Reservoirs. If you live in the city, you’ll be dependent on one, almost certainly. Every time you turn on the tap, the water that come gushing out will have started out in some far-flung and distinctly rural part of the area.
These days, reservoirs aren’t just – er – reservoirs. They’re playgrounds for all of us – walkers, dog-walkers, fisherfolk, bird-watchers and naturalists of all kinds. They’re protected and protective habitats for all kinds of wild creatures. And in their watery depths, they conceal their history. Those reservoirs built between the 1860s and 1960s conceal drowned ancient villages, mills, factories, farms and country estates, leaving almost no trace behind. It’s hard to believe that the 4 reservoirs of rural Nidderdale hide a once-industrial area, where iron smelting, woollen fulling (a process something like felting) and flax-making took place, and where, in the early 19th century, the demand for labour was so acute that pauper children as young as nine were recruited from London to keep the factories working.
We Ripon Ramblers went off yesterday to walk a figure of 8. Park at Swinsty Reservoir, walk all the way round adjacent Fewston Reservoir, back to Swinsty again and walk round there. You can see from the pictures that the early promise of the day was not maintained. It rained and showered a lot. But rain and showers make for picturesque views.
Oh, and at the end, we took a small diversion to visit the old and picturesque village of Timble. It may seem like many a charming Yorkshire village, but it has a bit of extra history on the side, in the form of the Robinson Library. This building was the gift of Robinson Gill of New York, in 1892. He’d left Yorkshire in 1851 for America to seek his fortune. He found it: he had two successful stone yards on the Hudson River and was president of two New York banks.
His ancestors were prosperous yeoman who had lived in nearby Swinsty Hall, and he himself had been born and raised in Timble. From his adopted home in the States he arranged an endowment of £2000 to pay for a teacher for the school and for the upkeep of the building, and laid out £100 for books. The library provided the villagers with not only a library, but a free school, a Sunday school, a social centre and a reading room. The endowment failed with Robinson’s death: his descendents weren’t as astute about money as he had been, so the library fell on hard times for a while. The children now travel elsewhere for their schooling – after all, the village only has 100 inhabitants – but a recent programme to restore and re-invigorate the building means it is once more an active social centre for the community and beyond.
So, dear American readers, come and discover the area for yourselves, with its unexpected link to your part of the world. You could stay at the Timble Inn, an 18th century coaching inn, and then discover not only those reservoirs and their hidden history, but the towns, villages, dales and moorland of Nidderdale. You’ll be glad you did.