WALKING IN THE YORKSHIRE DALES This Month Grassington & Mossdale Caverns

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This is a fine middle distance walk starting off following the Dales Way, then following part of the 6 Dales Hike to the Mossdale Caverns before finally returning via some of the old lead mining areas around Yarnbury and back to the village of Grassington. It follows well established paths throughout and there are no real route finding difficulties throughout the walk. It is quite strenuous mainly due to the distance, but there are no steep ascents and the paths are good throughout.
Grassington, although often described by local people as a village, was granted a Royal Charter for a market and fair in 1282 giving it market town status. The market was held regularly until about 1860.
A change in land use from the early 17th century, when lead mining began to assume more importance, brought some prosperity, but Grassington’s heyday arrived during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The opening of the Yorkshire Dales Railway to Threshfield in 1901 also brought new visitors, many of whom settled. In its heyday it boasted a population of over 3,000 – today it is only ⅓ of that.
Today Grassington’s main industry is tourism. It boasts a small cobbled square around which is a selection of food, clothing and gift shops, alongside a number of small cafes, restaurants and hotels. It is the quintessential Dales small market town and attracts many thousands of visitors throughout the year, both summer and winter.
In the summer Grassington holds its two-week long annual arts festival encompassing music, performance and visual arts, held in a variety of venues around the town and neighbouring villages. It attracts many top class performers and over the years these have included stars such as Lesley Garrett, the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, Jules Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra, Black Dyke Mills Band, Lee Evans, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Boney M, The Bootleg Beatles and The Searchers.
At the end of the year the town holds a series of Dickensian Christmas Festivals, on the first three Saturday’s in December. During these three Saturdays, Grassington is transported back to the time of Charles Dickens with Christmas lights, the village square and the streets transformed into a traditional market with shopkeepers, villagers and visitors dressed in Victorian costume. It culminates with the torchlight procession around the village with Mary and Joseph leading a donkey, ending with a short carol service in the Square. After this, there’s evening entertainment in the Town Hall, courtesy of the local Players and Singers.

Grassington also is rich in history. This is one of the richest archaeological sites in the north of England, thanks to the gradual migration of the settlement towards its present location some half mile east of the river, leaving the older sites still exposed. Here you can see Bronze Age burial mounds, Celtic villages and fields, Romano-British settlements, and medieval farmsteads in close proximity. Research has suggested that these settlements date back to around 2000BC. There is also evidence of two Celtic villages located between Grassington and Bastow Wood.
The Romans arrived in Upper Wharfedale around 50AD, departing in the 5th century, during which time they quickly developed the area around Grassington as an important grain growing area comprising hundreds of acres of Romano-British development building on the earlier Celtic agricultural site.
The current town of Grassington goes back a very long way, probably to the 7th century, since the Domesday Book in the year 1087 recorded that at this time there was already 300 acres of arable and meadow land in its vicinity, upon which tax was paid to the King. This site would have been chosen on account of it being located on a fairly level shelf above the more densely wooded slope leading down to the river.
Lead mining in the vicinity of Grassington has been carried out since the 15th century when George Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, became Lord of the Manor. He brought skilled men from his Derbyshire mines to work in the mines on Grassington Moor and miners from Swaledale and Cornwall also settled here bringing with them valuable expertise relating to mining techniques. A century or so later, in 1750, the Duke of Devonshire married one of the Clifford heiresses and came to be the Lord of the Manor of Grassington. He developed Grassington with the construction of a water system, the erection of a large new smelt mill and the tall chimney that is still an important feature today. He then greatly improved the road between Grassington and Gargrave, where he owned a wharf on the Leeds to Liverpool canal.
As a result of this great influx of new people into the area, many new properties were built in Grassington from the latter part of the 17th century up to the early part of the 19th century. Also a number of the existing larger properties were each split into two or three smaller dwelling units and thus the unique and quaint character of Grassington came into being. In 1855, the Duke of Devonshire built the Mechanics Institute, with a library for the education and welfare of the miners. This was enlarged in 1895, and in 1896, the Duke handed over the Institute to the village who added a large hall, stage and dressing rooms in 1923, and the building underwent a further expansion with the addition of a studio theatre and nursery school in 1998.
The lead mining industry declined in the late 1870s and many miners and their families gradually left the area. Shortly afterwards, Grassington House changed its use from a private house into a boarding house, thus heralding the birth of the tourist industry which is still so important to Grassington today. With the coming of the railway in 1902, many new people, mainly Bradford commuters, moved into the area. The town has gradually expanded over the last century, from a low point on 1903 when the population was little more than 300, to around 1,100 today. Agriculture, quarrying, and tourism are the mainstays of employment in Grassington today supplemented by many professional commuters, artists and retired people, making a lively mix of locals and “offcumd’uns” (a Yorkshire term for anyone coming to a town or village from further afield), a mix which makes the town lively and friendly.

The walk starts from the centre of Grassington and follows the Dales Way out of the town heading north towards Kettlewell. Go up Chapel Street and before reaching Town Head farm, turn right up the existing right of way up Bank Lane. This is followed round to the left and on until the right of way makes a sharp right turn. A new path has been constructed from here across fields in a westerly direction to rejoin the previous route of the Dales Way well to the north of the farm. After climbing through the next few fields you will gain tremendous views of the surrounding dales landscape. Continue above the Old Pasture above Conistone village until you reach the junction with Scot Gate Lane coming up from the village.
Here the Dales Way continues straight forward but we now turn right onto the track heading north east for about ½ mile (700m) before turning initially south east and then again north east on a track towards Kelber Gate and Mossdale Scar. This is followed for nearly a mile (1500m) where you will see a track off to the right. We are going to take this shortly but it is worth making the small diversion up to Mossdale Scar and caverns. These are easily spotted on the far side of Mossdale Beck and attached to the rockface at the caverns is a plaque which reads, ‘in everlasting memory from the families of David Adamson aged 26, Geoffrey Warren Boireau aged 24, William Frakes aged 19, John Ogden aged 20, Michael John Ryan aged 17, Colin Richard Vickers aged 23, who rest here in Mossdale Caverns where they died 24th June 1967. I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my strength.’ These young cavers were sought for extensively by the Cave Rescue Organisation at the time but were never found. Because of the dangerous water levels in the caverns it was decided to close these by blocking off the entrances and the bodies were left in the caverns as a permanent resting place.
Retrace your steps to the track which is now on your left and this is followed in a south easterly direction down to Bycliffe Hill a distance of 1¼ miles (2km) and then southwards for just over ½ mile (1km) to a crossroads where five tracks converge. Take the track to the right (heading west) which you follow for a further 1¼ miles (2km) down to the hamlet of Yarnbury. This is a scene of industrial desolation set among the beauty of the dales and well worth exploring for a short while before the return to Grassington. You’re now in an area of some of the finest lead mining remains in England. There are various highlights, but the great centrepiece is the chimney (built in 1849) and the system of flues running up to it. The flues run from “cupola corner” where the lead was smelted up the side of the hill and finish at the chimney.
From here a minor road heading south west takes you the remaining 1½ miles (2½ km) back into Grassington where there are plenty of pubs and tea rooms to choose from at the end of a most enjoyable walk amidst some great Dales scenery.
Further details of this walk plus another twenty nine walks can be found in my latest book Yorkshire Walks – 6 Dales – 30 Walks which is published by Sigma Publications.
This is priced £9.99 and is available from most good bookshops or via the internet from Amazon or direct from Sigma Press at;

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