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Of these there are thirty-two, among which it would be invidious to select any for special commendation when all are delightful. Perhaps Mr.
RIPON AND FOUNTAINS ABBEY
Is one of the finest ruined monasteries in England, and its wonderfully rich setting in the sylvan splendours of Studley Royal make it still more noteworthy. The velvet turf, the rushing waters of the Skell, the magnificent trees, and the solemnity of the ruins, combine in producing an ineffaceable memory. It describes a tract of country that is more full of noble and imposing scenery than the north-eastern corner of the county, although it has none of the advantages of a coast-line. Beyond this, the area covered by the present volume is larger than that of the earlier one, and the historic events connected with its great over-lords and their castles, with the numerous monasteries and ancient towns, are so full of thrilling interest that it has only been possible to sample here and there the vast stores of romance that exist in some hundreds of volumes of early and modern writings.
But as the scholar grows older and more able to travel, so does the Pennine Range recede from his vision, until it becomes almost as remote as those crater-strewn mountains in the Moon which have a name so similar. It is because the hills are so big that the valleys are deep, and it is owing to the great watersheds that these long and narrow dales are beautified by some of the most copious and picturesque rivers in England.
Instead of the rounded or angular projections from the horizon that are usually associated with a mountainous district, there are great expanses of brown tableland that form themselves into long parallel lines in the distance, and give a sense of wild desolation in some ways more striking than the peaks of Scotland or Wales. The thick formations of millstone grit and limestone that rest upon the shale have generally avoided crumpling or distortion, and thus give the mountain views the appearance of having had all the upper surfaces rolled flat when they were in a plastic condition.
The softer rocks below generally take a gentle slope from the base of the hard gritstone to the river-side pastures below.
At the edges of the dales, where waterfalls pour over the wall of limestone—as at Hardraw Scar, near Hawes—the action of water is plainly demonstrated, for one can see the rapidity with which the shale crumbles, leaving the harder rocks overhanging above. Unlike the moors of the north-eastern parts of Yorkshire, the fells are not prolific in heather. It is possible to pass through Wensleydale—or, indeed, most of the dales—without seeing any heather at all. On the broad plateaux between the dales there are stretches of moor partially covered with ling; but in most instances the fells and moors are grown over at their higher levels with bent and coarse grass, generally of a browny-ochrish colour, broken here and there by an outcrop of limestone that shows gray against the swarthy vegetation.
In the upper portions of the dales—even in the narrow river-side pastures—the fences are of stone, turned a very dark colour by exposure, and everywhere on the slopes of the hills a wide network of these enclosures can be seen traversing even the most precipitous ascents. Where the dales widen out towards the fat plains of the Vale of York, quickset hedges intermingle with the gaunt stone, and as one gets further eastwards the green hedge becomes triumphant.
The stiles that are the fashion in the stone-fence districts make quite an interesting study to strangers, for, wood being an expensive luxury, and stone being extremely cheap, everything is formed of the more enduring material. Instead of a trap-gate, one generally finds an excessively narrow opening in the fences, only just giving space for the thickness of the average knee, and thus preventing the passage of the smallest lamb. Some stiles are constructed with a large flat stone projecting from each side, one slightly in front and overlapping the other, so that one can only pass through by making a very careful S-shaped movement.
More common are the projecting stones, making a flight of precarious steps on each side of the wall. The roofs of churches, cottages, barns and mansions, are always of the local stone, that weathers to beautiful shades of green and gray, and prevents the works of man from jarring with the great sweeping hillsides.
Then, instead of the familiar gray-brown haystack, one sees in almost every meadow a neatly-built stone house with an upper story. The lower part is generally used as a shelter for cattle, while above is stored hay or straw. By this system a huge amount of unnecessary carting is avoided, and where roads are few and generally of exceeding steepness a saving of this nature is a benefit easily understood. Any soldier who served in South Africa during the latter part of the war would be struck with the advantages that these ready-made block-houses would offer if it were ever necessary to round up a mobile enemy who had taken refuge among the Yorkshire fells.
Barbed-wire entanglements, and a system of telephones to link them together, would be all that was required to convert these stone barns into block-houses of a thoroughly useful type, for they are already loopholed. In the autumn the mellowed tints of the stone houses are contrasted with the fierce yellows and browny-reds of the foliage, and the villages become full of bright colours.
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At all times, except when the country is shrivelled by an icy northern wind, the scenery of the dales has a thousand charms. By the edge of fine rivers that pour downwards in terraced falls one finds hamlets with their church towers, gray and sturdy, and the little patch of green shaded by ash-trees, all made diminutive by the huge and gaunt hillsides that dominate every view. Looking up the dales, there are often glimpses of distant heights that in their blue silhouettes give a more mountainous aspect to the scenery than one might expect. In some of the valleys, such as Swaledale, the nakedness of the yellow-brown hills is clothed with a mantle of heavy woods—but enough has been said by way of introduction to give some notion of the general aspect of the dales, and in the succeeding chapters a closer scrutiny can be made.
Ribblesdale is traversed by the Midland Main Line, so that those who wish to commence an exploration of these parts of Yorkshire from Settle, Skipton, or Hawes, must travel from St.
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Pancras Station. For the purposes of this book we may consider Richmond as the gateway of the dale country. There are other gates and approaches, some of which may have advocates who claim their superiority over Richmond as starting-places for an exploration of this description, but for my part, I can find no spot on any side of the mountainous region so entirely satisfactory.
If we were to commence at Bedale or Leyburn, there is no exact point where the open country ceases and the dale begins; but here at Richmond there is not the very smallest doubt, for on reaching the foot of the mass of rock dominated by the castle and the town, Swaledale commences in the form of a narrow ravine, and from that point westwards the valley never ceases to be shut in by steep sides, which become narrower and grander with every mile. The railway that keeps Richmond in touch with the world does its work in a most inoffensive manner, and by running to the bottom of the hill on which the town stands, and by there stopping short, we seem to have a strong hint that we have been brought to the edge of a new element in which railways have no rights whatever.
This is as it should be, and we can congratulate the North-Eastern Company for its discretion and its sense of fitness. Even the station is built of solid stonework, with a strong flavour of medievalism in its design, and its attractiveness is enhanced by the complete absence of other modern buildings.
We are thus welcomed to the charms of Richmond at once. The rich sloping meadows by the river, crowned with dense woodlands, surround us and form a beautiful setting of green for the town, which has come down from the fantastic days of the Norman Conquest without any drastic or unseemly changes, and thus has still the compactness and the romantic outline of feudal times. I suppose a day will arrive when the Mayor and Corporation will lay their heads together with the object of devising a plan for the removal of these dismal buildings to some site where they will be less offensive, but until that day they will continue to mar the charms of a town whose situation is almost unequalled in this island.
From whatever side you approach it, Richmond has always some fine combination of towers overlooking a confusion of old red roofs and of rocky heights crowned with ivy-mantled walls, all set in the most sumptuous surroundings of silvery river and wooded hills, such as the artists of the age of steel-engraving loved to depict. Every one of these views has in it one dominating feature in the magnificent Norman keep of the castle. It overlooks church towers and everything else with precisely the same aloofness of manner it must have assumed as soon as the builders of nearly eight hundred years ago had put the last stone in place.
We can go across the modern bridge, with its castellated parapets, and climb up the steep ascent on the further side, passing on the way the parish church, standing on the steep ground outside the circumscribed limits of the wall that used to enclose the town in early times.
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Turning towards the castle, we go breathlessly up the cobbled street that climbs resolutely to the market-place in a foolishly direct fashion, which might be understood if it were a Roman road. There is a sleepy quietness about this way up from the station, which is quite a short distance, and we look for much movement and human activity in the wide space we have reached; but here, too, on this warm and sunny afternoon, the few folks who are about seem to find ample time for conversation and loitering.
At the further end of the great square there are some vast tents erected close to the big obelisk that forms the market-cross of the present day. With this they are obliged to be content for a time, but just as we reach this end of the square two huge swaying elephants issue forth to take their afternoon stroll in company with their son, whose height is scarcely more than half that of his parents. The children have not waited in vain, and they gaze awe-struck at the furrowed sides of the slate-gray monsters as they are led, slowly padding their way, across the square.
We watch them as they pass under the shadow of Holy Trinity Church, then out in the sunshine again they go lurching past the old-fashioned houses until they turn down Frenchgate and disappear, with the excited but respectful knot of children following close behind. It looks across the cobbled space to the curious block of buildings that seems to have been intended for a church but has relapsed into shops. Even the lower parts of the tower have been given up to secular uses, so that one only realizes the existence of the church by keeping far enough away to see the sturdy pinnacled tower that rises above the desecrated lower portions of the building.
In this tower hangs the curfew-bell, which is rung at 6 a. The Peple there dreme that it was ons [a temple of] Idoles. All the while we have been lingering in the market-place the great keep has been looking at us over some old red roofs, and urging us to go on at once to the finest sight that Richmond can offer, and, resisting the appeal no longer, we make our way down a narrow little street leading out to a walk that goes right round the castle cliffs at the base of the ivy-draped walls.
If this walk were at Harrogate or Buxton, we can easily imagine that its charms would be vitiated by some evidences of a popular recognition of its attractiveness.
A Dales High Way
Such efforts would meet with some sort of response on the part of the public, and the castle walk would be sufficiently populous to prevent anyone from appreciating its charms. No; instead of all this we find a simple asphalt path without any fence at all. There are two or three seats that are perfectly welcome, but there is a delightful absence of shrubberies or flower-beds, and the notices to the public fixed to the castle walls are weathered and quite inconspicuous.
Beyond all this, the castle walk is generally a place in which one can be alone, and yet. From down below comes the sound of the river, ceaselessly chafing its rocky bottom and the big boulders that lie in the way. This well-known view of the castle from the banks of the Swale is only one of the numerous romantic pictures that can be found in Richmond. The great Norman keep, built about the year , forms the dominating feature of every aspect of the town.
The masses of trees clothing the side of the gorge add a note of mystery to the picture by swallowing up the river in their heavy shade, for, owing to its sinuous course among the cliffs, one can see only a short piece of water beyond the bridge. The old corner of the town at the foot of Bargate appears over the edge of the rocky slope, but on the opposite side of the Swale there is little to be seen beside the green meadows and shady coppices that cover the heights above the river. There is a fascination in this view in its capacity for change.
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It responds to every mood of the weather, and every sunset that glows across the sombre woods has some freshness, some feature that is quite unlike any other. Autumn, too, is a memorable time for those who can watch the face of Nature from this spot, for when one of those opulent evenings of the fall of the year turns the sky into a golden sea of glory, studded with strange purple islands, there is unutterable beauty in the flaming woods and the pale river.
On the way back to the market-place we pass a decayed arch that was probably a postern in the walls of the town. The Names and Partes of 4 or 5 Gates yet remaine. Finkel-streate Gate, Bargate , all iii be downe.
We wonder why Richmond could not have preserved her gates as York has done, or why she did not even make the effort sufficient to retain a single one, as Bridlington and Beverley did. Before that year there stood on the site of the present obelisk a very fine cross which Clarkson, who wrote about a century ago, mentions as being the greatest beauty of the town to an antiquary. A high flight of steps led up to a square platform, which was enclosed by a richly ornamented wall about 6 feet high, having buttresses at the corners, each surmounted with a dog seated on its hind-legs.
Within the wall rose the cross, with its shaft made from one piece of stone. The enrichments, either of the cross itself or the wall, included four shields bearing the arms of the great families of Fitz-Hugh, Scrope quartering Tibetot , Conyers, and Neville. There can be little doubt, therefore, that, swollen with success after the demolition of the cross, the Mayor and Corporation proceeded to attack the remaining gateways, so that now not the smallest suggestion of either remains. But even here we have not completed the list of barbarisms that took place about this time.
The Barley Cross, which stood near the larger one, must have been quite an interesting feature. It consisted of a lofty pillar with a cross at the top, and rings were fastened either on the shaft or to the steps upon which it stood, so that the cross might answer the purpose of a whipping-post. The pillory stood not far away, and the may-pole is also mentioned. But despite all this squandering of the treasures that it should have been the business of the town authorities to preserve, the tower of the Grey Friars has survived, and, next to the castle, it is one of the chief ornaments of the town.
It is on the north side of the town, outside the narrow limits of the walls, and was probably only finished in time to witness the dispersal of the friars who had built it. It is even possible that it was part of a new church that was still incomplete when the Dissolution of the Monasteries made the work of no account except as building materials for the townsfolk.