One of the most important things we will be producing as part of the ‘Every Barn…’ project is a set of walk leaflets helping people explore the amazing farming landscapes of upper Swaledale. We’ll be adding stories; old photographs and history to each walk making it a real journey back in time to when the cow’usses formed such an important part of the farmer’s daily life. It means we are spending a lot of time poring over old maps, zooming around digital maps and sticking labels and applying highlighter pen onto paper ones!
Bringing in the hay has always been a family affair up in Muker. It was hot, dusty work though – ‘bringing out the drinkings’ was essential at regular intervals during the day.
“Especially in haytime, it was a family event, I mean, everybody mucked in, the women as well, I mean they had to break off to go and make the meals and they used to bring the meals out into the hayfield in a basket, and a can of tea…I remember me mother used to make fruit pies on a tin plate, and she used to send a whole pie”
Richard Campbell (75) formerly of Ravenseat Farm
This lovely photo was brought along to our last Open Day for us to scan – we wonder what that stone jar had in it – ginger beer maybe?
We just taken delivery of a big box of postcards which we are rather excited about. One of the first things we discovered when we talked to local visitor businesses was that people simply don’t know what all the little buildings in the fields are. So we’ve come up with a handy postcard which they can hand out to anyone who wants to know all about cow’usses.
We’ll be distributing these to visitor businesses in Muker in good time for the start of the season. Get in contact if you like some to try out. We’ll be gathering feedback over the Easter and early summer once they’ve been tried out and hope to tweak and reprint more for the main summer holidays.
Look at that fabulous frosty view posted on Keld Public Hall’s facebook page this morning. If you are up that way the Keld Public Hall is offering a winter self-service tea and coffee facility (and locally made cakes too). We were so impressed when we visited last week and all to raise money to improve the facilities. The Every Barn project will be making full use of the hall later in the year for a project celebration – watch this space!
This large, late eighteenth century cowhouse is one of the first ones you will see on your way down into Swaledale from the famous Buttertubs Pass. Its prominent position above the dale is perhaps the reason why we have collected several stories about it from people who once used it. It stands in Banty Field which has now gone back to rushes but was once a fine haymeadow. Dorothy Brown remembers all too well one long hot day having to work there:
“The story about Banty that always sticks in my mind, the cow’uss, in haymaking time. It didn’t matter what you were doing or how ill you felt, at that point, one day I was feeling really grotty…..and my father said, ‘right, we have to get this hay in, it’s going to rain’, and we went into the cowhouse, there’d be one of my uncles and me sister and I, and we had to tramp the hay down right to the rafters and it was hot, it was dusty. You didn’t wear trousers, you had cotton skirts so the hay prickled your legs, it was horrible. I would say it was one of the most awful experiences of me life really, uncomfortable, and just hard, because you couldn’t breath either and you had to cram as much hay in as you could, to the rafters, so then when you’d got right to the last little bit and you’d got it then you could crawl out of the forking hole window and they’d help you down to the bottom….”
Dorothy Brown (nee Clarkson) formerly of Scarr House Farm
We’ve already learned lots about the sorts of things people are interested in when they visit Muker – the barns and walls are of course top of the list. But what’s the thing that puzzles people the most? Well, apparently, everyone wants to know what those lines of sticking-out stones are for that you see on all the barns (and some field walls). They are known as ‘throughs’ or ‘truffs’ in the Swardle dialect. They are long stones that, as their name suggests, run right through the wall thus providing strength. However, we’ve heard one or two other stories….
“… these buildings were well made like, lot of these cow byres, they were all well made. …I tell you, I was once on wi’ a fella and he came and said, “What’s all them ‘throughs’ sticking out there, those truffs?” I said, “they’re for birds to shelter under on a windy day” [lots of laughter]. He said, “I’m not blimmin believing that!”
As part of the Every Barn… project we hope to produce some bespoke interpretation for local visitor businesses. We’ve begun the process by dropping by some of these businesses to see what their customers want and how we might be able to help. We have already been really impressed by the visitor ‘offer’ available in Muker Parish and how enthusiastic business owners are about our project. Featured is the Farmers Arms in Muker who had the rather brilliant idea of table games disguised as beer mats. We’re sure we can come up with something along these lines that tell people some cow’uss stories in a fun way.
We are pleased to see this full page spread and cover photo about the project in The Visitor 2017. Thousands of people pick up a copy of our free magazine every year and it’s a great way to get the message out about what we are all working on. Featured are some wonderful quotes from project participants like this memory from one older lady:
“And we had a well in the back yard. Just opposite the cow’us. And I remember, in ’63, we had so much snow …I remember that all four of us…brother, mum and dad. And we had to dig a tunnel for the cows to walk through to the well…and that was just behind the house so that was pretty sheltered really”