Dairy Days walk: Askrigg

A major part of the interpretation that we hope to offer as part of the Dairy Days project will be a set of six walk booklets introducing visitors to the hidden heritage of dairying around Wensleydale. We’ve now begun work on the the first of these walks – around Askrigg.

Askrigg walk planning in progress
Askrigg walk planning in progress

The route has been selected by our ranger Nigel Metcalfe who knows the area well and consists of a main loop from Askrigg up to Skell Gill and back via Mill Gill, with an extra shorter loop around Askrigg Bottoms to take in some of the history of dairying at Lowlands Farm that we learned about last week.

We already have quite a few fascinating stories about dairying in Askrigg itself, such as Amy Scarr nee Mason‘s memories as a child of making cheese at Mason’s Dairy:

“They gathered milk from ‘The Common’, Worton, Abbotside, and Newbiggin etc. on a low wagon pulled by a horse. The cheese was not quite like ‘Farmhouse’ being deeper in colour, but it was very good and very rich.”
Amy Scarr nee Mason (unknown date)

But we’ve also been finding out new information, such as the fact that in the late nineteenth century, Askrigg briefly restarted its weekly Thursday market when they heard the Wensleydale railway was coming:

“An eye-witness recorded a show of pigs, poultry, and seven hundred sheep, that many tradesmen set up stalls, and that farmers’ wives displayed baskets of butter at the cross”
Marie Hartley & Joan Ingilby (1953) ‘A Yorkshire Village’ p180

As we followed the trail along the line of the old railway we passed the site of Fors Abbey where a small number of Savigniac monks founded their short-lived abbey in 1145. They had several hundred sheep and forty cows and were certainly making cheese and probably butter as they declared that “they were confident that they could find bread, ale, cheese and butter for the first year”
‘Victoria County History’ Richmondshire 23 The Abbey of Jervaulx.

Their landownership we discovered had far-reaching consequences long after they had been absorbed by the Cistercian order and relocated to Jervaulx. Evidence for this comes from an early seventeenth century survey of the Manor of Wensleydale or Dale Grange which was essentially the monastic estate. Three of the hillside pastures where they grazed their cows form part of the walk route, known since at least 1605 as ‘Brakinbarr’ ie Breconbar, ‘the Spenn’ and ‘Grainger Gill’ ie Grange Gill.
Thomas Stuart Willan & Ely Wilkinson Crossley (eds) (2014) ‘Three Seventeenth Century Yorkshire Surveys’ p6-7

We pass Yorescott farm from which we have a set of detailed mid-nineteenth century farm account books belonging to dairy farmer James Willis as well as a collection of photographs from the Hopper family who farmed there a hundred years later.

Joseph Hopper and dairy shorthorn cow. Courtesy of Janina Holubecki
Joseph Hopper and dairy shorthorn cow. Courtesy of Janina Holubecki

Field names form a fascinating part of the research, and land ownership and tenancies add another dimension to the research for the walk. From the 1840 Tithe records for Low Abbotside we’ve been learning about a farmer called Ann or Anna Pratt, who lived on the site of the monastic farm or grange, called Dale Grange. By the nineteenth century, the name of the little group of houses had been shortened to Grange, it lies near the turning off the Askrigg to Hawes road down to Bainbridge. She owned a cluster of meadows and a cow barn way up Skelgill Lane, another barn near Helm and a large meadow called Great Close to the west of Grange alongside the Askrigg road. From the 1841 census record we found that she was aged 50 and farmed all of this with just the help of one servant called John Ash.

1841 census return for Low Abbotside showing Anna Pratt and John Ash at Grange. With permission of The Genealogist and National Archives
1841 census return for Low Abbotside showing Anna Pratt and John Ash at Grange. With permission of The Genealogist and National Archives

The hamlet of Skell Gill where Anna had some of her meadows takes us back further in time even than the monks of Fors, our archaeology survey work has mapped what may be an early medieval farmstead, and the name Skell comes from the Old Norse skali meaning a shieling or summer pasturing site.

We pass through Anna Pratt’s fields and then on to New Park which is where we believe her servant John Ash ended up twenty years later, married and renting 12 acres of farmland. The route then returns to Askrigg past a little outpost of the Manor of Wensleydale in High Abbotside township, a cluster of meadows called Storra Flatts.

Once we’ve completed researching all these stories and maybe adding a few new ones, our volunteers will be checking the routes and taking photographs ready for us to then turn them into the first of our colourful printed walk booklets.

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