BETWEEN Reeth and Tan Hill lies a land of strange names. It’s a country where wild open moors and grassy dales are neatly partitioned by walls built seemingly randomly, and generations of people have drifted through in search of shelter or sustenance. Romans mined lead here; Vikings settled; industry came and went in an almost forgotten belch of furnace fumes. All left their scars and moulded this peaceful green valley known as Arkengarthdale . . .
In this land of strange names I park the van on a hill above a village called Whaw. I’ve never pronounced this name in conversation, but I’m assuming that if spoken with authority it would halt a running horse. I might be wrong.
Whaw is of Viking origin. According to Wikipedia, the Vikings who settled in Arkengarthdale came from the east, which suggests they were Danish. Norwegian Vikings migrated mainly from the west, having sojourned for a generation or two in Ireland before moving on. This was all before freedom of movement between European countries became enshrined in law. (Click images for high-res versions)
Here’s a few more strange names: Faggergill; Sloat Hole; Ovening Nick; Blacksike Foot; The Howl; Scabba Wath; Adjustment Bottom; Malice End; Charity Pasture; Ling Pulled Hill; Mudbeck Head and Fryingpan Stone.
I leave the van near Whaw Gill Bridge and wander down the hill into the village. I have no plan for today, merely a loose collection of ideas associated with this wealth of strange names.
Last night, while poring over a virtual map, I chanced upon the Fryingpan Stone, which stands on the border between North Yorkshire and County Durham on the very top of Elsey Crag. I could find no additional information about the stone – not a single reference, historical, geological, anecdotal or mythological. So naturally I feel drawn to it – not so much as a moth is to a flame, more like a hungry man to a frying pan.
Whaw is a nice place because the cottages look lived-in as opposed to visited occasionally. Windowsills are slightly cluttered and curtains are functional. There are proper clothes pegged on washing lines, and propane bottles aren’t hidden from view. I just know that those kitchens are warm and smell of last night’s wood smoke. Don’t ask me how I know this. I guess it’s a gift.
My path takes me up a steep bank through pasture fields and narrow stiles to a moorland track that passes High Faggergill Farm to the spoil heaps of the long-abandoned Faggergill Mine. At this point we step back in time to an episode in 1870 which upset a great many people and changed their lives for ever.
Faggergill Mine was a large and productive producer of a silvery mineral known as galena – a sulphide of lead. But by the 1870s the Pennine lead mining industry was struggling to maintain profits, with production falling rapidly. Faggergill, with its extensive workings and about fifteen miles of tunnels, was taken over by a new company in 1870 – and one of the first actions of the management was to impose strict working hours over a five-day week and take punitive measures against miners who turned up late for a 7am start. The miners reacted by walking out on strike.
It would be easy for people like us, sitting in front of our laptops with the central heating warming our homes and Bargain Hunt on in the background, to make an immediate judgement and condemn the Faggergill miners for their reluctance to get out of bed in a morning and contribute to the wellbeing of their dying industry.
But 19th Century lead miners weren’t paid an hourly rate or a salary for a 37-hour week like the rest of us. They were paid for the amount of ore they produced during an agreed period of weeks or months, and regarded themselves not as employees but sub-contractors with a degree of autonomy. Tunnellers and shaft-sinkers were paid by the fathom (6ft or 1.8m) for the ground they penetrated, not the time spent labouring. Strict working hours were, to a very large extent, immaterial. Worse, they had a detrimental impact on the miners’ vital secondary source of income, which came from subsistence farming and smallholdings. The result was a very rare and extremely bitter dispute which lasted eight weeks.
The strike had devastating consequences. After eight weeks the miners, greatly depleted in number, were starved back to work. The Darlington and Stockton Times, the main newspaper in the area, reported that as many as fifty families fled Arkengarthdale in search of alternative employment, so dire was their plight.
Faggergill Mine produced handsome profits until 1887 before sinking into a steady decline, finally closing under different ownership in 1914.
There’s an old mine shop, or bothy, at Faggergill which has been converted into a hut for the grouse-shooting fraternity. Unlike many shooters’ bothies, this one remains unlocked for the use of walkers – an appreciated gesture. It’s a cosy place to sit for a while, eat a sandwich, and reflect on history.
Arkengarthdale today is a pleasant and picturesque valley where sheep bleat and tractors chug along narrow lanes. A hundred and forty years ago it was wracked by industrial unrest and deprivation. It’s easy to forget stuff like this and assume that the present and the past are one homogenous and unchanging mass. But they are different worlds. Yesterday’s harsh and inequitable world has disappeared without trace from our modern perceptions.
I wander on past partially collapsed mine entrances to the top of Faggergill Scar and across bogland to Elsey Crag, which stands prominently on the skyline. The Fryingpan Stone is immediately obvious. It is the uppermost of a pile of boulders and has a large depression – the shape and size of a large frying pan, no less – carved into its surface.
I have noticed that many of the surrounding boulders on the crest of the crag also have depressions on their upper surfaces. Is this the result of water and weather acting on the native limestone over thousands of years – or is this the work of man? The land to the immediate north and east of Elsey Crag is noted for its Bronze Age cup and ring carvings. Barningham Moor, with its carved panels and rock art, is only a mile or so distant. Yet I can find no reference to these peculiar depressions on Elsey Crag, nor any reference to the origins of the Fryingpan Stone carving.
The OS map also shows another peculiar feature, the Kettle Stone, standing at the north-east end of Elsey Crag. Off I whistle to track it down in the bog and heather, working on the principle that if the Fryingpan Stone has a frying pan carved on it, the Kettle Stone will have a kettle.
Logic, unfortunately, does not prevail and the search for the kettle goes cold. In fact, it runs out of steam. I do, though, manage to locate a fascinating boulder, lying in the bed of a spring, in the centre of which is a deep and impressive bowl.
Some of these bowls must surely be Bronze Age rock art associated with the cup and ring carvings beneath Elsey Crag on Scargill Low Moor and its immediate neighbour, Barningham Moor. Can anyone shed any light on them, or the whereabouts of the Kettle Stone? (I’ve contacted David Forster of Bluestone Images, the man responsible for firing up my interest in Bronze Age carvings, but his search for the Kettle Stone in 2007 proved unsuccessful as well)
The afternoon is wearing on. With the hunt for the Kettle Stone going off the boil and now on the back-burner, I return through the unfriendly boglands to Faggergill Scar and follow its crest around the valley to a track that cuts along the higher slopes of Arkengarthdale.
One of my loose ideas was to continue my walk on the southern side of the Tan Hill road and make my return over Arkengarthdale Moor and down Great Puchard Gill, but I have left it too late. However, there are compensations.
Even on this wild and little-frequented track there are reminders of our past and how we wrestled with the environment. Tiny crystals glint in the afternoon sunshine among the stones and mud. Many are worthless shards of calcite and quartz which have been shovelled from the mine dumps and used as a surface material. But also in evidence is the unmistakable steely blue-black glint of galena – the ore of lead which has been hacked from these hills since Roman times.
I plod through three farmyards and along a mile of road as rain clouds gather and the sun falls behind the hills. In this valley where Romans toiled, Vikings settled, furnaces belched, disputes raged and hunger forced families to flee, yellow lights flicker in windows and smoke rises from chimneys. Another ordinary day is over in Arkengarthdale.
DECOMPOSING on the moors beneath the track to High Faggergill Farm, this old railway goods wagon will clatter no more along life’s iron rails. It is recorded here simply because it will almost certainly not be recorded anywhere else or with such reverence.
The only evidence of the Romans in Arkengarthdale was the discovery of a lead ingot stamped with the name Hadrian, but this has since disappeared. The only evidence of the Vikings is in the place names they left. The only evidence of the miners is the scars on the landscape and bone-dry legal documents and tonnage records locked away in archives. So let the rust and rotten struts of this once-noble wagon be recorded here for the world to admire.
EPISODES such as the Faggergill strike were few and far between in the Pennine ore fields. There is mention of the strike in one brief sentence on the Wikipedia page for Arkengarthdale, but my main source of reference for this post was a Durham University thesis by Colin George Flynn titled The decline and end of the lead mining industry in the northern Pennines 1865 – 1914: a socio-economic comparison between Wensleydale, Swaledale and Teesdale. The thesis is a wealth of information for anyone interested in the history and development of Pennine lead mining and can be accessed or downloaded in PDF form here.
Flynn goes into great detail on how the miners were paid per “bing” of ore produced or fathom of ground driven, and how they were encouraged by the mining company to farm smallholdings on company land – in their spare time, naturally – in order to keep wages down. The miners were also obliged to hire or purchase equipment from the company (candles, shovels, picks, explosives), the cost being deducted from their pay. It was a hard existence and poverty was rife. Higher wages in the iron mines of Furness and Cleveland, and in the collieries of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Durham, tempted many away. It’s not hard to see why.