The MadGang Go To Upper Swaledale

On the Sunday of our weekend in the Yorkshire Dales we drove from our caravan site over the Buttertubs Pass and down to the village of Muker in Upper Swaledale.

Muker (pronounced mew-ker) is one of our favourite places and well up near the top of our "where we will live when we win the lottery" list. Although remote it has everything I need for life - a great pub that serves good real ale and excellent food, a village shop, a tea room and an old church. It was originally a Viking settlement, it's name derives from the Old Norse "mjór akr" meaning "the narrow newly cultivated field."

Other than tourism, the main source of income for the village comes from farming, predominantly the rearing of sheep. Unfortunately, because of the old enemy, cheap imports, the fleeces of British sheep, although high quality, cannot be easily given away let alone sold for a profit. They are discarded whilst we buy woollen garments that have been made in the sweat shops of the far east. In Muker, back in the early nineteen seventies, a group of enterprising locals lessened this obscenity in a small way by reviving the art of hand knitting, once a major source of income for the villagers, using wool from local sheep herds. Swaledale Woollens is not cheap but, as we had known for some time that we would be visiting Muker this Spring, Mrs MP had saved up her pocket money so that she could buy a new pair of gloves.

Then we went walkies.

Looking east along the main street of Muker. On the left is the Literary Institute, a reading room built from public subscription in 1867. It once held six hundred books but is now the rehearsal room for the Muker Silver Band, the last brass band still going in the dale.

The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Muker is one of the few churches built in the reign of Elizabeth I. It was consecrated by William Chatterton, Bishop of Chester, on Wednesday, 3 August I580. It was built as a "chapel of ease" to St Andrew, Grinton. The inhabitants of Muker had to bear the whole charge of a minister, but wedding, funeral and other ecclesiastical fees were paid to the Vicar of Grinton. In I750, the inhabitants successfully petitioned the Archdeacon of Richmond to resist this claim of Grinton church.

In I580, the church was very simple. It had a stone floor covered with rushes, on which the congregation stood or knelt. There were no pews, but there were stone benches along the walls for the elderly and infirm. The roof was of thatch. In I761, the Consistory Court at Richmond granted permission for stone slates to replace the thatch and for pews to be installed. The pews were distributed by lot and rents charged according to the land tax paid by each occupier. At the west end, a wooden platform was provided on which musicians with harmonium, violins, bass fiddle and clarinet played. Later, a gallery was built in order to accommodate the number of worshippers. The preacher’s pulpit was positioned high in the centre of the south wall.

In I890, a major restoration was commissioned by Mr B H Metcalfe in memory of his parents Lister Washington Metcalfe and Margaret Metcalfe. His grandfather, The Rev. Lister Metcalfe was, for 24 years, minister of the church. It is thought that the gallery and musicians’ platform were removed during the restoration.

In I892, the township of Muker was constituted an independent ecclesiastical parish, and James Cooke became its first vicar. On 3 October I895, the Bishop of Ripon laid the foundation stone of a new vicarage. Three years later, Rev. Cooke moved into the substantial house at the foot of Kisdon Hill. The house is now a private residence.

The church was originally built without a tower. The hopper head of the rainwater fall pipe bears the inscription "R Metcalfe. J. Calvert. C. Wardens I793," so it is assumed that the tower dates from that date. The tower holds two bells. Neither carries an inscription, but authorities state that they are much older then the Church. They may have come from Ellerton or Marrick Priories at the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
(The Parish of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale website)

Looking south at Muker Side under Muker Common.

Looking north out of Muker across pasture land leading to the River Swale.

Looking downstream along the River Swale from Ramps Holme footbridge.

Looking upstream along the River Swale from Ramps Holme footbridge.

Looking upstream towards Hall Moor with the ruins of Crackpot Hall visible on its flank.

There may have been a building on this site since the 16th century when a hunting lodge was maintained for Thomas, the first Baron Wharton, who visited the Dale occasionally to shoot the red deer. Survey work by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has shown that the building has changed many times over the years. At one time it even had a heather or "ling" thatched roof. The current ruin is of a farmhouse dating from the mid 18th century. It was an impressive two-storey building with a slate roof and matching "shippons" or cow sheds at each end for animals. The building may also have been used as mine offices, as intensive lead mining was carried out in the area in the 18th century. The current building was abandoned in the 1950s because of subsidence although it has been saved from further decay with the aid of grants from the Millennium Commission and European Union through the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.

The name Crackpot is said to be Viking for "a deep hole or chasm that is a haunt of crows".

Looking south from the mouth of Swinner Gill.

Fair View End at the mouth of Swinner Gill.

Two MadDogs take a break.

Looking upstream towards Muker from Bracken Hill.

East Gill Force near Keld.

The falls are located on East Gill just before its confluence with the River Swale at the point where the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast Walk intersect. It has two main torrents: the upper falls have an impressive four and a half metre drop whilst the lower section is a series of stepped cascades that fall three metres as East Gill enters the River Swale.

East Gill Force is one of four waterfalls in the Keld area, the others being Kisdon Force, Catrake Force and Wain Wath Force that occur where the river cuts a gorge through the carboniferous limestone between the hills of Kisdon and Rogan's Seat. The falls in this area are called “forces” after the Norse word “Foss”, which means waterfall. The falls are surrounded by deciduous broadleaved woodland.

Half way refreshments at the tea room in Keld.

The name "Keld" derives from the Viking word "Kelda" meaning a spring and the village was once called "Appletre Kelde" - the spring near the apple trees. It is the highest village in Swaledale.

The Keld Resource Centre, a local religious charity, is restoring a series of listed buildings in the village centre and returning them to community use. The first phase involved restoring the Manse, the minister's house attached to the United Reformed Church, which was completed in 2009 and is now used as a holiday cottage, proceeds from which support the Centre's work.

In 2010 the Centre created the Keld Well-being Garden in the chapel churchyard. It provides a quiet spot for visitors to contemplate their well-being in the beautiful natural environment of Upper Swaledale.

The Centre's latest project is the Keld Countryside and Heritage Centre. Further projects involve restoring the former school, the Literary Institute and, potentially, the Methodist Chapel.

The Keld Cock (at the very least it's a Keld cock).

The back of Keld looking towards the eastern flank of Hall Moor.

Three quarters of the MadGang (the remaining quarter is behind the camera) sitting outside the Keld Countryside and Heritage Centre. The centre was opened on 14 May 2011 and provides interpretation of the countryside, buildings and social history of Keld and a small display of artefacts relevant to Upper Swaledale prepared by the Swaledale Museum in Reeth.

The small church in the photograph houses a United Reformed Church congregation (English presbyterianism). I have rarely come across this denomination outside of the towns and cities of England. Rural areas tend to be dominated by Methodism, Quakerism and, of course, the ubiquitous Church of England.

On the 6th of June 1561 Ralph Alderson left in his will twelve pence for the priest at Keld to pray for his soul. The Reformation was in full swing, Mary Queen of Scots was denied entry to England and the first Calvinists sought refuge in this country. Before that we do not know how long there had been a church building or priest at Keld. “Keld Chap” features in a map of Yorkshire by Christopher Saxton in 1577 and again in map drawn by John Speede in 1610. A map of 1646 show “Keld Chu” and “Birkdale Chap” further up the dale. In 1696 there is an invoice for 5 shillings and ten pence for walling up the chapel door. By 1722 “Keld Chapelle” had no roof and slate and timber had been stolen.

There is an account that at some unknown date a riot within the chapel raged with such severity that the chapel was ruined. The story goes that during a service a stranger came in and shouted out loud that he would give anyone tuppence to help him buy a calf. He could not be persuaded to keep quiet and a fight broke out. Others from outside came and joined in and the stranger took the opportunity to slip away unnoticed and was never seen again.

What has no whiff of legend about it is that in 1789 a Mr Edward Stillman, an itinerant preacher, visited Muker and Keld. He stood in the centre of the ruined chapel that was overrun with weeds, planted his stick in the ground and declared ‘Here will I have my Chapel and here will I preach the Gospel.’ He built a modest chapel with two adjoining rooms, one was a school where his wife was the teacher and the other his home. In 1818 he rebuilt the chapel and manse and purchased adjoining land for a burial ground. He soldiered on with failing health after the death of his wife in 1830 and he died on 22nd of March 1837, 48 years after vowing to build a chapel and preach the Gospel in Keld. Since the time of Edward Stillman the chapel has been in constant use as a place of Christian worship.
(Tees Swale Mission Partnership)

Looking toward Swinner Gill with Hall Moor to its left and Gunnerside Moor to its right, from North Gang Scar on the eastern flank of Kisdon Hill.

Kisdon was named by early Norse settlers. The fell is unusual in that it is an isolated area of high ground with no connecting ridges to other fells. This came about at the end of the last Ice Age when the moraine left by the retreating glacier blocked the original course of the River Swale on the west side of the fell and diverted it to its present course, forming a gorge to the east of the fell and leaving Kisdon isolated from other high ground. Kisdon’s isolation gives it the status of a Marilyn even though it only has a modest height of 499 metres (1636 feet).

The western flank of Black Hill from North Gang Scar.

Looking downstream along the River Swale towards Muker from North Gang Scar.

A very stoney Pennine Way (half a century old this year) makes its way through the scree of North Gang Scar.

We leave the Pennine Way at an unnamed, ruined farmstead and make our way downhill to our starting point in the village of Muker.

Quiz between two dry stone walls.

The unnamed, former farmstead we passed as we left the Pennine Way. It looks like a doer upper to me although it is certain to be "off-the-grid." I always find ruined homesteads like this fascinating. Ruined and empty now, they were once filled with life and life lived in many ways very differently to ours but also, in many other ways, very similar to ours.


Looking towards Kisdon Scar from the side of Kisdon Hill above Muker. I know it's confusing but that's Yorkshire for you.


Looking down on Muker from the hill. In my opinion it is exactly what a village should look like and I wouldn't bother arguing with me on this point as I'm an expert (perhaps the expert) on how things ought to be.


The MadGang Go To Upper Swaledale — 2 Comments

  1. Utterly GORGEOUS!!! Brill, MP!

    All this talk of the Norse makes me think Ragnar Lothbrok and fam(s) may turn up. Has the show “Vikings” made it to Blightey? [I would think Yes. We’re just finishing up S3 here. We keep looking over our shoulder to the Kingdom of Wessex (w/ its delicious evil king played by Linus Roache), even as the Vikings keep trying to conquer not-so-gay-at-present Paree. Good God, the accent of the French princess is terrible. First OMG casting blunder in the series to date! }-X]