by J. Waistell.Braithwaite.
(Illustrated by Frank Gillett, R.I.)
An account of the extraordinary
accident which happened to a Yorkshire farmer while shepherding
in the lonely recesses of Shunner Fell, Swaledale. James Iveson’s
predicament is probably unique in the annals of the fells.
|Occupying but a few
brief lines in the daily Press at the time when it occurred,
the story of James Iveson’s strange adventure sixteen
years ago has never been fully told, and I determined to get
it from his own lips for the benefit of the readers of THE WIDE
WORLD MAGAZINE, if only to show that as strange things happen
occasionally in this prosaic old country as in the wilder parts
of the earth.
Iveson’s home at Angram is nine miles from the nearest
railway station – Hawes; and to reach it one has to
cross a mountain two thousand feet high.
I managed to catch Iveson at Muker Agricultural Show the
other day, and, seated on the “stang” of an empty
cart, jotted down from his own lips his story. But the narrative
would have been incomplete without a photograph of the scene
of his adventure, and I therefore arranged to meet him later
at Shunner Fell.
Behold us, then, tramping from Birkdale, the nearest farmhouse,
up the Sleddle Valley, past Bleaberry Beck, and up Wavery
Ghyll, whence a good stream of water gathers from the slopes
of Shunner Fell and swells the volume of the River Swale below.
Arrived at the scene of Iveson’s mishap, he related
to me once more how it occurred. The tale was as follows:-
It was on Sunday, September 2nd, 1894, that I started out
from my home at Angram, Swaledale, to do a day’s shepherding
among my sheep. It was at the height of the grouse-shooting
season, and I had been busy driving and beating for the Keld
Green shooting party all the previous week, and was anxious
to see how my sheep were getting along on the fell. Moreover,
the members of the shooting party wanted two fat sheep, and
these I intended to bring home with me after seeing to the
rest of the flock.
James Iveson at his home at Angram, Swaledale
Starting at eight o’clock on the Sunday morning, with
a bit of bread and cheese in my pocket, I walked the ranges
of fells west and north-west of my home, pursuing my way leisurely
up one ghyll and down another, taking it easy, as I had had
a hard week beating the fells with the sportsmen. About three
in the afternoon I got to Wavery Ghyll, on Shunner Fell, and
as I was crossing the beck I sat down to rest on a huge boulder
which lies in the middle of the beck, hanging my right leg
over the edge of the rock. A few inches in front of me was
another big rock, stuck up on end, and between these two rocks
the stream filtered downwards in a pretty little waterfall.
As I sat I reached out and laid my hand on the boulder in
front of me. Suddenly, without the slightest warning, it spun
round, though it must have been some forty tons in weight,
and crashed up against the rock on which I was sitting. As
it moved it caught my leg below the knee, cutting the muscles,
smashed my strong boot to pieces, and tore the leather legging.
But for the fortunate circumstance that there was a slight
depression in the rock on which I was seated, at the very
place where my leg hung, the bone would undoubtedly have been
smashed to smithereens.
"My leg was firmly gripped between the two boulders as
though in a vice."
For a few moments, what with the excruciating pain and shock,
I could hardly realize what had happened; it seemed incredible
that this great rock should have moved. Then, as my brain
grew clearer, I realized that the boulder must have been so
delicately poised upon its base that the light touch of my
hand was enough to dislodge it, and its own crushing weight
did the rest. Instinctively I tried to withdraw my leg –
now rapidly becoming numb – but it was as firmly gripped
between the two boulders as though in a vice, and the effort
only brought fresh agonies of pain.
Ceasing my struggles, I sat back and tried to
consider calmly what to do. Here I was, a helpless prisoner,
seven miles from my own home, in the very loneliest part of
the fells, where I might remain in this rocky trap for days,
and gradually bleed and starve to death.
I had my sheepdog Bess with me, and as I looked at the faithful
creature – obviously much puzzled at her master’s
strange plight – I had an idea. I thought that if I
could write a message, tie it round her neck, and send her
home, she might fetch help. Eagerly I searched my pockets,
only to find, however, that I had no pencil! Once again, with
a sinking heart, I went through my belongings, and finally
alighted upon an envelope addressed to myself. This, I thought,
was better than nothing; anyone discovering it would surely
put two and two together and come to the conclusion that I
was in trouble somewhere. Accordingly I tied the envelope
round the dog’s neck, and then told her to “git
away hyam” (home). The faithful animal was very reluctant
to leave me, and I finally had to stone her away with such
small pebbles as I could reach in my imprisoned position.
At last, to my infinite relief, I saw her disappear
over the shoulder of the hill in the direction of home, though
she gave me many a backward glance. There was nothing to be
done now but to hope that she would find her way home and
After that I spent several hours in fearful
agony of mind and body. I shouted, I cried – with the
pain and mental strain – and I prayed, but the time
dragged slowly on until night set in, and it became pitch-dark,
and still there was no sign of help coming. I found out afterwards
that my cries had been heard at five p.m. by a man who was
walking down to the chapel at Keld, but he imagined that I
was calling the dog. Another person also heard me, but thought
that I was at my ordinary work and directing the dog.
It was seven o’clock at night, I discovered
subsequently – four hours after the accident had occurred
– before the dog reached my home at Angram.
The envelope tied around its neck told its own
story of something wrong, and quickly a search party of fifteen
started out, the members going in various directions in the
endeavour to find me.
Ten of them, after searching for hours, gave
up the quest and returned home, it being too dark to see anything.
In the meantime, as the hours went by, I was getting very
much exhausted with shock, loss of blood, want of food, and
cold, for it was a very frosty night.
About ten o’clock I heard some grouse
come flying up the ghyll – a sure sign that they had
been disturbed lower down. I felt certain that someone was
at hand searching for me, and I renewed my cries with all
my strength. Still, no one appeared, and was just about to
give up in despair when five of the searchers approached Wavery
Ghyll, over the Tongue or Addenay Rigg, led by the faithful
old Bess. Suddenly, they told me later, she pricked up her
ears as if she heard something, and they then felt sure the
missing man was not far away. All at once I saw several figures
appear on the sky-line on the hill in front of me, and a moment
later they came rushing down to me. I found them to be Ralph
Peacock of Muker, Simon Fawcett of Angram, James Peacock of
Skeugh Head, Jeffrey Fawcett of Angram, and John Iveson of
Angram, my nephew.
Birkdale Farm, where Iveson's rescuers procured tools to effect
It did not take my rescuers long to find out that they would
want hammers, chisels, and wedges if I was to be liberated,
and several of them hastened off to Birkdale, three miles
away, where they obtained the tools. Accompanied by Robert
Thornborrow, the occupier of the farm, they started back,
reaching my lonely open-air prison about midnight. Here, after
three hours’ hard work – surely as strange a job
of midnight hewing as was ever tackled – sufficient
stone was chiselled off around the limb to admit of its being
drawn out, and I found myself a free man again, after twelve
hours of torture.
"Sufficient stone was chiselled off round the limb to
admit of its being drawn out."
They half carried
me up the bank, to where a sledge was waiting, and thus bore
me over the rough mountain-side to Stonehouse – where
I had some food – and then on till we reached the road
at Hoggarts. The rest of the journey I made in a trap. I was
put to bed and lay there for some time, but after getting
up I went on crutches for thirteen weeks, and then for a long
time on two sticks. I am now as well and strong as ever, but
the toes of my foot are crumpled owing to the injury to the
muscles of the leg, and I walk slightly lame.
The dog seen in the picture of my residence is not Bess.
She, faithful creature, has gone to her last rest, but I shall
always feel grateful for the fidelity and sagacity which undoubtedly
saved my life and rescued me from as strange a mishap as ever
befell a shepherd on the fells. The place where the accident
occurred is now called “Iveson’s Trap” by
the shepherds of Upper Swaledale.
Iveson sitting on the rock which held him prisoner in exactly
the same position as when the accident occured.
|The last photograph
reproduced shows Iveson seated on the rock in exactly the same
position he occupied when the accident occurred. It will be
observed that the boulder which imprisoned him is now about
eighteen inches from the stone on which he sat, but this is
explained by the fact that the great flood or cloud-burst of
July 12th, 1899, washed huge boulders down this ravine and partially
shifted the position of the rock.