Saturday, 21 February 2015

Exploring the Yew Cogar

Limestone on a Gigantic Scale

The huge Great Scar Limestone wedge known as the Yew Cogar towers over the quaint village of Arncliffe in Littondale.  To explore it all would need several visits.  This is a view reminding us of the glories of summer.

The huge mass of Great Scar Limestone was formed in a shallow tropical sea some 350 million years ago.  Look at that mass and think how long it must have taken for the skeletons of shelly creatures to accumulate - forming a layer some 600 feet thick.  This may well be the biggest mass of limestone anywhere in Britain - uninterrupted by quarries and roads.  It is one special place.

The great mass of the Yew Cogar is intersected by channels where meltwater - and then surface streams - have cut deep into the limestone.  This is a 'zoom' view from the Malham to Arncliffe road, from which the plateau is separated by the valley of Cowside Beck.  Up on the left are the terraces of Gordale Limestone containing the fascinating Bronze Age settlement of Dewbottoms ...

Most spectacular of all is 'Cowside Gill' itself - a huge horseshoe-shaped amphitheatre with a great waterfall falling down a screen of tufa.  It doesn't even have an official name - yet will knock spots off most of the limestone features in the area ...

Arncliffe - which may be Anglo-Saxon for 'cliff of the eagles' - is approached along an avenue of sycamores.

The largest village in Littondale (once called Amerdale) - it was originally the setting for 'Emmerdale Farm' when the soap did at least have a touch of individuality.  Quaint cottages huddle around the village green of this ancient place.

The hub of activity was the village pump!

The church of St. Oswald is hidden in a bower of trees by the River Skirfare.  The churchyard offers splendid views down the river.

Here, in the pool by the bridge - Tom, of The Water Babies, plunged into the river, leaving his human body and 'sins' behind and joining the fairies and nymphs of the watery world. Charles Kingsley knew this 'Vendale' like the back of his hand ...

The Falcon Inn is famous for its old-world nature.  Beer is still served in a ceramic jug straight from the cask!  Behind the Falcon is the lane leading onto the Monk's Road, a steeply rising path over the Yew Cogar which was once frequented by the monks of Fountains Abbey, transporting their goods by pack horse.

First view from the Monk's Road, seeing Cowside Beck weaving its way down to join the Skirfare.

These monks had a head for heights!

Littondale was carved out by a glacier and is a spectacular sight from the Monk's Road.  The dark skyline of Old Cote Moor marks the point at which the Great Scar Limestone gives way to the Yordedale Series - where fluctuating sea levels led to a banding of limestones, sandstones and shales.

As height is gained, the views down to Cowside Beck are sensational indeed.

Looking back along the Monk's Road as it follows the contours.  The monks of Fountains Abbey even owned all the fishing rights to Malham Tarn - just three miles along this path - but what a trek!

Up the valley, Cowside Beck can be seen as a major tributary of the Skirfare.  Both rivers drain into the River Wharfe.  This is Yorkshire at its rawest - not even a sheep.

What a daft place for stone-age man to leave his ironing board!  This view looks back to Old Cote Moor, with the cliffs of Yew Cogar Scar visible in the centre.  

Yew Cogar Scar is better seen in this picture.  It offers a range of climbing routes and is home to peregrine falcons.  I'll take you down there one day.  Didn't fancy the slog back up today: the wind was unrelenting!  To get these views, by the way, you have to leave the Monk's Road and head down the to the edge of the ravine.  It's steep, but it's worth every step.

At last we approach the first of the water-worn gills.  This one, at Dewbottoms, shows the typical profile of a meltwater valley cut into the Great Scar Limestone.

A look down the Dewbottoms ravine.  Everywhere it is possible to see where ice has been at work, at least 12,000 years ago.  Notice how blamkets of glacial till have obscured the lower slopes of the scars on the left.

Water once flowed down the ravine, but ... surpsise surprise - it's now been left largely dry: a typical story of limestone country.

Follow the wall from the ravine up to the plateau and you reach the fascinating Bronze Age settlement of Dewbottoms.  The site is very similar in plan to those in North Wales studied by Griffiths (1951) which he suggests may even date back to the Neolithic (New Stone Age). This is one of the huts, about 10 feet in diameter.  Excavations here have produced a very fine quartzite hone. The huts surround a large enclosed area hemmed in by a massive boulder and gravel bank.  

The Dewbottoms settlements from the air.  I was exploring the area at top left.

These are two of the  rectangular stone built enclosures described by Arthur Raistrick and Paul Holmes in their classic 'Archaeology of Malham Moor.'

This one has a notable dividing slab in the middle.  The first thing you'll be thinking is ... what the heckers were they doing with a farm at this altitude when even today it would be unthinkable?  

The remote location means the Dewbottoms site is remarkably well preserved.  However, follow the field wall down into the valley just north of the settlements and the probable influence for the location of this remarkable farmstead becomes clear ...

Here, a massive U shaped ravine numbs the senses and this was no doubt the main water supply for the Dewbottoms folk well over 3000 years ago - but it is the nature of it that fascinates ...

On the Ordnance Survey map - this place doesn't even have a name! Shameful.  It is what I call 'Cowside Gill' and the waterfall has clearly been cutting back from its original plunge to leave a spectacular amphitheatre.  This is up there with the very best in England as a landscape feature.  It dwarfs anything on the Ingleton waterfalls - and even makes Force Gill on Whernside look quite humble.  In my opinion, this sudden plunge of water will have had symbolic significance to the ancient peoples who made their living on this remote landscape.

The water plunges into the ravine and the sudden steepness has allowed a very special screen to form, now covered in moss.  The screen is of a precipitate called tufa.  The soil water from the upper slopes of the Yew Cogar is rich in carbon dioxide and on emerging from springs at the head of the valley (see the 4th picture on this blog) the carbon dioxide begins to be lost to the atmosphere allowing calcium to be deposited as the familiar golden tufa seen famously at Gordale Scar and Janet's Foss. Steep drops like the one here clearly agitate the water, speeding up the process, so a big 'screen' of the tufa has developed to spectacular effect.  The mosses also speed up the process - further absorbing the gas.  Therefore, a combination of sudden appearance in the open air - a steep drop - and vegetation - are perfect conditions for tufa to form.  The tufa screen gives this gill a very noble appearance.

Surrounding the gill are impressive cliffs of Great Scar Limestone.  To get into the amphitheatre, it is a long walk and scramble round the flanks of the cliffs.  Take great care here.  The drops are sensational!

What lies within can only have meant much to the ancients.  A huge cave entrance with the moss covered tufa screen providing a great backdrop to the waterfall.  

The cave, a rock shelter - doesn't lead in very far - and was presumably a former route of the water.  I wonder just how many peope have been in there over the centuries?  It is one of the most remote caves in the Yorkshire Dales.

Adding to the atmosphere of this unique place is the facial feature I call 'The Stormtrooper' - perched on the very top of the surrounding cliffs like a sentinel keeping guard over the place. Others may well see a skull ...

There's something quite sinister about him, nonetheless ...

Look how he gazes out over his kingdom ...

Do I detect a mischievous grin?

Yes, he's a sly character, all right.

It was so hard to leave this magical place.  As the day was dying I headed back to the settlement and then followed the wall to the south east over the top of the plateau.

This took me past the lonely heights of Parson's Pulpit - possibly a burial place of some significance.  

Parson's Pulpit dominates one of the loneliest landscapes in England.

Grouse butt or sheepfold? Whatever the purpose - this contraption at the top of Cote Gill sees the original limestone boulder looking fed up!

Probably beacuse he's stuck to the spot and can't share the view down into Cote Gill.  This great ravine separates the Yew Cogar from the mass of limestone known as the Hawkswick Clowder - that famous area containing Kilnsey Crag and the great caves of Dowkabottom and Sleets Gill ...

It contains several interesting waterfalls which often run dry.  They are a lovely sight in any season.

Usually a highlight of any walk - it's not being unfair to say they are an anti-climax after the sights of Cowside Gill earlier - but they have to be seen.

Finally you can either follow the Skirfare back to Arncliffe or stroll along the road past Blue Scar, where the limestone really does have a bluish appearance.  On the top is yet another wonderful settlement.

A last look along Littondale after a great day of adventure.  

Park in Arcncliffe and take the Monk's Road behind the Falcon Inn.  This is a wild and lonely adventure in the best limestone country imaginable.  You'll enjoy every step.

Stephen x