Aubrey Manning uncovers the history of Britain's landscape. How have generations of Yorkshire families made a living from the stoney soils of the Dales?
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I set out to understand some of the great landscapes of Britain,
to piece together the history that shaped them. And this seems one of the most beguiling -
the Yorkshire Dales.
Its pastures, with their walls and stone villages, seem old and lush and suggest a history of prosperity.
Yet these valleys are inaccessible and severe.
The puzzle is how so rich a landscape could have been created here.
There's a great swathe of uplands running down the west of Britain.
But I've always been particularly intrigued by the Yorkshire Dales.
There's a lovely chequerboard pattern -
little fields crossed by stone walls that run up the sides of the hill,
woodlands and villages scattered along the valley floor.
I've come to try to understand what this landscape reveals
about the way people have lived and worked here through the centuries
and how their lives have come to shape this beautiful countryside that we have today.
I was struck by the fine stone buildings standing in the fields -
good enough to live in, but they're just used as sheds and storehouses.
Are they remnants of lost farms?
Or was there some reason to build in solid stone out in the fields like this?
I'm going to start my search at Hazelbrow Farm here in Swaledale.
It's been in the Calvert family for a century or more and they farm along pretty traditional lines.
I'm going to ask Cath Calvert what these barns were built for traditionally.
They've always been used for housing cattle. They'd be put into buces, or stalls, in the building.
-Hay that was made in the summer would be stored up above.
-So this is a cow house. Do we know how old they are?
-We think, er,
-1750s to 1850s, somewhere in that region.
It seems an unusual system - these little barns dotted around through the Dales.
-Why did this system evolve like this?
-This was hay that was made in the surrounding fields.
So it wasn't far to bring in. Muck from the cows was kept in the midden
and then spread onto the land in spring - organic fertiliser.
-Yes, self-contained, really.
-This barn would probably have gone with the cottages over here.
They'd have been occupied by families whose menfolk worked in the mines.
-So there was mining quite close to here?
-Yes, particularly in this area.
Every family would have a few fields. They'd keep a few cows, a pig and a few sheep.
It was mostly women's work - children as well - to look after the stock, while the men were down the mines.
Mines? I was beginning to realise there was a hidden system to this landscape.
The method of farming, with sturdy, scattered cow houses,
was suited to steep, cold slopes, where you couldn't move herds far.
And it left many of the men to go mining. But where were there mines?
There seemed nothing left of them now.
Next day, I climbed into the hills above Arkengarthdale.
OK, Aubrey, we'll just put your cap lamp on. Mine on as well.
'I was meeting David Carlisle, an industrial historian.'
Mind your step here. It's slippy.
'He strapped me into caving gear and promised I was about to discover the hidden treasure of the Dales.'
There you go. Watch your head.
What are we looking at here?
-You see the horse level travelling through here.
-What's a horse level?
It's a haulage way in which horses ran and drew waggons out of the mine.
-And what was the purpose of the workings?
-The purpose was lead ore.
-So there's lead ore here? This is a lead mine?
-Give me that hand, OK?
-I've so many clothes on, I can't bend my legs!
-Yep, OK. Let's have a look up here.
-What have we got here?
-Yes. This is the vein, the slot. As it's broken, it's been taken out of there.
-Dropped into the haulage, where it was picked up in the waggons and trammed out.
-Is the ore soft?
It is very soft, yes. It's actually not proved to be very rich here, so they haven't gone far up in the vein.
This mine here probably... well, it does date from about 1800,
and by the time they got to this place, they would be about 1840-1850.
'This network of abandoned lead mines is vast - a whole 19th-century landscape,
'hidden underground. Once you know about the mines, you notice them everywhere.
'Not just underground and not just 19th century either.
'David brought me out at a place called The Hungry Hushes.'
This is an astonishing landscape. What are we looking at here, David?
Well, these "hushes", as we call them, are probably 300, maybe more, years old.
-At least, that's when they were started.
-What exactly is a hush?
-It's an opencast working on a lead vein.
It's a process that used water to help those working in the gutter, as they called it, the hush gutter,
to shift the debris to the bottom.
So they started by picking away at the vein, and then they would direct water down...
-To wash it out of the way, yes.
-So the cleft gets deeper and deeper...
As years go by, and so hushes like that have obviously taken many years.
-You might take it as a natural feature, wouldn't you?
-But, believe me, it isn't.
Now I could see the bruises and scars on the slopes left by centuries of lead mining -
evidence that the origins of this landscape lay in a partnership of farming and industry.
But extracting ore is only half the story.
You need to smelt it too, for which you must dig coal or grow timber.
-Did they do that as well?
-Feel the weight of that.
-That's got a lot of lead in it.
It's a piece of improperly smelted ore.
Why are they smelting lead up on this hillside? We're high up here.
Because they needed the prevailing wind to get the temperature for the lead to smelt properly.
-On top of the clay floor was some fairly stout logs.
Covered over with old slag from the previous smelt.
On that, they piled brushwood and layers of ore, more brushwood, more ore...lit it,
good strong wind, good temperature, and away she went.
The lead ran onto the clay floor into depressions to make little ingots.
So lead miners even harnessed the bitter Dales winds to smelt lead. And it was timber that they used.
Did it come, I wondered, from the valleys around?
One more element in the intricate Dales landscape?
Only pockets of woodland remain, but in Ivlet Wood, Tom Gledhill has hunted signs of their history.
-As you can see, it's quite a nice platform.
Have you found a number of these platforms and kilns in this wood?
Yes, they spread right along the common. The wood must once have been very much bigger than this,
because you have to make charcoal in the wood. As you can see,
-there's quite a bit of charcoal dug up by rabbits.
-Ah, rabbits as archeologists.
Charcoal wasn't used for the first smelting of the lead - it would have made it too hot
-and the lead would have evaporated.
-It was used for the second smelting of the lead slags,
when they could extract a bit more lead from the slag.
The indications are that this wood was being actively mined for fuel for the lead smelting
-and the woods were more extensive then.
-That's right, they were.
-How can you get at the date of this?
-Here, I found a piece of clay pipe.
-The bowl of a pipe.
-That's right. You see it's very small.
That's because tobacco was still quite expensive. This one's probably mid- to late-17th century.
-So that gives you a date - you know it must be before that.
Tom's evidence matched what I found at the cow house and the mines -
that this difficult terrain had been turned to profit
by a system working all its elements together over the centuries.
I'm beginning to get a picture of how this landscape worked -
pastoral farming in the valley bottom, woodlands making charcoal, lead mining up on the hills.
It takes us back at least to the 17th century, but how much further back does it go?
There's one feature we haven't dealt with yet - these amazing walls. They're everywhere in the Dales.
If we could date the walls, then maybe we could put a date on the landscape itself.
I went to Lower Winskill Farm, where students from Craven College were repairing walls.
We'll just put the fillings in there.
-Yes, that's the shape of a conventional wall.
'But at different times, the walls were built in different ways -
'some high, some narrow, some tapering.'
-This looks a more massive structure.
-Yes, it's very different.
-My fingers just about reach the other side.
-Yes, they don't project.
On this side, we have these projecting topstones.
'But can we date these wall-building fashions and use them to date the landscape?'
-Those footings look good for a couple of hundred years.
Lower Windsgill Farm is owned by Tom Lord.
I persuaded him to look out his maps and deeds.
They detail every field, right back to 1590.
Could we find any clues here to help date his walls?
If I read these out, Aubrey, can you find them on the map? It's 1841.
-This is the farm we're on now.
We've got, "Two closes called Nether Ing and Over Ing."
-A couple of meadows.
"behind or to the north of the barn. One close called Takeascar."
-I think that has become, in 1841, Cow Scar.
-There's a Cow Scar there.
All these names have stayed the same for centuries - 350, 400 years.
They've stayed almost identical between 1590 and 1841.
'If Tom's fields haven't changed since 1590, there's a good chance his walls haven't either.'
We might have found a way of dating the walls and, through them, the landscape too.
I've come to show you this wall, which is between the Over Ing here,
and this is the Nether Ing - two fields mentioned on the 1590 deed.
This is the wall between them
and we assume that this is the wall that has stood here since 1590.
If you look down it, you can see how the top is fairly narrow in relation to the base.
This is a narrow-top wall. To test for it, I put my elbow on the coping on this side,
putting my arm across, and part of my hand sticks out on the other side.
So this is a narrow-top wall. It's here, between the two fields mentioned in the 1590 deed,
and so this spine of wall has been here since 1590.
At last, I had a fix on the landscape.
Because these narrow-top walls turn up all over Tom's farm and across the hills and valleys around,
it's clear that most of this complex and beautiful Dales landscape stretches back to around 1600,
when Elizabeth I was queen.
For centuries, the hills were mined for lead and the slopes grown with timber for smelting.
And in the valleys were cow houses and fields for grazing.
It was this combination that for centuries won a good living from these unpromising valleys.
I feel as if I've got the measure of this landscape - mines on the hills,
hushes, woodlands, pasture, grazing land. But I don't think that can be the whole story.
If you look over there, you can see vertical stripes running down some fields,
horizontal terraces on others. Almost all the fields are marked.
It looks like a landscape that was ploughed up - as if there was a landscape underneath the pasture,
hidden beneath the landscape we've got today. Is that possible?
Can you move the ranging rod? Fine.
And just turn the reflector towards me.
I asked archeologist Steven Moorehouse.
He's been surveying the fields at Castle Bolton in Wensleydale.
It's an estate that's been in the same family for 700 years.
Its lands are crisscrossed with strange humps and bumps - signs of a landscape below the modern pastures.
Here, too, are hillsides shaped into those long terraces.
What, I asked, was all this for?
-We're walking up onto these lynchets.
Lynchet is the term given to these terraces,
which are man-made terraces on which ploughteams would plough the fields.
They can either be strip lynchets, like these, or contour lynchets.
So these fields HAD been ploughed.
Beneath the 16th-century walls, built when modern markets made sheep and cattle more profitable,
were platforms and terraces, dug to grow crops on the difficult slopes. We stood in what were cornfields.
Steven's surveys had been turning up everything you needed for arable crop-growing farming -
a maze of ditches and platforms and the footings of farm buildings.
-The staggarth, we'll take readings on four corners.
-What's a staggarth?
Small areas for drying the sheaves from arable fields before taking them to the barns.
-Arable field systems of the medieval period
contain tens of thousands of structures across the Dales.
Steven's charts reveal that, before 1500, isolated Dales farmers found ways to be almost self-sufficient -
grazing the uplands but terracing and ploughing the lower slopes in different ways at different times,
in order to plant arable crops.
So it's basically a medieval landscape that we're looking at here, on the surface.
Most of it is. There's a whole sequence of earlier landscapes.
We don't get a single field system laid out and used for a long period.
Many of these field systems go way back into the prehistoric period.
-We need to look down through the layers. It's a landscape that's been changing all the time.
Steven's charts showed this self-sufficient way of life worked well for thousands of years,
changing and refining all the time.
The question was - how close to the roots of this robust, earlier Dales way of life could I get?
Could I discover what this landscape was like back in prehistoric times?
I took a break at Reeth in Swaledale and there I had an idea.
Steven has years of fieldwork ahead of him before he can get a complete picture of this medieval landscape.
But perhaps there are other ways we can come at it. I've been very struck by place names in Swaledale.
Muker, Keld -
unlike other names in England. Perhaps they can give us information on the origins of this landscape.
Andrew Fleming has done much of the work on this. Perhaps he can give us some clues.
Next day, I called Andrew Fleming. The names, he said, are Norse.
They date from the Viking invasions of the 9th, 10th and 11th centuries.
He suggested we meet at one of them - Gunnerside.
Its real name, its old name, is Gunnerset, which means "the pasture of Gunnar" - a good old Norse name.
-Are there other Norse place names around here?
-Quite a few.
Beyond Gunnerside, there's Satron, which means "at the pastures" really.
Then Angram, further up the dale, which means the same thing.
We get the sense that Norse settlers were very interested in pastures.
They were living just above the valley bottom, it looks. Were they doing any arable?
Um, not very much, I think. I mean, the name Muker means "narrow, cultivated acre".
So there may have been some arable there, but probably not very much.
So it's a mystery - the pattern of settlement - but the names pin down Norse people here in Swaledale.
Yes, you can see the way that the places are persistently on the edge of the rivers,
on the edge of the river terrace here, and how the names constantly refer to meadowland and pastureland.
It's clear what interested the Norse,
though we can't reconstruct details of the settlement from visible traces.
If almost every trace of Viking farming had vanished,
the names they left in the valleys suggest a landscape of animal pastures.
So had they not yet established the self-sufficient farming of mixed grazing and crop growing I'd found?
There was just one wonderful clue.
Archeologist Alan King has found
what he thinks is a ninth-century Norse farmstead on top of Ribblehead.
It was my only chance to reconstruct a corner of their landscape.
Wonderful, huge, long sweep of a building here.
The house is 66 foot long - unless you've been metricated lately -
and almost a unique structure as far as the north of England is concerned.
-They'd been keeping sheep and cattle?
-The amazing thing is there were jaws upon jaws of animal teeth.
We had horse, cow,
boar or pig, fox, partridge, domestic fowl...
-So both domestic AND wild animals.
-Yes, they were doing some hunting
and were bringing in animals from outside their farm, as it were, to help out the meat.
-But you've got clear evidence that they were herding animals.
Against the west wall there, along the edge of the wall, we found some lamb chops.
And it looks as though, behind the ninth-century equivalent of the sofa,
someone was being piggy and stuffed them at the back of the cushions.
But was there evidence that Norse farmers were growing crops up here? Alan took me through to the kitchen.
-I'm sure this chunk of bedrock held the quern at one time.
-A quern is...
-They ground one stone on the other to grind corn.
It's a huge thing, 22 inches across, with a hopper
and a handle hole in the top into which you fed your cereals.
Corn came out around the edge and was collected off a piece of board.
So there was a full-scale farming economy here. A big settlement, lots of activity, agricultural animals.
Yes, this was a permanent settlement for generations
and they cultivated the fields over there. They had garden plots, a workshop, a kitchen.
They were working iron, lead, zinc.
This is a major feature on the landscape at this high-water mark of settlement in the Dales.
It was a tantalising glimpse
of a ninth-century Viking hilltop landscape of ranching, hunting, crop growing and metal working.
Using every trick in the book to create that self-sufficient way of life I'd found in each generation.
But I still hadn't reached back to prehistoric times.
Was it possible?
I've noticed in Swaledale a lot of these dents on the hillside.
They're quite dramatic, because there's a bank that comes down here,
then there's a very flat area - a platform - that drops steeply away into the valley.
I thought they might be to do with the medieval farming landscape,
but Tim Laurie, who's investigated these for many summers, thinks they're much older.
Next morning, Tim took me up the other side of the dale,
where I could see the pattern of platforms as they spread along through the fields.
-I can now make out some of those features.
-Yes, they're very prominent in the winter sunshine.
At intervals of perhaps 300-400 yards, across the pastures,
-are settlements which now show as platforms.
-Is that what we see there?
-That strange mark that looks like a slit eye with two thick eyelids?
-Yes, it looks like an eyebrow.
The buildings have disappeared, but the platform survives.
Have you been digging on it?
We have. On that platform, we found the remains of three buildings.
The two later buildings were stone founded, with stone-flagged floors -
they were of the Roman period.
The first house may have been constructed 200 years before the Romans arrived.
But the earlier settlement opposite was at least 500 years before the Roman period, before they arrived.
Most people admire the pattern of modern dry-stone walls.
-Wonderful walls, yes.
-They are, in Swaledale.
But not many people realise that beneath and below the present-day walls
is a much older system of fields -
an Iron-Age landscape, in fact.
And the settlements are spaced at intervals of approximately 400 yards.
The density of settlements indicate that the population was not very different from that of today.
It's an astonishing thought -
Swaledale 3,000 years ago and the same population as today.
Near the platforms where the houses were built,
Tim has found traces of their fields running in straight lines right up onto the moor.
The rich Dales landscape we have now
is the product of skilful management stretching over millennia.
Before leaving the Dales, I returned to the cottages I'd seen from the cow house back at Hazelbrow Farm.
I knew they fitted into a succession of extraordinary landscapes,
as each generation had discovered its own way to work these valleys.
The Yorkshire Dales are a place full of great surprises.
These cottages are used for sheep now, but they were miners' cottages.
On the moors, this was an industrial landscape, the lead mining going back to the time of Elizabeth I.
Then, in the valley - which is pasture now - beneath that, there's a secret medieval farming landscape.
Indeed, on the tops of the hills, 3,000 years ago,
there were as many people living here as there are now, farming away.
So the Yorkshire Dales, apart from being a place of great beauty, is also a place of wonderful secrets.
Subtitles by Roger Young BBC Scotland - 2000
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How have generations of Yorkshire families made a living from the bitter winds and stoney soils of the Dales? Aubrey Manning journeys high on the hillsides and deep underground to discover the key to this harsh landscape.