Saturday, 21 December 2013

Craven Christmas Crackers
Legends and Folklore of Settle and Giggleswick

Whoaa!! Hold it right there! No need to look so suspicious.  This may well be Giggleswickisaurus: just one of the many rocky highlights around the ancient village.  This is, in fact, a gritstone outcrop on Mill Hill, named after a mill that once stood nearby and which was powered by the waters of the ancient Giggleswick Tarn. Let's have a winter wander around this amazing place.

Another view of Mill Hill and the rocky outcrops - covered in a layer of glacial drift.

On the 25th May 1863, some thirty years after Giggleswick Tarn was drained, labourers were working on drainage ditches in the ancient tarn bed when one Joseph Taylor hit upon what he at first thought was a large log - some five feet beneath the surface.

He uncovered what is now known as the Giggleswick Log Boat, complete with paddles - and likely to have been a one man fishing vessel.  It is now in the Leeds Museum Discovery Centre, but was formerly in the main City museum, where it was shattered into pieces by a German bomb in 1940.  Painstaking work has pieced it back together.  The boat was once thought to predate the Roman conquest, but has been dated to early medieval times. Paddling along the base of the scar must have been sublime.

Here, where now stands a golf course - once stood a sheet of water which must have been a magnificent sight under the towering limestone cliffs of Giggleswick Scar.

In the middle of the tarn stood an island called Gretna Green.  The high ground below centre, backed by the conifers, was presumably the island.  As the tarn was popular with skaters, it is likely the island was a place of romance, hence the name. You know - a quick kiss and kanoodle when no-one was looking place? Wonder if anyone was novel enough to tie the knot there?  Schoolboy's Tower, a giant cairn linked to the pupils of Giggleswick School, dominates the scene at the top of the scar.

Below the scar lies the famous Ebbing and Flowing Well, first described in Drayton's 'Polyolbion' as far back as 1612:  

'At Gigglesworth, where I a fountain can you show
That eight times in a day is said to ebb and flow.'

How did the magical properties of this well orignate? According to Drayton, writing in the Polyolbion, there was a beautiful nymph who dwelt in the Craven mountains, and attracted the attentions of a determined satyr (in legend, a woodland creature with the features of a goat and a fondness for revelry!) :

'And after her he goes, which, when she did espy,
Before him, like the wind, the nimble nymph did fly,
They hurry down the rocks, o'er hill and dale they drive, 
To take her, he doth strain, t'outstrip him, she doth strive.'

In desperation, the nymph prayed to the gods, who promptly answered her call by transforming her into a spring which rose and fell with her exhausted panting.  The Polyolbion writes how they:

'turned her to a spring, which, as she then did pant,
When, wearied with her course, her breath grew wondrous scant,
Even as the fearful nymph then thick and short did blow,
Now made by them a spring, now doth she ebb and flow.'

Even today her panting is still evident, but it is best to watch after a period of moderate rain. The well's depth varies by about eight inches over a period of just a couple of minutes, and when it is ebbing a current of air called the 'silver chord' can be seen by the very lucky, shooting across the trough like an underwater laser.  I have yet to see the chord, but the thrill of the chase is still there!

Beyond the well, a the top of Buckhaw Brow, a path leads up onto the higher reaches of Giggleswick Scar, and impressive views over the Craven Lowlands open up towards another place of legend: Pendle Hill, forever associated with the witch trials of 1612, coincidentally the same year that Drayton was writing about the well.

This is the classic view over the scar.  The road runs along the line of the South Craven Fault which began moving (under the sea) in late Carboniferous times.  Essentially it is a giant fracture in the earth's crust and everything you can see on the right (the green bit!) slipped down along that fracture, while everything to the left was lifted upwards to form the cliffs. That's a simple way of putting it.  The same limestone that once lay level with the top of the cliffs now lies hundreds of feet below the golf course (underneath the bed of the former tarn). Complicated stuff, but essential to understanding this wonderful landscape.  As sea levels gradually lowered, it is likely that the cliffs of Giggleswick Scar once formed part of a dramatic coast pounded by waves: amazing to think about today.

This would once have been a view down over the ancient tarn.  Huntworth Farm is on the right, and the raised island of Gretna Green has now been incorporated into the golf course. The tarn was formed by meltwater at the end of the last glaciation. 

The Great Scar Limestone cliffs of Giggleswick Scar are clothed in trees so it is difficult to make out their many features.  Hidden beneath them are a number of superb caves, but getting to them is no easy feat.  It requires a steady head for heights and firm footing.

Kinsey Cave, explored by W. Kinsey Mattinson of Austwick in the early 20th century, revealed human remains and the full skull of a cave bear.  This one is easy to access along the first dry valley at the top of the scar, and it is believed that a pothole shaft once penetrated the ground at the top of the cliff (an abandoned waterfall) that has now been blocked by glacial debris, and that the bear could have met its end by falling down the shaft.  Its skull is now in the Craven Museum, Skipton (see my post from March, 2013).

Wall Cave is another aperture in the face of the scars.  These little caves were first introduced to me in the writings of Wainwright, many years ago.  'Don't wear your Sunday best' was his sound advice.

In seeking out the starkly-named Dangerous Cave, described by Harry Speight (1892) as being 'bad to get to' (that's an understatement!!), I had to wander very close to the cliff edge and find a breach through the scars into the upper reaches of the woodland.  Here, I paused for a magnificent view over the South Craven Fault zone and along the Craven Lowlands to Pendle Hill.  The club house of the golf course marks the southern shoreline of the ancient tarn.

And here is Dangerous Cave, hundreds of feet above the road, hidden under the ivy and pointed out by the lower branches of a larch tree.  It's easy to miss - and very rarely visited.  

Dangerous Cave is essentially a small open pothole shaft on a ledge - as nasty on the inside as it is on the outside, but well worth a visit.  

A slippery slope descends to a small ledge above the main chamber - but it needs a rope to descend to the chamber itself - otherwise it would be almost impossible to climb out.  I entered the cave knowing this: one slip and I'd have been down there a long time.  That's why it's always wise to tell people where you are going when entering any cave.  This one - small as it is - certainly lives up to its name.

The main chamber in Dangerous Cave, viewed from the ledge above.  There is certainly a great deal of archaeological potential here - no doubt protected by the difficult access.

Dangerous Cave also has some attractive flowstone formations like these 'organ pipes.'

These calcite features dangle above the drop into the main chamber of Dangerous Cave.

The last few metres of slippery rock plunging into the main chamber.  There's not much for hands and feet to grip onto and many a sheep must have met its end here over the years.

Continuing over the crest of the scar - the highest point is reached at Schoolboy's Tower. Traditionally, each new boy of Giggleswick School has added a stone to this cairn, but its almost professional structure suggests it has been a site of importance for a long time.  No doubt this was once a place important to early man, considering the amount of caves in the area.  Only a few feet from the cairn lies the massive cliff of Giggleswick Quarry, now thankfully closed and being allowed to let nature take over.  It should be a fine habitat in a few years.  

Schoolboy's Cave lies just below the cairn, actually burrowing below the tower itself.  It is a superb shelter and again was no doubt utilised by early man.

A joint passage branches off to the right just inside the entrance to Schoolboy's Cave. These fossil caves are clearly very ancient features.

Keeping to the edge of the scar on the return journey - a massive breach in the cliffs is soon reached - and not without a shudder.  This is Nevison's Nick: named after highwayman John Nevision.  When being pursued for robbery in 1645, he allowed his horse to refresh itself at the Ebbing and Flowing Well.  The waters of the sacred spring gave his steed, it is said, magical powers, and it carried him up the scar and over this ravine in one magnificent leap. Despite its prominence on the ordnance survey map, few people have ever seen Nevison's Nick as it requires a gravity-defying pull up from the main road and is hidden from view by trees.  

Nevison's Nick is well worth seeking out, and is one of my favourite places in the Dales.  The horseshoe shaped 'nick' indicates a minor fault and it is likely that this was once an active waterfall, plunging down into the tarn.  It is possible for agile and brave explorers to half climb, half scramble up the nick in the centre, while the flanks offer routes for more experienced climbers.  

Just below the nick and to its west is a climber's path, hundreds of feet above the road.  Its highlight is Staircase Cave, with its lovely ivy-strewn entrance.  Climbers use it as a shelter, and because of its height and awkward position is has avoided the attentions of early archaeologists.  It has some lovely floor deposits and a gorgeous calcite staircase inside: a hidden gem high up on the scar.

The entrance to Staircase Cave gives one the impression of idly pulling back a curtain to let the light stream in.

The staircase itself is composed of golden calcite, leading into the narrow confines of the cave.

'Half way up the stairs is a stair where I sit .... there isn't any other stair quite like it' - and there isn't actually!  This one has a lovely suspended pool and is described by Harry Speight as being a perfect 'little handbasin.'

Another view of Staircase Cave.  I didn't have my helmet and lamp with me today so I pointed into the inky blackness and hoped for the best!

And finally ... on the way home I visited the Plague Stone.  This was given an elaborate 'enclosure' in memory of Thomas Brayshaw, the local historian who spent long hours exploring where we've been today. During the 1598 Settle plague, coins were left in the recess in exchange for food and goods - to prevent the disease from spreading outside the town.  These 'plague stones' were placed at the edges of towns throughout the country and this is one of the few still to survive.  It is situated opposite the Craven Arms, just outside Giggleswick and close to the A65.

Close up of the inscription above the Plague Stone.

Once I removed the moss - the stone's structure and shape were more evident.  A real piece of history.

Last view of the Plague Stone - another site well worth a visit.

Visit the Ebbing and Flowing Well by tucking your car into a small layby on the left just before it: close to the track down to the farm.  Later, proceed up the road and at the top of Buckhaw Brow there is a parking spot on the right (top left of picture) giving access to Giggleswick Scar.  From then on, it's the stuff that explorers dream of ... but the drops are severe and great care is needed at all times.  Ignore that ugly blot of a quarry: it's now being planted with native trees and in twenty years it should be a wonderful place for wildlife.

Have a great Christmas and get up in the Three Peaks to work off that turkey and pud ...

Stephen x


  1. Settle Wolftracks (Jo Wulf)27 December 2013 at 14:06

    Thank you for this wonderful journey of exploration from our sofa! I am inspired to start a blog myself. You must have been out for a long time to record all of this so well. The cave images were fascinating, and I do fancy taking a look, instead of just running past them without a second thought.

  2. Thank-you ever so much for that. It means a lot! I read a lot of old literature and kind of plan exactly what I'm going to record - and in many cases I'm going back to things that I myself just looked over or walked past as a teenager. My eventual aim is to describe every landscape feaure of note in the region and it is nice as you say, to sit on your sofa and click a button to be in the dales, especially in this awful weather. Keep in touch and happy wandering. Stephen :)

  3. 'Gretna Green'? I don't think so..... It might be named for the Golf Green nearby but it was not there when I lived at that house (seen top of in one of your pictures). I was born in that house and grew up in that valley. The Golf Course is fairly new. You have a wonderful sense of the romantic, bit misplaced though! :-)

  4. I would not expect you to remember it (unless you have hit 200) as the tarn was drained in 1837 ..... :) Harry Speight decribes the tarn in 'A Craven and North West Yorkshire Highlands' ... 'in the middle was an island called Gretna Green, but how this matrimonially suggestive name came to be has never been determined.' Other writers have since put it down to a local name used by courting couples - or skaters - for which thetarn was well known. The rocky outcrops between the present golf course and the main road have a very high chance of being this island as they would have poked up above the very shallow water level. All amateur historians can only go off the evidence and their own interpretations: in this case an old map, literature and study of the landscape on foot. Not darned far from the right spot at any rate. One thing I do pride myself on is research and attention to detail - interpretations may be out but hey - I'll give it a good go! Anyway you must be a real romantic having been brought up at Gretna Green! :)

  5. Was wondering if any one had ever come across any reference to Giggleswick Scar and the English civil war. If so I would be very interested to hear from them.