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Posts Tagged ‘Wharfedale’

Looking back at photos taken during my recent sojourn in the Yorkshire Dales it struck me how much I had managed to cram in. Admittedly my nine days coincided with the Grassington Festival but all the same this is a region that can’t fail to leave a rich and positive lasting impression. Here are some images that sum up my visit.

  • Grassington

OK, technically I stayed in Threshfield a 5 minute walk over the bridge spanning the river Wharfe but Grassington served up that quaint Yorkshire charm typical to most Dales villages.

Quaint Yorkshire charm

Quaint Yorkshire charm

Don’t get me wrong it wasn’t perfect. The mobile phone reception was better in the surrounding hills then in the top half of Grassington. But that rather misses the point of this part of the world.

Dogs welcome at “The Dev”

Dogs welcome at “The Dev”

For most visitors at least it is all about getting away from the intrusions of modern life.

  • Festival

The Grassington festival offered up a broad range of high quality entertainment but despite the scale of the event it remained a wonderfully friendly and organic affair. This was in large due to local organisation and participation.

Regular free entertainment in the square

Regular free entertainment in the square

Aside from my previously described dry stone walling experience I attended a film screening in the local church presented by the vicar.

At the town hall I saw the remarkably talented Alan Barnes jazz band. Alan spent four years playing in Humph Lyttleton’s band and his star studded line-up included Alec Dankworth one of the best double bass players anywhere. Later that week at the same venue Spiers and Boden delivered an amazing folk set. I harangued Jon Spiers afterwards and he said he loved playing the gig and was less looking forward to playing Glastonbury two days later

Mr Boden I presume

Mr Boden I presume

A fringe line-up of events included the likes of Jen Armstrong & band at the Black Horse. Gutsy, bold and fun, Jen had an incredible voice and a strong presence.

A shoes-off performance from Jen Armstrong

A shoes-off performance from Jen Armstrong

  • Pubs and Beer

Speaking of pubs if like me you love old pubs then Yorkshire is indeed God’s own county. Almost every village is home to some ancient stone hostelry serving decent ale and food.

If I had to choose a favourite it might just be the incomparable Green Dragon at Hardraw. As you enter this timeless haunt it is like walking into a cave because the lights are turned out in the daytime and it is very dark inside. Then finally when your eyes adjust you are greeted by a scene from the 19th century.

OMG – the Green Dragon!

OMG – the Green Dragon!

And it’s not just the interior – there is a pungent burnt wood smell courtesy of the open fire that I can smell right now two weeks later. Then there’s the beer – anyone for the sensational Wensleydale Dark Dub Oatmeal Stout?!!! Oh, and there’s an amazing waterfall out back too.

Great pubs, great ale

Great pubs, great ale

But there are plenty of other charismatic and quirky ale houses.

Outside the Craven Arms in Appletreewick

Outside the Craven Arms in Appletreewick

One rainy day I visited the modern Copper Dragon brewery in Skipton. Another local brewery producing great beer albeit in a suburban industrial estate. Here are some of the lovely (mostly local) ales that I sampled during my stay.

  • History

My visit to Skipton was packed with memorable images, from the market lined high street to the castle, from the Craven museum to the canal-side cafes. It was refreshing to see such an untarnished centre, subtly fusing the big high street names alongside local retailers without losing the character of the place. Here are some photos I took barely 2 minutes walk from the centre

A scene from the 1950s?

A scene from the 1950s?

New meets old

New meets old

Much of the region’s past remains well-preserved. The fabulous Bolton Abbey looked a ruin from a distance but when I walked down to it there was a wedding in full swing.

Bolton Abbey

Bolton Abbey

Plenty of smaller churches of a similar age remain open in little villages around the Dales. I have no idea how they raise the funds to keep them watertight.

Stained glass window

Stained glass window

Obviously not all the old structures remain safe or habitable but they do tend to remain accessible.

New life at The Priest House in Wharfedale

New life at The Priest House in Wharfedale

  • Flora and Fauna

Not that I am a flower or wildlife expert (!) but there is so much to see (and hear) in the Dales.

Flowers – even I know this

Flowers – even I know this

More flowers. These are a different colour. I think.

More flowers. These are a different colour. I think.

I have a superb book for bird identification but I’m still not sure what these white bellied fellows are.

Turkeys?

Turkeys?

This is the chaffinch that finished off my cream tea at Bolton Abbey.

Cheeky chappy

Cheeky chappy

  • Walking

Birds were a constant welcome feature of my walks. Swallows flew in circles around my legs by the river bank approaching Malham. Curlews swooped effortlessly over the hillside fields making a mockery of my perambulatory exertions. All welcome companions on my many varied miles.

Country lane

Country lane

Over the week I no longer even noticed I was going uphill as my legs just got used to the ascents. There is plenty of easy level walking if that’s what you want, or alternatively this is good cycling country.

By wheel or foot

By wheel or foot

You still have to be cautious when out and about. I wouldn’t have wanted to be walking in this.

Low visibility in Wensleydale

Low visibility in Wensleydale

The visibility is a must in these parts as aside from the safety factor there is so much to see. This fallen tree for instance peppered with coins. I like to think it was a perfectly healthy tree that fell as a consequence of the amount of coins people were hammering into it.

The rising cost of travel

The rising cost of travel

It’s not just this tree that died. My boots finally gave up the ghost after 12 years of loyal service. I had planned to visit a boot shop in Grassington after one final walk but my feet were soggy thanks to my porous ragged footwear and I was too embarrassed to enter the shop in such a state.

  • Landscape

If there is one thing you expect from the Yorkshire Dales it is that perfect English landscape.

Perfect

Perfect

The scenery provides an elusive blend of severity with pastoral beauty.

Trout lake beneath Kilnsey Crag

Trout lake beneath Kilnsey Crag

It is an ancient landscape still scarred by glaciers from the last ice age.

Limestone carpet

Limestone carpet

And yet mans influence upon the land feels like a natural extension of natures work

Part of the landscape

Part of the landscape

Later, when the sun sets, the low light casts the surroundings in another light altogether.

The remains of the day

The remains of the day

This week-long dalliance with a place that ought only to exist in the mind has come to an end for me.

I’ll be back

I’ll be back

And the beauty is that it’s little more than 2 hours from home. Perfect even for a weekend then. But you will want to stay longer…

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Today the sun is shining despite assurances from the MET office that I should be under a roof or in a boat. There is pretty good visibility so I head off to Kettlewell a short drive from Grassington up Wharfedale for a walk that ought to involve some good views.

Kettlewell itself is a pretty village with an old stone bridge sitting alongside a ford, should you choose to get your feet wet. The walk I have chosen is dead simple involving hillside traversal of the eastern side of the valley to Starbotton and returning along the other western hillside. The climb north out of Kettlewell along a track provides good views back over the village and the valley to the south.

View back to Kettlewell

View back to Kettlewell

This is sheep country and a farmhand drives by on a Quad bike with a collie stood eagerly on the rear. You will have to imagine the amusing image as I didn’t fire off a photo in time (story of my life). Perhaps the heavy utilisation of this track explains the good shape it is kept in.

Stairway to Starbotton

Stairway to Starbotton

Many birds can be heard but for the most part they remain elusive to the eye, with a few notable exceptions.

Where eagles dare

Where eagles dare

As I descend into the even smaller village of Starbotton I’m already looking forward to lunch & a pint at the pub – but disaster – it is closed! In fact there is no sign of life here except the clack of croquet balls from an impressively flat cottage garden across the road. My bag contains a banana, two biscuits and a bottle of water – all liberated from my B&B. It’s a lunch of sorts. Back up the other side of the valley then without much delay.

This walk is no picnic

This walk is no picnic

A picturesque bridge over the river is popular with walkers and their smug looking packed lunches but I ignore them and march upwards along a pretty walled path.

More moss than stone

More moss than stone

It’s a slippery ascent on shiny damp rocks but the views at the top are well worth it.

One day all this will be mine, HA HA HA!!!

One day all this will be mine, HA HA HA!!!

I come across an old barn that looks disused.

Who lives here?

Who lives here?

In fact it’s not, despite the lack of tennants at this time. Livestock is kept in barns like this at certain times of year. The derelict barns tend to be a lot more run down.

Beastly lodgings

Beastly lodgings

The weather continues to be kind and there are some commanding views down the valley back to Kettlewell.

Kettlewell, or is it Kabul?

Kettlewell, or is it Kabul?

Sound carries well here and I can hear farm machinery on the other side of the valley. At one point a Hawk trainer jet screams down the valley slightly beneath my elevation. There’s a lot of that sort of thing going on in this area. Presumably Afghanistan and the Yorkshire Dales will be twinned within my lifetime. Apparently Wallace And Gromit are already household names there.

Worth the wait

Worth the wait

And before long I’m back. It has been an easy and pleasant walk. There’s only one way to reflect upon it – a sublime pint of Copper Dragon Black Gold at the Lister Arms. All’s well that ends well.

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If like me you have grown up used to seeing dry stone walls zig zagging the landscape you tend to take them for granted. When I found out that there was a beginners course in Dry Stone Walling at this years Grassington Festival I was immediately curious because I had always assumed that they were naturally occurring features, presumably growing organically over a long period of time. Turns out you have to build them.

The weather holds some menace as I join my fellow students in the Yorkshire Dales National Park car park. We congregate around a mini-bus waiting to be taken to some idyllic location with a needy section of wall so it’s something of a surprise when instead we are walked 50 yards away from the car park to a section of wall that looks reasonably intact.

Waiting for the man

Waiting for the man

Our tutor – a farmer from the nearby village of Burnsall – has been building and maintaining walls for decades so this ancient craft is second nature to him. At least we hope so as he has a hangover following a heavy night out in Manchester watching Whitesnake, a band as old and weatherworn as any dry stone wall. Our first instruction is to dismantle a 20ft section of wall that has been identified as being in need of renewal. It looks fundamentally OK to me but on comparison with other sections it does seem to have succumbed to gravity in all the wrong places over time. People of a certain age know what I’m talking about.

Walls come tumbling down

Walls come tumbling down

The wall is to be taken down systematically – that is we will pile different sizes of reclaimed stone separately to simplify the rebuilding process. What starts out as a carefully considered grading process becomes a chuck-it-in-the-pile affair once we realise just how long this is going to take. As we near the bottom of the wall the stones get larger and 2 or 3 people are needed to shift the big daddies.

Like a rolling stone

Like a rolling stone

The base layer includes some massive brutes and to my surprise we are instructed to remove these despite their semi-permanent anchorage to the Yorkshire hillside. Spades are used for leverage and as one of these snaps under the strain an uncompromising metal piton is employed to jimmy up the most intransigent boulders. Except that is for one behemoth that wins the battle against our leader’s hangover and is allowed to stay.

Rock steady

Rock steady

Prior to the rebuilding process I am charged with the responsibility of straightening up the exposed ditch edges with the spade. When I suggest that an edging tool would be ideal for this our stone-hewn head-banging Dalesman casts a me a pitiful look as dark as the moors in a storm. I get to work with the spade and set aside any more middle class observations.

The principles are simple enough. You build the wall up layer by layer using the largest stones first and creating a level surface each time on which to build the next layer. You are looking for some overlap to increase strength and when your stones do not span the entire width of the wall (approx 30” at the base) you look to fill the inside gap with the low grade stones. Stability is key but cosmetics are also important.

Working on a chain gang

Working on a chain gang

The building process is slow. Apparently an experienced waller might construct a 5 foot section in a day. Next time you are casting an eye over a wall strewn landscape in the Dales or the Peak District consider the countless man-years of back-breaking effort that has gone into creating this vista. There are mitigating factors: walls may stand for 300 years without any need for further maintenance. Also consider that the stone for these walls often came from the fields-to-be that were littered with glacially deposited rock so the building process also served as a clearing process.

After a break for lunch we return to finish what we started. A length of twine each side of the wall is moved up as we progress and indicates the decreasing width that we should be aiming for.

Together in electric dreams

Together in electric dreams

Our leader is not a man of words. Occasionally he looks at a stone you have deposited and tuts. “Don’t put that one there – it’s a walling stone”. Forgive me but aren’t they ALL walling stones? Translation: That’s a nice looking stone, save it for an exposed face instead of the interior section. When questioned (and once the residue of last night has settled) he does have real expertise to impart, but only if you ask.

Dreadlock holiday

Dreadlock holiday

Sergeant peppers lonely hearts club band

Sergeant peppers lonely hearts club band

Proceedings gather pace as the wall grows. A trailer of low grade stone is towed alongside our wall by Landrover and we use this to populate the enclosed inner section of wall. I fear to ask if the addition of stone to a wall that had previously attained the required height won’t in fact result in a completed section a foot taller than the surrounding wall but after the edging tool debacle I bite my tongue.

And then we are finished. Eight of us have each spent four hours of our lives rebuilding a 20ft section of wall that seriously looks like it might just still be standing in 300 years time. Assuming hungover Dalesman doesn’t reverse the trailer into it…

I'm still standing

I'm still standing

There’s an intermediate course next Saturday that looks at wall ends, curves and sheep runs but I don’t feel the need to attend this. Or at least my arms don’t feel the need to attend this. Slave to the new keyboard generation my upper body isn’t used to this sort of thing and so it is purely as a means of warm down that I lift a few post-construction pints at “The Dev” with my fabulous fellow wallers Dave and Annie from Leeds.

Wonderwall

Wonderwall

There’s music in the square and as we chat and listen I feel a small sense of pride that at no point do we hear the distant rumble of falling rock. Three hundred years?

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I’m in the Yorkshire Dales. More precisely I’m in the large village/small town of Grassington in Wharfedale. Tonight the curtain raises on this year’s fortnight long Grassington Festival and I’m here for the first half of it. A couple of months ago I did not even realise that Grassington held a festival but the idea of a combined walking destination and arts venue appealed to me and here I am on a beautiful summers evening, threatened by a black cloud that looks down as if under orders to precipitate but lacking the heart to do so on such an anticipated occasion.

The calm before the storm?

The calm before the storm?

So what to expect? The professional website boasted of a varied but quality line-up, including music acts, film, arts, spoken word and comedy. My eye was immediately drawn to the visit of the I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue team and also folk singer Kate Rusby but these second week features were both sold out. My advance bookings have been a Dry Stone Walling course, an old black and white film a jazz band and a folk band. But tonight I want to share with you the events of opening night.

Float oddity

Float oddity

The thrust of tonight is a parade in which local schools are heavily represented. I hadn’t been sure what to expect but this was a personal and charming affair involving every generation of local people.

School's out

School's out

The kids are alright

The kids are alright

Overcome with festive spirit

Overcome with festive spirit

Never too old to dance

Never too old to dance

The parade is followed by an enthusiastically received band in the square. The local pubs are doing a good trade and the festival is clearly a boom time for local businesses.

What's cooking?

What's cooking?

As the evening proceeds people start to think about food and the quaint local chippy has a long queue stretching out of the door…

Eyes on the fries

Eyes on the fries

Princess for a day

Princess for a day

The chips are up

The chips are up

I retire to The Foresters Arms for ale and reflection and it turns out to be a great place to listen in on the locals. The ease of snooping is another great advantage of solo travel. A local couple draw me into their conversation and they tell me that most of the festival visitors come from relatively local areas. This is born out by a stroll of the local streets that reveal two B&Bs with vacancies – something of a surprise but more plausible if people are just visiting for the day.

I’m here for 9 nights. The weather forecast has pronounced 10 days of rain. Tonight’s events have reassured me that the weeks entertainment will not hinge on the weather.

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