Elevated ridge with smoothly rolling landform, dissected
by dry valleys.
Predominantly Magnesian Limestone geology
which influences soils and ecological character.
Long views over surrounding lowland.
Fertile intensively farmed arable land.
Large fields bounded by low cut thorn hedges
creating a generally large scale, open landscape.
Large number of country houses and estates
with parkland, estate woodlands, plantations and
Woodlands combining with open arable land
to create a wooded farmland landscape in some parts.
Unifying influence of creamy white Magnesian
Limestone as a building material often combined
with red clay pantile roofing.
River valleys and gorges cutting through
the ridge exposing the underlying rock.
Industrial influences, especially in the
Aire and Don Valleys and other central valleys and
along the coal measures fringe, with mines, shale
tips, transport routes, power lines and industrial
Main transport corridor of the A1 which is
often apparent in areas of otherwise undisturbed
Archaeological remains reflecting the long
standing importance of the area for the settlement
landscape is formed by the two escarpments of the
Upper and Lower Magnesian Limestone which stretch
from near Bedale, running southwards through South
Yorkshire and into Derbyshire, where they terminate
near Nottingham. The escarpments from a quite narrow
ridge feature, nowhere more than a few miles across,
which acts as a distinct barrier between the industrial
coalfields and the Yorkshire Dales fringe to the
west, and the lowland vales to the east. Although
covered in many places by drift deposits, the limestones
have a unifying effect on the landscape because
of their widespread use as a building material and
because of their effect on ecological character.
Throughout the length of the limestone belt, the
well-drained soils, reasonably good climate, and
low altitude has created a landscape of rolling
landform, fertile farmland and well wooded estates,
cut by numerous dry valleys. The ridge is generally
low with a rounded, rolling profile. The western
edge of the thicker Lower Limestone locally forms
a quite prominent scarp but elsewhere the escarpments
are less distinct and in places are barely noticeable.
These steeper slopes to the west give way to a gentle,
dissected dip slope to the east, which eventually
disappears below the adjacent drift deposits in
the east. There is a feeling of elevation on the
ridge, with often long views over the surrounding
The soils in this area are very fertile and so farming
is intensive and arable crops predominate. Despite
the open arable character of the rolling farmland,
the landscape also has a well wooded character.
Woodland is more abundant here than in the adjacent
vale, mainly because of the presence of a great
number of large country houses and their managed
estates. These estates incorporate gardens and designed
parklands and extensive areas of estate woodlands,
plantations and game coverts. Many of the woodlands
occur in quite large blocks, which combine with
the open arable fields to create a distinctive wooded
farmland landscape in many parts of the area. There
are also a number of semi-natural, sometimes ancient
woodlands on the ridge, sometimes on hill tops or
steeper slopes and also along small valleys.
The ridge is cut in several places along its length
by a series of rivers. Many of these river valleys
are picturesque with sometimes dramatic river gorges
overhung by woodland. These valleys include, for
example, the Nidd Gorge at Knaresborough and the
Don Gorge near Conisborough. Elsewhere, especially
in the central part of the ridge, the rivers link
the coalfields and industrial cities to the west,
to the Humber to the east, and the valleys offer
a very different landscape. In areas like the Aire
and the Don valleys there is an air of neglect and
there are widespread industrial influences, including
shale tips, mines, power lines, railways, roads
and subsidence depressions and ings where sand and
gravel have been extracted. The settlements too
have more in common with the traditional mining
towns and villages lying to the west than with the
limestone villages found elsewhere. In the central
and southern parts of the ridge, long views from
the scarp and hills are over the more industrialised
landscapes of South Yorkshire and Derbyshire and
the coalfield influences spread into the limestone
As well as the industrial influences of the coalfield,
the Magnesian Limestone ridge is also an important
transport corridor. The A1 runs along it for much
of its length in Yorkshire, and it is also crossed
by the M1 and the M18 east of Sheffield. These major
roads introduce traffic noise and are often highly
visible along their length. The A1 in particular
reduces the peace and tranquillity of the more rural
northern parts of this landscape. The importance
of the limestone as a building material is reflected
in the presence of a number of large limestone quarries
which also have an impact on the landscape.
Magnesian Limestone sequence was deposited in an
enclosed evaporitic inland sea during the Permian
period approximately 245-255 million years ago.
It comprises a lower unit of dolomite and dolomitic
limestones, which forms the dominant landscape feature,
overlain by red mudstone with gypsum then the upper
dolomite and dolomitic limestone unit, followed
by more red mudstone and gypsum. The sequence locally
has numerous swallow holes caused by the underground
dissolution of gypsum and limestone. The Magnesian
Limestone sequence is clearly seen where it is cut
by rivers, for example in the Nidd Gorge at Knaresborough,
the Wharfe valley at Wetherby and the Don Gorge
North of Wetherby, where the York-Eskrick glacial
moraines merge and swing to the north, the Magnesian
Limestone is largely mantled with glacial deposits
from the last glaciation. These deposits are very
extensive in the Bedale area northwards where they
almost swamp the limestone topography. The Nidd
Gorge is the largest of several valleys (many of
them dry) which cut the Magnesian Limestone and
mark the glacial diversion of drainage along the
edge of the ice-sheet. South of Wetherby, the Magnesian
Limestone has only a thin local cover of glacial
deposits; the soils here are derived from the limestones
and locally their associated red clays, they are
generally very fertile, often supporting agricultural
land classified as Grade 2 in quality.
and Cultural Influences
light, fertile, well drained soils of the limestone
ridge made this a favoured area for early settlement
and there is much archaeological evidence of early
occupation, including finds in the caves at the
important site of Cresswell Crags in the south which
are thought to date from over 13,000 years ago.
There is evidence that from the Iron Age to well
after the end of the Roman occupation there was
increased use of ditches and banks to bound settlements,
stock pens, fields and tracks. In this period the
landscape had probably been cleared of much of the
woodland and was occupied by single quite widely
spaced farmsteads with their associated field systems
and ditched trackways leading outwards to the open
pastures and woodland. An important defensible hill
fort remains from this period at Barwick in Elmet
in the central section of the ridge.
The Roman occupation had a major influence on the
landscape as the ridge was a favoured location for
the making of Roman roads. The routes which became
known as Ermine Street and Dere Street, were the
basis for much of the route of the modern A1 which
has such an influence on the landscape today.
Wealthy landowners have also had a notable influence
on the landscape by means of the fine buildings
and landscapes they have created. These range from
the remains of the great abbeys such as Fountains
Abbey near Ripon, to the chain of country houses
and designed parklands which runs along the ridge,
from Bedale Hall in the north to Hardwick Hall in
the south and including the internationally renowned
gardens at Studley Royal and estates like Bramham,
Ledston, and Lotherton to the east of Leeds and
Brodsworth, Cusworth and Melton Parks near Doncaster.
Some of these houses, parks and estates were created
by wealthy families involved in industry in the
Magnesian Limestone which creates this landscape
is an excellent building material, widely used in
local buildings from small cottages to country mansions,
but also in famous buildings further afield, notably
York Minster. As a result of this, small limestone
quarries occur throughout the length of the ridge,
with larger modern quarries mainly in the southern
The character of the limestone buildings is perhaps
the single most unifying influence in this landscape.
Settlement varies from large scattered farmsteads,
increasingly dominated by complexes of large modern
farm buildings, to the small nucleated villages
characteristic of the plateau to larger towns like
Wetherby, Tadcaster and Ripon. But in all of them
the creamy white dolomite and dolomitic limestone
is dominant - sometimes in regular courses, often
in large blocks, occasionally combined with brick
and more rarely, with stone cobbles. Many of the
country houses which are prominent in the area,
like Studley Royal, Bramham, Ledston and Lotherton
also make use of the stone. In vernacular buildings
the combination of limestone with red clay roofing
pantiles is particularly striking, though slate
and stone slates are also used. Limestone is also
used for boundary walls in villages. Most of the
villages are set in open agricultural landscapes
but they are often surrounded by a smaller scale
pastoral landscape where the old historic pattern
of small strip fields or garths still
survives. Some characteristically lie at the spring
line above the lower lying vale and many are linear
villages with broad verges and village greens. There
are also examples of estate villages such as Sprotbrough.
The area is more heavily settled where the ridge
is more faulted and dissected near Nottingham. Industrial
activity is more intense here due to the availability
of coal and other materials. The character of the
towns and villages reflects this. In many parts,
the typical limestone and pantile vernacular style
sits cheek by jowl with the bolder brick and slate
terraces, which housed the growing industrial population.
The limestone and associated gypsum beds also has
an effect on the qualities of the water which passes
through it. It is excellent for brewing and helped
the establishment of breweries at Tadcaster. It
also led to the rise of the small spa town of Boston
Spa and the famous Mother Shipton's spring with
its tufa screen at Knaresborough.
of the farming in this area is intensive and arable.
The fields are usually large and geometric in pattern,
with long straight roads dating from relatively
late planned enclosure. Elsewhere, around some villages,
there are small or medium sized fields of irregular
pattern, dating from earlier periods of enclosure
of open fields or common grazing. The field boundaries
are usually low, flailed thorn hedges, although
stone walls also occur in many places, for example
as estate boundaries and in and around villages.
Hedges often follow the topography and serve to
emphasise the smooth, rolling landform. Hedgerow
trees are relatively sparse which adds to the open
character of the farmed landscapes. In some parts
the field pattern has almost disappeared as boundaries
have been neglected or removed and the arable crops
The amount of woodland is higher than in the vales
to the east. Historical evidence suggests that woodland
cover is currently higher than its Domesday extent.
Ancient, semi-natural woods occur on steep slopes
or on parish boundaries. Elsewhere, large blocks
of estate woodland remain despite substantial clearance
in the twentieth century. The designed parklands
in estates also contribute to a quite well wooded
appearance in some parts of the landscape.
Small areas of permanent pasture exist, especially
on steeper slopes or in the narrow valley bottoms.
The overall extent of grassland is small but they
comprise a characteristic component of the landscape.
The pattern of intensive arable farming has resulted
in lack of management of field boundaries - both
hedges and walls - and some fragmentation of the
field pattern, as well as loss of hedgerow trees.
Overall this has caused a loss of structure in the
landscape which in many parts has become increasingly
The wooded character of some areas owes much
to the influence of large estates and there is some
evidence that over maturity of estate landscapes,
and especially the designed landscapes within them,
is arising as a result of lack of management.
Development pressures arise in a number of
ways. The corridor of the A1 is particularly subject
to demands for development related to this main
trunk route, especially at major road junctions.
There are also pressures for development around
the fringes of main towns such as Ripon, Wetherby,
Knaresborough, Pontefract and Bolsover, especially
where the industrial influences of the coalfield
towns are significant.
In the limestone villages, demands for small
scale housing development have in places led to
an erosion of vernacular building character, with
an increasing use of brick.
There are localised impacts of limestone
quarrying, especially in the central and southern
parts of the ridge and industrial influences in
the main river valleys and where coal mining affects
There is significant scope to conserve and enhance
the limestone character of this landscape. This
might involve schemes to re-create limestone grassland
on cultivated land and to encourage characteristic
species in hedgerow and woodland planting.
Consistent use of stone as a building material,
both in traditional, vernacular styles and in modern
styles of building is important in much of the area.
This includes stone features such as walls and gateposts.
Although much of the farmed landscape is
very open, the most attractive areas often occur
where open arable land is mixed with woodland, either
as broadleaved woodlands in valleys, or as estate
plantations, to create the impression of woodland
farmland. There may therefore be scope to increase
the extent of woodland by well designed new planting,
although it will be important to retain an appropriate
balance between open and wooded land. The recreation
of limestone woods is likely to be of particular
interest although safeguarding of the interest of
limestone grassland remnants will be essential.
Parkland forms an important landscape component,
with opportunities for its conservation and enhancement.
Those parts of the area where there is significant
industrial activity offer considerable opportunities
for restoration and enhancement. Restoration proposals
should be seen in the context of the adjoining coalfield
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