On leaving Middleham, we crossed the river Ure on an amazing bridge which looked like the entrance to a castle. Originally built in 1825 as a suspension bridge, it had to be rebuilt as a deck bridge after it was badly damaged in 1865. Mum told me that the original bridge collapsed as a result of a herd of cows going over it and walking in step, but we both thought that was a load of nonsense, because, if ever you watch a herd of cows on the road, they don’t even walk in a straight line, let alone all walk in step with each other.
She also told me that some distant relations of hers came over from the USA in the early 1990s and wanted to visit the Yorkshire Dales as they were great fans of All Creatures Great and Small and its author, James Heriot.
They were staying near London with some other distant relations, who said they would bring them to Harrogate for a few days and take them into the dales from there. They got as far as this lovely bridge and decided the road was far too narrow and scary for them to drive any further and so they turned round and headed back to Harrogate as fast as their car would take them. All I can say is that it’s a good job they didn’t try to go on the road we were heading for or they’d have all died of fright long before they got to the other end. But more about that in a moment…
Shortly after crossing the river Ure near Middleham we arrived in Wensley, which used to be the most important town in this part of the dale, but is now just a little village. Its large church reflects its former importance, however, and the dale is now named after the village, rather than after the river Ure (though older maps call it Yoredale).
There we rejoined the main road up Wensleydale and soon crossed the river again, before taking a narrow road to the left which would eventually take us to Kettewell, via Coverdale and many twists and turns and steep hills. It’s a route that’s been used a couple of times in the annual Tour de Yorkshire cycle race, though they approach it from the opposite end so that they have to pedal up the steepest gradients and round sharpest bends, rather than down them as we would be doing.
There weren’t any cyclists around that day, but the journey wasn’t without its hazards as first we met a large truck, whose driver seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see him. Luckily it was at a place where he could pull over a little bit at his side of the road and we all breathed in to make our bus narrower and we managed to squeeze past with all mirrors and paintwork intact.
Then we caught up with a whole flock of Mrs Sheeps and their almost-grown-up lambs trotting down the road in the same direction as we were going. They were well under control but there must have been at least 200 of them and they completely filled the road. All we could do was follow them patiently and hope they weren’t going far – and have a little smile at the clever one who had managed to hitch a lift in a trailer behind a quad bike. As you’ll see, Mum made a little video of them, but it’s not very good as she had to do it through the bus windscreen.
After what seemed like ten miles (but was probably much less than one!), we came to a road junction and the sheeps turned off to the right and we all breathed a sigh of relief as we were heading in the opposite direction.
There were no more hazards and very little traffic after that. Instead there was just mile after mile of beautiful scenery, with the May blossom in full bloom and the leaves finally showing on the ash trees – all alongside a road which wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Alps.
Soon we were dropping down Park Rash into the village of Kettlewell, where we made a brief stop by the river and Mum made this lovely video.
Wharfedale is her favourite of the Yorkshire dales and the stretch from Kettlewell upstream to Buckden is her favourite part of Wharefedale. It’s the inspiration for the background for her forthcoming novel, When Daffodils Bloom, and, though it’s hard to believe now, it was once an important lead-mining area. (You can read more about this in BM 49: The Wharfedale Mines by M. C. Gill, which my mum also worked on when she was editor of the Northern Mine Research Society publications.)
Many of the artefacts from the lead-mining industry, including the crusher from the Old Providence Mine on the hill above Kettlewell, were taken to, and preserved at, the Yorkshire Dales Lead Mining Museum at Earby by the Earby Mines Research Group. When this museum closed in 2015, over 850 items were given to the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes, which then received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to house and display them.
After Kettlewell we were heading for home, but taking a long route round, via Arncliffe in Littondale, where The Falcon pub was used as the original Woolpack in the early days of the Yorkshire Television soap opera, Emmerdale.
From there we went over the tops to Malham, where we had another brief stop and Mum spied this fantastic red hawthorn tree in full bloom.
Then we made our way down Malhamdale and back to our starting point in Airedale. It had been a wonderful day out and we’d all enjoyed every minute.
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