Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Rock and roll

Some of the most ancient bits of Britain's rocks crop up round here. Slates and other fine-grained slabs have been put to good use in flooring, making bridges, roofs, and other noticeable places. These stones date from a few thousand million years ago.
Through various movements of the Earth's surface, these amazing and beautiful rocks appear right bang next to much younger rocks - the marvellous Carboniferous Limestone which I mentioned yesterday, and then the grits and sandstones, which are even younger still.
The old houses round here display an almost musical harmony in their arrangements of these stone materials, where the textures and colours and grain of the various stones play against each other. Sometimes the black soots of the 18th and 19th century are still logged into the surface, making it look a bit like burnt toast. Some buildings have been cleaned, or re-mortared, or even painted over, but there's some sort of planning control keeping an eye on the colours and proportions, and the results are very pleasing.

Some windows have gone wonky. Some buildings have been extended with nearly-matching stone. Some of the isolated farmsteads up in the moors, with their tight rectangular corners and eaves, look like snappy parcels delivered into the peaty flats below the tops a few hundred years ago and all right and tight.
Lower down, the valleys hold the little towns and villages - all higgledy-piggledy, with market-places, courtyards, houses with their mounting-blocks standing ready for the gentlemen to come out to ride away.  I read today that the farms, up in the empty hills, were settled by the Norsemen, Vikings, and they have the placenames of Scar, Crag, Gill, etc... while the valleys were settled by the Angles, so they have the (to me) more familiar suffixes of -ton, -ham and -ley.   Their architecture really is quite different, even though it's all made of the same sorts of stone.  But the arrangements are strikingly characteristic of each type, and that must date back to way before the Conquest... into the early Middle Ages, or the early post-Roman.
There are field bumps which are Iron Age, and Roman marching camps still visible up on the tops. No-one's ever ploughed them out, so they just remain there, as mute evidence of past practice.
The greensward is tight on much of the land, with rough grazing further up, and there we saw marvellous shaggy long-horn cattle just ambling about. Locals used to claim this was their place of origin, but it turns out they came from the Midlands - it was the farmers of Craven (this area) who worked on the breed and developed it into the adorable fuzzy-faced candelabra-style cattle who look so much at home up here.

Wearing very suitable looking boots etc. we walked to see some of the waterfalls - particularly the Force at Stainforth (Angle = 'stony ford', and there it is, a blooming stony ford all right). The force is not the highest but has some very attractive limestone pavement on the banks, and fish jumping. We did not see salmon leaping but it's not hard to imagine this would be a great place for them.  The beautiful 17thC packhorse bridge (owned by the National Trust since the 1930s) is an elegant swoop of stone - it was part of a network of paths and roads over these complicated hills and valleys, in this case with monastic origins.

I had a strong urge to summon up my old geography teacher from school in the early 1960s. Mrs Gall had drummed into us her passion for such matters as the limestone pavements, Malham Tarn and Malham Cove, sills and dykes, pot-holes and so on, and I wanted to say to her 'Look, I've finally got here! I've been to see. I've understood!' But of course, she died long ago. She had a pretty cottage in Sussex somewhere, with floral curtains. I went there for tea once. She had raved about the Western Ghats in India, and always said 'Him-ahlyer' when she had the chance. I was so scared of her at first but she was a great teacher and she was with me today. 
There are quite a few business properties for sale in the pretty villages up here - tea-rooms, etc.  The one we called into had an appalling amount of tat for sale and served an out-of-date Eccles cake with our coffee. But later we had lunch back in Settle, in a long dark bar called 'Thirteen'. It was rather French in style, quite busy and offered (for instance) a lentil & spinach masala with naan bread for £4, and a bacon and local black-pudding salad for £6, along with a decent glass of wine.  Settle also entertained us with a trip round The Folly (a stupendous airy show-off building created in 1679, and now Grade I listed)... three floors of marvellous architecture housing some nice modern art. Alan Bennett is chairman of the local volunteer group who are restoring and maintaining it. I had to get special permission from the Curator to take pictures (which I will gladly show you). Their exhibiting artists are touchy about plagiarism. One of them found her wonderful landscapes reproduced without permission in a Japanese calendar which was on sale there for a lot of munnee.....  So I promised to exclude any art from my shots and concentrate on the stairs, windows, ceilings, floors, fireplaces etc. which truly made my heart beat faster.  This ground floor room has a massive range of stone windows, which actually go round the corner. Astonishing.

In such a building, the use of the best stone, from quarries far and near, and some of it untouched since 1679 (though some other parts altered of course), all combine to make a fabulous memorable building. They have a history and geology display too, where I learned a lot more about the local stone (see).
Now we're back in Cobble Cottage. Supper tonight will be John Dory, bought at 8.30am from the market from a fishmonger from Fleetwood. In some ways, Craven is nearer to the western seas than to the east coast. They speak a very soft kind of Yorkshire too, and they mock their own dialect, with postcards spelling out quaint sayings.  "It's crackin' t'flags" (meaning "it's very hot today") would be referring to 'flagstoans' or paving stones.  They do love their rocks.

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