Field Barn Surveying Training

Two training weekends were held in December and January as part of the Every Barn (Cow’us) Tells a Story project. The course provided the attendees with an introduction to field barn surveying techniques, including digital photogrammetry.

Field barns are an important feature in the Yorkshire Dales, and are one of the special qualities of the National Park. The aesthetic and historical value of the field barns within the landscape of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale has been recognised as nationally important due to its designation as a Barns and Walls Conservation Area (the largest conservation area in the country).

There are over 600 barns in the parish of Muker, Swaledale

Due to the modernisation of farming techniques and the resulting changes in agricultural practices, many of these field barns are becoming obsolete. Barns that are not being used can easily start to deteriorate. As a result barns are becoming ruinous, while others are lost due to conversion for domestic or holiday use.

This barn is still in use and you can see signs where it has been adapted over time – including a blocked doorway and the addition of a corrugated leanto

This loss of such a distinctive landscape feature in Swaledale and across the whole of the National Park makes it incredibly important to survey and enhance our knowledge of these barns. Surveying can help uncover the story of the barn, as well as giving crucial updated information on its condition. However, if this is to be achieved volunteers are essential.

This building was possibly a former farm labourer’s cottage or even a former smithy – not a barn but still a building where they could practice methodology and try to uncover its use

The first weekend was an introduction to the field barns that could be found in Swaledale, this included the volunteers learning lots of new terminology for the multitude of external and internal features. They were also given an introduction to surveying methodology and were able to practice all the new techniques learnt over the two days in small groups.

It is important that surveys provide useful information to enhance records, this includes measurements

The second weekend offered an introduction to photogrammetry. Photogrammetry is where you use digital photographs to make a 3D digital model of the object on a computer. These models are a great visual resource, and can be incredibly useful for surveying. (Examples of models can be seen here.) The last day was an overview and allowed the attendees to focus on what they most wanted to, whether it was survey forms, terminology, photogrammetry etc.

Attendees learnt how to use Agisoft – software that can be used to create photogrammetric models

We want to say a massive thank you to the attendees for attending the workshops despite the cold and wet wintry weather. We received some great feedback –

“The course and team engaged me in the aims of the National Park Authority whilst simultaneously providing the ideal venue and beauty of the Yorkshire Dales”

 “Fantastic and Useful”

 “A very interesting and engaging four days. Enthusiastic and knowledgeable presenters. Learnt a lot”.

The Every Barn Tells a Story project is coming to an end, but through weekends like this a better understanding of field barns is promoted and skills are transferred in how to survey them, which is all part of the project’s legacy.

Despite the multitude of field barns that can be found in Swaledale they provide such a variety of information when you look closely at the detail

It’s beginning to look a lot like cow’us

Today is the 1st of December and it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas especially with the scattering of snow on the ground. Advent calendars were opened all over the Dales this morning and we thought we would celebrate the beginning of Advent with 24 barn facts and features.

There are over 6000 barns in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, with over 1,044 field barns in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Barns and Walls Conservation Area alone. Upper Swaledale is recognised as being one of the most distinctive agricultural landscapes in Western Europe.

1 – Field Barns

Field barns, or cow’uses as they are known in Upper Swaledale, are dependent upon the landscape in which they sit. A field barn functions in a cyclical nature with its surrounding landscape, most importantly with the hay meadow. The hay would be cut and dried in the meadows, then stored in the field barn to be used to feed the cattle over winter, and the muck collected from the cows was then used to fertilize the meadow.

2 – Vernacular

Vernacular buildings are ‘local’ buildings that were built in accordance with local custom from locally derived raw materials to suit local needs. This differs from ‘polite’ architecture which are designed by professional architects. Field barns are vernacular buildings. These are very much local structures that were designed for the landscape they are situated in. They are constructed from coursed (locally quarried) sandstone and limestone, with usually sandstone roof tiles in diminishing courses.

3 – Field Barn Plan Types

There are roughly 4 types of field barns plan types found in Upper Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. These plan types are categorized alphabetically (A-D), with Type A subdivided into 3. The 1990 to 1993 Use and Condition Survey identified the internal arrangements (with identifiable byres and mews) and plan forms for 723 field barns. The most common plan form is Type C – this has a partition wall between the byre and mew with external access openings to each section.

The plan types of field barns. Copyright White and Darlington, 2004

4 – Mew

The mew is the larger section of the barn where loose hay is stored.

5 – Forking hole

Forking holes are small window like openings high on an elevation to enable hay to be pitched through. They also provide light and ventilation.

There are 2 forking holes on this elevation. One would have been used to get out of after the mew was filled.

6 – Shippon

The shippon is the part of the barn used to house the cattle. Also known as the byre.

7 – Skelbuse

A skelbuse is the wooden or sometimes stone-built division between the mew and the byre.

This is a wooden skelbuse

8 – Baulks

Baulks refers to the storage loft above the byre sometimes used to store hay or tools.

9 – Muckhole

A muckhole is a small opening that the muck is shoveled through out of the barn to the muck heap outside. The muck would then collect in a heap to be spread on the meadow as fertilizer. A muck heap outside a barn over winter is a good indication that the barn is being used to house cattle during this season.

10 – Booses and Boskins

Booses are the stalls that the cattle are tied in, and usually house 2 cows, with just a post to stop them bumping into one another. The divisions between the booses are called boskins and are often made from wooden panels or large vertical flagstones.

Large flagstone boskins divide these booses

11 – Rudster or Rudstick

A rudster or rudstick is the wooden post which cattle were tied to using a chain or rope.

12 – Foddergang

A foddergang is the passage-way used by farmers to feed the cows, situated between the mew and the byre.

13 – Groop/Group

The groop is a stone-lined channel behind the booses, where cow muck was collected.

14 – Limewash

Walls of the shippon are often covered with a thin layer of lime plaster, this was done to improve light and hygiene in barns. The introduction of limewash and concrete happened to many shippons due to hygiene regulations that came in to force in the 1950s and 60s.

15 – Multiphasing and evidence of previous construction

Barns often undergo many phases of construction as needs might change. This can be in the form of additional construction including extensions, outshots and leantos. It can also be blocked in openings, in some cases done to adhere to hygiene regulations. Interestingly, evidence of previous rooflines can often be found on field barns in the Yorkshire Dales, especially in Swaledale. Field barns would have traditionally been thatched, normally with heather. The use of thatch meant that the pitch of the roof was steeper as the load was heavier, less wood was also required. Evidence of this steeper pitch can be found on gable ends.

This gable end shows previous steeper thatch lines.

16 – Watershot masonry

Watershot masonry was a technique widely used between the late 18th and mid-19th Centuries. Dressed stones or squared rubble are laid at slight angles to shed rainwater outwards from the joints. More than a quarter of the barns in the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale conservation area are recorded to have watershot masonry.

17 – Quoins

Quoins are found on the corners of buildings and help strengthen the walls, they are also used to make a feature of the corner, and in some cases reinforce structural permanence to viewers. Quoins vary in size but often diminish in size towards the roofline. Quoins can often be good indicators to see if a barn has been extended at some point, as there will be a line of quoins not at the corner of a wall.

Fairly small size quoins can be see on the corner of this barn

18 – Through Stones

Through stones are long stones binding together the inner and outer skin of the walls. The barns are constructed of two skins of face stones with a rubble and mortar infill or core. The through stones usually project in parallel, coursed lines on the outside of the barn.

There are 5 lines of through stones on this elevation. There is one ventilation slit on the right section of the barn suggesting that the mew is at this end of the building, as well as 2 lines of putlog ventilation holes.

19 – Ventilation slits and putlog ventilation holes

Barns characteristically have ventilation openings. These allow ventilation into the building and stop the hay rotting. They are most commonly in the form of ventilation slits and putlog ventilation holes. Ventilation slits, vertical openings, are usually found at the mew end of a field barn. Putlog ventilation holes were created during the construction of the barn to hold the wooden scaffolding, they were then retained to allow ventilation.

20 – The roof

In Swaledale the most common form of roof is a pitched roof. This is where a roof slopes downwards in two parts at an angle from a central ridge. There are also other forms like a mono-pitched roof where there is just a single slope downwards from a central ridge and a catslide roof where the roof continues down below the main height of the eaves (often found on outshots where the main roof has been extended).

21 – Coping

We all know that the weather of the upland Dales can be wild, the coping on a cowhouse can help to protect them from damage. The coping is an additional row of flat stones that lie on top of the edge of the gable end roofing flagstones to reinforce their strength. The coping can be found on both ends of the gable, but if found only on one end it is usually found on the end where wind is most often strongest

There is coping on both gable ends and kneelers on the corners

22 – Kneelers

Kneelers are horizontal projecting stones at the base of each side of a gable to support the inclined coping stones. They can be decorated. Not all barns have kneelers, and those that do don’t necessarily have them on all four corners, for instance if the barn only has coping on one gable end there will only be kneelers on those gable corners.

23 – Lintels

A lintel is a horizontal beam or stone above an opening. They can be decorated or (re-used) datestones.

A re-used datestone has been used as a lintel for the small opening on this barn near Keld

24 – Drip mould

Projecting moulding above an arch or lintel to throw off water. Over openings these are particularly referred to as hood moulds.


We hope you have a Merry December, and if you’re exploring Upper Swaledale and its cow’uses this christmas time please stay safe, keep warm and stick to the public rights of way (or follow our very own ‘Every barn…’ walking packs).