flying ointment from it. We hadn’t seen any for a long time. It gets its name by its ability to attract flies, of course.

Above the path are several farms bearing the name Skydes, High, Middle and Low – interesting name, perhaps Norse? There’s a Danish word which is similar, meaning fire or fusillade or shooting. If anyone has a definite explanation of the word please let me know…

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The Old Quaker Meeting House in Alston, dating back to 1732 (c) John Bainbridge 2018

I never walk the Pennine Way without thinking of the many people who have walked it – not least Tom Stephenson who created it – I met him once a long time ago – and Wainwright, who wrote a guidebook, but didn’t like the trail very much.

Whatever your views, this stretch is a delight, wooded riverbank and surrounding high moorland.

We came out in Alston, the highest market town in England (though the folk of Buxton would dispute that claim) – a nightmare on this day as they were tarring the main road through. A pleasant place, which has been used for films and television. It was used in a recent production of Oliver Twist – appropriately for Charles Dickens visited the town in 1838 while researching his next novel Nicholas Nickleby.

Like Garrigill, it was a boom town in lead mining days. Silver was mined here too, the ore often being sent down for minting in Carlisle. Its market dates back to 1154.

Seeking a slight alternative back we took the well-established track to Nattrass Gill, passing through Annat Walls farm – where an old farmhouse has become a barn. Wonderful, these old buildings. So little changed. You could easily film a period drama in any one of them.

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Nattrass Gill (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Nattrass Gill is a waterfall running through a wooded ravine, crossed by a narrow footbridge. It was a scenic spot beloved by Victorian tourists, though there were fewer trees in those days. The stone steps were put in to facilitate their access. A pretty spot, rather dramatic. Were in nearer the roads it would be thronged by modern-day tourists. Pleasant that you have to walk if you want to see it.

From Bleagate Farm – it gets a mention in documents dating back to the 1300s – we were retracing our steps of the morning, along the South Tyne back to Garrigill. The frost of the morning had lifted and there was bright sunshine, adding a delight to the autumn colours.

 

Pennine Leadmining Tracks to Great Rundale Tarn

Industry has brought its own tracks to our countryside. Many of the paths we follow today were created or adapted by those who worked the land in various ways, not least mining.DSCF0642

The Pennines have been worked for lead since at least Roman times, though there was a great spurt of activity in the Victorian age. A hard life it was too for those miners, dreadful hard work in appalling conditions. The pay was poor. Many of the miners died young.

I have mining ancestors, though they mined coal. They didn’t live very long, so I have considerable sympathy for the lead miners who worked in such a hard environment as the high hills of the Pennines.DSCF0640

We walked from Dufton up to Great Rundale Tarn in the hope of seeing the heather out, but it was long past its best – the long winter and the early summer heatwave seems to have interfered with the country calendar around here.

We’d last come this way in the winter, when the snow was still clinging to the Pennine hills. Re-walking a route in all seasons gives a good idea of what life might have been like for the men and women who lived and worked these hills in times past.DSCF0626

The track from Dufton runs past Pusgill, around Dufton Pike before making a steady ascent up through what is a land of dereliction, where the old lead mines would have been. Here are the adits, the remnants of shafts, the ruins of stone huts, the great rocky slopes of waste. The track itself along which men would have walked out from Dufton to face many hours of hard labour, until they could return to the comfort of their beds.

Mine workers never got rich from their toils in the Pennines (or elsewhere) – the fruits of their labours went into the pockets of the mine-owners and shareholders. Not a lot’s changed really!VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

There were a few grouse about as we came above the mining valley to the shooting box, which stands isolated on the edge of the Pennines plateau. But not as many as we saw in the winter, when we came across the blackcock. The wilderness – surely the last great wilderness in England – goes for many miles to the north-east, where the Tee, Tyne and Wear begin their journeys to the North Sea.

Great Rundale Tarn, with its little unamed neighbour stood cold and bleak on the top of the hill. The kind of mere where Grendel might have crept from in Beowulf. Not a place of beauty, more a little lake of nightmare, devoid of birdlife or much else. Worth looking at, though I preferred it on our winter walk when its waters were iced over.DSCF0633

We came back over White Rake and Cow Band, where there’s a lot more evidence of mining, including a hush – where miners stored water on the top of hills, releasing it in a great rush to remove the top-soil, to reveal the ore. Here too are shafts, drainage adits and the wrecks of more huts.VLUU L110, M110  / Samsung L110, M110

A grand place for good views too, clear across the Eden valley to the far hills of the Lake District.

I can find little written material about these mines, even though the industry continued until into the last century. We can only surmise what happened along the Great Rundale Beck from what we know about Pennine lead-mining generally.

A lovely day, but you leave the place thanking your lucky stars you weren’t forced to work the day through, and possibly the night as well, as a lead-miner.

Text and pictures (c) J. and A. Bainbridge

A Lead Miners’ Track in the Pennines

In between our two recent bouts of snow, we walked up from the village of Dufton to reach the edge of the Pennine plateau and Great Rundale Tarn. There were still some patches of snow and it was bitterly cold.

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A Worked Landscape (c) John Bainbridge 2018

What’s interesting about this walk, is that the track up to the edge of the fells and the tarn probably didn’t exist a couple of centuries ago. The path is a relic of the lead-mining which took place here from the nineteenth-century until the early years of the twentieth.

This is still a walk with some industrial dereliction, though nature has healed the wounds considerably. Now the lead mines are deserted, though you can still see the shafts, adits, associate buildings and pathways. A strange, haunted landscape – once a place of noise and bustle, but now the only noise is the breeze, the warning shouts of the grouse and the witterings of moorland birds.

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Where the Miners Worked (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It’s as wild a location as you might find anywhere in England.

Dufton’s an attractive moorland village – the poet W.H. Auden adored it. But it owed much of its prosperity to the activities of the London Lead Company, who worked several mines out on Dufton Fell, notably at Threlkeld Side where we were headed.

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Dereliction (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Compared to the nearby Lake District, these fells are particularly quiet – even at weekends you see few walkers.

The track made by the miners makes this approach to the North Pennines very easy – a simple ramble out and back. We climbed gradually up to the snowline, round to the east of Dufton Pike and then up the now quiet Thelkeld Side, above the Great Rundale Beck.

Geologically, the valley’s very similar to the more famous High Cup Nick, though not quite as dramatic. And as we climbed higher, its purpose became clear. Here are the hushes where miners would dam back hilltop water, releasing it to remove the ground level, exposing the seam beneath. Here too are the huge spoil heaps the miners left behind and the tunnels – now very unsafe – burrowing into the hillside.

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A Frozen Great Rundale Tarn (c) John Bainbridge 2018

It must have been a harsh life, perhaps not so bad underground where the temperatures are constant, but freezing out on the open fellside. There were great patches of snow and a wide vista of the distant white Lakeland hills. In the distance we were seeing the same landscapes that the miners saw. Only the ground immediately around would have been different.

Look at the Ordnance Survey map and see how mining has left its marks on the hills. So many shafts forced into these wet and boggy fells. Early miners worked hard, long and dangerous hours.  Only the bosses got rich, not the men who did the work. The lifespan of a Victorian miner was notoriously short. Some of my own coal-mining ancestors in the Black Country barely got past forty.

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The Miner’s Track and Dufton Pike (c) John Bainbridge 2018

Then, above the mines, the valley narrows and becomes shallower, but the track goes on a few hundred yards. We emerged from the great chasm, deep in shadow and caught the winter sun for the first time since Dufton – the industry left behind and the broken peat hags of the high Pennines in front of us. Miles of wild countryside and trackless hard going across the plateau, all the way to lonely Meldon Hill – one of the most isolated summits in England – and then Cow Green and Teesdale.

You can see why it was considered worth the bother taking this old way beyond the mines. At the track’s end is a shooting box, and lots of grouse and blackcock. The shooters must have been grateful to the miners for giving them easy access to their blasting grounds.

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The Shooting Box (c) John Bainbridge 2018

The black peat and the heather were frozen stiff and there were greater patches of snow. There are several tarns on this level-lying high ground. Great Rundale Tarn a long white patch of ice covered in snow. Hard even to see it as water, though it must be a joy for the moorland birds in other seasons of the year. The pre-war Pennine explorer and writer Donald Boyd in his classic book Walking in the Pennines, writes of it having a sandy shore – but there was no sign of that on this frozen day.

We walked back the same way, back through the old mines and then down into warmer air as we breasted the slopes of Dufton Pike, the stone-walled enclosures already feeling like a different world from the frost-blasted grounds of Threlkeld Side.

Then, from this track lost in time, back out to Dufton, with not even a Pennine Way walker in sight. A place those Victorian miners would have recognised, even in a twenty-first century that seems so different to their hard existence.

Strange the landscapes the Old Ways take you to.

Just click on a picture to enlarge it.