Gunnerside Beck, some four miles in length, runs between Rogan's
Seat (2204 ft.) and Water Crag (2186 ft.) in Upper Swaledale and
tumbles down a deep romantic gorge in an untutoured chant of unfettered
existence, joining the River Swale a few hundred yards below Gunnerside
Village. In its short journey it passes the derelict Old Gang lead
mines, which, in the last century, were regarded as some of the
oldest and most profitable workings in England. It runs through
a wood thickly populated with hazel and silver birch trees, the
haunt of dragon-flies which abound in great numbers, hunting in
their apparent appointed spaces above the sparkling water.
Young trout abound in thousands and it is a pleasing sight to watch
them from the village bridge taking flies that drift or float on
But this is a summer scene: in winter, at times, the beck is frozen
solid, the hazel and silver birch shorn of their leaves are sere
and bare, and the scene at the eerie lead mines is one of desolation.
The wind driving from Rogan's Seat and Water Crag adds to the bleakness.
Gunnerside Village built as it is of local materials - cottage,
pub, post office and the boundary walls of the fields - all harmonize
with the landscape woven into a crazy pattern. There is no railway
at Gunnerside, or even in Swaledale, and the mail comes from Richmond,
twenty miles away, by official motor van.
One of the best known men in Swaledale is Tommy Brown, Gunnerside
Postman, who, for twenty-five years, six days a week, rain, snow,
hail or blow has walked over ten miles up hill and down dale, delivering
the mail to the farm steads on Crackpot Side and Jingle Pot Edge,
part of the lower Pennine range.
The snow lies deep in Swaledale during the winter months, but if
the mail van can get through to Gunnerside, Tommy has never been
known to fail to complete his full but arduous daily round. For
weeks each year, at some of his calls on Jingle Pot Edge, he is
their only contact with the outside world. The route he follows
is mostly tracks originally used by the lead miners of bygone days
who while wending their way to work, are reputed to have knitted
socks as they walked in single file. In the severe winter of 1947
he saved the life of a man who, owing to strain and fatigue, had
sat down in the snow to rest and was in grave danger of being frozen
to death. He was found by Tommy on his daily round and taken to
the nearest farmhouse, when he recovered after taken a stimulant
and resting in front of the spacious open fire. His capture of the
dog thief is well known in Swaledale and he told me in detail how
a stranger was enticing the sheepdogs away from the local farmers
and making a handsome sum by selling them to farmers in neighbouring
Tommy, first and foremost, is a postman, but he has other interests.
He is a naturalist, and quite recently broadcast in the programme
"Journey through Swaledale" with Wilfred Pickles. His
post round is his hobby, but as a spare-time occupation he has been
very successful in breeding and showing ducks at the local shows.
Swaledale, and particularly Gunnerside, is beautiful during the
spring and summer months, but in the winter the elements are severe,
although, no matter what the weather is like, the local postman
still carries on as usual.
When next I hear of a hiker boasting of his walking prowess, I
will tell him stories of the Postmen of the North Yorkshire Dales,
the daily distance they walk and the heights they climb, all part
of the normal day's work, and particularly will I tell him of Tommy
Brown, the Gunnerside Postman, and one of the best-known men in