Twenty Years with Dalesman

2019 sees Dalesman celebrate its 80th anniversary, and for twenty of those eighty years, I have been a contributor to Yorkshire’s favourite little magazine.

Dalesman, Yorkshire's favourite magazine

I have had the pleasure of working with three of its six editors, and the honour of meeting another, Bill Mitchell, during his retirement.  Bill advised me to keep all my interview tapes and notes.  He kept his, and they are now preserved in university archives.

Unfortunately, I did not – sadly, I didn’t have house space for them all.

Coverdale, a lesser known, but no less beautiful, Yorkshire Dale

But I do have my memories.  Memories of stunning landscapes, from windswept moor tops to the depths of Boulby mine’s tunnels under the sea.  Each has its own unique character, and I find it impossible to choose a favourite. 

Fishing boat at Flamborough

Do I choose the white cliffs of Flamborough?  The otherworldly experience of walking along Spurn point?  High Force, its waters thundering over the rocks to swirl in deep, dark pools below?  The magic of discovering follies in fairy-tale Hackfall woods?  The silence of the moor tops, with nothing to hear but the keening of the wind and the burble of the lapwing?  The soft joy of flower-studded summer meadows?  Great pillows of dazzling, pristine white snow-covered hills?

Hackfall woods in early spring

And I remember the people.  It’s a cliché that Yorkshire folk are special.  But it’s also true.  To live in this landscape takes qualities of strength and determination that simply aren’t required for life in southern suburbia.  I salute every one of the hundreds of people I have met over the years.

I remember people whose families have inhabited this land for generations.  Their strength is to hold that land, to wrest a living from it, for another generation.  That demands the stamina to graft for seven days a week, regardless of what the weather throws at you.  It also demands ingenuity, to find new ways in a changing world.  Farmers today not only grow the crops that feed us: they must offer cafes, shops, accommodation, or special experiences such as seeing lambs born.  Others take the crops they grow and work again to make them into products such as jumpers, sausages, ice cream, or beer.

Famers care for their animals on every single day of the year

I remember people who don’t own the land but live in it and with it, and make their living by skills of hand and brain.  One man fed his family from ‘beachcombing’, he said – not mentioning the hours of skilled work he put into transforming beach drifted jet into beautiful jewellery.  A Dales woman turned thrift proddy mats into an art form and gained an international following.

I remember people who devote their lives to wildlife.  There are so many different habitats, each with its own distinct species.  It’s possible to spend a life studying the species in a few square yards: the closer you look, the more you see.

I remember people who told me of life in the old days: days when a girl could earn a penny from neighbours by drawing water from the well before she went to school.  Days when ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’ kept weapons in secret woodland hide-ways.  Far ago, and yet not so far ago: living memory.

I remember archaeologists and historians who shine a window into the past.  Yorkshire people have lived in ways that are both different and the same.  Before the Romans came, houses were round – but their settlements probably define the villages we still live in today.

And in each era, there has been a wave of incomers, bringing new ideas and skills with them, whether the farming of the Neolithic, the ironworking of the Celts, or the shipbuilding of the Vikings.  These incomers built Yorkshire, so it’s no surprise to see that the Dalesman Award for Entrepreneur of the Year, 2018, also went to an incomer, who brought with her a new variety of cheese -just like Wensleydale, believed to have been introduced by French monks in mediaeval times

Naturalists survey life in the intertidal zone on the Yorkshire coast

It is its people who make Yorkshire great: long may they continue.

Dalesman Magazine

About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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