A wander in the Washburn valley – and a diversion to a New York branch library

Starting round Swinsty reservoir.  It's not raining yet......
Starting round Swinsty reservoir. It’s not raining yet……

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.

An umbrella or two: the ideal accessory for an English walk.
An umbrella or two: the ideal accessory for an English walk.

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.

The Robinson Library, Timble. (Wikimedia Commons)
The Robinson Library, Timble. (Wikimedia Commons)

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.

16 thoughts on “A wander in the Washburn valley – and a diversion to a New York branch library”

  1. The trustees of the Robinson Library hold a fundraising fête every summer and I have in the past provided them with lots of books! This year I haven’t heard from them but it’s reminded me to get in touch with them.


  2. Very atmospheric photos. I have always found reservoirs to be very melancholy places whatever the weather and also slightly disturbing. However I’m happy to use the water!


  3. Such an interesting post! The idea of those drowned villages in reservoirs is very evocative, like the idea of Atlantis. Do divers explore in the reservoirs? And the story about Gill and Timble is interesting, too–so many connections between our countries!


    1. Yes, I loved the American connection too. But diving the reservoirs? I don’t think so actually. The drowning of these communities were planned and sorted out before it actually happened, so I don’t think too much of any interest has been left behind. I don’t know if they were razed to the ground or quite simply submerged as they were. Interesting thought.


  4. Isn’t there an adage along the lines of ‘no such thing as a bad walk just bad clothes’? The weather certainly didn’t stop you taking some lovely photographs.

    Rutland Water – a large reservoir not far from us – is one of the largest in the UK and flooded a few villages in it’s construction. Normanton Church still remains at the very edge, part flooded, as a reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right about the adage, but I’m no foul-weather walker. Not that Wednesday was foul. I’ve only visited Rutland Water once, and loved it. I don’t remember seeing the church though.


  5. As always, lovely photos. I vicariously enjoy your walks. I have begun to wonder about what we save and what we value as a culture. Americans are not very careful with our history and will bulldoze and build over almost anything, if they can. Perhaps that is what happened to the villages beneath the water, lost their value and then were covered over. Mr. Robinson was a careful man who understood what it meant to give back and serve, almost as if it were a ‘pay it forward.’ Sadly the generation that came after him didn’t understand their duty, or purpose. It’s lesson to heed. Have a wonderful week. I am going to do my best!


    1. I’m afraid village-drowning happened in much of Europe as the demand for water in towns became insatiable. They tended to be small communities of significance only to those who lived in them: but they happened to be in ideal places to create reservoirs. Here in England this week, reservoirs don’t seem entirely necessary. It’s not going to stop raining anytime soon. But I plan to have a good week anyway, as I hope you will.

      Liked by 1 person

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