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May 2011 – a month of conflicting demands

May brought to the valley of the Upper Wharfe little respite from the majority of dry days that had dominated April, though there was still sufficient moisture in the soil to support plant growth and the short sharp showers that did fall encouraged further development. Slowly the fields, hedges and surrounding woodland took on that stunning variety of verdant greens that heralds an approaching summer.

However, midst this enfolding beauty, members of the UWHG conducting the Traditional Farm Building Survey work had to respond to other demands on their time, demands that kept most of them out of the valley and so the recording progress slowed.
Though the surveying and recording processes and the attention to detail, expected of the five current ‘Recording Teams’ are common to all, the targeting of the actual field work is varied due to the variety of the Dales landscape.

This diversity of scenery allowed those working in the dale in May to see the steadily growing vegetation and developing young animals that surrounded their ‘workplace’.

Gone had the stoat in its winter white, darting around the field above us, now rabbits and hares, lambs and calves abound; whilst a wide array of birdlife was to be seen; with curlews, lapwings, oyster catchers, swallows and house martins wheeling overhead, all shouting loudly - not to mention the wood pigeons - present in many of the buildings.

May 2011-1.jpg

Young animals studying these strange people who have entered their

green domain to measure, count, study and record  © Phil Carroll


The time and care that today’s farmer gives to his animals is a clear reflection of a firm commitment handed down by their predecessors, one that you cannot help but notice when looking at the qualities of the structures that we have the pleasure and opportunity to study.

The fine aspects on a stone door lintel, the careful choice of huge jamb stones, an elegant relieving arch or beautifully cut quoins, some over a metre long, show the masons skill and attention to detail, in so many buildings that are rarely visited and often long distances from the village.

Woodwork, which, though located in a simple barn, would not look out of place in a valley church, with perfectly cut timbers, neatly chamfered, gently curved and finished to a high standard – then buffed and polished by thousands of hours of living hide rubbing against them.

The quality of the work clearly demonstrates the degree of craftsmanship, the pride in the finished product and the attention to detail; all when a simple, much more crude, substitute would have sufficed.

May 2011-2.jpg

    Now used as temporary lambing pens, this former cattle shippon clearly demonstrates

the careful choice of timber for the cranked boskins   © Phil Carroll


It is the degree of care, involvement and connection that is so markedly apparent when today’s farmer turns mind and conversation to his beasts, both past and present, through both good and bad times.

We are more than fortunate in ‘our farmers’, their willingness to allow us access, to answer our questions and to permit us to ‘nose around’ to seek out those older aspects of construction that many would take for granted and are certainly superfluous to today’s farming practices – we can only hope that this relationship continues throughout and beyond our project.

As we worked through May, we passed Sunday the 15th - which is not only fortunately the feast day of St Isidore the Farmer, but also the date from which the animals were starting to be moved from their Spring grazing grounds to their Summer locations, thus freeing the fields along the watersides to re-grow and produce a healthy grass crop.

To facilitate this period of regeneration, the UWHG Committee have agreed that we should call a temporary halt to the TFB surveying work and ‘rest the fields’ around our recording targets.

After discussion with the farmers concerned, our activities in visiting the isolated field barns, were curtailed from May end until August and our attention focused on the more ‘community based’ traditional farm building locations, of which there are well over fifty in the two villages of Starbotton and Kettlewell.

May 2011-3.jpg

Just when are you “people” going to leave us in peace, so we can get back

and enjoy our field and cover?   © Phil Carroll

This moratorium on field barn surveying has advantages for both farmer and recorder, it means that we will not be tramping through lengthening grass around the buildings nor will we ‘townies’ be in the way of the movement of animals to higher pastures.

In addition, for the group members involved, it allows a most welcome opportunity to catch up on the notes, drawings and records from the many locations that we have visited over the last four months.

Phil and Pat Carroll


Read the June 2011 report


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