The Land of the Lune

Chapter 10:  The Wenning Headwaters

  The Introduction
  The Previous Chapter (Gretadale and a little more Lunesdale)
  The Next Chapter (Wenningdale, Hindburndale and Roeburndale)

Austwick and Norber

The River Wenning ...

The Wenning has the most dramatic birth of all the Lune’s tributaries. It springs forth at Swine Tail just below Ingleborough’s plateau, gathers a few more becks to form Fell Beck, and then plunges headlong into the awesome chasm of Gaping Gill, Britain’s most famous pothole.

gaping gill Right: Gaping Gill

      The waters fall 111m, making it Britain’s largest unbroken waterfall, according to the Guinness Book of Records. The hole was first descended (intentionally) in 1895 by the French caver, Edouard Martel. He mapped the main chamber, which is large enough, it is often said, for York Minster to be fitted in. However, the latest laser technology has measured the chamber as 136m by 46m, and therefore the nave and transepts of the minster (at 159m by 75m) would be seriously damaged by any such attempt.
      You can judge for yourself by taking the winch that local potholing clubs fit up at bank holiday weekends. It is often said that it is free to go down ... but there’s a charge to come up. In fact, they insist that you pay at the top, in case you should disappear forever underground. No, I must be fair: they are most solicitous about our well-being and careful to count us all down and count us all up again.
      It is certainly an unforgettable experience, as you sink slowly in the cage below the diminishing skylight, past the green, then grey, then black, walls of the cavern, in the shower of Fell Beck (although most of it has been kindly diverted away). On the floor of the cavern, the water largely percolates away through the boulders and it is possible to scramble around searching into various crannies of the chamber. After a while, non-troglodytes would like to escape – and then a problem becomes clear: what goes down must come up. On the surface, a numbered-ticket queueing system enables you to lounge around, having a picnic, smiling as people return drenched and blinking, as you wait your turn. Below, there isn’t: you must stand in line. And if you waited 45 minutes in the sun on top, you will have to wait 45 minutes in the cold, dark Fell Beck shower below (or even longer, as potholers tend to enter the cavern from elsewhere and lazily take a ride out).
      I see that there is now a leaflet advertising these bank holiday treats and that the winch now operates for a week. It’ll be a permanent tourist attraction soon, with a snack bar and souvenir shop nearby, and umbrellas for the queue below.
      The geology of Gaping Gill is as we have come to expect. Water streams off the gritstone on the eastern slopes of Ingleborough and then disappears into the limestone layer. Faulting has occurred at Gaping Gill to enable such a large chasm to form. The Fell Beck water then makes its way underground over the impermeable slate and eventually emerges in Clapdale at the cave spring of Beck Head to become Clapham Beck.

trow gill Left: Trow Gill

      Potholers have found a difficult and dangerous way through from Gaping Gill to Beck Head but over ground we must make our way through the more appealing Trow Gill. This is a dry gorge, with boulders heaped at the top, between steep limestone cliffs. Trow Gill was caused by a flood of meltwater after the Ice Age.
      Below Trow Gill we enter Clapdale. On its eastern side runs Long Lane, which is part of an ancient track from Ribblesdale. From it, Thwaite Lane, an equally ancient track that used to lead to Fountains Abbey, heads east. As Long Lane approaches Clapham it passes under two dank tunnels, built to protect the privacy of Ingleborough Hall, a hall with no view of Ingleborough. The Pennine Cycleway, which we met in the Lune Gorge, passes through these tunnels, which must form the only part of the cycleway upon which cyclists are advised not to cycle!
      On the west bank of Clapdale is Clapdale Drive, which provides the most gentle of Dales walks. The Farrer family created the drive for the carriages of guests at their Ingleborough Hall in Clapham and, later, tourists arriving by train at Clapham Station. Below a gate, the drive becomes an artificially delightful environment of trees, shrubs and lake, forming the Reginald Farrer Nature Trail. As was the fashion, a grotto was added to provide a romantic character that was presumably perceived to be lacking. You may test your skill at identifying trees and shrubs by ticking off ash, beech, box, chestnut, European silver fir, larch, laurel, holly, holm oak, Norway spruce, red oak, rhododendron, Sitka spruce, Scots pine, and no doubt several others. Do not, however, stray from the trail in your search, as there are many warnings of “hidden dangers”, which I think mean that you will be mistaken for a pheasant and shot.
      By the cross in Clapham there is a footpath sign informing walkers that it is 102m to the Brokken Bridge. Clapham tries hard to be perfect. The natural valley of Clapham Beck has been transformed with alien species to provide a parkland stroll; the old village of Clapham was redesigned by the Farrer family; St James’s Church, which lists vicars back to 1160, was rebuilt in 1814 by the Farrers; and now Clapham Beck runs from the waterfall outlet of the lake through the village under several unreasonably pretty bridges. Clapham’s tourist leaflet lists the various attractions and services but does not mention the Clapham-based Cave Rescue Organisation, presumably not wishing to alarm tourists.
      Two kilometres south of Clapham, a tributary from the east joins Clapham Beck, which now becomes called the River Wenning. This tributary has been formed 1km east by the merger of Austwick Beck (from the north), Fen Beck (from the east) and Kettles Beck (from the south).

The Farrer family are largely responsible for the attractiveness that we see today in Clapham.
      Oliver Farrer, a rich lawyer, bought the estate in the early 19th century. His two nephews, James and Oliver, re-planned the estate, including the building of the tunnels and the replacement of much of the old village. They created the drive and in 1837 opened Ingleborough Cave, the first show cave in the region. It is apparent that Clapham Beck used to flow through Ingleborough Cave. Today, visitors may explore the floodlit passages for 1km underground to see the 300m-year-old stalagmites and stalactites.
      Reginald Farrer (1880-1920) was a botanist and plant collector, particularly of exotic species from Asia, many of which he introduced to Europe and especially to the Clapham estate. He was also a painter and novelist but he is most remembered for his botanical books, such as The Garden of Asia, Alpines and Bog Plants, and My Rock Garden. His name has been given to many of the plants he introduced, such as gentiana farreri. He died in the mountains of Burma, where, as the Buddhist he had become, he was buried.
      The Farrer family still own much of the estate around the parish of Clapham.

The Cave Rescue Organisation (CRO) is a charity run by volunteers to provide a rescue service around the Three Peaks region. The emphasis on cave rescue in the title reflects its history and the fact that these incidents are the most demanding in terms of time, expertise and equipment but nowadays 80% of CRO’s call-outs are to non-caving incidents.
      In the seven years 2002-2008 the CRO was called out to 342 incidents, which is nearly one a week. These can be classified as: walker (150), caver (74), animal (51), climber (14), runner (11), cyclist (8), and other (34). Many of these incidents involved more than one person: for example, on October 4th 2008, 44 cavers were rescued in four separate call-outs. The ‘other’ includes a motley collection of mishaps, involving a foolhardy diver off Thornton Force, someone who fell out of a tree, the rescue of cars stuck in mud on the Occupation Road, the investigation of abandoned canoes, and so on.
      To assess the severity of incidents we can further classify them as: fatal/involving injury/becoming lost, exhausted or trapped. The caving incidents are 5/21/48, although this 5 includes a person who collapsed and died in White Scar Caves. Climbing incidents (1/11/2) are usually serious. Although injuries are usually minor, walking incidents (10/82/58) seem worst in terms of fatalities. The 10 fatalities include 5 heart attacks, 3 falls over a rock face, and 2 unspecified. (Don’t have nightmares: these incidents are still rare.)

Austwick Beck

At the head of Crummackdale a sizable beck emerges from a couple of gashes in the fell-side. This is called Austwick Beck Head but we are alert to this situation now. The beck emerges after percolating through the limestone fells above it and reaching the impermeable lower layer at this level. The OS map shows becks flowing off Simon Fell in this direction only to disappear into potholes such as Juniper Gulf. Tests show that this water emerges several days later at Austwick Beck Head.
      Austwick Beck Head is in an amphitheatre surrounded by limestone scars. Its sheltered setting and supply of fresh water no doubt encouraged the medieval or earlier settlements, traces of which can still be seen. Documents of the 13th century show that farming was at that time active in Crummackdale. It is entirely livestock farming now but this has only been so since the essentials of life (bread and beer) could be transported from elsewhere. There was arable farming in Crummackdale until the 19th century.
      Opposite Crummack farm on Studrigg Scar is a clear geological unconformity, with Silurian slates at 60 degrees below horizontal beds of limestone. The cliffs on the eastern edge of Crummackdale rim the extensive limestone plateau of Moughton, from which there are splendid views of Pen-y-Ghent. The flora of Moughton is surprising, for there are shrubs of juniper and heather. The juniper is a rare remnant of the woodlands that covered the region thousands of years ago. Heather does not grow on soil derived from limestone but somehow here sufficient soil has become raised high enough not to receive the alkaline water draining from the limestone. In the past the heather must have attracted enough grouse to encourage the construction of shooting butts, an unusual feature on limestone terraces.
studrigg scar

Studrigg Scar

ing from Moughton

Ingleborough from Moughton



      Careful study of the OS map reveals lines of grouse butts on the southern and eastern slopes of Ingleborough. Careful study on the ground reveals nothing much: the butts were last used many decades ago and have merged into their surroundings. The Farrers had bought the Ingleborough manor as a shooting estate, the peaty slopes being heather covered at that time. However, over-grazing by sheep long ago removed all the heather apart from a few remnants such as that on Moughton.
      Before exploring Moughton, ensure that you are fully familiar with a way off because it is surrounded by quarries, steep cliffs and high walls. In the north the footpath that runs from Crummackdale past Moughton Scars is safe. In the south a high stile can be seen on the horizon from the path that leads north from Wharfe. However, it is in a state of disrepair, so it may be wise to check before relying on it to get off Moughton.
      Wharfe is a community of a dozen or so houses, the owners of which have agreed not to waste money on surfaced roads or exterior paint. So the cottages lie along narrow, stony tracks and are of grey stone that seems at one with the cliffs behind.

robin proctor A Norber erratic Left: Robin Proctor’s Scar and Norber
Right: A Norber erratic

      Across the valley from Wharfe lie the famous Norber erratics. These are so well known that few people today will reach these fields completely unprepared for the sight of dark boulders scattered incongruously on white limestone but the number and size of the boulders will surely astonish anyone. Their presence here must have been a great mystery, until it was all explained to us.
      As is now described in many textbooks, Ice Age glaciers transported the boulders here from the Silurian slate that underlies Austwick Beck Head and outcrops in Crummackdale. The highest boulders now lie at about 340m. Austwick Beck Head is at 280m. The immense forces at work during the Ice Age are indicated by the fact that these huge boulders were lifted not just along but also up the valley.
      When the ice melted, the Silurian slate boulders were left above the younger Carboniferous limestone rocks. As we know, the latter is eroded by rainwater but here the limestone under the boulders has been protected and, as a result, many boulders are now perched on pedestals above the general level. The height of the pedestals (about 50cm) is a measure of the erosion since the Ice Age.
      [Update: I have since read that the boulders were not transported as far along the valley as I thought, and hardly up at all. Also, experts now believe that the rather satisfying explanation for the pedestals is not the full story.]
      Below the erratics are Nappa Scars, with another example of unconformity, and the cliff-face of Robin Proctor’s Scar, a name that demands an explanation. There are several but they have in common the legend that one Robin Proctor rode his horse over the precipice to their deaths – a small price to pay to have one’s name immortalised in full on Ordnance Survey maps.
      These cliffs and those behind Wharfe, together with the various ridges and contortions in the fields of Crummackdale, tell us that this was a geologically active area long ago – long before the Norber erratics coincidentally added further geological interest. This is the line of the North Craven Fault that we met at Thornton Force above Ingleton. After the Silurian period the layers of sandstone were crumpled and subsequently eroded to leave steeply bedded, folded strata that are now exposed in places. After the Carboniferous period the area was raised above sea level with the greatest and most irregular movements along the Craven Faults.

Walk 18: Crummackdale and the Norber Erratics

Map: OL2 (please read the general note about the walks in the Introduction).
Starting point: By Austwick Bridge (769683) or elsewhere in Austwick.
      This walk takes in many of the visible geological features of Crummackdale and also provides fine views of limestone scenery.
      Walk north through Austwick past a school to Town Head Lane on the left. 300m up the lane, before the last house on the right, take the footpath through its garden. Across three fields you meet up again with Crummack Lane, which you cross to head west for Nappa Scars. You can then stroll through the Norber erratics, heading for the stile in the northern corner (766703). From the stile make your way north 2km along the indistinct ridge of Thwaite, which provides a good view of Ingleborough, to the prominent cairn at Long Scar. From there take the clear path that runs to Sulber Gate, 1.5km northeast, with views of Pen-y-Ghent. Two hundred years ago this path was part of the Lancaster to Newcastle coach road.
      Follow the path south over Thieves Moss to the fine Beggar’s Stile and then walk past ancient settlements and Crummack farm and, 1km on from the farm, turn left to the ford and clapper bridge (that is, a bridge using long slabs of local rock) over Austwick Beck at Wash Dub, where the sheep used to be cleansed. The unconformities on Studrigg Scar are visible from the track from Crummack farm but for a closer look detour briefly up the track north from Wash Dub.
      From the bridge follow the track 1km southeast to Wharfe. Continue through Wharfe to the road and then after a few metres take the path right that leads over a footbridge and ford. Turn west, above the Wharfe Gill Sike waterfall, which deserves full marks for effort, producing a fine cascade from only a trickle, and then by Jop Ridding to Wood Lane and back to Austwick Bridge.
      There is much to see on this walk and if you wish to take your time over it you might prefer to split the walk in two and do the western half one day and the eastern half (including Moughton) on another day.

Short walk variation: Follow the long walk as far as the cairn on Long Scar. Then turn east to drop down to the farm of Crummack. From there follow the track and Crummack Lane for 4km south to Austwick.

      Austwick Beck passes the ancient village of Austwick, the old core of which is surrounded by modern houses, indicating that a legendary practice failed to achieve its purpose. According to tradition, the residents of Austwick used to pretend to be simpletons in order to discourage outsiders from moving in. Harry Speight’s Craven Highlands (1895) gives several examples of Austwickian stupidity – but with no suggestion that this was feigned. Today, Austwick revels in its reputation as the ‘Cuckoo Town’. It would do better to revel in the magnificent scenery with which it has been blessed.
      There are man-made, as well as geological, features to be seen in the landscape. Across the beck from Austwick, Oxenber Wood is pockmarked with old quarries, and common rights still permit Austwick parishioners to gather stones there. Oxenber Wood and the adjacent Wharfe Wood are old wood pastures that are CRoW land. The dominant trees are ash and hazel, with some hawthorn and rowan, and, at the northern end, birch and holly. The ground flora includes various herbs such as wild thyme, salad burnet, dog’s mercury and wood sorrel.
      Also visible, especially in a low sun, to the west and east of Austwick are the stripes of ancient strip lynchets. These are terraces up to 10m wide that were created by Anglo-Saxons from the 7th century onwards as they ploughed along contours. These are the first lynchets we have met and indicate how far west the Anglo-Saxons colonised. Sometimes the characteristic stone walls of the Dales cross the lynchets, telling us that the former are younger. Originally, a farmer owned several strips of land but they were distributed about different fields in order to be fair to all. The need to improve efficiency led to the creation of individually owned enclosures, in a complex process that began informally in the 12th century and became enforced by parliamentary acts in the 18th century. The stone walls were built to delimit the enclosures.
      Below Austwick, Austwick Beck passes the old and new Harden Bridge, a name that reminds us of Austwick’s weaving industry that survived until the late 19th century, harden being a kind of coarse linen made from the hard parts of flax. By Harden Bridge is a campsite that uses buildings that until the 1980s formed an isolation hospital for people with infectious diseases.

The Top 10 dales in Loyne

      1.   Crummackdale
      2.   Dentdale
      3.   Kingsdale
      4.   Roeburndale
      5.   Barbondale
      6.   Grisedale
      7.   Whernside
      8.   Bretherdale
      9.   Littledale
      10.   Bowderdale
(Does Chapel-le-Dale count as a dale?)

Fen Beck

Fen Beck arises on the easternmost edges of Loyne, around Feizor and Lawkland. In this gently undulating land below limestone scars the watershed is uncertain. Some houses in Feizor used to be considered to be in the parishes of Clapham and Giggleswick (on the Ribble) in alternate years. Feizor itself is an out-of-the-way hamlet, nestled neatly under the cliffs of Pot Scar, a favourite with climbers. Southwest of Feizor is the Yorkshire Dales Falconry and Wildlife Conservation Centre, established in 1991 to help preserve birds of prey.
      [Update: The Falconry Centre was closed in about 2016. Through some oversight, the Centre had continued to operate although its licence had lapsed. An application for a 'new' licence was presumably refused. The site is now occupied by the Courtyard Dairy, a cheese shop and café.]

lawkland hall Eldroth Chapel Left: Lawkland Hall
Right: Eldroth Chapel

      The parish of Lawkland is even more of a backwater. The main route from York to Lancaster used to pass by Lawkland Hall but the parish now lies anonymously between the busy A65 and the less busy Leeds-Lancaster railway line. The oldest part of the Grade I listed Lawkland Hall is 16th century, and much folklore surrounds the hall’s peel tower and priest hole. From the 16th century until 1914 the renowned Ingleby family of Ripley, Yorkshire owned the hall. The Inglebys also acquired the manor of Austwick and Clapham. Arthur Ingleby rebuilt the hall in 1679 and when he died in 1701 left money, apart from to dependents, for a schoolmaster and three poor scholars at Eldroth Chapel. Overall, though, it seems that the Catholic Inglebys preferred to keep a low profile, to which Lawkland is well suited.
      Somehow it seems appropriate that the central feature of Lawkland is the extensive peat land of Austwick and Lawkland Mosses, a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This now rare form of habitat was once much more common, as indicated by the many place names with “moss” in them. Lowland bogs are peat lands that have developed over thousands of years under waterlogged conditions. Over time, the surface of the peat, formed by plant debris, is raised above the groundwater level, resulting in a ‘raised mire’. Typically, they are gently domed, but here peat cutting has obscured this impression.
      From a distance Austwick Moss is seen as an island of ancient trees and scrub surrounded by pastures. It is also an island of CRoW land, inaccessible by public footpath, which is just as well because it is difficult, wet, tussocky walking. The conditions support many bog mosses and, in drier parts, birch woodland and fenland. Various wading birds, such as lapwing, redshank, reed bunting and snipe, and rare insects, such as the small pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, find a home there. It’s good to know it’s there, for the benefit of the birds and insects, but, in truth, it’s a damp, desolate place of little appeal to most of us.

Kettles Beck

barbed wire Knotteranum Left: A Kettlesbeck welcome for visitors: a stile on the public footpath near East Kettlesbeck, with eye-level barbed wire
Right: Knotteranum

Kettles Beck is the first of many becks that we will meet that flow north off the Bowland Fells and that, because they flow over millstone grit, slate and sandstone covered with glacial till, have a different character to the becks of the mainly limestone Yorkshire Dales. At first, the marked contrast between the dry whiteness of the Dales and the muddy darkness of Bowland rather depresses the spirits.
      Bowland valleys tend to be deeply eroded, with fast-flowing becks tumbling through rocky channels over small waterfalls. Trees have largely been cleared although patches of ancient woodland remain in some steep-sided valleys and there are a few conifer plantations, such as Brow Side Plantation by Kettles Beck. The valleys are rural, with verdant, rolling fields for cattle and sheep. Population is sparse, being scattered in small villages and isolated farmsteads, the latter being evenly but thinly distributed, although many are no longer actively farming. The buildings are usually of local gritstone, adding to the sombre greyness, particularly in winter. The farms are situated by flowing water and there is often evidence, in the form of old millraces, weirs, and so on, that it has been harnessed to power mills. There are few hamlets above the main rivers of the Wenning and Hindburn, and the lanes are narrow and winding, with only two crossing the dark, bleak watershed to Slaidburn.
      The valley farmsteads are sheltered compared to the windy, open higher fells. The fells are of heather and grass, generally boggy and with few walls. The high fells will be discussed further when we reach the highest points of Bowland, but Kettles Beck itself arises at the not very high but impressively knobbly peaks of Bowland Knotts (430m) and Knotteranum (405m), on the Lancashire – North Yorkshire border. The ridge is one of the finest gritstone outcrops in Bowland, with great jumbles of huge rocks, enabling a good scramble for those venturing a brief walk from the road at the watershed.
      Kettles Beck runs 6km south from the boggy ground of Austwick Common through farmland that has not inspired the locals in their farm names: there’s a High, East, New and Low Kettlesbeck (although Israel Farm is more intriguing). It doesn’t inspire me much either although walking down beside Kettles Beck one can look wistfully across to Ingleborough.

The Wenning from Kettles Beck ...

The Wenning runs east, being first joined by Crook Beck, which runs from Newby Moor on the southern slopes of Ingleborough through Newby Cote and Newby and across the rough ground of Newby Moss. This extensive area of common land is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest, noted for its purple moor-grass, mosses and fens. There are also breeding birds such as curlew, lapwing, redshank and snipe and a population of the small pearl-bordered fritillary that perhaps flutters between here and Lawkland Moss.

Walk 19: Ingleborough and Gaping Gill

Map: OL2 (please read the general note about the walks in the Introduction).
Starting point: At Newby Cote (732705), where there is space for one or two cars; otherwise by the green in Newby (727701).
      None of the four well-worn routes up Ingleborough (from Ingleton, Clapham, Horton and Chapel-le-Dale) provides a satisfactory loop walk. I prefer to walk from Newby Cote on a grassy path from which we saw the new millennium dawn.
      Follow the track north, through the gate and by the wall to the open fell. Bear slightly left. After ten minutes or so Little Ingleborough comes into view. Pick up the broad green path up it. From Little Ingleborough the beaten track to Ingleborough is obvious. After a tour of the summit plateau, take the clear path east (part of the Three Peaks route). Note the Fell Beck spring (the source of the Wenning) close by the path. After 1km cross a stile but after a further 1km don’t cross a second stile - instead, follow the wall south at the foot of The Allotment. A path just above the limestone terrace runs 10m or so west of the wall.
      A fence will be seen partially enclosing Juniper Cave. Juniper Gulf, into which falls water that becomes Austwick Beck, is just above it. There’s a series of potholes, dangerous and difficult to find – don’t bother, as they do not compare with what’s ahead. Keep near the wall. Eventually, a wall comes to it at right angles, leaving a gap. Don’t go through the gap but follow the wall right and then left. A stile will be seen just ahead. Cross it and continue due west, which brings you to the unmistakable chasm of Gaping Gill.
      Take the path south (which leads to Clapham) and when a stile comes into view after about 150m bear half right. There are many vague paths here but basically keep west of the wall, between the shakeholes, until, after 2km, as the wall swings south, you see ahead the gap between the green pastures by which you gained access to the moor. Cut across the dry Cote Gill and thence to Newby Cote.

Short walk variation: Follow the long walk as far as Little Ingleborough. (Continue to Ingleborough only if it is irresistible.) Turn south east and follow the path to Gaping Gill. Continue, as for the long walk, back to Newby Cote.

      The green hillocks that rise to 200m running west from Clapham towards Bentham and Ingleton are fields of drumlins created by glacial ice sheets flowing off the hills of the Yorkshire Dales. The oval-shaped contours on the map indicate the east to west trend of the glaciers. The gentle slopes of the drumlins and their rich boulder clay soil provided good sites for settlement and farming from prehistoric times, which is shown in the increasing occurrence of the Old English -ham, -ber and -ton in place names. The grazed pastures are divided into irregular patterns by stone walls and hedgerows, reflecting their origins as pre-medieval fields rather than the later, more systematic, enclosures of the higher fells.
      The now well-established Wenning passes under Clapham Viaduct, which, unlike earlier viaducts, has no aesthetic merit. The viaduct carries the Leeds-Lancaster railway line. The original plan was to build the Lowgill-Clapham line via Ingleton first but work on this was suspended and instead the branch to Lancaster, completed in 1850, became the main line, with the Lowgill line eventually completed in 1861. The line to Wennington runs down the Wenning valley, naturally without all the meanders of the river, which it crosses seven times in all.
      Just beyond the viaduct the Wenning is joined by Jack Beck, which runs past Jack Beck House, where painting courses are run by the painter Norma Stephenson. I like her description of her modus operandi for producing her semi-abstract pastels of the northern fells: “dissatisfaction sets in ... almost always ... because the painting has become too explicit. Radical measures are required ... I will often dribble water into the pastel, causing rivulets and textured effects, or I will sweep my hand across the surface to remove detail.” I have tried this with the creation you are reading, to no great benefit, alas. I conclude that it is not a work of art.
      Beyond the new Skew Bridge, Keasden Beck joins the Wenning.

Keasden Beck

Our journey has taken us to many hidden and unknown becks but compared to Keasden Beck they are all gaudily extrovert. Nobody seems ever to have written a good or bad word about Keasden Beck. There are no postcards of Keasdendale (in fact, I may have just invented ‘Keasdendale’). In the 4km from Gregson’s Hill to Turnerford Bridge there are no footpaths in the valley or across it. There is no road in the valley: all the farmsteads are reached by private tracks from the Clapham to Bowland Knotts road.


Bowland Knotts Left: Bowland Knotts

      However, now that all of Burn Moor above the pastures has been made CRoW land we can at least gain a long distance view into this secretive valley. Burn Moor is tough going: all heather, grass tussocks and bog. When it was restricted to grouse shooting Burn Moor was called the ‘forbidden moor’: now, ‘forbidding’ would be a better word. There is a good path on springy peat (in summer) along the ridge from Bowland Knotts to Great Harlow (486m) and over Thistle Hill, but elsewhere walking is a struggle. Should your eye catch upon Ravens Castle and Raven’s Castle on the map, be warned that there are no castles, although there are ravens. And yet there is compensation up here. The silence is complete, apart from birds such as skylark, curlew and merlin, and the view of the Three Peaks is much better than from the road, from where Whernside is rather obscured by Ingleborough.

Burn Moor Right: The ‘Standard on Burn Moor’ boundary stone, marked on OS maps

      The most striking feature on an aerial photograph of Burn Moor is the large stripes of different shades of green. At first glance they look like the fairways of golf courses. They are in fact the result of burning practices and remind us that the fells are far from natural, despite their familiar appearance.
      After the last Ice Age the hills became covered with broadleaved woodland, which was cleared from about 3000 BC. Peat then formed from decaying vegetation on the gentle slopes and hilltops, so creating blanket bog. We use words like ‘bog’, ‘heath’ and ‘marsh’ informally but scientists need precise definitions. For them, ‘blanket bog’ is peat deeper than 50cm (even if it is dry). Less deep peat is ‘heath’ if there is at least 25% cover of small shrub heather-like plants; otherwise it is ‘marsh’ or ‘marshy grassland’. It all gets more complicated, as there are different types of bog, heath and marsh, depending on altitude, slope, hydrology, geology, and so on. Although the vast areas of Bowland’s bogs and heaths may seem ample, they are actually rare in global terms and, because of the threat to the Bowland Fells, are priority habitats in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan.
      Keasden Beck gathers all the water that flows east and north from the Burn Moor watershed, which here forms the county border. Like all Bowland becks, it cuts through hard millstone grit, occasionally exposing layers of underlying sandstone and shale.
      After a hidden run through the valley, Keasden Beck emerges at Turnerford by Keasden Moor. This insignificant-looking moor is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, for being, according to its citation, “the only known site for the marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe in the Yorkshire Dales” – which is quite something considering that it is not even in the Yorkshire Dales. The small pond in the middle of the moor is surrounded by common marsh-bedstraw, sneezewort and lesser skullcap (the names, at least, are fun).
      By the moor are St Matthew’s Church and a telephone box, which together constitute the hub of the scattered village of Keasden. The church has a fine view across to Ingleborough but, like most of Keasden, makes little attempt to compete with the beauty of the Dales hills. The peat brown Keasden Beck runs past various farmsteads, some converted, some not. Clapham Wood Hall is a rather sad cottage on the site of a much grander hall that was demolished in the 19th century. Until 1800 it was the home of the Faraday family, from which came the eminent scientist Michael Faraday (1791-1867), although Keasden cannot claim him, as he was born in London after his father had moved away from Keasden in 1780.
      After a further 1km Keasden Beck joins the Wenning by Hardacre Wood.

The threat to the Bowland Fells takes various forms: draining, pollution, burning, over-grazing and the presence of humans.
      Land drainage for agricultural purposes is so damaging to the ecology of bogs and heaths that very few new hill drains have been allowed recently. Existing drains remain a problem, as they lower the water table and lead to shrinkage of the peat and increased fire risk.
      As blanket bogs receive all their nutrients from the atmosphere, they are very sensitive to air pollution. The pollution provides too much nutrient and the increased growth threatens more sensitive species.
      Perhaps the most important factor is the practice of rotational strip burning, which has been carried on for centuries. First, it must been conceded that the practice is necessary if the hills are to be conserved in something like their present state, because if left to nature they would revert to scrub and woodland. The controlled burning of strips of heather every few years produces areas of heather of different age and hence height and structure.
      In recent years, the intention has been to provide suitable habitats for grouse, although farmers may also burn heather to produce young shoots for sheep to graze and so spread the sheep more evenly over the fells. Either way, there are benefits to many other species that depend upon healthy moorland. Overall, the management of grouse moors has helped retain the habitat but today the numbers of grouse are in decline.
      We must also acknowledge the threat to this sensitive environment from increased human access, encouraged by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. We can now wander where we will but the plants do not appreciate walkers’ boots and neither do nesting birds. If horse-riders, mountain-bikes, motorbikes and off-road vehicles were allowed, would the fells survive?
      [Update: At the time I wrote this I had been taken in by landowners' and grouse-shooters' guff about the benefits of heather burning. The practice damages peat and releases carbon. It should be banned, as it now is on some moors of England. Before there is a complete ban, perhaps the practice will die out anyway when the already fragile grouse-shooting industry becomes unviable as rich shooters increasingly find other ways to spend their money than making themselves social pariahs and figures of ridicule, as the general public becomes more aware of what grouse-shooting entails.]


The work of the Keasden mole-catcher

ch10 map
  The Introduction
  The Previous Chapter (Gretadale and a little more Lunesdale)
  The Next Chapter (Wenningdale, Hindburndale and Roeburndale)

    © John Self, Drakkar Press