CHAPTER XII. SWALEDALE
As one goes westward, the road penetrates right into the bold scenery that invites exploration when viewed from 'Willance's Leap.' There is a Scottish feeling - perhaps Alpine would be more correct - in the steeply-falling sides of the dale, all clothed in firs and other dense plantations; and just where the Swale takes a decided turn towards the south there is a view up Marske Beck that adds much to the romance of the scene. Behind one's back the side of the dale rises like a dark green wall entirely in shadow, and down below half buried in foliage, the river swirls and laps its gravelly beaches, also in shadow. Beyond a strip of pasture begin the tumbled masses of trees which, as they climb out of the depths of the valley, reach the warm, level rays of sunlight that turns the first leaves that have passed their prime into the fierce yellows and burnt siennas which, when faithfully represented at Burlington House, are often considered overdone. Even the gaunt obelisk near Marske Hall responds to a fine sunset of this sort, and shows a gilded side that gives it almost a touch of grandeur.
Evening is by no means necessary to the attractions of Swaledale, for a blazing noon gives lights and shades and contrasts of colour that are a large portion of Swaledale's charms. If instead of taking either the old road by way of Marske, or the new one by the riverside, one had crossed the old bridge below the castle, and left Richmond by a very steep road that goes to Leyburn, one would have reached a moorland that is at its best in the full light of a clear morning.
The clouds are big, but they carry no threat of rain, for right down to the far horizon from whence this wind is coming there are patches of blue proportionate to the vast spaces overhead. As each white mass passes across the sun, we are immersed in a shadow many acres in extent: but the sunlight has scarcely fled when a rim of light comes over the edge of the plain, just above the hollow where Downholme village lies hidden from sight, and in a few minutes that belt of sunshine has reached some sheep not far off, and rimmed their coats with a brilliant edge of white. Shafts of whiteness, like searchlights, stream from behind a distant cloud, and everywhere there is brilliant contrast and a purity to the eye and lungs that only a Yorkshire moor possesses.
A short two miles up the road to Leyburn, just above Gill Beck, there is an ancient house known as Walburn Hall, and also the remains of the chapel belonging to it, which dates from the Perpendicular period. The buildings are now used as a farm, but there are still enough suggestions of a dignified past to revivify the times when this was a centre of feudal power.
Turning back to Swaledale by a lane on the south side of Gill Beck, Downholme village is passed a mile away on the right, and the bold scenery of the dale once more becomes impressive.
Two great headlands, formed by the wall-like terminations of Cogden and Harkerside Moors, rising one above the other, stand out magnificently. Their huge sides tower up nearly a thousand feet from the river, until they are within reach of the lowering clouds that every moment threaten to envelop them in their indigo embrace. There is a curious rift in the dark cumulus revealing a thin line of dull carmine that frequently changes its shape and becomes nearly obliterated, but its presence in no way weakens the awesomeness of the picture. The dale appears to become huger and steeper as the clouds thicken, and what have been merely woods and plantations in this heavy gloom become mysterious forests. The river, too, seems to change its character, and become a pale serpent, uncoiling itself from some mountain fastness where no living creatures besides great auks and carrion birds, dwell.
In such surroundings as these there were established in the Middle Ages, two religious houses, within a mile of one another, on opposite sides of the swirling river. On the north bank, not far from Marrick village, you may still see the ruins of Marrick Priory in its beautiful situation much as Turner painted it a century ago. Leland describes Marrick as 'a Priory of Blake Nunnes of the Foundation of the Askes.' It was, we know, an establishment for Benedictine Nuns, founded or endowed by Roger de Aske in the twelfth century. At Ellerton, on the other side of the river a little lower down, the nunnery was of the Cistercian Order; for, although very little of its history has been discovered, Leland writes of the house as 'a Priori of White clothid Nunnes.' After the Battle of Bannockburn, when the Scots raided all over the North Riding of Yorkshire, they came along Swaledale in search of plunder, and we are told that Ellerton suffered from their violence.
Where the dale becomes wider, owing to the branch valley of Arkengarthdale, there are two villages close together. Grinton is reached first, and is older than Reeth, which is a short distance north of the river. The parish of Grinton is one of the largest in Yorkshire. It is more than twenty miles long, containing something near 50,000 acres, and according to Mr. Speight, who has written a very detailed history of Richmondshire, more than 30,000 acres of this consist of mountain, grouse-moor and scar. For so huge a parish the church is suitable in size, but in the upper portions of the dales one must not expect any very remarkable exteriors; and Grinton, with its low roofs and plain battlemented tower, is much like other churches in the neighbourhood. Inside there are suggestions of a Norman building that has passed away, and the bowl of the font seems also to belong to that period. The two chapels opening from the chancel contain some interesting features, which include a hagioscope, and both are enclosed by old screens.