You don’t have to go very far in Yorkshire to feel remote. You don’t even have to get beyond the reach of the man-made. Those adjacent reservoirs in Nidderdale for instance, Angram and Scar House, both built to supply the City of Bradford with fresh water: Angram in the 1890s, Scar House in the 1920s. They’re off the beaten track, isolated. You’d never guess that when they were being built construction workers had their families with them on site: a shop, a place of worship, a school, all built for their use.
Now the construction workers are long gone, and their community too. Only the odd foundation stone remains. The area feels remote, reached only after a long drive down a narrow B road and one belonging to Yorkshire Water. It’s home to a rich variety of wild life. Walkers love to tramp its walking routes, relishing the emptiness, the silence, the bleak beauty of this spot.
And lo! Now they have a six-programme series in the bag, waiting to be transmitted in May and June, on …… the Nidderdale Way, all 53 miles of it. She invited me to be part of the last leg, together with Chris and John.
Let me tell you how it works. We walk. We chat. Lucy walks beside us with her muff-on-a-stick, recording little and often. Clare stops from time to time and paints evocative word pictures of the scenery, the sights, smells and sounds, the passers by. She chats to us about everything from geology, to history, to walking, to long-lost industries, to living near Nidderdale.
We see our local landscape through fresh eyes. Instead of its being the backdrop to our daily lives, it becomes vivid again, and we remember the wonder and the intense pleasure we experienced when it was new to us too.
Clare loves people. At Brimham Rocks, where we insisted she take a detour, she chatted to children with their families and took part in their photos. Later, she hung over a drystone walls and talked to a farmer. She patted dogs and enjoyed a few moments with their owners.
Just as well she’s good at this sort of thing. When we arrived at Pateley Bridge, she became a sort of stand-in for the Queen. She was whisked from shop to shop, always leaving with a little local speciality -a pork pie, some home-made fudge. With Lucy, she was given a newly-minted badge for completing the entire Nidderdale Way. They got flowers, a book by a local historian, hugs and handshakes galore, and repaid all this attention with genuine interest and friendship. Pateley Bridge by the way is in the thick of preparing for the Tour de Yorkshire 2017, which goes through the town – and past our front door – on Saturday 29th April.
A shop prepares for the Tour de Yorkshire.
Another photo opportunity in Pateley Bridge.
Please listen to this series when it comes out: it’s available as a podcast even if you don’t live in the UK. The first programme will be on BBC Radio 4 on 18th May, and the programme featuring our team will be transmitted on Thursday 22nd June. You’ll make immediate plans for a holiday in Nidderdale after you’ve listened.
Once, three hundred and twenty million years ago, a Norwegian river tumbled its way across the landmass then connecting it to Scotland and turned towards Yorkshire, pushing sand and grit before it. Over the millennia, those sands aggregated to become millstone grit.
More millennia passed. Temperatures in Northern Europe tumbled: an Ice Age. Glaciers ground and eroded the relatively soft stone which had been dumped so many centuries before. Seeping water froze, thawed, froze again, splitting the rocks. Cold strong winds buffeted away at rough edges. Those rocks assumed strange shapes, balancing improbably in the landscape.
Time moved on. Man arrived, farming too, and industry. But this little patch of Yorkshire, known as Brimham Rocks remains itself, untamable, unchanging, offering a feeling of security that some things remain constant for those of us lucky enough to live nearby this weird and fantastical playground.
It wasn’t our best walk. Chris and I set off to ‘do’ part of the Nidderdale Way on Thursday. Thursday was fine. Wednesday hadn’t been. Nor had Tuesday. There’s been an awful lot of rain lately.
Even as we started out, we realised that mud was to be our constant companion. And water, trickling along slippery, sticky oozy paths. We forded streams which according to the map simply didn’t exist. If we wanted to go onwards, we had to wade through running water, or totter across from unsteady stepping stone to unsteadier fallen branch.
It was tiring. Finding not-too-soggy resting places was challenging too. We had our sandwiches in a wood alongside what should have been a babbling brook, but was in fact a raging torrent.
And that’s when I noticed these stones – and trees. I’d expect boulders and branches like these to have a few tendrils of dry ash-grey lichen clinging to their surface. Instead they were thickly carpeted in vivid green. These specimens (and I don’t know what they are, despite a spot of Googling) were healthy, fecund and spreading very nicely thank you. It’s easy being green in such a damp, shaded and sheltered environment.
If you come for your holidays to Nidderdale in the Yorkshire Dales – and my goodness, I do recommend it – you’ll want to have an afternoon pottering around Pateley Bridge. It’s just won Britain’s Best Village High Street 2016 award.
And if you come to Pateley Bridge, you jolly well ought to visit Nidderdale Museum. Tucked behind the High Street near the Primary School and the Parish Church on the site of the former Workhouse, it’s a little treasure trove.
This little museum is entirely staffed by volunteers who cherish each donation and display as many as they possibly can in an engaging and informative way. You’ll punctuate your visit with delighted cries of ‘I remember that! My granny had one!’ Or ‘Oooh, I never knew the railway went there. I wonder where the station was?’. You’ll have an animated discussion with a fellow-visitor about being an ink-monitor at school, or about the mangle that was hauled out on washdays when you were a small child.
You’ll also see things that were not part of your own heritage, but which were an important part of Nidderdale’s past. You’ll discover that this pleasant rural area was once an industrial power-house, with textile workers by the score and lead mines dotted over the landscape. You’ll be reminded how very tough day-to-day life was on a Daleside small holding or farm.
Here’s a very quick tour:
We had a Ewbank carpet sweeper at home … and this splendid bed-warmer, simply heated by a light bulb … and a cream-maker.
A Ewbank carpet sweeper.
A 1960s Belling bed warmer. Known in our family as ‘the bomb’.
A 1960s cream maker (milk and butter required) with contemporary beakers.
We had inkwells like this at school, and I spent many painful hours in the company of copy books like these.
But look at this parlour:
And this wholly intact cobbler’s shop, transferred to the Museum in its entirety.
And here’s a glimpse of life on the farm, before labour-saving machinery came along.
We’ll be going again and again. So much to see, to reminisce over, to learn from. This engaging museum is a treasure in its own right.
My visit was one of the perks of being a National Trust volunteer. Brimham Rocks is Fountains Abbey’s nearest neighbour, and staff there organised this trip – thank you! The museum is open at weekends until mid-March, then daily during summer months.
As you travel Britain’s main roads, every few miles or so you’ll pass a convenient lay-by with a caravan, a shack, a portakabin – some less-than-permanent structure which has actually been there as long as anyone can remember. Parked outside it are lorries, vans, cars – all empty, because their drivers are in the Greasy Spoon – that’s what these huts and caravans are affectionately called.
These truckers and travellers have gone in for an all-day breakfast. The menu’s limited. All that’s on offer are various combinations of bacon, sausage, eggs – with baked beans, grilled tomatoes, grilled mushrooms or bread on the side. This is not Fine Dining. The bread served here is not artisan-crafted from some small bakery using speciality organic stone-ground flour from the mill down the road. It’s industrial strength pre-sliced pap. I doubt if the pigs used for the sausages and bacon have truffled around in the woods looking for acorns, or been fed wholesome scraps from the farm. The baked beans come in catering-size cans.
But we’ve got into the habit, when the boys stay with us, of having lunch at a particular greasy spoon near Skipton. What it lacks in finesse it makes up for by offering a really friendly welcome and rock-bottom prices. We make our order, plonk ourselves down at one of the formica tables, and relish a rib-sticking calorie-fest which will keep our stomachs lined for an afternoon of fresh air and fun at nearby Brimham Rocks. It comes under the heading of ‘Naughty but Nice.’*
*Salman Rushdie coined this advertising slogan for Fresh Cream Cakes when he was working as a copywriter back in the 1970s. Warning: Don’t Google this phrase unless you are on the look-out for sex toys or ‘adult-themed materials’. You have been warned.