A visit to Leyburn and Swaledale

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When our friends Jim and Sue  (with their elderly dog Monty) visited us  recently we took them to some of our favourite places: Tennants of Leyburn and The Garden RoomsDuncans Tearoom, Richmond, and Lower Swaledale. The wind was cold but otherwise the weather was perfect for some of the Dales views that we treated them to.

We do feel very fortunate to live in such a beautiful area where even the drive to the shops can be savoured – whether we go to Hawes or to Leyburn. I must admit that I do enjoy shopping in Leyburn. There’s a good mix of family run shops, medium sized supermarkets,  bakeries,  butchers, gift shops,  plus a variety of excellent places to eat or socialise.

As it was a Friday it was market day in Leyburn but this time we did not stop but headed for The Garden Rooms  as our friends had not seen how Tennants has developed  into a world-class centre. The multi-million pound extension which was completed in December 2014 made it it the largest auction house in Europe. It is a grand building which the Tennant family uses to promote and enhance the culture and tradition of the Yorkshire Dales. Jim and Sue were very impressed by the beautiful entrance to The Garden Rooms. As it was an auction day we decided to have a look at what was on offer before going to the cafe for coffee.

Jim, Sue and I  first browsed among the toys which conjured so many childhood memories for us oldies. Then we realised we had lost David in a world of his own for he was fascinated by a model of the famous 19th century racing clipper Lightning.

As we wandered off to admire the ceramics, jewellery, evening dresses and even fur coats David was obviously still thinking about it. In the cafe it was fascinating to watch the monitor as it displayed the rapid sale of items – 100 in an hour. That model boat wasn‘t due to be under the hammer until lunchtime and we wanted to move on. We were just leaving when David decided he would go and place a commission bid on Lightning.

Once Monty had had a chance to stretch his legs we set off back through Leyburn to Moor Road and along Whipperdale Bank. This took us past Metcalfe Farms, now famous following the TV series about its heavy haulage business.

After the crossroads Whipperdale Bank (otherwise known as Cote de Grinton during the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014) is a road which commands attention not just because of  the awkward camber and the undulations but also for the moorland scenery. When Sue asked for a place to stop so that Monty could get out we immediately suggested waiting until we passed the imposing Grinton Lodge which was built in the 19th century as a shooting lodge and has been a youth hostel since 1948. Soon afterwards we came to the junction with the road to Redmire just before Grinton where there is an ideal viewing spot with space to park several cars. Jim and Sue were duly impressed by the view across Swaledale.

Reeth warranted a longer visit but we just drove round the village green and headed for the road to Richmond as it was almost lunchtime and we wanted to eat at Duncans  Tearoom. This has become one of our favourite places to eat not least because they have the most delicious gluten, dairy and potato starch free chocolate and walnut cake. Jim and David ordered eggs benedict (David’s with smoked salmon), while Sue enjoyed a leek and potato pie and I had one of their dairy free soups.

We were thoroughly enjoying our lunch when David made a telephone call and found out he was now the very delighted owner of Lightning.

It was soon time to find somewhere for Monty to have a brief stroll so we went to Hudswell and along the moor road which leads to Downholme.  That road (Hudswell Lane) provides some of the best views in the area and there is a good interpretation board at the small car park (above). From there we could see Hutton’s Monument which marks the grave of Matthew Hutton who died in 1814 when he was 35-years-old.  He had chosen that site because as a boy he had sat there enchanted by the beauty of that “mountainous country”.

We could understand his enchantment as we gazed on a vista which was not only very beautiful but also had so much to tell about the history of the northern Yorkshire Dales. To the west we looked across How Hill to Marrick. How Hill is the site of a large Iron Age defended settlement  (univallate  hillfort) which would have provided a commanding position overlooking the access to upper Swaledale as well as the route south to the Vale of York.

The Romans mined for lead in the moors above Swaledale and Arkengarthdale but they did not leave such a lasting legacy as the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings did for today many of their place names remain. The name of the river – the Swale – has Anglo-Saxon origins meaning whirling, swirling and swallowing. An apt name for one of the fastest flowing rivers in the country with its reputation for ‘swallowing’ incautious bathers.  Marrick and Marske are Viking place names.

In the 11th and 12th centuries it was the turn of the Normans to stamp their mark on the area with large  hunting forests for the noblemen and the foundation of religious  houses. Some Benedictine nuns chose a site near Marrick in the 12th century for its beauty and solitude and Cistercian nuns founded Ellerton Abbey nearby. That solitude was often rudely shattered between the 13th and 16th century when the nunneries were attacked by Border Rievers (robbers). In 1342 Ellerton Abbey was almost destroyed by Rievers. Bands of robbers continued to attack farms and villages in Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Cumbria until the border with Scotland became settled following the coronation of James I in 1603.

The  nunneries had gone by then. The dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII led to the closure of  Ellerton Abbey in 1536 four years before the nuns at Marrick Priory were evicted. The Priory chapel was the village church until 1948  and it was then used as a hen house.In the 1970s it was converted into an outdoor education and residential centre.  Ellerton Abbey was transformed into a Regency villa in the 1830s so that it could be used as a shooting lodge. For over 200 years the heather moors have been managed to provide grouse shooting for the wealthy and providing employment for many local people.

It is said that Swaledale has 75 per cent of the world’s remaining heather moorland – a habitat which is rarer than tropical rainforest. We could see smoke rising from the controlled burning of the heather and the patchwork pattern which that produces as well as the butts where shooters wait for the grouse to be driven overhead between August 12 and December 10 each year. The new growth provides the green, juicy shoots that the grouse love to feed on. It is argued that the management of the heather moors which includes predator control has led to the retention of so many curlews, lapwings, redshanks and some other ground nesting birds. It is always a delight in the spring to hear the curlews and lapwings calling as they return to nest among the heather.

Human management has stamped its mark on the Dales. The view so many people associate with Swaledale with its picturesque stone barns and small green fields enclosed by dry stone walls was created by the families who have farmed there for many centuries.

It was not just the heather moorland and the green swathe that surrounds the Swale which caught our attention but also the signs that this was once a heavily industrialised area. On Marrick and Marske Moors there are disused quarries and lead mines with the remains of smelt mills and soil heaps. When it was no longer commercially viable to mine for  lead in the area there was a mass exodus in the 19th centuries which is why there are so many in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada today who are descended from Dales folk.

Sadly today Swaledale is an example of a new exodus as so many houses have become holiday lets or second homes. This has led to the villages becoming denuded of young families – the life blood of any community –  as they can’t afford the high prices that those coming from the cities and suburbs can pay. I can’t help thinking that the National Park’s drive to bring in more tourists might well backfire as more local young people are driven out.

In Downholme, the next village we passed through, has become a prime location because it has changed so little since the 1930s when the MoD began buying all the houses there. The MoD didn’t start selling the houses on the open market until the late 20th century. The Bolton Arms pub was the last to be sold – in 2013. Downholme is now a conservation area to protect the local vernacular style of the majority of the buildings which were built in the mid 19th century.

We travelled on hoping to reach The Garden Rooms in time to collect Lightning. The A6108 took us past the very distinctive Walburn Hall which dates back to the 15th century when it was fortified against the attacks of Border Rievers.  On the land around this working farm there are many humps and bumps – all that remains of a village which thrived there in Norman times.

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At Tennants we parked among many others who were collecting their newly acquired wares. David soon appeared proudly carrying Lightning.  The next problem was getting it safely into the car as it was  55 inches long  (140cm), 18 inches (46cm) wide and 35 inches (90cm) from the stand to the top of the main mast (above). Monty usually filled most of the boot. Thankfully he accepted being gently pushed to one side and a passenger seats was laid flat. Sue and I squeezed into the remaining passenger space and tried to keep the boat from rocking as Jim drove carefully back to Aysgarth.

Once Lightning was safely tucked away in the conservatory we could relax around a warm fire and enjoy some excellent cheese from the Wensleydale Creamery for light supper.

Epilogue

David and I returned to The Garden Rooms a few days later and had lunch in the cafe. I was delighted to find that there was no cow’s milk in the battered cod and even more so when the catering staff substituted baby root vegetables for chips. David was equally delighted with his beetroot and feta tart.

We certainly didn’t try to have a meal there on Saturday December 9 when the cafe was full to overflowing during the superb Christmas Fair. It is now attracting coach loads of visitors as well as many local people enjoying a day out. That was not surprising because there was a great variety of wares for sale with some stallholders having travelled miles to participate. My friend Rita Cloughton hadn’t  had so far to travel with her delightful  home-made crafts and was doing very brisk business.

For me the biggest surprise was finding mouth-watering Christmas puddings that I could eat thanks to Burtree Puddings. It is often very frustrating having so many severe food intolerances – but what a pleasure it is when I find something so good that I can eat.

Below: David’s new hobby is restoring Lightning.

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