Cowhouse stories: Dorothy Brown

Sunny days out mowing, drying and bringing in the hay or ‘haytiming’ as it is known up in Swaledale sound like a rather idyllic way to spend your childhood. Years ago, the whole family helped out , it was often a race against the weather to get the mown grass dried off sufficiently and into the hay mew of the nearest cowhouse, so it was all hands to the deck, from the smallest child upwards as this photo of the Calvert family taken in the 1930s shows.

Kit & Mary Calvert of Hoggarths, Keld having their hay time tea in the shelter of Purse Cow’us.  Courtesy of Chris and Raymond Calvert, Keld

The children of the family usually ended up in the hay mew trampling down the loose hay. This was in fact far from an idyllic job  – it was hot, dusty and dark in there. Dorothy Brown (nee Clarkson), formerly  of Scarr House farm, has less than fond memories of one particular occasion inside Banty Barn, as she tells our interviewer Glenda Calvert here:

Banty is a large cowhouse – the first one after the Buttertubs pass.  Dorothy must have spent quite a long time in that hay mew!

Banty Barn

Haytiming

Two gloriously sunny days at the start of the week meant just one thing in Upper Swaledale – haytime! There were lots of happy farmers out yesterday turning , rowing and baling hay as fast as their machinery would allow them. The whole dale was filled with the thick sweet smell of drying hay – delicious!

Hay rowed up and ready for baling. Near Muker

We saw some small rectangular bales being made using some venerable old machinery, but much more popular were the machines that produce the large round bales. You can see clearly why our little cowhouses are no longer much used for storing hay given that you wouldn’t fit one of these big bales through a doorway.

We were also reminded of one of the memories we collected when we saw the steeper, harder to mow parts of fields left untouched .

“No, a lot of the fields up there are full of rushes now, but they didn’t used to be because they were cut. If we couldn’t get it with a machine we’d get it with a scythe, and Irishmen used to go round the sides and do the gills and that. They’re just left now because they can get all they need without.”

Richard Campbell (75) formerly of Ravenseat farm

Part-mown hay field near Muker

It’s also very noticeable how the number of fields that are haytimed has reduced, the higher fields are now permanently used for grazing, with their lonely cowhouses a reminder of the past.

Field with cowhouse no longer used for hay. Near Muker