Dairying has been at the heart of the Wensleydale economy since records began and is still thriving today. The legacy of this dairying heritage is all around, from barns and milk churn stands to cheese press stones and dairies. Evidence from prehistoric farmsteads and field boundaries hints at the farming of cattle since at least the Iron Age.
Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy Wensleydale’s beautiful scenery and also sample the products of the famous local dairying industry, from the eponymous cheese through to ice creams, cream teas; curd tarts and locally churned butter.
The Dairy Days project aims to research and share the story of the industry that helped shaped Wensleydale’s landscape and which still plays such an important part in the local economy. The project is funded by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority with a generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Follow the Dairy Days blog to find out how we get on and how you can get involved.
For further information, contact the Dairy Days project manager on 01756 751619 or firstname.lastname@example.org
We’ve just thoroughly enjoyed watching The Courtyard Dairy’s Cheese Chat Video featuring Lancashire cheese maker Graham Kirkham talking about his family’s cheese making traditions. He describes how his grandmother passed on her cheese making knowledge to his mother and how, after years of cheese making he finds himself coming full circle with a return to the more traditional styles of cheese that his grandmother had been making all those years earlier.
This reminded us of an interview with Kit Calvert that we’ve had passed to us from an unidentified publication.
It’s titled ‘The King of Wensleydale’. We’ll be writing more about the crucial role that Kit Calvert played in saving the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes later, but for the moment it’s interesting to read what he had to say about traditional cheese making in Wensleydale:
Many of us will have happy memories of reading Johanna Spyri’s ‘Heidi’ published in 1881, where the young heroine joins her grandfather high in the Swiss mountains as he and young Peter look after a herd of milk goats grazing on the sweet Alpine pastures.
In the winter when the snows arrived, the goats were brought back down to the shelter of the valley bottom farms. This is an ancient practice known as transhumance where members of a community or farming family (often the youngsters) took their animals (cows mainly in the UK but also sheep and goats) some distance from the family farm to graze them on remote pastures during the summer months. They lived with their beasts, milking them daily and bringing the milk or cheese made up on the hills regularly back to the main farm or village.
A really important part of the Dairy Days project will be investigating and recording the archaeological evidence for early cattle farming in Wensleydale. One of the most interesting sites we already know about dates to the Bronze Age (c. 2500 until c. 800 BC) and lies on Burton Moor.
The aerial photograph shows this fascinating site really clearly.
“Mr J. Swales, born 1874, of Low Wood, near Pateley Bridge, remembers a family story of his grandfather, born about 1812, going to Ripon to see a wise woman because the butter would not come, and she gave him some horseshoe nails in a bottle to be buried in the churchyard. Similarly, Margaret Little of Lowlands, Askrigg, Wensleydale, used to put a poker across the top of her stand churn to keep witches away” Hartley & Ingilby (1997 2nd ed p17)
We have historic records for dairying in Wensleydale going back to the medieval era but by that time people had already been milking cows, sheep and goats for thousands of years.
The very first farmers are associated with the Neolithic period. People were still using stone tools then, but they gradually stopped hunting and gathering their food and settled down to grow crops and farm animals. The first people to start farming lived in the so-called Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, 10,000 to 12,000 years ago (read more in this article from ScienceMag.)
They domesticated wild goats and sheep and also wild cattle known as Aurochs around 10,500 years ago. Archaeologists studying a fascinating range of evidence believe that using the milk from these animals began almost immediately and over the following two thousand years, dairying spread, along with farmers from western Anatolia (modern Turkey) throughout northern Europe.
One of our contacts has forwarded some excerpts from old Yorkshire newspapers about cheese making in Wensleydale. They date to around the turn of the last century and offer a fascinating insight into how seriously the manufacture of Wensleydale cheese and butter was taken locally.
One article titled ‘Blue Moulded Cheese’ dated 27th July 1911 quotes a gentleman called Mr John Benson writing in the Journal of the British Dairy Farmers’ Association as follows:
Our Dairy Days project is funded by both the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and most importantly, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
This means that if you play the lottery, then you are funding wonderful community projects like this one. We’re very keen to thank the people that contribute to our work so at last week’s Dairy Days launch event we presented a piece of delicious Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese to the first five National Lottery players who turned up with a recent ticket. We snapped photos of two of them!
We’ve been very busy sorting though all the amazing information, contacts, photos and objects that people brought in to share with us last week at the project launch. We had such a wonderful and productive day with lots of people turning up throughout the day to talk to us.
Just a quick blog about the fantastic launch event we had this week. Lots of fantastically interesting people turned up with photos; memorabilia; stories and some excellent questions for us to investigate.
We took lots of photos and a couple of videos which we’ll share next week. In the meantime here are some pics of the lovely National Lottery players who turned up to claim their free piece of Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese. Congratulations and THANK YOU!
We mentioned the 50th anniversary reissue of Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby’s book ‘Life & Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales’ in our last blog post. We got the chance to have a look round the accompanying exhibition at the Dales Countryside Museum yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed seeing their handwritten notes and wonderful sketches about dairying in the National Park.
The Wensleydale Creamery have teamed up with Welcome to Yorkshire to feature artisan cheese-making at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show. A little stone bothy will feature traditional cheese-making all set in a Yorkshire Dales National Park themed garden. What a great way to tell the story of our local cheese!
One of the most important sources of information about traditional dairying in the Yorkshire Dales is Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby’s book ‘Life & Tradition in the Yorkshire Dales’. The pair recorded and photographed life in the area during the 1930s when the last farmhouse cheeses were being made and people still milked by hand.