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

Chapter IV - Over The Hills From Bowes To Gunnerside



This mine lies four miles to the north-east of Gunnerside, and is called the old 'Band' or old 'Gang.' We are struck by the primitive rakish elevation of the ground. The mine galleries are below, but the surface works have a character all their own, as unlike a coal-pit with its wheel and cage and engine-house as can he. The long slim smoke-shaft or arched tunnel runs up the face of the hill. There is a very long low shed, with a thatched roof, this being the peat-house where the fuel has to he stored, since it can only be dug out—with cutting spades for the purpose—at certain seasons. The shed was built large enough to contain a whole year's supply.

This is probably one of the oldest mines in Swaledale, and has been the most profitable. Forty years ago nearly 400 were employed here, dwelling, for the most part, at Gunnerside, Healaugh and Reeth. They had thus to walk from six to ten miles daily to and from their underground labour. Three or four men do all the work required here at present! What a falling off, but such is the great change which has come over the industry in Swaledale. Aged men, not always decrepit and infirm from mine-asthma (due to candle smoke and confined air), still speak affectionately however of "t'owd Gang"—the old Gang Mine. One veteran shewed by his remarks how long and enforced communion with the wild moor slopes and familiarity with the bowels of the earth does not breed either fear or dislike, but the reverse; he said to the writer, "A'ave wrowt at t'owd Gang for sixty-three years, an' i' mah taime


t'lead wor twent-six pund a ton; an' there's bin as mooch as £60,000 profit meaade in a year bi six shareholders, and thet efter beaan wrowt for two thoosand years!" and he added vehemently, as with pride in a possession, "It's nean warked oot, nut it, ah can tell ya. Theer's plenty a' lead in t'oade maane yit." Here the old miner fell into soliloquy, muttering "Ay, it's a gran' spot is t'owd Gang—it is an' all." It was this same old fellow who was taken to London some years ago as a witness in a trial in the High Courts over "shooting rights," and to our question how he liked London and its sights, he replied, to our surprise, "Ah reckon nowt o' Lunnon. They're only pup-heads there, spanking and sparkling aboot; noo gi' me my onne natteral heather aboot t'owd Gang, an' Melbecks moor i' me oane native country, wheer ah wor born an' am well kenn'd." The genuine note sounded there, "my foot upon my native heath" as true for the York dalesman as his Caledonia for the Scot.

But, in verity, these cragg'd hill slopes of 'Yoredale' upper limestones, layered and veined with lodes and 'riders,' are an Aladdin's cave of sparkling wealth, only for the fact that the treasure runs and branches untapped or unrifled are year by year only to be 'won' at deeper and deeper points, running away with the profit through the extra labour required. Old Gang has yielded immensely in the past, and there doubtless remains incalculable store of metal were the toil of delving and cartage to the far-away railway station not so great.

When burial in woollen cloth was enforced by Law, a Warrant, now in the possession of John Barker, of Reeth, tells of one Adam Barker, of 'Level' House, near Old Gang, having infringed the Act by interring his daughter in linen! The Warrant, to the Overseers of the Parish of Grinton, reports: "Whereas information has been given to me by Ralph Elliot, of Healey, that Ann Barker, daughter of Adam Barker, of Level House, near the Old


Gang, was buried in Linnen contrary to the statute—These are therefore to Will and Require you to levey upon the goods and chattels of the said Adam Barker the sum of five pounds, half whereof is to be distributed amongst the poor of the said Parish wherein the said Ann Barker dyed, and the other half to he given to Ralph Elliot the informer."

Then follows the ominous rider—"Faile not at your perill. Given under my hand and seal, May Second, in the year of our Lord God,1692—John HUTTON." There remains the evil scent of narrow-mindedness and self-interest about this "human document" of the far-away past.

Let us now track north-west some two miles, to Blakethwaite, and drop down to Gunnerside Gill by Blakethwaite mines. Behind us, north-east, is great Pin-seat, almost attaining 2,000 feet. Full west of us rises Rogan's Seat, 2,204 feet, and still more to the north Water Crag, 2,188 feet, the hill-knot of high 'wham' and morass from whence more water courses have their spring and race down, than almost any other square mile of ground in the county. It is well named Water Crag—the landmark, and the high water-mark as it were, of Northern Richmondshire 'twixt Tees and Swale. Hereabouts the gill is deeply scored with stony furrows and wrinkles, the effect of water-spates, of wild rain-sweeping tornadoes, and the driving snow storms of a thousand winters! It has desolation and ruin carved in the runes of tempest on its monument of Earth, but to day, in early Spring, it is bathed in golden light, and reveals a galaxy of colour, and outline of exquisitely beautiful curve and contour, modulated and toned to further beauty by the olive green and ruby cloak of 'sheep's-bent' and 'moss-crop,' and emerald plant growth of all sorts. Scarred still, the impression now is no longer one of unrelieved violence of forces—the beauty and the hope of renewed Youth is, for the time, on its features. The beauteous hues on the limestone rock, new life in metallic green over-running the


mildew of dead lichen are everywhere noticeable. The scar faces scintillate like mother-of-pearl in the brilliant sunlight. The changing tones, light to dark, on the veil of the sunshot haze fade off into the precious purple of the distance. The last year's brake-ferns' fans are so much rich orange or umber, and the yellow ochres of the withering rushes in the wet places of the sunny hillslope's greens harmonise in a marvellous way with the surrounding hues of ling and rock and sky that caps each topmost and furthest line of ridge or fell-peak. It is Nature's embroidery we look upon; lace-like green lines of tracery on dull purple velvet—the ground work of the heather clad swells—the arabesque of earth. On the sky-lines of scars or brows, black-faced sheep are here and there silhouetted sharply grey against cloudless turquoise blue.

We climb still higher into the ampler air of Nature's own solitude, and note the outward signs of the hidden inner mineral wealth of these regions, as "real as those on Afric's golden strands." We have before us, in the middle of 'spoil-heaps,' the evidence that mutely tells the story of the toil and moil of centuries, the sweating brows, and the dusty tired limbs of generations of stalwart dalesmen, whose strenuous working day light hours were passed here, below in the dark. After "life's fitful fever," tho' healthier, less fitful and simpler than Shakespeare's lines infer, they have returned to the earth, and sleep by the sounding Swale at Muker, Gunnerside, and Grinton. Forward and upward still, over alternating rises and falls of rich purple heatherbed or whammy hollow, getting momently new glimpses of wild nature, each 'picture' framed in peat-sand or ling-clad bank, a cameo in itself! And now we have passed the limestone; the crust of the earth seen in the gill-side scars, as well as the surface boulders and edges, is all of a sandstone composition, the millstone grit of geologists. The pictures and the scene is different. We reach to the great turbary or peatfield of Wham


bottom. Wham is virtually the same word as swamp, and in our north-country Saxon means a morass or peat-bog. To cross a stretch of peat deposit, intersected as it is by wide and deep trenches (eroded by water) and cut down to the silver-sand bed on which was deposited the peat, here composed of ling wire and saugh twigs, birk branches and the original forest 'hagg' which ages back indubitably covered these treeless wastes—to cross this needs some shew of agility and some athletic powers. At length, after wearisome bounds, we reach the summit of Water Crag, and from its topmost cairn, or 'man' of stones, "a great Lone Land" indeed lies in a billowy far-reaching panorama around us. Northwards, first, we gaze out over the wide peaty slack or shallow hollow of Sleightholme beck and Stanemoor forest, and in the far distance the wall-like precipices of the south to east flanks of Micklefell, rising to 2,591 feet, background the expanse. To the east our eye can trace and follow the infant windings of the Arkle beck, yet not quite an infant, for the Arkle drains a great tract by its fan-like tributary streams, down as far as the green mead islands of Eskeleth and the hill spurs about Hurst. But when the atmospheric conditions are favourable (after long rain) nearly the whole breadth of England from sea to sea comes within vision. Gilbert Baker says, "from here we look northward over a broadly undulated hollow with Kelton fell and Mickle (which means much or big) fell in the background, so wild and dreary that the passing trains look strangely out of place, and the two Spitals at the upper part of Greta dale shine out like green oases in a desert of brown moor."

On the extreme westerly end of Water Crag, looking towards Tan Hill, are a number of huge rocks, and on the very apex of the largest is a perfect basin of Nature's own fashioning, a Stoup for Holy water of the skies, untainted with any impurity of smoke, and fit for an acolyte to perform his sacred rites, it has taken


long long time to make, but was formed by the myriad gyrations of a quartz pebble (the gritstone contains a many such embedded in its structure) through the aerial torments of many a thousand storms.

The lone hostel at Tan Hill is under two miles from Water Crag. It is 1,727 feet above sea level, and the highest placed, loneliest inn in England. It stands, but for a whitewashed gable porch, plain, gaunt, grey and unlovely externally, on the road line

The Inn, Tan Hill
The Inn, Tan Hill

of the water-parting between Tees and Swale. Many a weary and benighted traveller has hailed this eyrie haven with as profound delight and thankfulness as any harried being a sanctuary church, the glimmer, tho' of tallow dips only (or later of kerosene lamp) from the window panes of this public refuge, has been as a beacon light to many a traveller; for in days gone by, before the mines were shut up, when chapmen or Scots drovers crossed the wastes by these rough roads on foot or saddleback, the traffic and the necessity for a half-way shelter and food, for man and beast was much greater than in these days of railway journeying and tourist


Not a soul dwells within a radius of three miles of this inn, if we except the inhabitants of the cottage attached; it is in the parish of Bowes, distant eight miles—in fact, it is "six miles from anywhere," with a place-name appellation. Barras station is that distance, held (to the south) a little more. Near by is a seam of coal, the 'crow coal' of the upper limestone, and this was for long the source of fire-fuel for several miles around. The coal—of a poor shaly character, burning slowly but keeping alight long—was distributed over the hills in light carts and in bags on pack-horses. One man, Elkanah by name, in days gone by, kept a large drove of donkeys for this purpose.

From Water Crag half an hour's exertion (one can hardly call it a walk), over peat fields (crevassed snow-fields in winter) and through knee-deep hag, will take one to the summit of Rogan's Seat, of even higher altitude but not so interesting as the Crag eminence and source of so much water as to have given it its name. These two heights, arising out of a plateau of mountain earth, with Nine Standards Rigg or Ridge, and the Fell of Great Shunnor (Pagan God) lying between Swaledale head and Wensleydale, we might designate, without much inappropriateness, as the nest hollow of the Swale, or as the cradle of the clouds that give life. At least one-tenth part of all this north-west corner of Richmondshire lies within the 'arctic zone' of meteorologists, that is as regards mean low temperature, high rainfall, and the scanty hardy character of its vegetation. The great rainfall around these catchment peaks—Water Crag and Rogan's Seat—condensing the cloud vapour into liquid rain, accounts for the source of so many of the streams which give beauty and variety to the district, voiceful as they are in ebb or flow, and in hue crystal clear or golden-amber dyed with the tincture of the heath turbaries.

The vegetation is legion as to individuals, but scant as to number of species. Square miles of ling; some bell-heather, whose


blooms are like pink wax; some cloud or knout-berry, with white bramble-like flower and orange rasp-like fruit; some yellow spire-flowered asphodel; plenty of cotton-grass and tuft-rush; and a little heather-like black crowberry: these almost exhaust the list of high moor vegetations. But of mosses and lichens there is abundance, painting and pencilling rock face and heather twig with the medals and crowns of enduring beauty in the face of elemental hardship of existence.

From the south side of Rogan's Seat we look down the furrow of Hind Hole beck into the deep cleft of Swinner-gill, a wild yet charmful scene; and across the great mountain mound of Keasdon (to be described later), the 'bar' of Swale-head, from whence we turn south-east and drop down—and it is a drop—over the buttress side height of Gunnerside to Gunnerside village itself.

The upper Swale between Gunnerside and Keld is the most remote and isolated of Yorkshire dales. The hurry, scurry and press of town life is unknown here—and as if it could not be. No railroad drives its iron horse through or up betwixt these hill barriers that protect it from the delights and risks of modern hfe. Not yet disturbed or even altered has been the even tenour of the plodding dalesmen's ways. Their occupations, their customs are still in the footsteps of their forefathers. Hemmed within a narrow restricted space, no whistle or boom beyond that of the wintry blast reaches their ears; or the thunderous explosions of a storm in autumn or winter, when clouds roll up over the hills against the wind. This highland of Swale is yet a land without its lord, squire or county magistrate. At least not above Gunnerside. It is remote, rural, communal, not unlike those other narrow valleys, of the Swiss cantons; where the race, born simple and natural, die for the most part in the same natural state. Every man holds himself to the simpler tenets of conduct, fearing God.


speaking out the truth as they may see it, respecting the rights of others and so guarding their own, albeit holding with sturdiness that all men are equal, with their neighbours. This as in primitive times, for, be it remembered, all are descended from the sturdy yeoman of old. To-day the dalefolk answer to little more than a score patronymics, of which the Aldersons, Calverts, Clarksons, Closes, Knowles, Fawcetts, Harkers, Keartons, Metcalfs and Scotts are the principal. There has been an immigrant addition (as was to be expected) of one or two quaker families from the neighbour valleys of Eden, "the West Country," of Yore, and of Ravenstonedale—Brunskill for instance. Once a fortnight, or less often, a farmer with his wife or daughter will drive to 'the Hawes' by the 'Buttertubs' pass, or to Kirkby Stephen market to sell produce and buy in, the requisite out-world-over-sea necessaries- calico, soap, tea, or what-not.

Those who love wild and desolate scenery will find this remote land a region of strange charm, ever full of new points of interest—simple scenes and simple natures hold reserves and are not fathomed at one interview. The various centres should be visited not only in high summer, when rivers are low and stock care for themselves, but in winter or early spring when every rill is on the 'ring,' and the waters are 'out' of their beds; and again in late autumn. Winter is later in its onset and knipe in these deep dales than in the plains of York; the reason is, that the vast hill masses slowly give out back to the air, in November and through December to February, the immense amount of heat which they absorbed through the twenty hour's daylight of June and July: slowly warmed the hills as slowly cool, twining the wheel of the seasons at least a month backward. In winter perhaps the scene is finest to ear as well as eye. Sound and motion heighten


the effect of light and colour: the river in spate drums and roars, and the sound carries further for and through the mist. Strange shadows sweep mysteriously over this hill crest or that, threaten ominously, and yet suddenly shift away: whilst the invisible wind wails or pours forth what turns to a musical note as it finds its way through the fir trees filling the sheltered gills or glens. To the eye every crevice of a scar, every rut of a pasture becomes a thing of life, of quick-silver, and running down joins other rills till they become a musical torrent too, of importance for their brief hour; sweeping everything in the way before it that is small enough to be moved and carried away—living or dead matters not to its mighty mindless purposeless force—into its remorseless maw. So does Swale rave and roar in spate. And the Spirit of the Mountains seems to be abroad too, overlooking, directing the wild furious waste of the waters with the ban and threat of the master in brute force. It is terrible but inexpressibly grand. Such is the time to visit and fully understand the character of the valley, its magnetic moods and phases, which have left their indelible impress on the dale and the people whose lives are spent in it.

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