From Bolton Castle to ancient lead mines and back

The landscape in the featured photo shows the bucolic beauty of Wensleydale, still green and welcoming at this time of year. And look! Here’s Bolton Castle, one time prison of Mary Queen of Scots: where she was obliged to stay for six months with a retinue of 30 servants, permitted to go hunting, and receive English lessons This is where we began and ended our walk last week.

Most of our hike wasn’t in such favoured countryside. We slogged up to the bleaker moorland where once lead was mined, and no farmer could make any kind of living, unless he kept sheep. Here there are no villages, no houses or farms, and few roads.

We’d hardly been going more than a mile when we came upon a shooting lodge, now set up as a resting place for the weary traveller. Here’s the view through one of the windows:

There was buffeting wind, and the smallest hint of rain, so we were glad to shelter for a few moments, and look at the view from inside, through that welcome window . But then out we went again, to the windswept landscape. It’s easy to see traces of the old lead mining industry: the grassed over spoil heaps, the ruined stone sheds, the pits where once a mine was sunk.

Lead was found here long before the Romans came. By the Middle Ages, blocks of land known as meers – roughly the size of a cricket pitch – were leased out to the miners who, if they were lucky, could find lead almost at the surface: or by running shafts below ground. The process only became industrialised, and mining companies developed in the 18th century. The last mine in the Dales closed in 1912, and for the first time in hundreds and hundreds of years, no one quarried for lead.

This is a bleak landscape, austere and unforgiving: open to winds coursing across the Dales, and to lashing rain. I love its ascetic grimness and the beauty to be found in its treeless simplicity. The time of year when the hillsides are cloaked in purple heather – August – is not to be missed. We caught the end of this glorious display.

Though our day had been one of grey skies, at the end the sun came out, as was fitting for the gentler Wensleydale landscape near Bolton Castle

Here’s a video of our twelve mile walk:

Monday Window

Author: margaret21

I'm retired and living in North Yorkshire, where I walk as often as I can, write, volunteer, and travel as often as I can.

28 thoughts on “From Bolton Castle to ancient lead mines and back”

  1. I understand your feel for bleak landscapes; your photos capture the beauty. I like the relive video too, though it made me feel rather tired just watching!

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  2. 12 miles – IMPRESSIVE. I love the photos and commentary. Much of the area around where I live is pretty urbanized. Our local county natural areas are reclaimed farms or homesteads and are kept up by the forest preserve and bound by heavily trafficked roads. The longest walk I have taken yet is half the distance you hiked but it’s in a reclaimed prairie where the preserve managers have re-routed a stream that was straightened by farmers more than a century ago and they continue to work to remove invasive species and return the land to it’s natural prairie state. Have a great week and today’s plan calls for hike through a local preserve. Peace.

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  3. What a lovely idea to have a shelter/resting point and with heather along the window too. The people in the lead mines must have suffered. I was just reading about the elaborate precautions needed to strip a little paint which has been on the walls a while.

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    1. Yes, the heather was a nice touch. But how those lead miners must have suffered. Yes, the damage caused by the lead itself, the long and arduous walk to and from work, and the dangers of the work. Tough indeed.

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