Thursday, 26 July 2012

A good spot for sport

While many people throughout the world are excitedly awaiting London 2012, at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority we’re excitedly awaiting National Parks Week.

Kicking off on 30 July – only three days after the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony – National Parks Week will run to 5 August and is a time for the nation to celebrate and enjoy the best of British countryside.

Team GB, in this case, is made up of the 15 national parks across England, Scotland and Wales, and each will run a series of special events and activities throughout the week so that people can experience the uniqueness of these protected areas.

In 2012 we will be holding up a torch to national parks as Britain’s ‘winning landscapes’, exploring their long connection with recreational pursuits and competitive spirit. Our beautiful winning landscapes have inspired mountaineers, sailors, cyclists, runners and Olympic athletes to aim higher and train harder – sometimes to record-breaking effect.

A quick count in and around the Yorkshire Dales uncovers upwards of 35 high-performing sports people – retired, active or stars of the future – who have a connection with the area.  From horse riders to wind surfers, footballers to skiers, many undoubtedly have taken to the hills, roads and water of the National Park to improve their fitness and hone their skills.

Known as ‘green gyms’, national parks provide considerably more interest than the four walls of your local fitness centre or professional training facilities. Both may improve physical fitness, but research shows that exercising in the natural environment could also improve mental fitness. Those that choose the outdoors may experience greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. With winning being as much about mental attitude as physical ability, it is little wonder so many sports people are training outdoors in national parks. 

Maurice Collett on relay day (20 June 2012)
Exercising outdoors is not a modern trend. For generations the competitive spirit in the Yorkshire Dales has come to the fore at the many annual shows, festivals, sports and events. This year’s summer exhibition at Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes explores the subject further and will be looking at the people and communities who have used the rugged outdoors to challenge and inspire themselves.

Also on display at the ‘Sporting Spirit’ exhibition, which runs from July 7 to September 4, is the Olympic Torch that carried the flame through Aysgarth and down to the iconic falls. It was kindly lent to us by Maurice Collett, the 89-year-old Kendal man who carried it in the Yorkshire Dales National Park stage of the torch relay.

You may also wish to join us on during National Parks Week where we will be hosting a live chat with climber extraordinaire John Dunne, who learnt his craft and blazed new trails up many of the limestone and gritstone rock faces of the Dales. Thursday 2 August 2pm to 4pm, mark your posts #yorkshiredales

More information, including a list of National Parks Week events, can be found at

Read articles like this in our monthly ‘National Park Notes’ column in the Darlington and Stockton Times.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Stone me! That's a lot of archaeology

We often think about archaeology as hidden history - digging to uncover the mysteries of the past that lay buried beneath our feet. 

But much of our heritage is completely visible to us every day.

The intricate pattern of stone barns and walls in the Dales show how farming has helped shape this landscape. Along with associated features such as stiles and gateposts, as well as curiosities like sheep creeps and pinfolds, they are a fascinating part of the National Park story to look for on a day out.
Buck and doe style coping stones on the
Settle-Carlisle Railway

Did you know there are over 8,500km of drystone walls in the Yorkshire Dales? Look closely and you will see there is a lot of variety. The top row are called coping stones and on parts of the Settle-Carlisle Railway lineside walling a ‘buck and doe’ pattern of short and tall stones was used, whereas in Wensleydale they were typically placed on top of large flat through stones. A good drystone waller can build five metres a day.

A squeeze stile
Stile design was born out of tradition, with the nature and availability of local stone dictating the type of construction. The most common form is a step stile, but squeeze stiles with their large slabs of shaped stone can also be found, especially in Wensleydale due to the presence of sandstone beds containing rock that can be easily quarried or split. 

Scattered around the moors and valleys, sheepfolds are stone enclosures used when gathering sheep for treatment or transportation. Washing the sheep before taking them to market meant the price of wool would be increased, so some sheepfolds were built near becks and gills. The beck would be dammed to raise the water level and the sheep pushed in and under with sticks for a thorough drenching.

Gatepost (or stoup) in Coverdale,
where some of the best
examples can be seen.
Until the eighteenth century, two stone posts cut with sockets and grooves respectively was a common design for gateposts (or stoups). Removable wooden poles were then fitted to close the gap.

Originally designed just for animals, most are too narrow for vehicles. One post was often removed to widen access and it is now unusual to find examples in the Dales with both the original gateposts in situ. 
Many house date stones relate to the seventeenth century when the country was prospering and there was a period of great rebuilding. Most barn date stones refer to the late eighteenth century; any earlier date stones are most likely reused from previous domestic buildings.

Stock underpass at Yarnbury
Stock underpasses - small tunnels below walled tracks or roads - were designed to allow cattle and other animals to access water. Most date from the 1750s to 1850s.

Smaller than field barns, compact stone buildings known as hennery piggeries housed pigs below and hens in the loft above, with stone or wooden steps leading to the upper level. Usually sited close to the farm house, the reason for this alliance was that foxes do not like pigs and thus were kept away from the vulnerable hens.

Sheep pinfold at Linton
Due to the practice of collective farming and communal grazing, livestock often roamed freely. Animals that wandered onto someone else’s meadow or land reserved for crops could cause damage so were captured and held in enclosures called pinfolds or pounds until their owner reclaimed them and a fine had been paid.

Sheep creep

Sheep creeps are passages in drystone walls which allow sheep to pass between fields - generally to gain access to water - but which are too small for cattle. The gap was blocked with a slab until the farmer wanted to allow access.

Smaller holes were sometimes created for rabbits as it prevented them burrowing and causing the wall to collapse – but often a ‘drop box’ was fitted below one side of the wall to catch them!

This month sees the national Festival of British Archaeology with fun family events taking place all over the country.

At the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes there is still time to catch an illustrated talk by local historian David Johnson with artefacts available to handle (21 July, 2-4pm), and an all day drop-in session with Annie Hamilton Gibney making coil pots using archaeological finds for inspiration (28 July).

You can also explore the historic features of the National Park - from churn stands to turbary stones - online on our Feature of the Season pages.

Friday, 6 July 2012

A wheely good time

This June, I was lucky enough to spend a week cycling from coast to coast in France through the Pyrenees – from Biarritz on the Atlantic to Argeles-sur-Mer on the Mediterranean. 

Not surprisingly, this wasn’t a flat ride as it takes in many of the cols* made famous by the Tour de France - taking place right now over the Channel. 

Although I am not new to climbing big hills, dragging yourself out of bed at 7.30 for breakfast to do it the next day, and the one after, and the one after … did become distinctly distressing! It was certainly a massive relief to crest the final col and know it was all downhill and flat to the sea.

Mark and partner Bex are no strangers to the hills -
here they tackle the Way of the Roses
We were a group of 21 cyclists from all over the UK, as well as a smattering of Australians, and one thing was clear - how lucky I am to have the Dales to do my training rides in.

The mountains here may not be on the same scale as the Alps or Pyrenees and the climbs not as long, but they are a great place to prepare, often having steeper gradients and still with those great views on reaching the top.

The scenery in the National Park just inspires you to get on your bike, and I love the climbs between the dales as each valley is so different as you cross between them.

We are also fortunate to have plenty of pubs and cafés to stop at in the area, and most towns and villages have a shop so you can keep stocked up on bananas and Eccles cakes – they sell plenty of other things but that’s what I go for!

The Dales has so many great climbs to chose from as a cyclist – Buttertubs Pass between Wensleydale and Swaledale, Fleets Moss between Langstrothdale and Hawes, Park Rash from Kettlewell to Coverdale, the climb to Tan Hill Inn (the highest pub in England), or the brutal Coal Road between Garsdale and Dent. And there are many more. 

It would be great to see the professional cyclists take some of these in if Yorkshire is successful in its bid to get the start of the Tour de France in 2016.

If you are new to the area and want to pick up some ideas of routes to do, then have a look on – you may be glad to know that not all the routes are hilly. There are great routes to start with that follow the valleys, such as the Wharfe up from Ilkley or peddling along Swaledale from Reeth, and then there is the more rolling countryside in the east of the Yorkshire Dales.

The other thing to think about is going on one of the many cyclosportives - rides with signed routes and feed stops - that take place in the area.

The most famous is the 112 mile and wonderfully named ‘Etape du Dales’ held every May. The president Brian Robinson was actually the first British rider to complete the Tour de France in 1955 and to win a stage (1958).

There are normally 10 to 15 similar rides throughout the year that come into the Dales, many of which are less fearsome whilst still a challenge.

As with any cycle challenge you need to prepare body and bike. Make sure your brakes are in good fettle and you have some low gears to get you over the hills. There are some great local bike shops if you want help to get your kit into shape - preparing your body might take more time but will probably cost you less in the end!

*col: a pass between two mountain peaks or a gap in a ridge