Forty two years after my last visit with a troop of pals from North Leeds, armed with a little more than my brothers US army water bottle, the thinnest and coldest sleeping bag ever made, and, more than a couple of tins of Heinz 57 baked beans, I descended on this, one of the Gems in the Yorkshire Crown, with the same enthusiasm but a slightly greater interest in the overall surroundings, historical and picturesque availability of this part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. True Yorkshire folk have never accepted and never will accept the 1972 bureaucratic butchering of God’s Own County, Yorkshire consists of three Ridings, North, West and East, it has done since the Vikings divided it and gave us the Yorkshire accent, and, to all purists like myself, remains so, period. On the previous visit, we’d camped next to the stream, on a camp site outside Appletreewick, closer to the hamlet of Skyreholme, I seem to remember being called ‘Denis’s Farm’, a lesson in tent location if ever there was one, instead of the sound of the fast flowing stream of Fir Beck serving as a soothing lullaby for weary youths, it sounded more like we were at the base of the Niagra Falls, an early lesson in the great outdoors, never forgotten.
How times have changed over the years, this time, the campsite was only a couple of hundreds of yards west of the village, it advertised ‘glamping’, and had staff wearing T-shirts which emblazed ‘crew’ on the back of them. Like many modern campsites, it had all the required amenities, and, rules and regulations, plus, if required, all the necessary accessories possibly available for hire the inexperienced camper could possibly need. An ideal family campsite, not how I remembered my last visit, but that was a few years ago and this time I did have my family with me. Memories of the farmer, armed with a milk bottle in each hand, chasing us down the road for unpaid rent didn’t figure anymore, besides, these days, pitch rent is paid upfront.
Anyway, there we were at Appletreewick, voted in a 2009 study of rural driving as one of the friendliest villages in the country to drive through, and, without doubt, one of the most beautiful locations the Yorkshire Dales has to offer.
Appletreewick is a small village and civil parish in the Craven district of the West Riding of Yorkshire, England; situated 12 miles (19 km) north-east of Skipton. The local travel links are located 7 miles (11 km) from the village to Skipton railway station and 16 miles (25.7 km) from Leeds Bradford International Airport. The village has a population of 234 according to the United Kingdom Census 2001.
It is in the Yorkshire Dales, located in northern England. A popular place for visitors especially in the summer months, people from nearby cities often visit Appletreewick to relax on the banks of the River Wharfe.
The parish includes a large area of moorland north of the village. It includes the hamlet of Skyreholme and a few houses at the western end of the village of Greenhow. The parish also includes Parcevall Hall, Stump Cross Caverns and the eastern part of Grimwith Reservoir.
The route I’d chosen was an anti-clockwise horseshoe of about 10K and was a historical gem, clearly absorbing 3 distinct periods of local history, Viking, Roman and Bronze Age, all within the confines of a single days walking. Much of it in the shadow of an old Wharfedale friend of mine, Simon’s Seat. For too many years I’d neglected the Dales of my home county in favour of the wilder, less tamed and more challenging Lake District but times have changed, and, as much as I love the Lakes, my recent priority is of giving my 9 year old son some basic outdoor experience prior to him joining me on the high stuff. The Dales being perfect for this learning curve, a safer option for any young future climber, even if, on occasions, he’d prefer the home comfort’s of the Xbox than an outdoor experience, he’ll understand and appreciate the old man’s decision’s in a few years, when, he knows what he’s doing, where he is and how to survive difficult wilderness conditions, well, hopefully, that’s the idea.
Minus any political influence, I love Norse, anything to do with it, place names, history, rune symbols, seax’s, saga’s, anything, so being at this location, surrounded by places names such as Skyreholme, Thorpe Fell, south of Grimwith reservoir, with Raven Scar to the north, en route to Troller’s Ghyll, well, to say I felt in touch with my surroundings is a vast understatement, I felt at home, in my lands, on my soil, with the Scandinavian and Germanic souls and ghosts of my ancestors watching and guiding me, a modern day Valhalla.
We started our day’s walking on the River Wharfe, at the bottom of Mason’s campsite, our home for the next few days, adjoining the famous Dales Way we headed along the magnificent river bank, on this hot, sunny spring day the river was low and tame, unthreatening and deceivingly safe, I explained to my son how they can never be trusted, never challenged and never be underestimated, he understood. Not far down the riverbank was a resting solo walker who was doing the 84 mile long Dales Way walk, the 30 miles he’d just covered from the starting point at Ilkley honoured him with this spectacular spot for a rest and a well deserved break, I admired him, even though he was from the wrong side of the Pennines.
From the wooded riverbank we emerged onto Stangs Lane at the old stone bridge and headed up the road for maybe 100 yards to a walled stile onto Stangs Laithe and the moorland footpath to Howarth’s Farm, our juvenile campsite alongside the memorable Fir Beck soon came into view, I had to smile, fond memories came flooding back. This stretch of the walk wasn’t my son’s most enthusiastic part of the journey, tantrums and vocal sulks echoed all around, and, there was definitely room for improvement, fortunately, it would come.
On arrival at Howarth Farm, even with the map, comes a little confusion, the footpath terminates at the farm, leaving little choice but to take the road to Parcevall Hall, there is a footpath on the opposite side of Fir Beck, but, we weren’t on that side, so, we walked up to the road and followed it to Middle Skyreholme and onward to Percvall Hall, well, the adjoining tea rooms. At this point, with the thought of ice cream and a short break, the inspirational lacking 9 year old finally calmed down and displayed a slight interest of what lay ahead, amazing what a little blackmail can achieve.
From this point onward, the walk took a new dimension, enjoyable as it had being up to this well hidden point, now it became both remarkable and a point of pure fact and fantasy for anybody with more than a little imagination. The unknown mystique of Trollers Ghyll truly awaited.
Troller’s Gill is a limestone gorge, close to the village of Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales (GR SE068619). Legend has it that the Gill is the home of trolls, and the mythical monstrous black dog Barghest. Barghest is the name often given in the North of England, especially in Yorkshire, to a legendary monstrous black dog with huge teeth and claws, although in other cases the name can refer to a ghost or household elf, especially in Northumberland and Durham. One is said to frequent this remote gorge. There is also a story of a Barghest entering the city of York occasionally, where, according to legend, it preys on lone travellers in the city’s narrow Snickelways. Whitby is also associated with the spectre. A famous Barghest was said to live near Darlington who was said to take the form of a headless man (who would vanish in flames), a headless lady, a white cat, a dog, rabbit and black dog. Another was said to live in an “uncannie-looking” dale between Darlington and Houghton near Throstle Nest, and yet another haunted an area of wasteland between Wreghorn and Headingley Hill near Leeds.
Besides taking the form of a large black dog with fiery eyes, it could also become invisible and walk about with the sound of rattling chains. At the death of any notable person the barghest would appear, followed by all the other dogs of the local region in a kind of funeral procession, and begin howling and baying. It may also foretell the death of an individual by lying across the threshold of his or her house. It is sometimes said that like the vampire the barghest is unable to cross rivers.
The derivation of the word barghest is disputed. Ghost in the north of England was once pronounced guest, and the name is thought to be burh-ghest: town-ghost. Others explain it as German Berg-geist (mountain spirit), or Bär-geist (bear-spirit), in allusion to its alleged appearance at times as a bear. Another mooted derivation is ‘Bier-Geist’, the ‘spirit of the funeral bier’.
The whole area is littered with abandoned mine workings, well, I think that’s what they were, my son was convinced they were Troll homes, if he was right, we could be in trouble, especially if we upset them in any way. I did warn him to be aware of his behaviour and definitely not to upset them, he mumbled something disagreeable under his breath and immediately headed into the nearby abandoned old stone barn, “Troll’s, I haven’t seen any”, he informed me. Anyway, he’d reached the point that this was a good location to be and his attitude was positive and he was clearly enjoying himself.
With a newly found enthusiasm, his confidence and his sense of adventure had reached new heights, and, a couple of minutes later he spotted an island where the stream split into two, he decided the obvious thing to do was to leap over the stream onto the island, he didn’t hesitate, unfortunately, on leaping across he lost his footing, his feet landed in the water and his hand landed on some thorns, several of which, embedded themselves in his hand, and, one at a time they needed to be, quite painfully, plucked out, “No such things as Troll’s?” I asked him.
Ascending the ghyll was a wonderful experience, it’s hidden and difficult to find, but, parallel in beauty to Malham or Gordale Scar. On this warm spring day the stream running through it was fast flowing but shallow and accessible, not the case after heavy rainfall and during the winter months, the ghyll isn’t a place to be caught out during wet weather, it can be both dangerous and inaccessible, not that day, rock climbers and fell walkers were plentiful.
After coming out of the ghyll, with a strong feeling of achievement and gratification, onto the bleak but mine shafted moorland we arrived. On the border of Appletreewick Pasture we arrived at New Road, this being the wonderful Roman Road which was constructed in order to transport minerals from the abundant lead mines in the area. Not much about the road has changed since it’s construction and once again, the imagination ran wild. It seems more like one of the hundreds of bridleways that scatter the countryside had it not being the obvious, well worn cart tracks which have long since being carved into it.
Having recently left the Viking period we were now heading further back in time on a Roman road with the destination at the end of it, a bronze age stone circle, dating back 3000 years, all in the space of maybe 1K, I found it impressive anyway.
Better known as the Fancarl Stone Circle (GR 06436304), the bronze age Appletreewick circle consists of 6 stones, one of which is earthfast with the other 5 being added around it, the circle is located between Hebden Moor and Grimwith reservoir, (a name which sounds Anglosized from the Nordic name Grimwick sounds very feasible to me).
Where New Road joins the modern B6265 is where my journey was greeted with it first disappointment, it’s man made and nothing to do with anything historic. On the opposite moor, Grimwith Fell, maybe 50 yards to the right (easterly), hidden in a dip in the fell stands the stone circle, a historic ancient monument, ON PRIVATE LAND. I defy the landowners request not to trespass and visit it, it’s not his monument, it’s ours, yours and mine, please don’t litter the area or damage his wall, but, feel free to enjoy this piece of history, respecting the country code as you do.
Depressions on the earthbound boulder indicate potential cup and ring carvings and its geographical location, with clear views to the north and west but limited views to the south suggest it may have being constructed to serve the people living north of it.
From the hidden and forbidden stone circle we followed the road down towards Dibbles Bridge where the River Dibb flows from Grimwith reservoir through Appletreewick pasture into the River Wharfe. Sadly the roadside is littered with rubbish thrown from passing cars, but, much more tragically is the history surrounding the bridge itself. Twice coaches have crashed into it, the first in 1925 killing 7 people, the second in 1975 killing 32 people.
From the bridge it was a 3K walk over Appletreewick Pasture back to the campsite and tent, a well earned dinner and a few pints of traditional ales in the two village pubs, The Craven Arms and the New Inn, a game of bullring throwing in the Craven Arms simple completed a wonderful day in the West Riding, Gods Own County.