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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.