Grassington is one of those pretty little Dales villages that has it’s photo adorning hundreds of calendars and jigsaw puzzle boxes. Folded between the low fells and the river Wharfe it is a haven to the countless tourists who flock to it’s quaint tea rooms and giftshops to enjoy a ‘perfect day out in the Yorkshire Dales’. Lovely!
I try to avoid it at all costs.
One of my favourite places is Grassington Moor, or Yarnbury as some call it, and to get there you have to follow the old moor road out through the village for 3 miiles or so. Well, there is another way but it is a much longer walk and last time I undertook it I had to sneak through a field which contained a very inquisitive bull, so the village is preferable – just.
Yarnbury is not a pretty landscape – there are no beautiful waterfalls or pretty flowers. It is a feral landscape trying to forget. Many events have happened here (some good, mostly bad) and the earth carries the scars. Centuries of mining has broken the earth. Lead and flourspar were got here. Now the last smelting house has closed. Yarnbury holds many secrets. It is also a land of vast unexplored caves and it is one of those places where you can spend a full day and not see a soul – I need to be there all the time.
When you first get onto the moors you come across the Grassington Lead Mine Trail – a series of informative plaques erected by the local Mine Research Society, dotted around the old buildings and tunnels. It is well worth a look and the trail lasts a couple of miles or so. You follow the paths set out and the trail takes you around some of the interesting features. It is a nice walk for families with a bent for history, although few bother with it. It is a shame as it is a lost part of our industrial heritage and should be remembered.
However, if you go further North you come to the really interesting bits – pass the signs warning you about open mine shafts, go over the dry stone walls and you enter the area where the real history is. Almost no-one goes there. The problems occur if you stray off the paths and into the scrub land or long grass because many of the mine shafts are open or covered over with old railway sleepers and will drop you several hundred feet if you step wrong.
There are a lot of them, and in some places the ground has slumped in filling some old underground cavern. It is particularly dangerous in snow – but for me this is the best time as you really see the contours of the land…but snow covers up things and I once nearly fell down a shaft that the snow had corniced over. You have to be careful – especially if you go wandering up there on your own…no one would ever find you if you fell.
Going North West you come to Mossdale Scar where a large stream disappears into the base of a broken limestone cliff 50 feet high and 150 feet long. Mossdale Caverns are notorious amongst cavers – the 7 miles of caverns flood totally and it was the scene of Britains worst caving disaster. The bodies of 6 young men are still buried far under the moors – they were drowned when a torrential thunderstorm hit – they were in a passage 2 foot high and wide at the time. They could not be recovered. Mossdale is one of two known entrances to the fabled Black Keld System – with potentially 200 miles of unexplored cave passage. Yarnbury is like a giant Swiss cheese.
To the West you may find the wreckage of an old Wellington bomber which crashed during the war killing all 5 crew. There is little left now except some pieces of aluminium scattered in a small indentation, near the ruins of an old farmhouse.
During the Second World War the British Army decided to use the old mine buildings and barns as target practice, and some of the unexploded shells are still found in the scrubland – I have personally found 3.
Normally I would mark them and inform the local Police in Grassington, but I was once up there with a few friends and we almost stood on one. Richard picked it up, shook it and declared it a ‘dud’ – presumably because it didn’t go off. He took it home and put it on his mantlepiece and his wife polished it twice a week with Mr. Sheen. It was only when it started spilling out white powder that he decide to mention it to the Police, who sent the bomb squad in. They evacuated the whole street while they disposed of it. Guess it wasn’t a dud after all!
He later told me that next time he finds one he will leave it alone and tell the authorities! I hope he does…he is a good friend and I would miss him terribly!