The new Dalesmans are out, with yet more insights into what makes Yorkshire such a great place to live, work, or take a holiday.
For this month’s edition, I visited Dr Nicky Milner, an archaeologist at York University whose work had unearthed tantalising evidence that raises the question of whether there was a stone age settlement near Pickering.
She’s been working on the archaeology of Star Carr for decades and says, “The more we find, the more questions we bring up. It’s my dream to get back and dig again.”
They have found remains of a house and a waterside ‘platform’ – perhaps a pier, boardwalk, or wharf – towards one corner of a roughly triangular promontory jutting into the lake. Test pits show more human acitivity on the rest of promontory. Might there be more houses there? Was it a base camp, a summer hunting lodge, or even a village?
It’s exciting because current thinking says that at this time, human activity in Yorkshire was limited to small groups of itinerant hunters. But to build a platform requires lots of people to come together, and work together. So this work could revolutionise beliefs about stone age society.
The stone age seems so long ago – but other evidence shows these people to be very like us: discoveries of beads show that they liked to make themselves look good, just as we do today.
Nicky and her colleagues are desperate to discover more – and time is running out. Laboratory work this winter has proved that the valuable organic remains, having survived for 11,000 years, are beginning to decay.
The race is on to dig and find out more before the evidence is lost forever.
Read more about Nicky’s researches in Dalesman, and at www.starcarr.com
Over in Malton, Winston Kobylka is doing his part to preserve traditional craft skills.
He says that he’d heard that Woodall’s was for sale, so went along to take a look. He says that he walked in, liked it, and asked to buy it ‘just like that’.
He’s scathing of people who ask questions about business plans and how much money he expects to make. “I’m not in it for that,” he says, “It’s that we’re sustainable and make ecological products which will safeguard the future.”
He believes that everything can’t be made abroad for ever, and hopes that Woodall’s will help to keep skills alive in Britain. But, they are still dependent on imports for raw materials, and he says, “Sadly, economic times have us battling against costs of cotton, sisal and hessian. Some is produced in the UK, but the majority is sourced overseas.”
And he adds, “Hessian or jute may spend 4 months at sea, during which time the price changes several times. It’s to do with the futures market, currency fluctuations, and forward trading.”
It’s likely he knows what he’s talking about: he listed some of his previous jobs. As well as working in historic building conservation, he’d done photography, basketry, technical work for the Department of Transport, translating, supply chain management, and, most recently, teaching economics.
Now he’s adding rope splicing to his many skills, but when he walks around his shop, he’s like a child in a toy shop, revelling in the sheer variety of the stock.
“Look at the glove cupboard,” he said, showing a large double cupboard filled with all sorts of gloves. And the halters – for animals ranging from bulls to ferrets. There were racks and racks of different sorts of string and rope, trays and drawers of knives, scissors, and equipment for sheep and lambs.
Woodall’s is one of those shops that’s full of ‘useful stuff’, and the more you look, the more you see. And it’s well worth asking too – assistant Dilys has been there for twenty one years, and knows what’s there.
Many customers are farmers, and Winston says, “Canvas and tarpaulin covers for horse drawn wagons were the backbone of this business. Now we use a lot of PU and PVC for tarpaulins, but still the main business is these covers, mainly for agricultural use.”
Covers to protect from weather will always be useful – and so too is the rope to tie them down. Winston says, “The history of rope is fundamental to all industries.”
Woodall’s is in the centre of Malton, www.gwoodall.com/
Later I ventured over the Pennines to Sedbergh, where I visited the Sedgwick family. I was struck at how different the landscape was to the Moors and Pennine Dales that I see from my home in the Vale of Mowbray.
My nearest hills are the North York Moors, flat-topped and dark with heather.
The hills at the Sedgwicks’ farm on the Howgill Fells were very different: much higher, rounded, and a uniform soft light green colour. From the distance of the lower slopes, they looked as if clad in apple-green velvet.
Roger explained they had rights for grazing the high fells, in addition to their own farmland lower down the hill. His father Geoff keeps the Rough Fell sheep that are adapted to the area. But he explained that many of the families that had farmed the fells in his youth have now given up farming. The land is concentrating into fewer farms – who are keeping fewer sheep.
This could lead to the landscape changing again. I consulted the Yorkshire Dales National Park website to find about the Howgills, and it said that, centuries ago, forest was cleared to make way for sheep farming. Without the sheep, maybe one day this forest might return: Roger commented that gorse that had been cleared was now growing again on the fell.
Aside from the sheep, Roger also commented that administrators over the years had caused confusion in their location: “We were in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Now we’re under Cumbria County Council, we have a Lancaster Post Code, and we’re in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.”
Now, debate is raging as to whether more of this area should be taken into the Yorkshire Dales National Park. There are views on both sides, and only time will tell who wins.
Meanwhile, there is no doubt that the Howgills are a strikingly different – and breathtaking – landscape.
Like all English landscapes, it’s a landscape that has been shaped by farming, and farming now is changing. Smaller farms need to diversify to survive, and the Sedgwicks plan to do this by making ice cream.
However, it may not be such a new development after all. Geoff recalls his father being involved in a number of business ventures: “He was a master cabinetmaker,” recalls Geoff. “I came across someone with furniture he made, dated 1895, the year he came here.”
“He was into lots of things, though. For three years, he had three farms – he gave two of them up after a few years. He was also an insurance agent, and sold dips.”
He also built himself a nice new house, that the family now lets out to holidaymakers.
Roger adds, “He was also in the local Militia. He guarded the King and Queen’s train at Sedbergh in 1917. They stopped at the station and slept in the train overnight.”
Roger also says, pointing at a field now grazed by his cows: “My Grandfather was also at Gallipolli. When he came home, he walked up from Sedbergh Station in the evening, and next morning, he was ploughing that field.”
Nowadays, Roger cuts silage to feed his cows in winter, and his pastures are full of rich grass. On the higher slopes, open with no fences or walls, his father Geoff’s Rough Fell sheep graze.
Roger now hopes that his latest addition to the family’s ventures, ice cream, will keep the family farming for another generation.
email: firstname.lastname@example.org Telephone: 01539 620252
Geoff’s Rough Fell Sheep are featured in “Kendal Rough Fell Sheep: the breed, the people and the furture”, published by the Rough Fell Breed Association, www.roughfellsheep.co.uk
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