A new property restoration project in Pendle, Lancashire, provided an opportunity to visit the neighbouring, ancient district of Craven in Yorkshire, where some of my family originate.
Craven is an area of contrasting and sometimes mysterious rugged valleys or Dales. A patchwork of fields bordered with stone walls, woodland, heather clad moors and waterways, punctuated by towns. The former boundaries stretched from Brad (Broad) ford with its small beck (local dialect for a stream) and nearby Bingley, in the south to the hamlet of Oughtershaw in the far northern Dales. The precise meaning of the word Craven is unknown. Believed to mean 'a place where wild garlic grows', or possibly a 'rocky area', it is found in parallel Celtic languages, such as Welsh. Many invaders went on to leave their mark on the district.
Communities grew through the Middle Ages, largely 'on the back' of the vital commodity of sheep fleeces and made Craven a powerhouse of commerce. The industrial boom and bust continued at a heady pace and a network of canals and later railways bore into many of the once isolated dales ~ once only accessible on foot, or possibly the humble pack horse and stage coach. Today, the lifeblood of north Craven remains in farming, involving dairy cattle and sheep. South of Skipton, known as the Gateway of the Dales, the area becomes more built up, with pockets of green.
Innovative enterprise and the arts continue to flourish from the sometimes gritty and wild Dales, a landscape sometimes as hard as the stones that were quarried to construct most of the buildings. Perhaps this situation could explain why the hardy inhabitants are generally known to take a no nonsense approach, 'calling a spade, a spade'!
The trip was a time to reflect on an idyllic, if rather eccentric childhood, growing up in two very different parts of Airedale. Firstly, living in Riddlesden, a sprawling, semi urban settlement high above Keighley; then at a house, a stone's throw away from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at rural Gargrave, nestled between rolling hills, several miles from the market town of Skipton.
A road along from Riddlesden, winds over gentle hills and down into Bolton Abbey in Wharfedale (pictured above). Here, one can explore the majestic twelfth century priory and surrounding unspoilt Yorkshire seat of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. A little distance from the village in a nook is the charming wooden boarded station; part of the steam railway where my parents and I volunteered in the 1990's. We joined some friendly members of staff for a pleasant afternoon tea at the station café. In Skipton, we made an impromptu visit to the sturdy, sand stone building of Skipton Antiques and Collectors Centre, on Cavendish Street, meeting with old friends, who I'd worked with as a teenager. It was like stepping back in time, albeit in a positive way and we reminisced about the funny things that happened there.
My mother's family, the Crawshaw Simpsons resided in Wharfedale, often heralded as one of the most attractive Dales. The River Wharfe weaves through the heart of the dale ~ Wharfe means 'winding river' in the Celtic tongue. Around the early 20th century, the family ran the Tennant's Arms, a hostelry at Kilnsey, beside the landmark rocky Crag and later moved to Grassington, the primary town in Wharfedale. Some of the Simpson's personal possessions are now kept on board the houseboat.
In life there are misconceptions, for example certain impressions about the fabled 'grim north'. If you do visit Craven and the surrounding region, you can sure of a warm welcome! More articles about Craven to follow.