Sunday, 12 July 2020

Two Swaledale Stories - Old House and Mr Swaledale

The Story of Old Hoggarths

       The cowus and stable are all that remains of the original Hoggarths farmstead and is why its called Old House.  Destroyed in July 1899 by a mighty cloudburst that thundered down Ash Gill flooding the farmhouse.  As it swept through the upper dale bridges were washed away and properties flooded with water.  Hoggarths beck that runs on the other side of the buildings is littered with huge boulders that came down with the flood water.

My father-in-law, George Calvert, once told me the story.  On the day of the storm George's father, Kit, had been to Tan Hill with his horse and cart for coal (there was a coal mine at Tan Hill in the 1800s).  He knew a storm was brewing however when he got home he stood his horse, still in the shafts, in the building and went into the house for his dinner.  His wife, Mary, was very anxious about the heavy rain, the flooded beck and the thunder & lightening but Kit insisted on having his dinner (a mid-day meal is called dinner in the north of England).  She kept exclaiming that they had to get out and finally that is exactly what he had to do.  He left his dinner and rushed upstairs to escape the incoming water.  He kicked out a landing window and they scrambled out onto the high ground behind the house.  

When the storm subsided Kit went to see what had happened to his horse.  It was stood, up to its neck in water but otherwise none the worse.  He was also able to rescue his good dog which was swimming round and round in a stable.  I also believe a teacup survived and was discovered swirling around in flood water at Bridge End.

The damage to the dwelling was immense and Kit
was ready to pack up and leave Hoggarths but his
 landlord wouldn't hear of it.  Kit was a good farmer and a valued tenant and the landlord promised he would build him a new farmhouse somewhere where it would never flood.  And that is why today, Hoggarths stands on  the opposite side of the valley, high above the river in total safety.

I cannot guarantee the accuracy of this story - after all the narrator was already in his eighties and the incident had taken place over 20 years before he was born. Did I mishear something? Have I forgotten a fact or detail?  The wonderful thing about stories passed on by word of mouth and handed down through the generations is that sometimes little bits get lost,  sometimes they get embellished or exaggerated with the enthusiasm of the storyteller or as each person adds their own interpretation.  If anyone can add or correct the Old House story please get in touch at I would love to hear from you.

Mr Swaledale

I can however vouch for the honesty and accuracy of the short documentary, Mr Swaledale.  Made by Georgia Hird, a local Swaledale girl, as her final project for her degree in film and production.  Starring local farmer, John Waggett, the film is an absolute delight;  the scenery is stunning, the film work meticulous and John is an absolute natural.  View it on Youtube - it is not to be missed.   

Saturday, 4 July 2020

Baby birds

New life on the farm doesn't always mean lambs. Pry House Farm is a magnet for dozens of breeds of birds.  In addition to the ground nesting birds that arrive each spring to breed by the river and in the surrounding pastures Pry House is a favourite with swallows and house martins.

The low wooden beams and the stone lintels in the traditional buildings that form the farmyard make the perfect nesting site for swallows.

The acrobatics and skillful flying techniques of the adult birds soon let us know when they are busy nest building.  And the appearance of bird droppings on the stone flags below is the tell tale sign that the chicks have hatched!

 Once fledged the parent birds continue to bring food for their offspring and the fledgling chicks return to the safety of their nest until strong enough and confident to take to the skies.

Other young birds to spot when you come to stay on the farm are wagtails, thrush, blackbirds, wren, sparrow and starling.  In the pastures and on the moor you will regularly see lapwing, curlew, skylark, redshank, oyster catchers, dippers and meadow pippin.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Meander around Muker

Muker in Upper Swaledale

As we wait patiently for news that we can welcome visitors back to our B&Bs and holiday cottages it is encouraging to see businesses in Muker opening again.

It was lovely to see Gillian,owner of Swaledale Woollens, and stop for a chat.  The shop is spacious enough for sensible social distancing with plenty room to browse the shelves.  The attractive displays hold the most beautiful knitwear.  I am the proud owner of a Swaledale cardigan so I can wholeheartedly recommend that a visit to Swaledale Woollens is on your wish list.  

A visit to Muker in June would not be complete without a walk through the magnificent Muker meadows.  They are spectacular and never fail to impress.  The heady scent that drifts up from a sea of gently waving flowers is intoxicating.
Famous for the sheer variety of meadow flowers, grasses and herbs particularly purple wood crane's-bill, tiny eye bright, yellow rattle and delicate pignut that all flower in abundance in fields sheltered by Kisdon Hill.

In the village the Old School Gallery and Craftshop has re-opened and Muker Store is back in business too.

 Muker school rooms now house the Art Gallery and Craftshop.  There is something for everyone in the Old School Muker.  Feature artists display their work alongside potters and sculptors with the craftshop stocking very nice cards and gifts, the sort of shop that always has something to catch your eye.
Swaledale Woollens with the Farmers Arms tucked in behind.  Everyone is looking forward to hearing news of when the pub can re-open.  In the meantime, during lockdown, they have been serving a take-away menu for residents which has been most welcome.

Wherever you are staying when you come to Swaledale don't forget the Little White Bus.  It provides a great service up and down the dale meaning you don't have to solely rely on your car.  At the moment you can't stay overnight but if you are lucky enough to live within driving distance there is nothing to stop you parking up, walking to Reeth or Keld, Muker or Gunnerside and catching the Little White Bus back to your car.  At present, like all other public transport, masks must be worn on the bus.  For details of the bus timetable click on this link

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

On and around the farm in June

On and around the farm in June

The ewes with single lambs are now back on the moors but those with twins stay on the farm until July. Despite the good weather this lambing time the sheep that are rearing twins need supplementary feed and experienced shepherding every day.
 The herdwick lambs are growing fast and so is Heidi's fleece.  She will glad to get rid of it at shearing time!

 This was the last ewe to lamb this year and didn't she give us a surprise?  She is one of our 'crossed sheep', in other words she was put to a Texel tup not a Swaledale so we weren't expecting pure Swaledale lambs however ...... one all black and one all white is quite unusual.
She was very late to lamb so these gorgeous little lambs were born during the recent disturbing times of unrest and injustice.  I look at them as a sign of hope and a reminder of equality in all things.
Unlike the little black Texel cross lamb above, Herdwick lambs are supposed to be born black.  After a few weeks they start to get their distinctive 'mask' which is the start of them losing their black face.  Their black woolly coats lighten to a dark brown colour which they keep till they are clipped for the first time at about 18 months old.
   Messing about by the river is a great way to spend an afternoon.  If you are here when bluebell wood is in full bloom it is an extra treat however Whamp Bridge is the perfect setting at any time.

Wild swimming.
There's nothing like a refreshing dip in the cool water of the infant Swale. 

Upper Swaledale is famous for its miles of dry stone walls and the hundreds of stone buildings that in Swaledale are known cow'uses.  Swaledale is also known for its meadow fields that flower in profusion from the end of May through to the end of June.

These meadows are very special and only flower like this because the upland farmers stick rigidly to traditional farming methods, applying natural feed (muck) instead of heavy, nitrogen based, artificial fertilizer.  They only get one crop but the hay from these flower & herb rich meadows is the sweetest, the most nutritious and the best. 


Thursday, 21 May 2020

Lambing Round Up 2020

Lambing time has almost finished at Pry House Farm.  Here is a round up of how we got on.

Most years we have a 'miracle lamb', a lamb that survives against the odds.  This little lamb came early and we didn't hold out much hope for him.  Like all early babies he was very sleepy and a bit slow to get going.  His mother had plenty of milk so we took her milk and fed him with a bottle.  Ewe's milk is so much better than dried milk.  Its a bit more effort but always worth it.  'Lal lamb soon rallied round and was feeding off his mother.  Now he is strong enough to live outside.  Here he is going out to pasture with his mother.  You can see how motherly she is - he will be well looked after!
Read about another 'miracle lamb' here
Unfortunately its not always a happy ending.  Presently I have three pet lambs to look after.  At this late stage in lambing time it is unlikely they will be adopted or as we call it 'mothered on'.  They have a lovely big pen to play in, they are bottle fed four times a day and have lamb pellets to nibble on in between.  In two or three weeks I will put them in the garth (the small field behind the Shepherd's Hut).  In the garth they can be weaned off the bottle, they are safe and have access to shelter.
I have successfully hand reared lambs before.

Pet lambs from the past - they remain inquisitive, mischievous and cheeky!!

When driving around the dale don't be surprised if you suddenly come across sheep on the road.  We move them from fell to field and from field to farm for a multitude of reasons.  At this time of year its for tagging, marking and recording.  Our Swaledale sheep are a pedigree flock. The lambs breeding has to recorded and by law they must have identification tags in their ears.

Sheep ont' road!

Making their way back to the fields - next stop the open fell.

Heidi and Hetty, the Herdwicks, and their lambs cannot go onto the fell because they are not hefted to these moors.  They would not know which was their 'patch' and it is possible that they would wander for miles.  They will spend the next few weeks in lowside, by the river, below Pry House.  Hetty has twins and needs this young, nutritious grass to produce milk for two lambs.  Having only one lamb, Heidi could go to a rougher pasture but as they are such good friends it would be unkind to split them up.

This is Vincent and Corra, Hetty's twin lambs

and below

Heidi with her single tup lamb, Victor.

Despite lockdown, time gone so quickly this lambing time.  We are not quite finished - five sheep are hanging onto their four-legged bundles - but for now here are a few 2020 lambing photos.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

We'll Meet Again

We'll meet again and I know where!

Here's another round of photographs of Swaledale sent to me by Pry House Farm and Hillcrest holiday cottage guests.  I hope you enjoy looking at them and identifying where they are taken from.  Thanks to everyone who has taken part. If anyone else has any please do send them to:




Three photos of the River Swale.  I'm sure you will recognise the location of the first two but the last one isn't Wainswath but much further down river, Orgate Force at Marske.
Can you spot Hillcrest Cottage?

To keep you up to date with what is happening on the farm I will finish with a few lambing time photos.  The sheep have lambed very well and as you can see we have a lot of ewes and lambs on home field.  Every day they get supplementary feed in the form of sugar beet which they love!  When its finished all those lambs have to pair up with the right mothers!  The bleating / bonding noise that the lamb heard as its mother licked it dry at birth and the bleat the lamb returned is unique to each mother and lamb.  Even in a large crowd they recognise each other - its amazing to watch.

Spot the odd ones out!
The Herdy lambs and the Swaledale lambs all play, race and chase together.

We pride ourselves on providing super comfy beds Pry House Farm B&B but the lambs go one better when they snuggle up in a bed of sweet meadow hay!

I hope you have had fun taking a trip round Swaledale from your armchair.  
Stay safe and well 'till we meet again.

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Stay Safe - an important message during lockdown and when its lifted.

Just recently I have taken the opportunity to explore the wilds of Upper Swaledale.  I can stay safe from coronavirus in this wide open space.  Chris keeps me safe from other dangers; hidden dangers.  The moors are his back yard, he has grown up with them, he knows every square inch - a knowledge passed down by his father and generations before him. 

This tiny stone building is known as Blue Johns, near to Blue John Hole. 
It is very similar to the little building on the roadside to Kirkby Stephen at Beck Meetings.  Like Beck Meetings, Blue Johns once had a chimney but it was not used as a dwelling for shepherds.  The firegrate was for heating tar and for horn burning and other tasks the shepherds needed heat for.

It is easy to become fanciful and allow imaginations to run riot.  The reality is these buildings were and still are (in the case of Beck Meetings) a working environment and part of the farm.  
Beck Meetings and the pens surrounding it are in regular use for holding and sorting sheep.

Blue John Hole is a series of deep chasms in the earth's surface.  The surface rocks have been eroded over hundreds of years to form intricate shapes and forms.  The Buttertubs on the road to Hawes are similar deep potholes however Blue John is unfenced and hazardous.  Please do not wander off on the moors, always stick to public footpaths. 

 Birkdale Tarn is another of Upper Swaledale's hidden gems and very close to Pry House Farm.

Lead mining was once the mainstay of life in Swaledale.  The population was a hundredfold of what it is today.  Large landowners and the lead mine owners dominated. Men and boys worked in the mines or in trades related to the mining industry such as forges and clog makers.  Families usually had access to a small piece of land to grow food, keep chickens, a pig or a cow if they were lucky.
It was a hard life.

There is lots of evidence in the dale of the lead mining industry.  This is what is left of the smelt mill on Keldside.  The chimney followed the rise of the hill.  If you know where to look and the light is right you can see the chimney as it lies along the contour of the hill.   Smelting, a dangerous environment, was often done by women and resulted in many premature deaths caused by lung disease known to the miners as black spit. 

There are hundreds of well marked public footpaths and bridleways in Swaledale, they are safe and well maintained.   Farm buildings can be dangerous places and the open moor has hidden dangers such as swallow holes, sink holes and mine shafts but this doesn't mean the moors are out of bounds.  Join a guided walk led by an experienced leader or follow a pre-planned route such as the 'Every Barn Tells A Story' walk booklets and the 'Show Me the Way' family walk leaflets designed especially for parents & children.

Everything is on hold for the moment but beautiful Swaledale is going nowhere.  It will be here to enjoy in the future.  Make a wish list of things to see and do when the countryside is free of lockdown.  Make safe plans now and look forward to fulfilling your plans when its safe to travel to Swaledale again.