Our second day in the Dales, and we woke to clear blue skies. We were set on doing the walk that a friend reckons is the best in the Dales. It began at the car park in Buckden (below), the last village in Wharfedale before the road climbs out of the valley and over to West Burton. The parish of Buckden consists of the village itself, as well as the hamlets of Cray, Hubberholme and Yockenthwaite that we were to pass through on our walk.
From the car park (above) we followed the track that rises through Rakes Wood to join Buckden Rake. This is an old Roman road that connected the forts at Ilkley (Olicana) to the south and Bainbridge, near Hawes (Virosidum).
But the earliest evidence of human habitation in this parish dates back well before the Romans – to the Bronze Age. Beside the river at Yockenthwaite there’s a stone circle or ring cairn, thought to be all that remains of a pre-historic burial mound.
As we gained height along the Buckden Rake bridleway, there were superb views back down the dale towards Buckden (above). A little further, and the hamlet of Hubberholme came into view to the west (below).
The landscape we were looking across was once Langstrothdale Chase, the playing field and meat larder of the Percy family, the earls of Northumberland. After the Norman conquest, the Percies were granted, in 1377, all forest and manorial rights in the dale – feudal rights that they held until 1534. Hubberholme first emerged as one of the lodges of the chase. Buckden itself was established in the 12th Century as the administrative centre for the hunting forest of Langstrothdale Chase. All this is a reminder that once the dales were covered in trees; over the centuries they have been cleared for farming.
There were also outlying lodges at Cray (below), Hubberholme, Raisgill, Yockenthwaite and Deepdale, where officials were responsible for managing the forest and collecting rents. The Chase was subject to strict regulation enforced by a court known as the Woodmote which met every 40 days. Although the villagers of the chase had some rights including collecting firewood and honey and grazing pigs, poaching and cutting down trees were severely punished.
The route took us to a point beside waterfalls just above the White Lion Inn at Cray (above). Originally a stop off for drovers, the White Lion dates back to the 17th century, and is renowned for the quality of its beer and food. It was too early for us to stop for lunch and we pressed on towards Hubberholme.
The next section of the walk was a real pleasure – easy going on the level, grassy pastures that form the head of Wharfedale, with superb views opening up down the dale (below).
The limestone pavement here forms a series of stepped ledges – the result of the differential erosion of limestone (laid down as layers of tiny shells and micro-skeletons in shallow seas some 300 million years ago) and the alternating layers of shales and sandstone that erode more easily, leaving the limestone like the treads of a stair (below).
These are the limestone pavements that I remember from Geography A-level at school. Rainwater erodes the joints and bedding planes of these limestone pavements to produce grooves or depressions called grykes, with clumps of limestone in between called clints. The sheltered grykes form miniature eco-systems that support a variety of often rare plants. I found a clump of marjoram thriving in this gryke.
The going remained easy as we approached Scar House, a cottage above Hubberholme that became a Quaker meeting House following a visit from George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, in 1652. There is a Quaker burial ground adjacent to the cottage, which is now owned by the National Trust and operated as a holiday cottage.
After Scar House the path continues through a short section of deciduous woodland (below) before emerging to cross a number of small fields.
Along the way we passed signs of lives once led here – a ruined sheep fold, an abandoned cottage.
The midday sun was beating down as we approached Yockenthwaite (below), a remote hamlet where a bridge crosses the Wharfe before the road heads over the dale head to Hawes. Just before the bridge we turned along the Dales Way which follows the river downstream to Hubberholme.
Now we were walking through waterside meadows, several still not mown despite it being past the date when farmers are allowed to mow (farmers in Wharfedale are paid a subsidy for not cutting the meadows early to allow the wild flowers to seed). It was late in the season to see the meadows at their best, but there were still colourful displays of purple knapweed and clover, yellow hawkweed and lady’s bedstraw (its common English name deriving from its former use as stuffing for bed mattresses). At one point we came upon the blue splash of a bank of field scabious stretching down to the river bank.
Following the tea-coloured river, we were wondering whether we’d make the George Inn at Hubberholme before they stopped serving food. Then, quite suddenly, the church tower came into view – abruptly because both church and tower are rather squat structures.
The tiny hamlet of Hubberholme (local pronunciation Ubberam) takes its name from the invading Viking chieftain Hubba the Berserker (someone to keep on the right side of, I imagine), who settled here over a 1000 years ago. The church was originally a forest chapel within the Norman hunting forest of Langstrothdale Chase and was given to the monks of Coverham Abbey by William de Percy in 1241.
The church is famous for its rood loft (above), one of only two surviving in Yorkshire, which is thought to have come from Coverham Priory in 1558. The choir stall and pews were made by Robert Thompson of Kilburn in 1934 – and several of his carved mice can be seen on the pew ends (below).
The ashes of Bradford-born author J.B.Priestley are scattered in the churchyard in view of the pub. Priestley regarded the George Inn as his favourite watering hole and wrote of Hubberholme that it was ‘one of the smallest and most pleasant places in the world’. This memorial can be found at the back of the church.
The George was still open and serving food, so we sat outside in the sunshine and consumed our refreshments, rounding things off with a slice of excellent Yorkshire curd tart. It seemed we had been the only customers that lunchtime – the toilets across the yard had to be unlocked for us.
There’s a curious tradition associated with the pub. Since the 18th century, on the first Monday after New Year’s Day, a ‘parliament’ has been held at the George Inn at which the grazing rights to a nearby pasture are auctioned by the vicar, with the auction finishing when the candle on the bar burns out. The highest bidder (usually a local farmer) pays the rent which is used to support the elderly of the parish.
From Hubberholme, the Dales Way at first follows the road towards Buckden. For some reason, local landowners have prevented the path from crossing the fields by the river on this short section. Soon, however, the path rejoins the river bank for the final section back to Buckden. Along the way, I noticed this tree trunk that displayed signs that an over-active woodpecker had been at work.
Back in the car park at Buckden, several thrushes showed a keen interest in what I was up to.
On past visits to the valley we would often call in at the pub in Buckden, the Buck Inn. Now, it seems, the pub is faced with closure. The village website records that the pub had been empty for almost a year following the departure of the previous landlords, re-opened at the end of July but because of lack of repairs to the building, is due to close again this weekend. Villagers point out that the Buck Inn belongs to the Wellington Pub Company and is managed by Criterion Asset Management. Both businesses belong to the Reuben Brothers who, according to the 2011 Sunday Times Rich List, are the 8th richest people in Britain.