Early tourism and local milk

We had a look round the little village of Thwaite last week. It features on one of our trails and we wanted to check out how many agricultural buildings you walked past on the proposed route. This little cow’us caught our eye, right beside the roadside.

Painted milk sign, Thwaite

We assume that in days gone by, tourists staying perhaps at local campsites, could call into the farm here and buy milk fresh from the cow. Those were the days!

We also love this little anecdote (there is a well-known campsite at Usha Gap farm):

“The stories used to be…if a young farm lad had had a rough night, the night before, hard work getting up, but get up, go out into the warm [in the cow’uss], get his head into a cow, sat on a stool milking, able to nod off again…just milking the cow, the warmth of the cow”

Annas Metcalfe (73) of Usha Gap Farm

Ruined cowhouses

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.

Remnant hedge near Muker

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.

View of cowhouses in Muker Meadows

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.

Waistell Close cow’us
Crows Nest cow’us
Spring Brow cow’us

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.

The cow’us with three names

We’ve already mentioned Kierton (or is it spelt Kearton?) cowhouse and how it got the nickname ‘Lightning House’ when it was struck by a bolt of lightning in a previous blog post. Researcher Glenda Calvert has been out and about talking to the local farmers and she has discovered that it actually has a third name – ‘Burnt Down Spot’.

Several people still remember the day it happened:

“I can remember, there was thunderstorm, and we were having tea in the kitchen and we see’ed, like a bolt of lightening come down, just up on Kisdon there. Then after, not very long after, see a plume of smoke going up. So we went up to see what had happened. It [the barn] had been struck. Then fire brigade came and knocked windows out, then…it went faster than ever! [laughs]…slates were exploding like…yeah, y’didn’t go so near!”

Tom Metcalfe (74) formerly of Usha Gap Farm

Lightning House or ‘Burnt Down Spot’ (photo: Glenda Calvert)

Cow’us NOT Barn!

We have been putting together a presentation about the project for the upcoming Yorkshire Dales Archaeology Day School over in Barbon village. One of the things we are going to have to explain is why the title of the project has been altered to ‘Every Cowus Tells a Story’?

EBTAS Project Logo

Well, it didn’t take us long to realise that local people nearly always called them cowhouses,or cow’usses in the local dialect. Listen to this clip recorded by local researcher Glenda Calvert interviewing four local women right at the start of the project.

Interestingly, some research we have been doing into the 1686-1701 Court Book for the parish has revealed that even that early on, they were called ‘cowhouses’.

Ned Cowus

At one of our open days a local farmer identified a cowus up near Kisdon Farm as Ned Cowus. A search of the 1841 Tithe map showed us that the field it was next to was called Fiddler Ned’s Close. This got us wondering because we had heard of the famous nineteenth century musician from Keld known as Neddy Dick who built a lithophone from local stones. Could this cowus and field have belonged to him? Sadly, a bit of research showed us that he hadn’t been born in 1841 so Fiddler Ned must have been another local musician. Read all about Neddy Dick aka Richard Alderson on the Swaledale & Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group’s website.

Here’s a  photo of the cowus in question taken recently by Glenda Calvert while out researching a children’s walk leaflet for the project. Nowadays the field is simply known as Ned’s Field.

Ned Cowus with Fiddler Ned’s Close beyond, now known simply as Ned’s Field

Roadside cowusses

Many of the cowusses in Muker parish were built at the top of their various meadows to make life easier hauling the muck out and down onto the field in the spring. However we came across two rather fine examples last week that are definitely roadside buildings, one called Willy Greens (Willow Green on the 1841 Tithe map) and the other called Mary Field cowus. Both lie alongside the road between Angram and Keld.

Mary Field cowus

Both were once farmed by Billy Hutchinson’s dad who had Keld Green Farm:

“Me dad was farming from there ..just milk cows and followers ..three or four cow’usses all round, on Kisdon Side, on Willy Greens, Mary Field.”

“Well, we had stock in them all, but I don’t think there is mebbe today, but we had stock in them ..hay mews, aye, was all loose hay then [made hay off fields by cow’uss] ..and then swept in by ‘oss, very first instance, and then we had old land wagons ..before the tractors came.”

Willy Greens cowus

Keld to Angram circular walk

With the weather improving we are on with testing out the various walk routes that our ranger Michael has devised for the project. Last week we tried out a circular walk from Keld to Angram and back. We had some fantastic views of the classic walls and barns landscape that the area is famous for and got up close and personal with lots of rather magnificent cowusses including at least one that we didn’t know was actually there. We also had to wade through a bog and quite a bit of water, but only got lost once so we think it should be a goer with a little bit of work done on it which is what this project is all about. We were treated to a beautiful rainbow while we were walking along the side of Kisdon Hill – we wondered if the cowus it rested on had a pot of gold hidden in it – but we were too tired to check!