This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 1st December 2017, & the Gazette & Herald on 29th November 2017
We’re very fortunate that a kind friend regularly allows us to descend on him and his house near Grassington up in the Dales, a spectacular part of the world, and a magnet for lovers of countryside rambles. A bunch of us went up very recently on one very wet and foggy weekend.
Thirteen of us, five adults, six kids and two dogs, set off on a walking route that took us along the River Wharfe. The river was severely swollen, and had burst its banks in several places. The speed of the current was formidable, and when we stopped off at Linton Falls, we could feel the bridge trembling beneath our feet as the raging current thundered just a few feet below. I was glad to get off that bridge, which seemed so flimsy compared to the immense power of the water surging against its struts.
Thankfully, our local friend knew a number of alternative routes as the path ahead was totally flooded. We detoured to higher ground towards the village of Hebden where we happened upon one of the finest sights you can hope to witness on a long, strenuous walk – a pub with a notice saying “Muddy Boots and Dogs welcome”!
After essential sustenance (aka a pint and pork scratchings) we then headed further up into the Dales, following Hebden Beck. Now, as us Yorkshire folk know, a beck is a small, gentle, trickling stream. But not this day, oh no. It had morphed into a raging torrent twice as wide as usual, and so the normal crossing points were impassable. But, like a posse of Bear Grylls protégés, we were undeterred. The health and safety police might have had words with us, especially if they’d witnessed our less-than-safe methods of traversing rapids that were strong enough to sweep away one of the dogs after a mistimed jump. Thankfully he managed to scramble out further down, but it was a hair-raising (and dog-drenching) moment.
Despite the poor weather, the route was still stunning, and it skirted the remains of some abandoned lead mines. Remnants of blast furnaces and old mine entrances lay dormant and long-forsaken. We wondered at the difficulty of that kind of labour, and how they managed to carry the lead for significant distances across difficult terrain.
Lead mining is one of the oldest industries in the Dales, and in his column from November 27th 1976, Dad reveals that, amazingly, it probably began in the Grassington area as long ago a 300BC. The Romans excavated around there, leaving behind ingots of lead dating to around 70 to 100BC. The Saxons and Danes continued to mine, and when the Normans began their programme of building in the 11th century, demand for lead grew enormously, especially for their castles and monasteries. It was transported by pack-horse to markets in Richmond, Darlington and Ripon.
The early methods of mining were exceptionally laborious, and involved hacking out the veins of lead ore and smelting over a fire, or another way was to wash out the ore by diverting moorland streams to where they were needed. These practices barely changed for 1500 years, and early Swaledale farmers were known to supplement their income through mining. That all changed abruptly with the advent of the industrial revolution in the 18th century when new engineering techniques enabled the creation of very deep shafts and pumps to extract surplus water. Massive tunnels were dug, and smelting mills were built with huge chimneys to remove the fumes. At its peak between 1821 and 1861, more than 20,000 tonnes of lead was extracted from Grassington Moor. Lead mining drew to a halt around Grassington in the late 1800s when deposits of iron ore deeper in the ground turned out to be much less fruitful than expected.
In 2010, Grassington Moor received a £50,000 preservation grant from English Heritage and was listed as an ‘at risk’ ancient monument due to the underground erosion as a result of the mining.
North Yorkshire was a rich source of mineral ore, and over the other side of the county on the North York Moors, Dad’s maternal grandparents owned a pub in Glaisdale called the ‘Three Blast Furnaces’ after the smelting operation that was established near the village following the discovery of a rich seam of iron ore in nearby Rosedale in 1854. The pub was renamed ‘Anglers’ Rest’ after the Rosedale mine closed down in 1926.