The Origins of Bishopdale
[This section is under construction].
Bishopdale, on the south side of Wensleydale in North Yorkshire, was a glaciated valley during the last Ice Age and contained a glacial lake when the Ice Age ended. Sedimentary deposits from that lake left rich alluvial soil in the valley bottom in contrast to the thin alkaline soils on the surrounding hillsides.
The first human inhabitants arrived in this area between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. At first, they were hunter-gatherers who lived nomadic lives and took shelter where they could. Over time, they began to settle the land, domesticate animals and cultivate grain and vegetables. They also built a henge monument in lower Bishopdale known as Castle Dykes, the remains of which can be seen between Aysgarth and Gayle Ing.
No direct evidence of Neolithic farming communities has survived in Bishopdale, but Castle Dykes is believed to have been a Neolithic henge, probably built for religious or communal purposes, that dates from around 2000 to 1800 B.C. It would have required a lot of manpower over a considerable period of time to construct Castle Dykes and it is hard to conceive of it having been possible without the presence of several settled farming communities living nearby.
The earliest known settlements in Bishopdale were collections of hut circles and livestock enclosures, traces of which can be found on the hills on either side of the dale. The best preserved lies on Burton Moor on the west flank of Pen Hill. It dates from sometime between 1800 and 200 B.C. The small circles on this aerial photograph were huts and the larger circles were livestock enclosures. There is also evidence of a field system. Other settlements from that period on the hillsides above Bishopdale can be found on Stake Moss, in Gayle Ing Gill and alongside the track from Kidstones to Stalling Busk. At that time, the climate was wetter than today, which is probably why the settlements were on well-drained limestone high above the boggy valley bottoms. Faint traces of a settlement that may date from somewhere around 200 B.C. can also be seen on the edge of Thoralby in fields above Town Head.