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

CHAPTER V. continued   [pages 106-115]



Thwaite is less than a mile from Muker, and which we shall visit later. We to-day cross by the footpath to the Swale follow the windings of the river on the east and north sides of Kisdon upreared like some mighty Celtic barrow to nigh 1,700 feet. This hill is the 'Great Pyramid,' as it were, of upper Swale, dominating the dale in mute solemnity, its huge bulk having from endless ages back baulked Swale water of a direct course and compelled it to swirl and swerve round that mighty base, down a series of steps in the Yoredale limerock of the district that form a chain of fosses, grand beyond description when in spate. Kisdon is of a verity the great natural tomb of extinct life, its limestone strata being full of crushed bivalve shells and Encrinite 'lily' stems that eons ago were alive in an ocean which has ceased to be, yet their entombed remains in the rock tell the story! Kisdon is quite distinct in appearance from the surrounding hills. Sometime in the past it has been an island, the Swale forking (as shewn by the place-name Ivelet, ivel meaning a fork) at Keld and flowing around it in two arms. It is almost so to-day, for the Swale proper flows round its north and east base the Angram or Kisdon brook winds in shrunken proportions along its west side to south end, and only a very short brae or haugh of land close to Keld is sufficiently elevated (by the river having cut its way through a later and deeper bed) to make the circle of water incomplete. On the east bank of Swale, opposite Kisdon, the huge bastion wall of Melbecks uprises grandly as we enter this natural retreat, the very heart of the hills ringed round and enclosed in mural scar and craggy steeps. The Swale can hardly be called a river until it has made


a crescentic lap around Kisdon and been joined by the Thwaite and other brawling 'becks.' Thence, mile by mile, it grows more and more like Browning's river as it approaches 'the dark Tower' of Edgar's song in "King Lear" :-

"Low scrubby alders kneeled down over it,
ln aspect palsied, dwarf, black-catkined oaks."

Kisdon Force - Owen Bowen
Kisdon Force    [Owen Bowen

Between Muker and Swinnergill it flows broadly shallowed over a rock-strewn course, with many a narrow boiling cauldron or grey mare's tail like channel on one side or the other, so many natural goits or strids. The banks being low, the swath land is often inundated to the very foot of the wall of Kisdon. Every yard seems to take one further into some wild virgin land, fit haunt for hill fox, grey wolf or brown bear - so lonesome and awe-inspiring is Nature in her sterner phase here. A strange stillness


reigns, broken now and again, as the condition of the atmosphere carries or obstructs, by the voice of Swale, the plash of water somewhere falls on the ear, or hark! that is the pitiful bleat of some strayed lamb. Far away through the thin air to-day, from the heights of Kisdon comes the call of a shepherd to his collie, and its yelp, yelp in answer. It is witchingly 'fey' this gorge, this mountain-land's throat of stone that gives out such eerie sounds. We are now toiling up the most magnificent scenery of the dale, Swale foaming and leaping downwards through a deep cavernous hollow in the hills. Gaunt and forbidding is the aspect of everything save the live flashing water; a subtle sense of ghostiness and seclusion pervades this place, the lone home of corbie-crow, raven, falcon and buzzard. Down deeply gashed and cloven gills, waters surge in tangled ropes of foam. Nearing Keld the banks grow more irregular and broken by scars, the path winding up through a portion of the old Keld forest. In the sombre light of twilight we see, through gnarled and lichen-crusted stems of trees garbing the scars, the Swale - old yet ever new, the same to-day as yesterday and for ever - like some snorting war-horse with tawny mane, lashing itself into furied foam on the fang-like jaws of limestone scar as it leaps in mad career through this forest gnome land. Brushwooded fells rise steeply above the lower scar stairways, glowing to the very sky-line that backgrounds them, a sea of colour, greens, greys and russets. It is impossible to depict in words the wondrous loveliness, the dignity and stern grandeur of this length of Swale. The impression of its beauty is stamped for all time on our mind.

To reach Swinnergill from Muker we must cross the Swale by the footbridge some half mile above the village, and then proceed along the east bank under the grand bastion of Melbecks Moor, until we arrive at the mouth of the beck, and then follow up stream for a few hundred yards. It is a rough road owing to the numer-


ous boulders strewn in its channel. There are several cascades, and at the foot of one a cavern (caused maybe by volcanic action), the roofs and sides of which have the appearance of petrified or

Swinnergill Kirk - R. Rodwell
Swinnergill Kirk     [R. Rodwell

lapidary polished mud, deeply scored with indentations made by the trickle of water during countless centuries. The entrance is low, but after a dozen yards or so the rift gets more spacious, and a man can stand upright. Its length is about 50 to 60 yards. The best way to reach the cave is by way of Keld and Crackpot


Hall, and it is locally known by the name of "Swinnergill Kirk." It was used as a secret place of worship during times of persecutions for Faiths. It is most likely that ordinarily meetings for service would be held in the gill near the cave's mouth, for a single lookout posted on the hill slope above would be able to see every enemy and give warning of their approach, when the cave would doubtless be used as a hiding place until danger passed. It has also done service as a Refuge during the aggressive warfare of Celt, Saxon and Norman. The waters of Swinnergill rise on the south side of Rogan's Seat, and the stream has pretty features but the passage is too rough for it to be often followed beyond the cave. From here we make over Hall-out-pasture - a spur of Rogan's Seat overlooking Crackpot hall - which commands fine views of Kisdon and up the river to near its source, and the rich olive pasture upland through which it meanders. Cracket (cracked) Pot Hall (a pot or depression which water has worn in the lime-rock) is a lone 'Gaard' (Norse term yet for a farmstead) sited on a high shelf of the hills, the house, like an eagle's eyrie, is magnificently situated, the view on the approach to it of truly Alpine character. A hall, one time the home of the Knowles' family, it is now a farmstead in the occupation of Kit Calvert. In its place formerly stood the house of the deer-keeper for the great lords of Swaledale in its upper part. On our visit the sight of the primitive kail pot spoke forcibly of bygone days, when it was put bodily upon the stout oaken table, and everyone stood up and served himself to the savoury mess, filling his trencher by the aid of a huge leaden or wooden spoon!

We are now in the Land of Fosses, and the scene from the north side is both striking and magnificent. We glimpse the river far below over a forest-like array of trees and abrupt jagged masses of rock, swathed literally in olive and bice-hued mosses, and spangled with the silver star flowers of the leadworts (Arenaria


verna in spring, and A. nodosa in later summer) and the pert lilac candelabra-like tube flowers of the felwort (Gentiana Amarella) in autumn. Nature has indeed been lavish in displaying her charms here; between this sea of colour and white limestone walls the river plunges in seething arrowy flight like a steel sword cutting in two the dale were not its voice suggestive rather of a living force filling the air with its resounding music. Spring, summer, autumn, it is always beautiful, perhaps most sternly so in winter, when huge blocks of ice, like a broken up glacier, hang pendent from the rocks on its banks and nearly close in the water in a transparent tunnel, or cave of Aladdin for sparkling points of light.

Kisdon (from Kis, Celtic, little, and dun, a detached hill) is so named only in comparison with the vastly bigger bulks of Rogan, Shunor or Nine Standards Rigg. It is of oval configuration with steeply sloping sides, not broken by gill gullies because of the limited area of its gently rounded almost plateau-like summit. It is the Table Mountain of Swaledale.

A little further west we reach East Stones Gill, draining the moorlands above from the western slopes of Rogan's Seat, and its beck falls into the Swale above Kisdon foss. In its upper reaches it has worn itself a deep bed into the moor, and is bare and treeless near its junction with the river; it is beautifully wooded, with the arboreal flora of limestone soils, Rowan-tree scarlet cluster-berried in autumn, nut-trees, hawthorns of great age and weird aspect, ash, oak and juniper. The gill beck jumps down towards its bourne, the river, in a string of lovely cascades. Beldy hill is also on the north bank, 'howe' shaped; it was formerly a lead-mining station. Here, crossing a bridge, we follow the picturesque path to Keld, the very name betokening water. Keld is the highest village in the dale. Builded out of the hills it naturally takes on


the same aspect. Standing high up on the south bank of the here youthful Swale, little to shield it from the fury of the elements, it appears as gaunt, bleak and bleached as the moorland scars which encompass it. No other place, not Aysgarth even, can equal it for river and hill scenery, sternly grand, sublimely beautiful, and even

The Swale and East Stonedale Beck - Owen Bowen
The Swale and East Stonedale Beck     [Owen Bowen

to the folk-lore lover's eye, romantic; there is the gloom of mountain form, the picturesque commingling of overhanging wood and precipices. The river at times shrunken deep down in its bed of rock is shadowily seen, mysteriously audible as of a voice from the underworld; the colour of every living and dead thing is so variable - here the misty tender scenic outlinings of a Claude, there the magnificent lowering storm effects of a Turner. Strangely beautiful is this spot when the hills are bathed in sunshine, transfigured! and dark cloud shadows, like ships, pass airily skimming


The Swale Valley, near Keld  - Owen Bowen
The Swale Valley, near Keld      [Owen Bowen


over the hills and out of sight; and to the ear there comes at intervals the distant tinkle, tinkle of a tiny waterfall, the soothing gentle plash of running water. Nor is music lacking at Ked even when the songbirds of summer have long winged their way to milder shades; and Neddy Dick has laid aside his tinkling bells and singular sounding "stones," the music of untiring Nature never ceases to vibrate on the wings of the air, from the strings of "Eolus harp." The wind wails an intermitting requiem for summer fled through the Scots' firs overhanging the precipice; and Swale adds its thunderous organ-like notes. One can be lulled to sleep by its croon in fine days, and awed in spirit by its dirge in foul weather. Many a waterfall adds an instrument to the production of the symphony, to rouse us at times to the accrescent roar and velocity of the water sprite's fury during some storm that sounds as though it were the war din of worlds.

Of the ancient history of Keld little is on record. Its name is evidence of its antiquity as a settlement, and round it are signs and vestiges shewing its early occupation, the place giving its name to a family of some estate. In 1307 there is a mention of a William de Keld, who with others were charged by the Earl of Richmond with chasing deer in the new forest and Arkengarth without his leave or license. Besides this, the "Old Keld Chapel" is mentioned by John Leland in 1540, from which it would appear to have been a conventicle pertaining to the Church of England. This chapel seems to have been a ruin late in the 17th century, and was restored in the early years of the 18th as a Calvinistic place of worship. In 1789 it was re-built for use of the Independents, and from that date up to 1837, a period of 48 years, one Edward Stillman, a man of remarkable attainments, was minister. He it was who walked all the way to London and back for "the sole purpose of


begging money towards building and enlarging the chapel." He succeeded in his object, coming back with the needful in his pocket, a burthen heavier than he set out with. Strange enough to say - it shews how many friends he called on upon the road - his total expenses, o.p., was only Sixpence! It is verily the stern solemnity of the surroundings, the adamantine hills that rears men of Stillman stamp.

Near the Source of the River
Near the Source of the River
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