|'Loki' (c) Emily McManus|
The sun rises on a cool, crisp morning. Birds chirrup. The nascent leaves rustle on their boughs, and there is not a human in sight. That's the view from my window, a week into Lockdown. No day trips planned at the moment, no new explorations to undertake, because the countryside is effectively closed, and we have no idea at present when it is likely to re-open.
Team Vulpine's last proper trip out took place a few weeks ago, on Wednesday 26th February. Eldest and I were staying with Middle at her pad in Clayton Le Moor, a small Lancashire town just north of Accrington. On the penultimate day of our stay, something curious happened...
The rain stopped. Late February in Lancashire, and the rain... it just stopped! All precipitation ceased, and the sun rose on a cool, crisp morning*. The nascent buds shone on their boughs, and we jumped into the Vulpine-mobile, currently a Ford Focus named Silver Vixen, and decided to head for an area where, in a taste of things to come, there was hardly a human in sight. It is Ribblesdale, nestling in the western region of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and the journey between the four sites we had earmarked would be along the banks of the rolling Ribble itself. Swollen after weeks of rain and storms, assisted by the snow thawing gradually from the surrounding hills and pouring into its perpetual flow toward the Irish Sea, the Upper Ribble passes through an area of beautiful, eye-catching scenery.
We drive north, through the popular village of Whalley, passing Clitheroe, with the Forest of Pendle and the historically infamous Pendle Hill to our right. This region is an Area Of Outstanding Beauty called the Forest of Bowland, although not a Forest in the conventional, arboreal sense... it is more like the Radnor Forest in mid-Wales, high, bleakly beautiful, snow-capped hills with a magnificent sense of openness.
Shortly after Clitheroe, and shortly after entering the West Riding of Yorkshire, we leave the A-road and enter a small village called Sawley. This is our first stop, because Sawley has a ruined Abbey which we have not yet encountered.
|Sawley Abbey Gate|
The remains of Sawley are not particularly extensive, so entry is free, but the ruins are handsome enough and are strikingly enhanced by the backdrop of Pendle Hill.
|Pendle Hill overlooks the Abbey|
In the year 1147, local landowner Thomas de Percy granted land at what was then known as 'Sallia' to the monastic order known as the Cistercians, the White Monks, whose mother house was Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. The original residents, sent from Newminster Abbey in Northumberland, were Abbot Benedict, twelve monks, and ten lay-brothers. The first few decades of the Abbey's existence were fragile, as the land they had been granted turned out to be rather poor and crops would not easily grow. The Cistercians even considered the possibility of closing or moving the Abbey. However, Matilda Countess of Warwick (daughter of the founder), gifted them with more fertile land as well as the income from two churches elsewhere in Yorkshire. Further grants were made by her sister Agnes, and Sawley's financial problems eased... although they later suffered a dispute with Whalley Abbey, which they claimed was using resources to the detriment of their own foundation, and they also had to deal with some of their holdings being raided by the Scots.
|Abbey buildings, photo-bombed by Middle's puppy.|
In 1536 came the Dissolution Of The Monasteries. Sawley was valued at £137 3s 10d but, before it was even suppressed, a local magnate named Arthur Darcy agreed an underhand deal with the King to acquire the property. However, the Abbey did not close down quietly. In 1537 came the 'Pilgrimage Of Grace', a major Northern uprising which aimed to restore the monastic lands to the Church. Local rebels 're-instated' the monastic community, including its Abbot, Thomas Bolton. It took four months before the beleaguered Duke Of Norfolk, acting for the King, had dealt with enough of the Pilgrimage to be able to roll up to Sawley and demand its surrender. The occupants complied, and were evicted... although Abbot Bolton and his chaplain were executed. The lands were returned to Arthur Darcy, who retained them even when his father Sir Thomas Darcy - who had unwisely got himself mixed up with the Pilgrimage - lost his head the following year at Tower Hill**.
|The Abbey Church, seen from the Cloisters|
|The Main Drain, running below the Refectory|
The Abbey ruins and its lands remained with the Darcy family until the early 1600's, when they were owned by Sir James Hays, Baron Sawley and later Earl of Carlisle. His grandaughter Margaret, Countess of Warwick, later inherited the lands... an interesting historical quirk, as it was a Countess of Warwick who had provided much needed lands to the Abbey in its earlier years.
By the early nineteenth century, Sawley was in the hands of the Wendell family of Waddow Hall near Clitheroe, and later was owned by Earl Grey and his nephew, the Marquis of Ripon. J E Fattorini of Bradford acquired the estate in 1934 and this gentleman entrusted it to the Office Of Works in 1951. The site today is maintained by the Heritage Trust for the North West, although overall responsibility rests with English Heritage.
|Fireplace in the Abbey kitchen|
|Collection of dressed stones from the ruins|
Today, the site of Sawley Abbey rests quietly enough in the Ribble Valley, its serenity a far cry from the days of rebellion and monastic rivalries with Whalley. The fields to the east and south, interestingly, contain significant 'lumps and bumps', many of which archaeological features would have been connected to the Abbey in its heyday.
|Features in the East Field include the bank covering the Main Drain, as well as possible post- medievel field boundaries. And sheep.|
|South Field, location of the Abbey fishponds and a spectacular view of Pendle Hill|
We return to the car, drive north through the village and follow the course of the river as it returns us to the A59, then we head onward and upwards into the Yorkshire Dales. As well as the river, we are now joined by the Settle-Carlisle railway line, widely regarded as one of the most scenic railway lines in England. Our next stop is Stainforth, a picture-postcard Dales village with an important historic connection to the very Abbey that we so very recently explored.
|Stainforth (c) Ben Gamble|
In medieval times, the manor of Stainforth was owned by Sawley Abbey, and the monks successfully developed the settlement. It was named after the 'stony ford' that crossed the Ribble, although the ford was replaced in 1675 by a packhorse bridge. The bridge was provided by a prominent local Quaker, Samuel Watson, who lived at Knights Stainforth Hall in the parish ( a building which still stands). In modern times, the bridge is owned by the National Trust
We parked in the village car park and crossed the road, following the railway line for a short distance until we crossed it at a bridge. Down a short incline and a curve to the right, and we cross the Ribble over the packhorse bridge, then stroll another short distance to a local beauty spot, known as Stainforth Falls/Force/Foss.
|Eldest (with puppy) and Middle explore Stainforth Falls|
|The 1670's packhorse bridge on the site of the 'stony ford'|
Stainforth Falls are a series of cascades pouring relentlessly into a large plunge pool. Its geological development is due to the North Craven Fault, a tear in the earth's crust that runs through the village. It is a popular spot, well-known locally for the salmon that can often be seen leaping the cascades on their way to their spawning grounds. The river is swollen and roaring today following the recent heavy rains that saw disastrous flooding elsewhere in Yorkshire, and -alas! - there were no salmon to be seen.
|The Ribble cascading over the Falls|
|Middle providing some scale!|
We return to Stainforth along a bridle path, and stroll through the village. It is bisected by Stainforth Beck, a Ribble tributary, with a village green on either side. The greens are connected by a rather striking line of stepping stones.
|One step at a time...|
From the village, a track called Goats Scar Lane heads up to the higher ground. We plod upward, enclosed by drystone walling, every step improving the views. We leave Stainforth behind, and enter a serene world of limestone outcrops, bleating sheep, and ever- improving views. At the peak of the path we can scan the horizon and pick out the three major peaks of Yorkshire - Pen Y Ghent, Ingleborough, and Whernside. We are following the footsteps of the composer Edward Elgar. A lover of waterfalls, he would travel from his home in the Welsh Marches to stay with a friend in Settle, and he strolled this same path, on the same quest. What he found up here, apparently provided inspiration for his greatest works, the 'Pomp And Circumstance' sequence and the 'Enigma Variations'.
What he found is what we have now found. A hidden gem in the high ground above Stainforth. A truly gorgeous waterfall called Catrigg Force.
The gorge was created by the same North Craven Fault that gifted us Stainforth Falls, but this feels different. Enclosed by rich, fertile greenery, Catrigg feels intimate and majestic, its power giving life to this oasis high in the austere Dales. The constant, unremitting roar of falling water is an echo of eternity, a sound that never ceases.
It is not difficult to believe that a lonely, magnificent and slightly haunting spot like this, with the sheer rocky walls of permanence divided by the patient power of transience, could inspire equally dramatic art.
We lingered a while at the waterfall, before making our descent back to Stainforth, all the way soaking up the views from our elevated position.
Back at the car, we continue our journey, with the railway line and the river to our left, all of us ploughing through Ribblesdale. The hulk of Ingleborough, second highest point in the Dales and one of the Three Peaks, glowers down on us as we pass. The road doglegs through the village of Horton in Ribblesdale, a favourite with walkers. The Three Peaks Walk traditionally starts here, a 26-mile challenge meant to be completed in 12 hours. Also passing through the village are the Ribble Way and the Pennine Way.
Leaving Horton and the Three Peaks behind us, we eventually encounter a T-junction at the head of Ribblesdale and there, stretching out in front of us, as rigid as a ramrod and cutting across the valley like a gargantuan centipede, the Ribblehead Viaduct carries the railway line into the distance.
|Ribblehead Viaduct, with Whernside beyond|
It was designed by John Sydney Mosley and constructed between 1869-74. It's workforce of 2,300 men, many with their families, lived in shanty towns clustered around the site, and over 100 of them lost their lives. Things have certainly improved on the Health and Safety front since then. The towns had names like Sebastapol, Belgravia and Batty Wife Hole(!), and the Viaduct and the sites of the towns are now a Scheduled Monument. The construction of the Viaduct also inspired the 2016 TV period drama Jericho.
Gazing upon this structure on a calm February afternoon, not another soul in sight, it is difficult to imagine the noise and bustle of heavy construction resonating through the Ribble Valley. Not far from here, the Ribble itself rises from the confluence of the Gam Beck and the Gayle Beck. Another of the Three Peaks, Whernside, gazes down with imperious indifference.
And this is far as our journey takes us. We now head south, back to Lancashire, passing on the way the White Scar Cavern... a tourist attraction which will have to wait for another occasion. We have barely seen another soul all day, just a woman walking her dog at Sawley Abbey and a fellwalker we passed on his way up to Catrigg Force.
Before even being obliged to, and completely inadvertently, we self-isolated like bosses!
|A view from Goats Scar Lane|
* 'cool, crisp morning'. It was damn near freezing, but in Lancashire that's a 'cool, crisp morning'.
** Sir Thomas Darcy. I came across this ill-fated Tudor courtier before, while exploring the London Churches. After his execution on Tower Hill he was buried in St Botolph Aldgate, where a monument to his memory remains.