A tumbled-down ruin has a story to tell all of its own. It might be about a family tragedy or it might be about widespread economic changes. A short walk along the Pennine Way north of Muker offers tantalising hints of some of these stories.
Leaving the Corpse Way as it winds up the side of Kisdon Hill towards Keld, you enter an old lane, that was once hedged.
Below you are fine views of Muker Meadows and their cowhouses. The large flat meadows produced lots of hay so the cowhouses were built big to store it all. Interestingly, the farmer has adapted them by removing the stalls and other fittings and still keeps his cattle in them over the winter.
Walk on a little further and look up to your left and you see a very different picture – small, steep fields each one with a tiny ruined cowhouse in it. Some are being reclaimed by scrub and all the fields are full of woodland flowers such as primroses and dogs mercury.
Such tiny marginal meadows must have been cut out from woodland, their walls built from stone cleared out of the fields themselves by hand – a back breaking job. They would then have needed plenty of hands to help cut the hay each year and spread the muck – look at those steep slopes. One has to admire how tough and hard working the families who survived here must have been.
The cowusses are small but substantially built with well-cut masonry. Many locals particularly from the nearby deserted settlement at Hartlakes probably earned part of their living working in the leadmines across the Swale. Some would have developed masonry skills as a result which may explain why these cowusses are so well-made.
When that industry began to fail towards the end of the nineteenth century, small, marginal farms were no longer viable and these little buildings were eventually left empty and uncared for as the families that once used them left. The woodland has now begun to creep back and reclaim their meadows and the roofs of the cowhouses have fallen in.