SKIPTON, MALHAM and GORDALE
In 1900 - “ When I think of Skipton I am never quite sure whether to look upon it as a manufacturing centre or as one of the picturesque market towns of the dale country. If you arrive by train, you come out of the station upon such vast cotton-mills, and such a strong flavour of the bustling activity of the southern parts of Yorkshire, that you might easily imagine that the capital of Craven has no part in any holiday-making portion of the county. But if you come by road from Bolton Abbey, you enter the place at a considerable height, and, passing round the margin of the wooded Haw Beck, you have a fine view of the castle, as well as the church and the broad and not unpleasing market-place.
The fine gateway of the castle is flanked by two squat towers. They are circular and battlemented, and between them upon a parapet, which is higher than the towers themselves, appears the motto of the Cliffords, 'Desormais' (hereafter), in open stone letters. Beyond the gateway stands a great mass of buildings with two large round towers just in front; to the right, across a sloping lawn, appears the more modern and inhabited portion of the castle. The squat round towers gain all our attention, but as we pass through the doorways into the courtyard beyond, we are scarcely prepared for the astonishingly beautiful quadrangle that awaits us. It is small, and the centre is occupied by a great yew-tree, whose tall, purply-red trunk goes up to the level of the roofs without any branches or even twigs, but at that height it spreads out freely into a feathery canopy of dark green, covering almost the whole of the square of sky visible from the courtyard. The base of the trunk is surrounded by a massive stone seat, with plain shields on each side. The aspect of the courtyard suggests more that of a manor-house than a castle, the windows and doorways being purely Tudor. The circular towers and other portions of the walls belong to the time of Edward II., and there is also a round-headed door that cannot be later than the time of Robert de Romillé, one of the Conqueror's followers. The rooms that overlook the shady quadrangle are very much decayed and entirely unoccupied. They include an old dining-hall of much picturesqueness, kitchens, pantries, and butteries, some of them only lighted by very narrow windows. The destruction caused during the siege which took place during the Civil War might have brought Skipton Castle to much the same condition as Knaresborough but for the wealth and energy of that remarkable woman Lady Anne Clifford, who was born here in 1589. She was the only surviving child of George, the third Earl of Cumberland, and grew up under the care of her mother, Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, of whom Lady Anne used to speak as 'my blessed mother.' After her first marriage with Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset, Lady Anne married the profligate Philip, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery. She was widowed a second time in 1649, and after that began the period of her munificence and usefulness. With immense enthusiasm, she undertook the work of repairing the castles that belonged to her family, Brougham, Appleby, Barden Tower, and Pendragon being restored as well as Skipton.
Besides attending to the decayed castles, the Countess repaired no less than seven churches, and to her we owe the careful restoration of the parish church of Skipton. She began the repairs to the sacred building even before she turned her attention to the wants of the castle. In her private memorials we read how, 'In the summer of 1665 ... at her own charge, she caus'd the steeple of Skipton Church to be built up againe, which was pull'd down in the time of the late Warrs, and leaded it over, and then repaired some part of the Church and new glaz'd the Windows, in ever of which Window she put quaries, stained with a yellow colour, these two letters—viz., A. P., and under them the year 1655... Besides, she raised up a noble Tomb of Black Marble in memory of her Warlike Father.' This magnificent altar-tomb still stands within the Communion rails on the south side of the chancel. It is adorned with seventeen shields, and Whitaker doubted 'whether so great an assemblage of noble bearings can be found on the tomb of any other Englishman.' This third Earl was a notable figure in the reign of Elizabeth, and having for a time been a great favourite with the Queen, he received many of the posts of honour she loved to bestow. He was a skilful and daring sailor, helping to defeat the Spanish Armada, and building at his own expense one of the greatest fighting ships of his time.
The memorials of Lady Anne give a description of her appearance in the manner of that time: "The colour of her eyes was black like her Father's," we are told, "with a peak of hair on her forehead, and a dimple in her chin, like her father. The hair of her head was brown and very thick, and so long that it reached to the calf of her legs when she stood upright."
We cannot leave these old towers of Skipton Castle without going back to the days of John, the ninth Lord Clifford, that "Bloody Clifford" who was one of the leaders of the Lancastrians at Wakefield, where his merciless slaughter earned him the title of "the Butcher." He died by a chance arrow the night before the Battle of Towton, so fatal to the cause of Lancaster, and Lady Clifford and the children took refuge in her father's castle at Brough. For greater safety Henry, the heir, was placed under the care of a shepherd whose wife had nursed the boy's mother when a child. In this way the future baron grew up as an entirely uneducated shepherd lad, spending his days on the fells in the primitive fashion of the peasants of the fifteenth century. When he was about twelve years old Lady Clifford, hearing rumours that the whereabouts of her children had become known, sent the shepherd and his wife with the boy into an extremely inaccessible part of Cumberland. He remained there until his thirty-second year, when the Battle of Bosworth placed Henry VII on the throne. Then the shepherd lord was brought to Londesborough, and when the family estates had been restored, he went back to Skipton Castle. The strangeness of his new life being irksome to him, Lord Clifford spent most of his time in Barden Forest at one of the keeper's lodges, which he adapted for his own use. There he hunted and studied astronomy and astrology with the canons of Bolton.
At Flodden Field he led the men-at-arms from Craven, and showed that by his life of extreme simplicity he had in no way diminished the traditional valour of the Cliffords. When he died they buried him at Bolton Abbey, where many of his ancestors lay, and as his successor died after the dissolution of the monasteries, the "Shepherd Lord" was the last to be buried in that secluded spot by the Wharfe.
Skipton has always been a central spot for the exploration of this southern portion of the dales. To the north is Kirby Malham, a pretty little village with green limestone hills rising on all sides; a rushing beck coming off Kirby Fell takes its way past the church, and there is an old vicarage as well as some picturesque cottages.
We find our way to a decayed lych-gate, whose stones are very black and moss-grown, and then get a close view of the Perpendicular church. The interior is full of interest, not only on account of the Norman font and the canopied niches in the pillars of the nave, but also for the old pews. The Malham people seemingly found great delight in recording their names on the woodwork of the pews, for carefully carved initials and dates appear very frequently. All the pews have been cut down to the accepted height of the present day with the exception of some on the north side which were occupied by the more important families, and these still retain their squareness and the high balustrades above the panelled lower portions.
Just under the moorland heights surrounding Malham Tarn is the other village of Malham. It is a charming spot, even in the gloom of a wintry afternoon. The houses look on to a strip of uneven green, cut in two, lengthways, by the Aire. We go across the clear and sparkling waters by a rough stone footbridge, and, making our way past a farm, find ourselves in a few minutes at Gordale Bridge. Here we abandon the switchback lane, and, climbing a wall, begin to make our way along the side of the beck. The fells drop down fairly sharply on each side, and in the failing light there seems no object in following the stream any further, when quite suddenly the green slope on the right stands out from a scarred wall of rock beyond, and when we are abreast of the opening we find ourselves before a vast fissure that leads right into the heart of the fell. The great split is S-shaped in plan, so that when we advance into its yawning mouth we are surrounded by limestone cliffs more than 300 feet high. If one visits Gordale Scar for the first time alone on a gloomy evening, as I have done, I can promise the most thrilling sensations to those who have yet to see this astonishing sight. It almost appeared to me as though I were dreaming, and that I was Aladdin approaching the magician's palace. I had read some of the eighteenth-century writer's descriptions of the place, and imagined that their vivid accounts of the terror inspired by the overhanging rocks were mere exaggerations, but now I sympathize with every word. The scars overhang so much on the east side that there is not much space to get out of reach of the water that drips from every portion. Great masses of stone were lying upon the bright strip of turf, and among them I noticed some that could not have been there long; this made me keep close under the cliff in justifiable fear of another fall. I stared with apprehension at one rock that would not only kill, but completely bury, anyone upon whom it fell, and I thought those old writers had underrated the horrors of the place.
Wordsworth writes of
"Gordale chasm, terrific as the lair Where the young lions couch,"
and he also describes it as one of the grandest objects in nature.
A further result of the Craven fault that produced Gordale Scar can be seen at Malham Cove, about a mile away. There the cliff forms a curved front 285 feet high, facing the open meadows down below. The limestone is formed in layers of great thickness, dividing the face of the cliff into three fairly equal sections, the ledges formed at the commencement of each stratum allowing of the growth of bushes and small trees. A hard-pressed fox is said to have taken refuge on one of these precarious ledges, and finding his way stopped in front, he tried to turn, and in doing so fell and was killed.
At the base of the perpendicular face of the cliff the Aire flows from a very slightly arched recess in the rock. It is a really remarkable stream in making its debut without the slightest fuss, for it is large enough at its very birth to be called a small river. Its modesty is a great loss to Yorkshire, for if, instead of gathering strength in the hidden places in the limestone fells, it were to keep to more rational methods, it would flow to the edge of the Cover, and there precipitate itself in majestic fashion into a great pool below.
More to follow ....