Filming Muker’s cowhouses

There’s lots going on at the moment including our film makers being out and about capturing footage of hay meadows and cowhouses. They began with a morning recording Karen Griffiths, the Every Barn project lead and Sue Wrathmell, the project’s historic buildings specialist talking about how to date cowhouses. They visited Willy Greens and Jordan Close cowhouses near Aygill and had a great time inspite of the showers.

We are employing a North Yorkshire-based company called Aberration Films to do most of the filming and editing and have been most impressed so far – there’s quite a bit of walking involved lugging camera and lighting equipment and the cowhouses themselves are dark and pretty dirty inside so it’s no picnic!

After filming around Aygill, the team moved on to interview Chris Calvert  talking about his childhood memories of working with his dad at various farms in the area. His wife Glenda took some great pics and has featured them on her Pry House blog

The imps of Pith Hill – update

We loved tracking down the locations for Arthur Harwood Brierley’s nineteenth century story about the unmusical imps of Pith Hill cowhouse. Will Swales who first alerted us to the story has now done some further research and seems to have identified the real person behind the unfortunate schoolteacher in the story and why it was that he was so unpopular in Muker. Read all about it on his Swaledale history blog. 

We wondered how people in those days would have pictured an imp and found this wonderful stone carving of a mischievous imp on Lincoln Cathedral – very scary!

Lincoln Cathedral imp

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

Cowhouse stories: Jennie Harker

At the heart of the ‘Every Barn tells a Story’ project are the audio recordings that Glenda Calvert collected for us from around 30 local people. We are sharing many of these as transcripts on lots of different pieces of interpretation but we would also like people to hear the authentic voices of Upper Swaledale so we will be installing various audio posts in exhibitions and also putting them online here. One of our absolute favourites is Jennie Harker’s tale of how her late husband Clifford and his dog Fly saved the lives of two Dutch tourists one winter’s day:

Heavy snow sometimes seems like a thing of the past and it’s can be hard to imagine just what it was like struggling through blizzards every day to feed and water cattle in their distant cowhouses.

Heavy snow at Cathole Inn, Keld. Courtesy of Billy Hutchinson

Walk booklets

We were rather excited to see the layouts for the first of our six project walk booklets today. After months of research, writing, route testing and taking just the right photograph of every single stopping point, it’s lovely to at last see them taking shape. Packed full of stories and memories as well as lots of interesting historical information, photographs and drawings, we think that they will really enhance a visit to this part of Upper Swaledale.

Walk Booklet – first designs

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