scale upland landscape of high, exposed moorland
dissected by often deep dales.
Striking contrasts between wild, remote moors
and sheltered dales, each with its own distinctive
Marginal agriculture arising from relatively
high altitude and poor climate, creating a landscape
of little or slow change.
Visible evidence of historic land use arising
from conservation of features from all periods.
Millstone Grit plateaux of high moorland
in the east contrasting with the Yoredale Series
of alternating limestone, sandstone and shales in
the north and west, the latter forming typically
stepped profiles to dalesides.
Great Scar Limestone in the south and west
giving rise to classic glacio-karst landscape with
cave systems, outcrops, scars, gills, gorges and
Pattern of bleak sweeping moorlands of heather
or extensive blanket bog on plateaux, with rough
grazing on upper slopes, permanent pastures on dales
sides and fields cut for hay or silage on more fertile
land in the bottom of the dales.
Very strong patterns of drystone walls, with
very large rectilinear enclosures on most fell tops,
much smaller enclosures in dales, and often older,
irregular patterns around settlements.
Numerous small stone field barns in all the
dales, but most notable in Swaledale, Wensleydale
and upper Wharfedale.
Vernacular character of gritstone and limestone
buildings including also scattered farmsteads, particularly
in the north and west, and small nuclear villages
on valley floors, related to river crossing points
and transport routes.
Very limited tree cover, confined to villages,
sycamore clumps around farmsteads, streamsides,
and steep slopes.
Sparse, ancient broadleaved woodlands on
steep gill and dale sides.
Widespread remains of historic mineral working,
especially lead mining.
Yorkshire Dales form part of the chain of Pennine
uplands running up the centre of Northern England.
The Dales are separated from the North Pennines
by the Stainmore Trough faults, and from the more
industrialised Southern Pennines by the Craven faults.
They differ from these adjacent Pennine uplands
in that the influence of limestone is here greater
than that of the acidic gritstone. From altitudes
of over 600 metres, the land drops down towards
the fertile Vales of York and Mowbray to the east,
and to the low lying plains of Lancashire to the
south-west, dividing the Dales from the Bowland
Fells. To the north-west lie the older rock formations
of the Lake District and surrounds.
The unique character of the area stems from the
characteristic pattern of underlying geology and
a distinctive pattern of pastoral farming which
has shaped the landscape for centuries. The relatively
high altitude, short growing season and high rainfall
has meant that the area has always had limited possibilities
for agriculture, which is restricted to the rearing
of livestock. A self-contained farming system, of
small holdings based upon a flock of sheep and a
few cattle, providing its own winter feed needs
and using all grades of pasture, rough grazing and
moorland to the fullest extent, has created the
landscape and is an integral part of its character.
The close relationships between rock types, landform,
climate and the resulting history of man's activities
can be clearly seen in this landscape. Change has
been slow and relatively limited in its effects,
and as a result evidence of man's activities has
survived, from the earliest periods onwards, creating
an overwhelming sense of continuity with the past.
The landscape is characterised by contrasts, especially
between the dales below and the moors above. In
the dales the environment is more sheltered and
there are intricate patterns of walled fields, containing
meadow grasses and wild flowers. Small villages
and farmsteads built of local stone are tucked in
to sheltered corners, often with clumps of trees
protecting them from the worst of the elements.
On the dalesides the network of walls continues,
with scattered stone field barns often appearing
as distinctive features. The steepest slopes are
often marked by the presence of sparse woodlands,
or sometimes open rock scree. Fast flowing streams
tumble down the slopes, forming dramatic waterfalls
where the harder rock is rougher and coarser. On
the fell tops the grassland gives way to sweeps
of heather moorland and cotton grass bog. Everywhere
there are dramatic views of characteristic combinations
of hillside, valley walls, and barns, punctuated
by outcrops of rock, streams and trees, and enlivened
by the colours and textures of wildflowers. This
is the essence of the Dales landscape.
The area has a physical and cultural unity, and
yet displays significant variation within its landscape.
The glaciated karst landscape of the Great Scar
Limestone dominates the landscape in the south and
west, notably around the Ingleborough area. The
Craven faults are responsible for dramatic parallel
scars in the south, giving rise to well-known features
such as Giggleswick Scar and Malham Cove. The rocks
of the 'Yoredale Facies' overlie the Carboniferous
Limestone and form the moorland hills and plateaux
which are divided by the intervening limestone dales.
The moors are high and wild, with extensive areas
of rough grazing and very large, often hardly visible,
walled enclosures. These high summits dominate the
skyline above the dales, providing extensive views
out over the enclosed land below and dividing one
dale from another. There are extensive areas of
heather moorland, especially in the south (Bolton
Abbey), north (Swaledale) and in the east above
Nidderdale. Here the Millstone Grit outcrops, notably
in the unearthly shapes of Brimham Rocks where weathering
has created almost sculptural features from the
rock. The gritstone also influences the character
of stone walls, barns and other buildings, distinguishing
them from some of the more westerly moorland areas.
Each of the dales has its own distinctive character.
In the north, Swaledale is perhaps the typical Yoredale
valley, with its sweeps of heather moorland on the
fell tops, its pattern of walls and field barns,
flower-rich meadows and small tight-knit villages.
Wensleydale is wider, with more varied landform
which creates some very enclosed areas. Bishopsdale
is broad, with lines of trees and small plantations
cutting across the dale, while Widdale has a rather
bleak and forbidding character with rough grazing
predominating and a number of rather incongruous
conifer plantations. Wharfedale and Littondale demonstrate
the typical Dales character of strong patterns of
walls and field barns on the valley floors, with
woodlands surviving on valley sides, and compact
villages of stone tucked into the hillsides, next
to winding rivers. Coverdale is quiet, dominated
by rough grazing, with many small streams cutting
down the hillsides while Dentdale, in the north
west, shows the influence of wetter, milder conditions,
with small fields bounded by hedges rather than
drystone walls contributing to a sheltered, softer,
more domestic landscape.
Dales in the south and west reflect the influence
of the underlying limestone. They are wide and open,
with rugged outcrops of light coloured rock and
pale green pastures, creating a distinctive combination
of light and colour. Ribblesdale is affected by
large quarries on the hillslopes, while Chapel-le-Dale
reveals the underlying rock dramatically, with broad
shelves of limestone on both sides. The hillsides,
walls, and isolated buildings all have a unity of
colour that creates a sense of openness and light.
predominant rock of the Dales is the Carboniferous
Limestone, formed about 300 million years ago. This
is overlain by 'Yoredale Facies' sedimentary rocks,
which are in turn overlain by Millstone Grit, which
forms a capping to some of the highest hills. The
region broadly coincides with the Askrigg Block
in which Carboniferous strata are generally flat-lying,
and not faulted or folded.
The Carboniferous Limestone comprises thick strong,
hard and compact beds of limestone interbedded with
mudstone. The limestone is predominantly grey in
colour, although it can vary from cream to dark
grey and the familiar white colour of the exposed
rock is due to the formation of a surface patina
resulting from weathering. The prominent bedding
planes of the rock can be seen in the locally extensive,
but nationally rate limestone pavements along valley
sides, and in notable outcrops and crags.
'Yoredale Facies' rocks (the name deriving from
the rocks of this area) consist of repeating layers
of alternating weak shales and hard sandstones and
limestones, with thin coal seams, which give rise
to the stepped topography which is such a distinctive
feature of dales such as Wensleydale, and creates
the dramatic profiles of Ingleborough and Pen-y-Ghent.
The bands of hard rock overlying softer rocks also
give rise to numerous waterfalls often with large
pools carved out in the softer rocks at their base.
Further north, the sandstones are more prominent,
and are locally a source of flagstones.
The thick beds of hard sandstone of the Millstone
Grit, have resisted the forces of glaciation and
form plateaux of high, exposed moorland, covered
with heath and upland bog, including Grassington
Moor, Barden Moor and Barden Fell in the south east,
and Great Shunner Fell in the north-west.
With the predominance of limestone, there are few
naturally occurring waterbodies. However, where
the overlying Carboniferous rocks have been eroded
away, inliers of the older rocks below occur, often
in the valley bottoms. These are the Silurian and
Ordovician mudstones, siltstones and greywacke.
They form the impermeable beds that underlie Malham
Tarn, and can be seen in part of Ribblesdale and
All the different rocks have been eroded and smoothed
by glacial activity; Wharfedale and Littondale show
the classic U-shape of glacial valleys. Deposits
of moraine resulted in the creation of Semer Water,
while elsewhere boulder clay has been deposited
and shaped into drumlins by the action of glaciers.
The extensive drumlin field around Ribblehead, for
example, is a remarkable hummocky landscape.
Glacial activity over the underlying limestone has
created the distinctive features of the classic
glacio-karst landscape, with outcrops, scars, gorges
(some with tufa deposits, as at Gordale Scar) and
erratics, while underneath, revealed only by sinkholes
and potholes, are some of the most extensive cave
systems in Europe
Ore deposits, principally of lead and barite, occur
in fissure veins associated with faults in Carboniferous
rocks. Mineralising occurs mainly between Settle
and Pateley Bridge, along Wharfedale and Nidderdale
to Wensleydale and Upper Swaledale.
and Cultural Influences
in this landscape has been slow and of limited impact
and as a result evidence remains of man's activities
from the earliest inhabitation onwards. Recent work
has revealed the area to be extremely rich in archaeological
remains, many of which are clearly visible within
the landscape. Among the most obvious are the parallel
strip lynchets on some dale sides which are of Anglo-Saxon
or Roman origin.
The names of the villages and farmsteads give an
indication of their origins. In the north and west
Norse tribes, who invaded the area in the 9th and
10th centuries set up large farmsteads, with winter
and summer pastures, often indicated by the names
-sett, -thwaite, and -scale, for example Appersett
and Southerscales. Anglo-Danish names, ending in
-by, -thorpe, -ley, -ton, -ing, such as Grassington,
tend to predominate in the south and east of the
area,. These settlements were commonly small villages,
adjacent to the open fields which all villagers
shared. Livestock were moved to higher ground during
the summer, while the strip fields were cultivated,
and evidence of this pattern can still be seen around
Kettlewell and Starbotton in Wharfedale in the long
narrow walled enclosures formed from the original
The most obvious historic feature of the Dales is,
however, the network of walled fields that spreads
across all valleys and hillsides. The fields close
to the settlements are small, often irregular, and
date back to the 17th century or earlier, when the
open field system gave way to a system in which
each villager farmed a smallholding. These smallholdings
consisted of a few fields in the valley bottom and
on the side slopes, with a barn for the over-wintering
of a small herd of cattle, resulting in the numerous
scattered field barns. Walled tracks were created,
leading up from the valley bottom to the fell tops,
giving access to the open moorland for summer grazing.
Larger enclosures resulted from the period of Parliamentary
Enclosure, from the 18th century onwards, whilst
the largest enclosures, defined by long, straight
walls striding across the rugged hilltops, arose
from later enclosures still, in the 19th century.
These effectively enclosed the majority of land,
leaving only some fell tops as open grazing land,
particularly in the north.
Activities other than farming have also influenced
the landscape. Lead mining has long been an integral
part of the primarily agricultural way of life in
the Dales with records of mining in Roman times
at Greenhow. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when
the population was probably at its highest, many
farmers combined working in the local mine with
running a smallholding. The mining was always small
scale, but evidence of it can still be seen, from
the ruins of smelting mills and chimneys to bell
pits and spoil heaps, notably in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale
and above Grassington in Wharfedale. Small lime
kilns built into the hillside are also common. Thin
coals in the Millstone Grit were worked locally
on a small scale, eg Fountains Fell. Today, the
primary mineral extraction is the quarrying of limestone
and sandstone. Also reservoirs and water gathering
grounds have had a major influence on the landscape
primarily in Nidderdale.
Transport also played its part and today the remaining
network of stone wall lined roads and tracks is
a legacy of the old routes of sheep droves, coal
lanes and pack-horse tracks. The Settle-Carlisle
railway, opened in 1876, runs up Ribblesdale and
continues northwards through the landscape, often
in steep cuttings but also passing over huge viaducts,
the most spectacular being the 24-arch viaduct at
Because of its unique landscape qualities, the area
has long attracted artists and writers, the most
famous being JM Turner, who toured and sketched
here in 1816. There is also a striking painting
of Gordale Scar, painted by James Ward in 1812.
Adam Sedgewick (1785-1873), the geologist, was based
in Dentdale, and Reginald Farrer (1880-1920) a botanist
who brought many exotic plants to England, was born
and brought up at Ingleborough Hall, Clapham.
Also, the poet Thomas Gray visited Gordale Scar
in 1769 and the first tourist guide for the area
(Aysgarth Galls) was written by Bishop Pocock(?)
as early as 1751.
a result of its marginal agriculture, the area has
always been sparsely populated. During the 12th
and 13th centuries, the large northern monasteries,
in particular Fountains and Jervaulx Abbeys, extended
their influence and established outposts in the
Dales from which to manage their extensive sheep
runs. But it was not until their dissolution in
the 17th century, and the establishment of freeholders
who began to prosper, that substantial farmsteads
were built. It is the vernacular, domestic, stone
buildings of the farmsteads and small villages from
this period that give the area much of its character.
Always built in local stone, Millstone Grit sandstone
or Carboniferous limestone, with sandstone flags
for roofing, the farms, barns and villages appear
to have grown organically out of their landscape.
Churches tend to be unobtrusive, with chapels a
feature of many villages.
traditional system of farming, which relies upon
grazing spread between the fertile valley land and
the upland rough grazing has created the distinctive
pattern of land cover. Flocks of sheep grazed on
the hill tops in the summer, are brought down to
the sheltered valley bottom in winter and for lambing
in the spring. A few cattle are over-wintered in
the field barns and fed with hay, and their manure
is used to fertilise the hay meadows; with stock
moved out of the valley grassland onto the hills
in late spring, to allow crops of hay to be produced
from the grassland. This system has resulted in
the exceptionally beautiful flower rich meadows
in the dales, combined with the rough grazing and
moorland at higher altitudes
Pressure of grazing, including the practice of allowing
livestock to find shelter under trees where they
graze out any regenerating trees or shrubs, has
prevented the development of any substantial tree
cover. Those woods which do occur are remnants of
the formerly more extensive ancient, broadleaved
woodland now confined to steep valley sides. In
such difficult conditions, tree growth is slow and
the canopy tends to be very open, allowing the development
of a rich ground flora.
Extensive areas of moorland, particularly in the
east around Nidderdale and north (Swaledale), are
managed for grouse shooting and are some of the
prime grouse moors of England. Here the heather
is carefully managed by controlled burning, creating
a mosaic of heights and age heather. In the west
where the rainfall is higher, the moors are covered
by blanket bog, with the typical vegetation of heather
On the limestone, pastures of close-cropped grass
on thin soil support a range of flowers, including
mountain pansy. Where underground water seeps out,
flushes occur which give rise to a rich wetland
of management of enclosed grasslands in the dales,
loss of floristic diversity and drainage of wetlands.
Related dereliction of field barns, which
may then be stripped of their roofing flags. A number
fare in critical condition and their loss will lead
to a significant change in the landscape.
Increasing numbers of livestock, combined
with reduced management of grazing regimes, leading
to conversion of heather moorland to grass moor
and rough upland grazing, both by overgrazing and
by lack of moorland management. 'Ranching' of stock
also results in loss of internal stone walls; and
new fences on moor tops both to separate flocks
and increasingly to exclude grazing in order to
encourage heather regeneration.
Unsatisfactory management of some moorlands,
including gripping and localised over-burning.
Decline and dereliction of small broadleaved
woodlands through lack of management and use as
winter shelter for livestock leading to lack of
Increase in the number of large farm buildings,
especially to over-winter stock, and slurry tanks.
Continuing pressure for quarrying of limestone
for roadstone and more specialist uses in the chemical,
and other industries.
Increasing levels of tourism leading to more
traffic, and loss of character due to inappropriate
road improvements, damage to verges, erosion of
paths, and surfacing of paths in remote upland areas.
Decline in production of hay and its replacement
of round bale silage.
Conversions of farms and barns for residential
and tourism use, which can have a suburbanising
effect on the landscape as well as changing the
character of the local community.
Damage to limestone pavements by overgrazing
by stock and by rabbits, and use in rockeries.
the planning and management authority for most of
the Character Area, the Yorkshire Dales National
Park Authority is already addressing many of these
changes to the landscape in a positive way, most
notably through the implementation of the Dales
Woodland Strategy; the Farm Conservation Scheme,
which assists farmers to integrate their day-to-day
activities with conservation measures, and the Barns
and Walls Conservation Scheme. Nidderdale, in the
south eastern part of the Character Area is designated
as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a Joint
Advisory Committee is pursuing positive management
through the development of a management strategy.
There is also additional intervention through
agri-environment schemes such as the Pennine Dales
Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme, which covers
some of the dales, and Countryside Stewardship and
through English Nature's Wildlife Enhancement Scheme.
Nevertheless, there is a continuing need
to address the distinctive character of the landscape
and, in particular, to consider:
- less intensive, more sustainable farming practices
across the whole of the Character Area in order
to integrate multi-purpose landscape, conservation,
recreational and sporting objectives with agricultural
- the unique pattern of flower-rich meadows, walls
- grazing pressures on moorland associated with
degraded areas of heather and a declining vegetation
- the improved management of some moors to ensure
no further loss of heather and other dwarf shrubs;
- the management and regeneration of existing semi-natural
- the overall extent of woodland cover in ways which
an increase would be consistent with the character
of the area;
- locally prominent and incongruous conifer plantations
to increase their landscape, nature conservation
and recreation interest;
- more sustainable forms of "green" tourism,
including means of travel, to ensure that visitor
aspirations, expectations and actual experiences
can be met without damaging or destroying the very
resources visitors come to enjoy;
- the effects of growing levels of commuters and
of second homes, both on the landscape and on local
communities and encourage rural employment and rural-based
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