The Changeful Years in Bishopdale

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The Changeful Years in Bishopdale, Dalesman, 1959 Vol. 21 pp.175-177

By Elizabeth Large

(courtesy of the Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes)

The following is a transcription from the above Magazine:

"It is the end of June. There is great activity in the tool room and implement shed, because the weather is settling sufficiently for haytime to start in a day or two.

I am taking an hour of freedom before this becomes impossible, and decide to go for my favourite walks, up Foss Beck with its many waterfalls and thence to the top fells. As I climb, I often stand and look down into Bishopdale and far away at the blue hills in the distance. Shafts of sunlight pierce the drifting cloud shadows, illuminating patches of hillside with a radiance not of this world.

From a height you can see that it is a scooped-out glacial valley. Once there was a lake [the Carr] in the flat bottom, but it has long since drained away, leaving a patch of reedy, boggy ground where curlews, snipe and plovers love to rest.

I think of the early settlers who came here long ago. On the margin of the drained lake was a village of Danish origin called Crocshi [Croxby], which is mentioned in the Domesday Book. You can still see the cultivated terraces on either side, but the village itself disappeared towards the end of the thirteenth century.

In feudal times Bishopdale was part of the Lordship of Middleham and was preserved as a chase for the deer. I like to think our own two venerable oaks were saplings of the old Chase and that centuries ago red deer wandered over our land. 

It is surprising to think of corn being grown up here, where now it seems hard enough to harvest grass. Yet on the top at the other side lies Millstone Hill, an outcropping of the Grit, where millstones lie abandoned because they were faulty in some way. 

Independence

IN the middle of the seventeenth century some of the yeomen who had lived on their farms for many generations by tenant right were able to buy their lands, and they built their solid grey stone house with small windows of the period. From this tine there was orderly agriculture in the dale and the hunting of deer gradually ceased.

The passing of feudalism must have brought a feeling of new spiritual freedom and independence. Perhaps that is why George Fox was able to gather in so many souls from this part of the world. Sometimes I wonder of that staunch  man of God came striding past our very door, but it is more likely that he trod the ancient track of the legions from Bainbridge and Semerwater down into Wharfedale. 

Up and up I climb. It is steep going surmounting the screes at the top and I am ready to rest when I arrive at the tumble-down seat outside the decayed shooting box.

This is a relic of the prosperous nineteenth century, when a wealthy industrialist from Bradford [Manchester] settled here to lead the life of a country gentleman. Little did he think when he built the fine mansion [The Rookery], whose rubble of ruins I see far below me, that it would be razed to the ground only about eighty years later and outbuildings would survive as pathetic remnants of its former state.

Schooldays

DURING the war the mansion was turned into a school [Kidstones School] where I taught for a time. I remember the day I first came here in May nearly twenty years ago, when I thought it was the most beautiful valley I had ever seen. Nor have I found reason to change my mind.

Snow still lay in hollows on the tops of the fells, over which curlews wheeled, uttering their wild. bubbling, spring-time call, and the beck foamed along the valley bottom.

I often used to walk past our farmhouse in those days, but no inner voice whispered that one day I would live there myself. My husband also, often came walking down this dale as a young man, but he never knew that one day he would be a farmer and live in the house across the stepping-stones. 

In actual fact the farm was started soon after the school, to supply the children with tuberculin tested milk and teach them all about farming. The school broke up at the end of the war but we remained, and though the gooseberries no longer disapeared from the garden, we missed our merry helpers.

It did not take very long to get in a field of hay in those days. The children used to rake up a field in a long line and when they arrived at the top they turned and raked down the field again. James, our musical prodigy, once got to the top and then proceeded up the hillside raking nothing at all for a good five minutes, while we leaned on our rakes to see how long it would take him to emerge from his entrancement of musical composition.

Oh, happy brown-legged children, so far from the sight and sound of war! Now they are scattered, but they all remember Bishopdale with live and longing.

New Age

WE have lived here long enough to witless the decay of the old era and the dawn of the new age. Electricity is coming up the dale at last, and the road is being widened to meet the needs of the heavy holiday traffic. I am saddened at the passing of the secret, hidden places that used to lie so far from life's fitful fever. I shall have to hoe me to Himalaya or a remote Canadian forest if the dales become too civilised.

We never saw the scythe in sole use at hay-time. It is only used now for those odd little corners that machines cannot get at, but when we came to Bishopdale during the war tractors were unknown  and all the old horse-drawn machines were in use. They were just like my grandfather's hay-masking implements on the little farm in Nova Scotia where I was born.

In my child hood days the golden wagon loads were drawn by Prince to a great covered barn, where the hay would be well protected from the snows. You could take your time about hay-making in Canada, for summers were hot. Up here in the high dales quick methods of hay-making have had to be evolved because of the heavy rainfall.

Almost every field contains its own grey stone barn with a hay loft above and byres below. On very fine days when the hay makes quickly, it is rowed up by a win-rower and then swept directly to the barn, where it is forked up without further ado.

On more unsettled days the hay is often made into small cocks and from these forked up into big pikes which can stand up to a good deal of rain if they are well made. The pikes can be transferred to the barns at leisure when the weather improves.

 

Irish Labour 

AFTER the school left, hay-time labour was very difficult to obtain, but we were able to hire Ukrainians from a camp of displaced persons. They were a marvel with horses and it was wonderful to see them mount our cart-horses and go galloping over the fields bareback, for all the world as if they were once more on the great plains of Asia.

The Ukrainians mostly found their way to Canada in the end, so we eventually followed the example of our neighbours and took to hiring an Irishman for hay-time. For five happy summers John came to give us a hand. How the children looked forward to his coming! He caught them baby rabbits and hedgehogs for pets and found them birds' nests.

On Sundays he taught them to tickle trout and they spent one morning chasing eels up and down the beck, ponging them with my kitchen fork and putting them in the bath tub till they were ready for skinning. Our guests found them and nearly had hysterics. Late each evening after the day's work he set rabbit snares and provided us with many a tasty hay-time stew. This was before the rabbit disease. 

 

What a splendid worker he was, too! The young Irishmen who go into the country demand a high wage, but the skilled ones are worth every pound of it. John was a farmer's son and had learned his craft from the age of six or so. I must say, he knew his poaching too!

 

Hay on Tripods 

NOW we do not have Irishmen anymore because of the weather. Excepting for the remarkable summer of 1955, the last few hay-times have hardy seen a dry day up in these hills. We shiver in barns over mugs of tea and cakes I bring out to refresh the tired men, and my husband drives the tractor well muffled in thick pullovers and scarves. If a fine day comes one might be lucky enough to get hold of that popular man, the baler. How exciting that is!

 

The baling machine goes round and round the field, licking up hay at one end and spitting it out in neatly tied bales at the other. Everyone turns out to help or watch, and the cats all come out top play leap-frog over the bales. For a few hours the hayfield looks more like its old cheerful self of the days when summers were summers. 

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