The Wild Borderland Of Richmondshire
by Edmund Bogg (1909)
[Partial content relating to Upper Swaledale only]

CHAPTER V.  [pages 89-106]



THE dissyllable of this place-name springs from the Norse 'Gunnr,' which means battle or strife, adopted as a proper name. Gunner is one of the great heroes described in the Scandinavian Sagas ; and in his personality as in that of all the Norwegian heroes, we find all that courage, manliness and defiance of death can bestow upon a mortal.

The village itself, stern and weather beaten in aspect, partakes of the character and appearance of some cleveland sea village resting, or rather hanging, like a cornice of stone on to the lower tiers or frontage of the beetling fells, almost as if thrown there at random, at a point where the valley of the Swale narrows considerably, and where a beck brawls, and in storm-times leaps and rushes down a romantic gorge of stern ruggedness, fed and incited to violence by the numerous streams which issue from the south and east sides of Rogan's Seat and Water Crag, and, joining forces, is a furious rapid all the way. On the south of the village the Swale passes beneath Gunner brig, and lashes the scarp, which here rises precipitously. The bridge is a strong structure of two arches, built some dozen years ago to replace one swept away by "the great flood" of January, 1890. The rush and power of the Swale in spate is here tremendous ; at times it will sweep away every obstacle, rolling ton-weight boulders as if marbles, and dumping on the land along its bank with thousands of tons weight of debris. The fall of the Swale from Keld to Richmond averages 34 feet per mile.


Yet a charming village is this - a stronghold as characteristic of the fell-land in which it is set as the old Scanian hero Gunner, whose cognomen it bears; north and west of it the huge green side or grey-brown fell slope rise like the flanks of some Titanic animal upwards and backwards to Blakethwaite and Ivelet (that means forked) beck, an upland of outlandish beauty, strangely impressive.

Gunnerside, looking West - Owen Bowen
Gunnerside, looking West        [Owen Bowen

Yes! 'Gunner's-side' is characteristic, gaunt, grey, grim, hard-featured, but a place of old time that grows upon one. The grey walls, grey as the hill crags rising above them, crest after crest, tier upon tier, with green-grey slopes intervening, are set at every angle along the stream bank and higher up on terraces, or let in as it were into the upsweeping fell slopes. As yet the place


has escaped the hasty hand of the modern jerry-builder, who would plant inartistic incongruous brick buildings on the ruins of Pompeii or Babylon itself.

No! Gunnerside is as yet unaltered, unspoilt, in the primitive beauty that is all its own. The beck bridge, with the village grouped about it, is the hub or pivot of the scene, the gossip ground where the dalesfolk gather and linger makes a complete picture, and one full of light when the sunshine is upon it, as full of awful warning and threat when the skies are "of lead" with the hills, and the north-wester winds its horn of wail or requiem, or the ruder blasts of Boreas shoot sheets of hail across it. The picture is eloquent too, if one of human kind is, peradventure, in it: a shepherd home-driving his flock of 'yowes' through the street; or an old dalesman leaning heavily on his stick against the wind, after four score years experience of it, here, 'early and late,' as they say (though what would be late for him would be early enough in the towns of the busy plain) in "Owd Gang"; or, yet again, a lad of sturdy youth astride a rough-coated galloway driving cows to pasture, or a bowed-figure with a can of milk strapped upon his shoulders. Such vignettes always give finish and add the touch of human interest to the scenes

Here are two inns - the "Miners' Arms" and the "King's Head," which should perhaps have been mentioned first, as it is long established, and quite a noted 'house of call' by reason of the kind-hearted landlady, Mrs. Shaw, who is an excellent hostess and caterer. Apart from the licensed premises she has other accommodation at Troutbeck House. Many notable people have stayed at the "King's Head," and Mrs. Shaw is one of the characters in Beatrice Harraden's story of The Fowler. In by-gone times at the east end of the bridge a chain barred the way between Lodge green on the east of the stream, and Gunnerside on


the west. The local version has it, that from the fact of sportsmen passing over it of necessity, with their guns, on to the 'side' where the deer roamed, the name of Gunner's-side came into use: the north of Swale west of the village being the side of the gunners. This bit of etymology may be taken for what it is worth

George Reynoldson, one of the "Old Gang"Miners - Ernest Forbes
George Reynoldson,
one of the "Old Gang" Miners
  [Ernest Forbes

Among the 'originals' who now live only in the memories of the old, is Awd Deborah Metcalf, and Awd Helkanah the coal dealer, who kept donkeys (pack-beasts) to carry coal from Tan


Hill to the dale villages; and whose custom it was to blow a mighty blast on his horn to apprise the far-apart farm-folk and 'gaarders' (gaard is still Norse for a farm dwelling) of the villages of his approach. Another interesting 'old habitant' is George Reynoldson, now in his 83rd year, who began work at the age of ten as a miner at "T'awd Gang" mine, wherein he toiled for 63 years. George was summoned to London as a witness in regard to certain Shooting Rights - an action between the Lord of the Manor and the Broderick family, yeomen of Spring End and Summer Lodge. If we remember rightly, the trial ended in favour of the Lord of the Manor, although the Brad-rykes (Brodericks) lineage in the dale dated from, if not before, the Conquest. Another ancient witness was Jimmy Calvert, whose age was 90 years. To some question put by the judge to Reynoldson, anent shooting, he is said to have answered, "Yer honour, it isn't shutting noo-a-days, its on'y modder (murder)! When ah wer a lad, gentlemen used to shut ower points (pointer-dogs) - that's wat a' call spoort. Nooa-days, t'gents hire men to draave birds tit guns, which is nowt at all but modder." George clearly proved a tough nut for the London barristers to crack- "no gowk, but real Swaddle." During his cross-examination he replied, hand to ear, "A's varry deaf - ye mun speak up - ah ave already said all at ah noo t' t'other side, an' ye heeard it all, an' a've nowt else to tell ye." To the writer's question, "And what did you think of London?" he made answer, "Ah reckon nowt at all aboot Lunnon - they're onny pup-heeads there; it's a faane place eneaf, bud theer's sadly too mich sparkling abaat. Kristle Pallace is a faane place, an' might dea (do) well eneaf. There was lots a portraits of kings and queens" which seems to have pleased the old fellow mightily; but "the finest place on earth" to George's thinking is Melbecks Moor and T'owd Gang Mines!


Yet another figure of pathetic interest was that of Sarah (the Angel of the Inn), whose mental vision, sad to say, had become wholly impaired. A pitiful sight, indeed, giving pause to all levity from the forceful way in which it pointed the human and

The Angel of Gunnerside - Ernest Forbes
The Angel of Gunnerside [Ernest Forbes

divine connexion linking body to soul. The beauteous habitation was there without its holy tenant. Her wondrously striking "raven's-wing" locks, her glossy and long black hair, her darkly liquid almost luminous eyes, without the vital spark of understanding, contrasted with a face whose skin was of ivory delicacy,


made up a picture of sweet, too sweet, docility over which one might fancy a fairy angel typifying Womanhood weeping, since naught but an infinite pity might be felt for the fair blighted bud. On our first visit - and indeed at subsequent ones - we were strangely impressed by that "vacant chair" of feminity. It was night when we entered the old inn, where the huge banked-up fire allowed deep Rembrandtish shadows to be cast by intervening furniture, and we were barely seated before our attention was rivetted by poor Sarah sitting idly, hands on lap, in meekest pose. She appeared to live in a beautiful spiritual world of which we common mortals could have no conception. Then, suddenly, yet without violence, she would seem to arouse herself from reverie, and commence weaving with her hands and a graceful curve of arms a skein of wondrous imaginary threads: such a pose and play in dumb show as not even the greatest of actors could emulate, such delicacy and grace of movement was there! The ethereal loveliness of the poor girl's face, her shining lights of eyes that yet shot forth no message beam; her intricate waving of hands, has not even yet been erased from the writer's memory, though difficult to convey in words. But our attention was suddenly taken from her wonderful shadow play of the invisible skein, and brought back to the work-a-day world by the kind voice of Esther, good woman, conveying the welcome intelligence that our "Supper was laid in the parlour" awaiting that justice being done to it which is the best compliment to pay a good meal.


GUNNERSIDE GILL is an interesting feature of this rock-bound village. We are looking from the bridge on this bright spring morning, listening to the warble of the peat-dyed water laving the rocks and uttering its untutored chant of unfettered existence. On the west bank of the beck is the far-spreading green side,


where children dot the sunlit slope in parti-coloured skirts a-scamper with a like unfettered joy of young life. On the east bank, just up the grey walls and moss-tinted flag roofs, end to side and in divers lines; here and there a human figure to enhance the life of the picture. Further up the zig-zagged ravine we note the broad channel of the beck strewn with water-worn boulders, telling its tale of tempestuous chutes in seasons of storm; even

A Noted Cobbler - Ernest Forbes
A Noted Cobbler     [Ernest Forbes

now the beck brawls and frets in chains of grooves and runnels of diverse widths. The gillsides are steep and a glorious golden green in the sunlight-bushes shew as purple patches, hollies glisten darkly, the lambs' tails of the hazel hang from their twigs a pale glistening gold, the 'palms' of the saugh bushes too, gleam yellowly, and the stems of the whitethorn are crusted with silvery grey lichens. There is infinite variety in colour form and details throughout the enamelled rocks and the grey screes laid about in


picturesque confusion: ruin-like yet beautiful. The yellow stars of the coltsfoot show among the heather, and the old-gold or rusty brown of last year's bracken; a multitudinous point of colour prick out the outlines of everything, alive or dead; whilst the air is ever full of the croon of water, the babble of infant life, the stressed chant of maturer existence. It leaves its impress on the mind, to return after many days, when the season is changed and the eyes that saw it are afar off in other scenes. Small wonder that the dalesfolk grow up loving their fastness, and think none else is like it.

We leave Gunnerside by the ancient track, north bank of the river, which leads us over the 'stray' to Muker. In this walk we traverse a perfect moorland Arcady, panoramic views all the way, unfolding and closing to reveal yet another scene of beauty at each furlong of our progress. The striking note is the magnificent upward sweep of the side, the ridgeline sharply defined against the sky, now and again a group of kine grazing or resting on the short sweet turf make pleasant vignettes of ease and contentment, giving a sympathetic touch of feeling to the broad sweep of upland. The twisting unfenced fell road is besprint with golden flower stars, crowfoot or ragwort, according to the time of year; and strings of geese, with a long-necked sentinel gander, make the air vocal with their not unpleasing gabble about the laithes and velvety wayside terraced garths; with the figure of a dalesman or a dalesgirl drawing water from the wayside well adjoining the homestead 'cote.' Such are the gleanings of memory, from more visits than one.

Looking south across the narrowing sinuous valley, we note the finely varied configuration of the bills beyond the Swale. Eastward, down the windings of the river, we see Gunnerside, in the middle distance, bathed in sunshine a burnished grey, the while a rain storm is being driven over the far-away hills, a mysterious witch-like sky warning. Deep below are the dull grey


walls and roofs of an apparently ruined hamlet, Satron unique in its place-name, whether connected with Saturn or Sœta, it has an aspect of the drear and deserted more than all the villages of this Swale-land.

But during our musings we have reached Ivelet-gill, a beck that comes foaming, leaping and flashing down from the moors above in many a cascade of no great size but witching beauty - a live thing even where only a tinkling trickle-down to Yew-scar falls, whence it threads its way beneath overhanging thickets till near Ivelet, when rounding the shoulder of the hill it fairly flings itself in three leaps over steps of limestone rock upwards of one hundred feet down into the valley: a cooling sight to the eye upon a warm summer's day. The prospects from this north bank of upper Swaledale, from Ivelet to Muker, are both varied and satisfying. A high saddle-bridge near Ivelet bestrides the main stream. Oxenhope or Oxnop gill is of some size, it forks, and in its intricate clothing of tree and bush appears ideally picturesque. About it, the moors are scored with lighter brown lines, the bridle paths leading over to Askrigg, Grange Gill, Shaw Cote and Sedbusk, and many another group of cots and farmsteads in Wensleydale.

Three farms on the south side of the Swale opposite Muker, go by the singular name of Rash - in other parts of the country the term Rash connotes a young wood or new plantation. At one of these steadings dwelt a family named Alderson, the mother there living to a good old age: in fact her two sons had passed middle age themselves, and neither had married. When the mother died, in course of years the bachelor couple found themselves in somewhat of a dilemma as regards the domestic drudgery that usually falls to the female on a farm. The younger said to the elder, "John, thoo mun wed" - the retort being, "Nay, nay, thoo mun wed!" This shuttlecock sort of argument was kept up for some considerable time, but at length John the elder gave way, remark-


ing, "Ày, if ivver there wor an awkerd job, I allus get it," and so took upon his shoulders the burden of that contract the term of which is comprised in "till death do us part."

Muker from the East  - Ernest Forbes
Muker from the East    [Ernest Forbes

But yonder west, right ahead, lies Muker, deep set in the pastureland of the dale. We cross the river by a foot-bridge opposite the south-east end of the great table-tomb-like hill of Kisdon, following a flagged footway through the mowing land of the 'car' over which Swale, and perhaps also its tributary flowing down from Thwaite, has washed in bygone ages until it had deposited the alluvial bed of rich mixed soil which to-day is a fine bay of meadow land, the summer hay and winter fodder of which


is as valuable to the present farmers as it was to the pioneers who were not slow to see the natural advantages of it for a settlement. It is probable, too, that this grand stretch of strath and car gave their settlement its appropriate name, i.e., Meu-Car, the Mowing Car (Mew, to mow, and Car, a marshy flat of fat land). Muker is, or was, a small market town as well as a flourishing mining centre; but when lead became not worth the delving for, the mining population moved away, and so the place dwindled until to-day its irregular groups of dilapidated houses even, with its three inns, wears a rather depressing and forlorn appearance. One can hardly imagine any place more dismal and devoid of comfort than Muker in rainy weather. Yet a short stay here soon dissipates the first unfavourable impression, and smiling faces and kind, hearts will become as apparent in "sombre Muker" as in other places. Then one can see with half an eye how the sober grey of the old place harmonises with the encircling hills, and how impressively vast and grand - as if it were some Pyramid - the huge bulk of Kisdon becomes. It might indeed be the funeral mound of some Titanic Cyclops. The best view of the town is to be obtained from the east, either from the Gunnerside road or the moor track over Oxnop as approached from Askrigg. The winding down road glistened in the foreground wet with sleet (on our last visit), and thence curving up over the antique high-backed bridge, the church appears imposing and even artistic. A nearer view dispels this idea, tho' it stands on a commanding site overlooking the beck valley, and about it the clustering grey old-world primitive townlet - one may not write village - perhaps the most compact huddle of dwellings in the dale: a motley conglomeration in stone of walls and roofs, set higgledy-piggledy yet in complete accord with the laws of picturesqueness.

A certain writer bemoans a lack of power of musical expression and feeling in the dalesfolk of this and other adjacent places.


Experience of "German bands" or their like in places abroad must have spoilt the ear of this traveller; we, at any rate, cannot honestly concur in his opinion. Every village from Reeth to Keld has its "band," the fame of whose attainments has spread far beyond the dales, though, we believe, there are those who detect nothing soul stirring in the skirl of the bagpipes. Apart from this, however, here before us is a most antiquated and primitive structure (of which we give a sketch), and over its lintel writ in large and ancient characters, so that even he who runs may read, the magical words "BAND ROOM," probably the smallest and most primitive Hall of Harmony in the kingdom.

Band Room - Ernest Forbes
[Band Room - Ernest Forbes

As bearing on the notorious love of "Swardal" folk for their home fastnesses Richard Kearton in his fine book, "With Nature and a Camera" (page 49), tells how be knew a little girl living high up Swaledale who was compelled to accompany her parents and reside in a Lancashire spinning town. One day some of her relations sent a round of fresh butter to them wrapped up in the cool-keeping leaves of the common Dock, whose large foliage tufts grow in plenty by the stony road and beck-sides from Thwaite to Reeth. "The little girl's heart," he writes, "remained so true to the land of her birth, that she seized one of these (leaves) and cried, 'let me kiss it, mother; it has come from dear old Meucar.'"


Muker formed a part of the old far-reaching parish of Grinton, and until the 16th century the dead from the upper Swale districts had to be conveyed to and buried at the mother church. The Chapel of Ease here was built and dedicated to St. Mary, in 1580; although from frescoes discovered under many a coat of whitewash there appears to have been an earlier place of worship than the one built in 1580. In confirmation of this, there is mention at this place of one Alexander Metcalf, 'chaplain,' in 1500. At the west end of the church is a memorial tablet with an inscription - "To the Glory of God and in Memory of Sistine Washington and Margaret Metcalf, this Church was restored by their son, 1898." The interior is severely plain, and it is, perhaps, the most uninteresting fane in all Richmondshire. The God's-acre contains numerous memorials of Metcalfs, Calverts, Aldersons and Peacocks. The following record has its value as shedding light on the early history of the district, proving as well the extended lineage of most of the family names, whose successors still bear them and live in Muker and round about. It also proves how strenuously the dalesmen of four hundred years ago stood up for the right of 'free Chase':-

"In the year 1500 Sir Ralph Bygod, Knt., Lord of Swaledale forest, claimed against Galfred Metcalf of Mewcre, yeoman; Alexander Metcalf of Mewcre, chaplain; Ralph Milner of Mewcre, yeoman; John Bradryke of Mewcre; Richard, George and John Alderson of Keld, yeomen; Thomas Mawer of Thwayt, yeoman; Christopher Metcalf of Gunnersett, yeoman; Simon Huchensen of Satorne, yeoman; John Wherton of Cawnerd House, and James Milner of the same place, yeomen; for forcibly entering his free chase at Mewcre, Keld, Thwayt and Gunnersett, without his leave or license; hunting therein, and taking many beasts of chase which they bore away, besides committing other enormities."


Truly this record shews that the 'forest laws' were not strictly observed among the yeomen of the upper Swale; and amongst the offenders is a parson and a Metcalf to boot

Muker by Moonlight  - Owen Bowen
Muker by Moonlight      [Owen Bowen

Strange to say, every name cited in the above charge by the Bigod Knight is among the most numerous in the dale to-day - all save one, that of Mawer of Thwaite. But where are the great lords, the Bigods and Whartons? Scattered about east and west, here and there - but not one single descendent of their house and name remains in the dale proper! On the other hand, the Metcalfes, Aldersons, Harkers and Hutchinsons are represented by fifty families at least.

In the nearer 'old days,' that is to say, sixty years or so back, very few of the dalespeople got beyond Richmond, Reeth, Hawes or


Kirkby Stephen throughout their lives. The writer was told by an elderly dalesman that during the long winter evenings they visited each other's houses, and,- knitted by candle or rush-light. The younger ones would likewise gather in groups about the ingle; and there would be singing, the women keeping time with their needles, but - as our informant put it - the songs were chiefly of the 'dowly' class, all about lasses pining away through unrequited affection, or over a swain who went "to the war," and (of course) never returned; or, peradventure, of women-folk killing their own little Barnies :-

"She made a grave both long and deep,
An' put them babbies in to sleep;
She rubbed the penknife on the grass,
But more she rubbed, bloodier it was -
Down by yon' greenwood side in Yore."

The stories were mostly of ghosts and fairies, giants, warlocks, etc., until - as the dalesman put it -" we used to get so freetened, 'at we durstn't leuk behint us when we went hoam o' dark neets, an' if anyone by chancy knockt sharply on t'door, we were nearly flayed oot o' oor wits."

Judging from the stature of the present representatives of the old dales' families, there is no sign of racial degeneracy. For example, there is Christopher Metcalf, or "Gurt Kit" - because there are, or were, several lesser Kits - or Christopher Kit (as he is sometimes called), who is a worthy specimen of the clan. His father was known as "Kaister John Kit," an original character, apt with quaint sayings and a prodigal with snuff. Many of the older dalesmen have an alias or nickname, descriptive or satirical; such as "Matty Joan Ned"; "Cher Dode" is George Kearton, uncle of the now famous Kearton Brothers, whose pen and photo-lens have brought Wild Life on to our room tables through their natural history books; while "Neddy Dick" is Richard Alderson, the musical genius of Keld, and Thomas Metcalf is called "Dicky


Tommy"; and last but not least of a character, the old farmer moor-man living in the lonesome 'gaard' near Shunner fell's northern buttress, is known as "Moor Close Jamie."

There are three inns in Muker, none too many when the mining was a boom, but as Professor Phillips remarked in 1854, "one proper inn" would be preferable and quite sufficient to-day. Up-dale, a publican has other occupations; at Thwaite he is a blacksmith as well as a boniface, or he is a farmer, a mason, or a wheelwright. Good private lodgings, however, are to be had in Muker.

A little west, where the Keld-Thwaite and Cliff gill Buttertubs' becks meet, is a large bank of drift, shingle and sand, and upon it, backed by stately foxgloves, is a magnificent bed of the orange Monkey-flower (Mimulus Langsdorffii of Donn). Its history here, as an 'Alien' much more recent than the pioneer Norsemen, is singular enough. Its seeds, and the roots of it, which take hold of the soil at every point, were washed out of the cottage gardens at Thwaite, a mile higher up, Nature transplanted it here, through a great waterspout and storm-flood a few years ago. Its gaping soft orange-throated flowers, inch across, in mass made a glorious splotch of colour in the bed of the beck at this 'meeting of the waters,' contrasting finely with the green leaves of the aquatic water-loving sour-dock, eaten of children under the name of 'green-sauce,' and even given to cows to keep them quiet whilst being milked.

A little west, on the left, another beck goes leaping and flashing athwart the highway road. It has its rise in lonely and barren Cliff gill at the foot of 'Lunersett' or Lovely Seat, running between that mountain mass and the still huger buttressed fell of Great Shunner. Many lovely and cool pictures its mossed banks show, wherein wild-flowers bud and bloom unseen of all but the blue


eye of some dalegirl, or some boy a-hunt for wild birds' eggs. Laughing waterfalls entertain rainbows of their own when the sun shines through the spray, and such glimpses of natural faerie land tempt one to linger on a warm summer's day, and lave hands and forehead in delightfully crystal cool "water of life."  >Chapter V continued

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