CHAPTER XIII. WENSLEYDALE
From Askrigg there is a road that climbs up from the end of the little street at a gradient that looks like 1 in 4, but it is really less formidable. Considering its steepness the surface is quite good, but that is due to the industry of a certain road-mender with whom I once had the privilege to talk when, hot and breathless, I paused to enjoy the great expanse that lay to the south. He was a fine Saxon type, with a sunburnt face and equally brown arms. Road-making had been his ideal when he was a mere boy, and since he had obtained his desire he told me that he couldn't be happier if he were the King of England. The picturesque road where we leave him, breaking every large stone he can find, goes on across a belt of brown moor, and then drops down between gaunt scars that only just leave space for the winding track to pass through. It afterwards descends rapidly by the side of a gill, and thus enters Swaledale.
There is a beautiful walk from Askrigg to Mill Gill Force. The distance is scarcely more than half a mile across sloping pastures and through the curious stiles that appear in the stone walls. So dense is the growth of trees in the little ravine that one hears the sound of the waters close at hand without seeing anything but the profusion of foliage overhanging and growing among the rocks. After climbing down among the moist ferns and moss-grown stones, the gushing cascades appear suddenly set in a frame of such lavish beauty that they hold a high place among their rivals in the dale.
Keeping to the north side of the river, we come to Nappa Hall at a distance of a little over a mile to the east of Askrigg. It is now a farmhouse, but its two battlemented towers proclaim its former importance as the chief seat of the family of Metcalfe. The date of the house is about 1459, and the walls of the western tower are 4 feet in thickness. The Nappa lands came to James Metcalfe from Sir Richard Scrope of Bolton Castle shortly after his return to England from the field of Agincourt, and it was probably this James Metcalfe who built the existing house.
The road down the dale passes Woodhall Park, and then, after going down close to the Ure, it bears away again to the little village of Carperby. It has a triangular green surrounded by white posts. At the east end stands an old cross, dated 1674, and the ends of the arms are ornamented with grotesque carved heads. The cottages have a neat and pleasant appearance, and there is much less austerity about the place than one sees higher up the dale. A branch road leads down to Aysgarth Station, and just where the lane takes a sharp bend to the right a footpath goes across a smooth meadow to the banks of the Ure. The rainfall of the last few days, which showed itself at Mill Gill Force, at Hardraw Scar, and a dozen other falls, has been sufficient to swell the main stream at Wensleydale into a considerable flood, and behind the bushes that grow thickly along the riverside we can hear the steady roar of the cascades of Aysgarth. The waters have worn down the rocky bottom to such an extent that in order to stand in full view of the splendid fall we must make for a gap in the foliage, and scramble down some natural steps in the wall of rock forming low cliffs along each side of the flood. The water comes over three terraces of solid stone, and then sweeps across wide ledges in a tempestuous sea of waves and froth, until there come other descents which alter the course of parts of the stream, so that as we look across the riotous flood we can see the waters flowing in many opposite directions. Lines of cream-coloured foam spread out into chains of bubbles which join together, and then, becoming detached, again float across the smooth portions of each low terrace.
Some footpaths bring us to Aysgarth village, which seems altogether to disregard the church, for it is separated from it by a distance of nearly half a mile. There is one pleasant little street of old stone houses irregularly disposed, many of them being quite picturesque, with mossy roofs and ancient chimneys. This village, like Askrigg and Bainbridge, is ideally situated as a centre for exploring a very considerable district. There is quite a network of roads to the south, connecting the villages of Thoralby and West Burton with Bishop Dale, and the main road through Wensleydale. Thoralby is very old, and is beautifully situated under a steep hillside. It has a green overlooked by little grey cottages, and lower down there is a tall mill with curious windows built upon Bishop Dale Beck. Close to this mill there nestles a long, low house of that dignified type to be seen frequently in the North Riding, as well as in the villages of Westmorland. The huge chimney, occupying a large proportion of one gable-end, is suggestive of much cosiness within, and its many shoulders, by which it tapers towards the top, make it an interesting feature of the house.
The dale narrows up at its highest point, but the road is enclosed between grey walls the whole of the way over the head of the valley. A wide view of Langstrothdale and upper Wharfedale is visible when the road begins to drop downwards, and to the east Buckden Pike towers up to his imposing height of 2,302 feet. We shall see him again when we make our way through Wharfedale but we could go back to Wensleydale by a mountain-path that climbs up the side of Cam Gill Beck from Starbottom, and then, crossing the ridge between Buckden Pike and Tor Mere Top, it goes down into the wild recesses of Waldendale. So remote is this valley that wild animals, long extinct in other parts of the dales, survived there until almost recent times.