Following the work of our building conservation officers

As the National Park Authority’s Member Champion for Cultural Heritage, part of my role is to follow that area of work – so that I can understand the issues and challenges it presents and influence the National Park’s policies and approach accordingly.  Archaeology, building conservation and historic landscape features all fall within the cultural heritage remit. 

Conservation and enhancement of natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage is a statutory purpose of the National Park.  This means that we are able to employ specialist staff and give more time and attention to cultural heritage issues than is possible in countryside outside the National Park, a real benefit in my view.

Nonetheless, the building conservation team is very small, comprising just one role split between two officers. Each spends part of their time planning and overseeing repair and restoration of key listed buildings and other historic structures such as traditional farm buildings, and part of their time working within the development management team to guide development towards finding viable new uses for these buildings whilst retaining the most important elements of their character.  Much of the development management work relates to barn conversions.

Building conservation officers Peter Reynolds (left) and Gaby Rose (centre) viewing the interior of a barn consolidation project with archaeologist Dr David Johnson.
In the foreground is the byre where the cows would have been tethered over winter. The officers stand in the foddergang from where the cows would have been fed by the farmer, with hay stored in the mew above (the mezzanine floor no longer survives).

The built heritage of the National Park is very special, including the remains of rural industries such as lead mining and lime extraction, as well as fine structures such as Bolton Abbey and Pendragon Castle.  There are more than 2,000 listed buildings – 77 of which are currently considered to be ‘at risk’ – and a rich heritage of unlisted, but highly distinctive, stone-built traditional farm buildings. Historic field barns and their associated field patterns form unique historic landscape features and have come to be seen as an emblem of the Yorkshire Dales.

This May, I decided to have a close look at the work of our building conservation officers by joining them on a tour around Swaledale and Ribblehead. One of the most inspiring aspects of the day was the opportunity to also meet building conservation staff from Historic England and other UK national parks, exchanging information, experience and ideas as part of an annual meeting, which was hosted this year by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

Our first site visit was to Grinton lead smelt mill, a scheduled monument including three listed buildings, and one of the best preserved examples of its kind in Swaledale.  This is a site that the National Park has been involved with for many years.  Recent work to prepare the main building for a wedding has revealed the stone-flagged floor for the first time, but has also highlighted the fact that the listed stone culvert, which carries a stream past the mill building, is at risk of collapse, potentially flooding and damaging the mill itself.  Urgent remedial works are needed.

Miles Johnson, who leads the historic environment team, describing works at Grinton How smelt mill, with the peat store to the right and the mill in the background.

Later in the morning, we visited Reeth where local historians Alan and Judith Mills discussed the early origins of the town and then showed us around the former work- and poor-house area. Afterwards, we drove to Birks End House on the dale side opposite Low Row, a rare and unusually late (c.1730-40) example of a heather-thatched house which, again unusally, had not later been raised and stone slated, probably because of early abandonment. The cruck-framed heather-thatched building tradition lasted longer in Swaledale than in other parts of the Dales due to the area’s relative poverty and isolation.  Although now a ruin, the building’s steep gables (which were required for the thatch roof so that it can shed off water quickly) form a landmark in an elevated location, and listing is being sought to help ensure that the ruins can be stabilised and conserved.

Remains of Birks End House, a rare 18th century thatched farmhouse which was never altered due to early abandonment.  A replacement farmhouse was built on the hillside above in the 19th century.

From this site we also viewed the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Barns & Walls Conservation Area – the largest conservation area in the country – which is ‘at risk’ as most of the field barns (cowhouses) are no longer in agricultural use and are left to decline.  This is one of the biggest and most intractable conservation issues facing the National Park today.  Significant funding is needed to repair, restore and – where appropriate – find adaptive new uses for these barns to ensure their survival.  To secure such funding by 2022 is identified as an important but ‘very challenging’ objective of the National Park Management Plan.

Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Barns and Walls Conservation Area, with Birks End House.

In the afternoon, we met up with archaeologist Dr David Johnson to visit the abandoned settlement of Thorns near Ribblehead. This is accessed by walking along an ancient routeway and across a listed packhorse bridge – grassed, with no parapets!  Arching high above a limestone gorge, this bridge recently required re-pointing the mortar joints and placing turf across its eroded surface track – a difficult and potentially dangerous task that had to be undertaken by a specialist contractor, roped up for safety. 

The listed packhorse bridge near Thorns, which potentially has medieval origins.

We then arrived at the small deserted hamlet of Thorns, established in the 12th century and abandoned in the late 19th century, and set in an open drumlin landscape, marked by a group of ancient trees. The surrounding network of earthworks, walled fields and tracks, as well as the remains of houses, barns and the communal privy, have all been surveyed – and some of them consolidated – as part of the Ingleborough Dales Landscape Partnership ‘Stories in Stone’ project, which was led by Dr Johnson.  The settlement has a haunting sense of the past.

A large ‘bank’ barn survives – that is, a barn which is partially ‘dug’ into the ground, with the ground floor accessed from the front and first floor accessed from the rear. This is a building type that is usually not found in this part of the country, but common in Cumbria, with a few examples in Wensleydale and Swaledale. It could still fulfill a useful agricultural purpose, but its roof is in a perilous state. 

The ‘bank’ barn at Thorns, viewed from the rear which accesses the first floor – in need of urgent roof repairs.

Our final stop was Ribblehead, where we discussed the Settle-Carlisle Conservation Area, the longest conservation area in the country. We looked at the typical Midland Railway station architecture, the impressive Grade II* listed viaduct with its 24 arches, and the construction (navvy) camps of which only a few traces can now be seen.

The group of National Park Authority building conservation officers with Dr Johnson (far left) and myself (fourth from the right) at Ribblehead Viaduct.

Of course, all the sites that we visited were just part of our building conservation officers’ role.  As a member of the National Park Authority’s Planning Committee,  I am already very familiar with their input to the development management process, where they work ‘behind the scenes’ to ensure that planning applications for listed buildings and traditional farm buildings respect and enhance historic character. Their in-depth knowledge and understanding of local buildings’ history, evolution, and suitability for new uses is fed through to applicants and their agents, and often contributes very positively to the emergence of high-quality design.

So a fitting close to the field trip day was to find out that a recent planning application which our officers put a great deal of time into – the conversion of the Grade I listed Tithe Barn at Bolton Abbey to a wedding venue – had won a RIBA regional award.  The judges’ comments refer to the way in which the scheme has restored and exposed the scale and simplicity of the original building, removed 20th century additions cluttering the interior, and sympathetically accommodated essential changes.

The Tithe Barn at Bolton Abbey, recently converted to a wedding venue.

All in a day’s work?

Meet the volunteers who spent over half the year in the National Park

Volunteering is about people – and we have some amazing people here in Yorkshire Dales National Park.  In the time I have been here it has been a pleasure to get to know our volunteers and understand all that they get up to.

Despite the people focus we do of course look at numbers and, recently, in tallying up volunteer days for last year, my eye was caught by two particular individuals who had between them clocked up a staggering 190 days and 1,330 hours volunteering last year. That’s 190 days, 1,330 hours! To put it another way, for more than half the year one of them could always be found, in various corners of the Park, freely giving their time and skill in order to make a difference. That’s quite amazing. 

I contacted Dick Laidler, member of the north area team of Dales Volunteers, and Barbara Throup, member of the south area team of Dales Volunteers, to ask if I could write about them volunteering more hours than anyone else last year, and requested a few words from them. I was not surprised when only the briefest of responses came back; so many of our volunteers are modest to the core and opt to keep their contributions quiet.

Dick Laider, Member of Northern Team and Area Team Co-ordinator

Nevertheless, I took their response as a “yes” so… please meet Dick. Dick has volunteered with us for over 19 years. In all weathers he will be found, predominantly in the northern area of the Park, often alongside the Ragged Robins group, a conservation team, but in other guises too. As a ‘Master Waller’ he will have almost certainly improved many of the walls along the Public Rights of Way though Wensleydale and Swaledale, and if you have walked these routes, you may well have encountered him and his team. He loves nothing better than a chat with passers-by.

As well as undertaking lots of physical ranger-led activities, Dick also co-ordinates the other volunteers in the northern team in an endlessly unflappable way. He certainly leads by example, notching up more days than any other this year, an amazing 110 days. Dick, we think you’re great, a heartfelt thank you!

Barbara Throup and a fellow Dales Volunteer

Please also meet Barbara. Another long term volunteer, Barbara has worked with us for over 21 years, and surely clocked up an impressive 80 days last year. When asked what she likes about it – Barbara told me:

“I enjoy volunteering because of the variety of activities and the comradery that goes with it. When out and about, carrying out my duties, it is good to talk to members of the public and explain the work that we are doing, why it is so important, and what the National Park is about”.  

She, like Dick, co-ordinates a team in addition to practical activities, overseeing the survey of all the parish paths in the south area of the National Park. A complex task: last year our Dales Volunteers spent over 1,800 days surveying and maintain our Public Rights of Way throughout the National Park.  Barbara – a huge thank you, too, for all you do. You’ll never shout about it so we have instead!

Volunteering with us is not all mud and stiles, see the magnificent Semerwater Spear showcased by another of our excellent volunteers.

Although this post is about numbers – big numbers – long-term volunteering, notching up many, many hours’ contribution and celebrating that – it is also about the people. Our dedicated Dales Volunteers, like Barbara and Dick, are the backbone of all we do.  We have over 300 regular Dales Volunteers just like them, carrying out over 200 distinct activities across the Park, clocking up nearly 7,000 days of volunteering between them.

But, please do not let that put you off. If you are interested in volunteering with us, you do not need to be able to commit long-term or for a fixed or significant number of days per year. Increasingly, many of the roles we have to offer are flexible with no or low time commitments. Equally, they don’t all involve being outside, although of course a good many do. We are a National Park after all!.

If you are interested in finding our more, please do get in touch by contacting

Walk leader training in West Burton

We had an absolutely glorious day in West Burton with a group of nine Dales Volunteers and two job experience teenagers yesterday. The aim was to both check up on their skills as guided walk leaders and introduce them to the Dairy Days walk routes and research that we are in the middle of preparing.

Community Archaeologist Doug Mitcham talking to volunteers
Community Archaeologist Doug Mitcham talking to volunteers

Project Officer Karen Griffiths and Community Archaeologist Doug Mitcham were joined by local Sally Stone who has contributed an oral history recording of her life on farms in Walden.

We had a couple of indoor sessions: one looking at the background to the project and the range of walking trails being developed that the volunteers might adapt into Guided Walks, the other examining the results of the archaeological and built heritage survey work that Doug has been managing.

Of course, we also had a walk along part of the trail we are planning up Walden, Sally Stone talked about her memories of milking at Town Head Farm.

Sally Stone describing the dairy at Town Head Farm
Sally Stone describing the dairy at Town Head Farm

Doug and Karen then showed the volunteers the medieval field systems lying along the parish boundary between Burton cum Walden and Newbiggin before having a peer inside a derelict barn with its cattle booses (stalls) still visible.

Doug Mitcham talking about medieval field systems

We had a delicious dairy-themed lunch supplied by Humble Pie in Askrigg before repeating the whole session with the rest of the volunteers. We hope to run a second training day later in the year and with any luck there will be dairy days themed guided walks in next year’s national park events programme.

Is Horton the 4th most popular place to start a hike in Britain? I’m not so sure.

Pen-y-ghent emerging from the mist

It’s the traditional start of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge route and yes it gets very busy in the peak season, but is Horton-in-Ribblesdale really the fourth most popular place to start a walk in Britain?

As reported by the BBC this week, data from users of the Ordnance Survey app suggests just that. Using data from over 800, 000 routes Horton joined Edale (Peak District), Fairholmes (Peak District), Pen-y-Pass (Snowdonia), and Ambleside (Lake District) to make the top 5 most popular starting points. At face value that looks quite conclusive, but there are a couple of caveats.

Firstly, the data comes from users of the app. Whilst not exclusively, they are more likely to be from a certain demographic. To put it bluntly – the younger generation. So we are already missing a large section of the walking fraternity from the results, who are arguably more likely to be out walking.

Secondly,  it’s probable that this data doesn’t necessarily include start points for shorter walks. Would you get out your app to take a leisurely stroll up Malham Cove, for example? Perhaps you are the type that counts every inch as you work towards your daily 10,000 step goal, but I suspect most don’t. It’s far more likely that it’s those setting out on a longer, more challenging route that are going to hit the start button on their tracking app.

Perhaps a more suitable statement would be:

‘Horton is the 4th most popular start point for a certain demographic of user, taking on a typically longer route, and based on a limited data set from the Ordnance Survey app’

But then that’s not so punchy.

Panoramic shot oof the sun coming up over the Three Peaks
Sun hitting all of the peaks

With all that said, this is still a large enough dataset to be indicative of something that we are already aware of. The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is as popular (if not more so) than ever, with over an estimated 100,000 people walking the route each year. And this means large numbers of people descend on Horton most weekends, peaking in the summer months. Many of these taking part in large organised events.

Understandably this is leading to friction with some local residents. Noise early in the morning and late in the evening from  people starting out or coming back from the walk, cars parked on road verges, public urination, and even verbal abuse have all been reported in recent years.

NB: It’s worth pointing out at this point that the Three Peaks is also seen as providing a boost to the local economy, so it’s not all bad. 

Despite the issues with the results it only goes to backup what we already know from anecdotal and actual evidence. Horton is a very popular starting point and we are working with the community to manage the issues.

Recently we launched a Code of Conduct that was drawn up with people from the community. We have also created a guide for event organisers . We now need to get this to the people before they arrive.

Our next step is launching a new FREE notification scheme, open to all people wanting to come and take on the Three Peaks Challenge. Whether an individual or an organisation planning a larger walk we want to hear from them all. Anyone who registers will receive the useful information mentioned above and also discounts on our Three Peaks app (iOS and Android) and on Three Peaks merchandise.


Five go to Cyprus!

Tour of Nicosia

On 5th December, five staff and volunteer members from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority set off to Lefkara in Cyprus to take part in a PRIDE2 (Partnership for Rural Improvement & Development in Europe) week-long training course, organised by GRAMPUS and funded by the EU through its Erasmus+ programme. This was was a cultural exchange and a chance to share knowledge, as well as a great opportunity to learn about a new culture, food and traditions, and to see a completely different way of life.

Continue reading “Five go to Cyprus!”

Come Walking in our Winter Wonderland

Top tips for getting the whole family out into the National Park this Christmas season

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is beautiful all year round, but when nature adds that extra frost-kissed sparkle there really is no better place to get outdoors and close to nature, and enjoy time together as a family.

We’ve picked some of our favourite walks and outdoor activities which are suitable for the whole family over the Christmas period – wrap up warm and enjoy!

Church bells ring… are you listening?

Looking over a suspension bridge over a river
The suspension bridge at Hebden

The whole family can have a go at our ‘Miles without Stiles’ routes – 17 specially developed trails to enable mixed ability parties to explore the National Park.

One of our favourites is a walk from the village of Burnsall along the River Wharfe. Listen out for the bells of St Wilfred’s Parish Church as you stroll this popular section of the Dales Way between Burnsall and Hebden Suspension Bridge.

More information can be found at

Down the lane… our waterfalls are glistening

Another of our ‘Miles without Stiles’ routes takes you to the bottom of Gordale Scar, one of the jewels in the crown of the National Park. This awesome hidden gorge has wowed visitors for hundreds of years and inspired famous artists and writers.

Carey Davies of BMC and TGO at Gordale Scar (Photo: Chris Davies)
Carey Davies of BMC and TGO at Gordale Scar (Photo: Chris Davies)

Part of the Middle Craven Fault, Gordale Scar was created as torrents of glacial meltwater flowed over it, cutting down through faults in the rock. Successive Ice Ages carved it deeper and deeper over thousands of years to create the deep gorge we see today. The water that flows over the waterfall at the heart of the ravine is rich in dissolved limestone, and earlier this year it transformed into a ‘Frozen’-esque 20ft sheet of ice!

Wensleydale, known as the ‘the valley of the waterfalls’, is home to both the world-famous eponymous cheese (which goes well with a slice of Christmas cake) and Cotter Force. This lovely secluded waterfall, west of Hawes, is in a wooded setting, and part of a series of around six falls with the largest single drop being about 1.5m.

The accessible routes to Gordale Scar and Cotter Force can also be found at For a longer route at Malham, the gorge is part of our popular ‘Malham Landscape Trail’ and trail leaflets can be bought at Malham National Park Centre.

To find out more about the geology of the National Park, take a look at this great new website

A beautiful sight… we’re stargazing tonight

A stunning night sky over Ribblehead Viaduct
A stunning night sky over Ribblehead Viaduct

The superb dark skies of the Yorkshire Dales National Park are one of the things that make it such a special place. Our winter skies are a stargazer’s paradise and it is most certainly an activity the whole family can enjoy together. On a clear night you could see as many as 2,000 stars, the Milky Way, planets, the northern lights and shooting stars – and not forgetting our Moon.

Wrap up very warm, bring a flask, a pair of binoculars (if you have them) and something to sit on, and head out to the National Park. All you have to do is look up and enjoy nature’s Christmas sparkle.

There are four Dark Sky Discovery Sites around the National Park, which are a great place to start your stargazing adventure. These locations are open to the public, provide parking and other facilities, and are accessible to people of all abilities: Malham National Park Centre (BD23 4DA), Buckden National Park Car Park (BD23 5JA), Hawes

National Park Centre (DL8 3NT) and Tan Hill Inn (DL11 6ED).

Download our stargazers’ leaflet for more information

Walking in a Winter… Woodland

Woodland covers only about 5% of the National Park, but what we have is very special for maintaining our diverse mix of plants, animals and habitats.

Two children holding branches and smiling
Enjoying the forest in Freeholders Wood (Photo: Stephen Garnett Photography) 

Grass Woods (near Grassington), Bolton Abbey, and Freeholders’ Wood (near Aysgarth Falls) are all great locations for a family woodland walk – pull on your wellies and go explore along the paths.

As the trees have lost their leaves now, winter is all about the twig. Just like leaves each tree has a different twig – see how many you can spot.

There are so many things to do in the wood – Grandad certainly won’t be bored! Take a matchbox and collect 10 tiny treasures (not insects, though), do some contrasting bark rubbings, make twig art, or just sit quietly for a while and see what you can hear.

We challenge you to find the biggest tree in the wood by measuring how many family members you need to join together to give it a big warm hug. If you want to learn more about winter trees, we really love The Woodland Trust’s Winter Tree ID kit .

Gone away, has the blue bird; here to stay, is…

Well, lots of our feathered friends, actually. Bird spotting is a great winter activity and, with the leaves on the trees gone, you’ve got even more chance of finding them. Can you spot any of our winter thrushes on your walk (fieldfare, redwing, blackbird and song thrush)? They might be seen feeding on berries along hedgerows or woodland edges and/or in the fields.

Who do you think made these footprints?

The accessible footpath through the nature reserve at Killington New Bridge runs alongside a traditionally managed native hedgerow, grassland and shrub, all offering a perfect habitat and food for wildlife. Keep your eyes and ears out and, as well as winter thrushes, you could see mammals such as squirrels and stoats (or their tracks in the snow). You’ll have to look carefully, though, as the hair on a stoat can turn pure white in winter to camouflage it against the snow. The tip of the tail always remains black, which is the way to tell a stoat from a weasel.

He sings a love song, as we go along…

A closeup photo of a Robin
A very friendly robin posing for the camera

Most of our song birds quieten down for winter – they are too busy finding food and keeping warm – but listen out for the robin who is one of the few birds in the National Park who sings all year long. Robins always make us smile, so, if you spot one this winter, please share your picture with us.

Have fun… Walking in our Winter Wonderland!

Cheese Festival – a second bite

Cheese Festival Street Food

A month has passed since our second, incredible Yorkshire Dales Cheese Festival. We believe we managed to achieve an ever bigger and better event this year, and we hope you think so, too!

We had not one, but two hub events, including the first ever Beer and Beef Festival in the region.

The Cheese Festival @ Wensleydale Creamery opened the week-long festivities, with 35 local food and drink producers ‘wedged’ into the bustling marquee. There were cheese tastings, pairings and talks, cookery demonstrations, street food stalls, and excellent live entertainment from some very talented bands.

The Beer and Beef Festival, at Springhill Farm, Jervaulx, ended the celebrations with a bang – twelve hours of (unsurprisingly) beer, beef, fun and music!

Throughout the week some truly brilliant businesses got on board the cheese train, creating cheese-themed menus, farm walks, and demos, and helping people discover the fabulous dairying heritage of the Yorkshire Dales.

We’re going to let the pictures do most of the talking, but before we do we’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to all the fantastic producers, suppliers and businesses that took part – it wouldn’t be what it is without you.

Visit to see the full star line-up for 2018 and find out more about them, as well as keeping an eye out for what’s coming in 2019. When it comes to our amazing local produce we have so much to celebrate.

Here’s to #CheeseFest19.

Dog enjoying cheese
“Yes, that’s fine. I’ll take half a pound, please.”

Cheese sniffing
“Boy, that’s a smelly cheese!”

Having a good laugh at the cheese tasting
“What does cheese say to itself in the mirror?” “Halloumi”

Band playing at the Cheese Festival
“Sweet dreams are made of cheese, who am I to diss a brie, I Cheddar the world and the Feta cheese, everybodys looking for Stilton.”

Cheese cake tower
No if’s, no buts, this will be my wedding cake!

Cheese tasting at the Festival
Give me that cheeeese!

Cheese selfie with some cheese
Say cheese… eat cheese… sleep cheese! Good advice from John Natlacen of The Churchmouse, Barbon.

This cheese comes with matching sunglasses.

We even have invisible cheese! The lovely Razan Alsous of Yorkshire Dama demonstrates.

A cheese explosion! Was that supposed to happen?

“Can we go home now? You two have had enough cheese!”

“Please sir, have some Baa Bon cheese?”

Cheese Hay Bales
…and we have some extra large packs for the serious cheese eater!

Young People in Rural Communities Call for Action

The Youth Manifesto

I don’t know if you have heard, but we are facing a serious issue in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s not a new issue, but it’s escalating – and escalating fast.

We cannot attract or retain young people in the area.

As a young person who moved to live in the Yorkshire Dales and work in the National Park a year ago, the barriers for those wishing to do the same in rural and protected areas have been brought to my attention.

Continue reading “Young People in Rural Communities Call for Action”

All Aboard the Longest Conservation Area

For September’s Site of the Month we are looking at something a little bit different. It is focused on the whole Settle to Carlisle Railway, which is still a working line today. It is also the longest Conservation Area in the UK! The construction of the railway has been described by some as one of the most extraordinary feats of Victorian railway engineering, and by others as one of the most foolhardy. Continue reading “All Aboard the Longest Conservation Area”

How are ‘priority habitats’ assessed in the Yorkshire Dales National Park?

Ecologist Robyn Guppy of Haycock & Jay Associates in Hodgehill Wood near Sedbergh, inputting survey data into a tablet

From where I’m sitting at a desk in Bainbridge, gazing out of the window (hard life), the Yorkshire Dales National Park is looking mighty fine.  But is it as lovely as it looks?  Just what is the state of nature in the Park?  Do we even know?

It was these questions which prompted me to take a look at a piece of work our wildlife conservation team has been conducting since the start of the decade.

Continue reading “How are ‘priority habitats’ assessed in the Yorkshire Dales National Park?”