Beautiful Wensleydale by Train and Foot

Mary Queen of Scots had a colourful life acceding to the Scottish throne at only 6 days old; however, she spent most of her childhood living in France whilst regents ruled Scotland on her behalf. At 15 she married the dauphin who eventually became King of France which meant she briefly became Queen of France until a year later when he went feet-up and she returned to Scotland. The moral here is “make hay whilst the sun shines as tomorrow you may die”.

Four years later and she married her cousin Lord Darnley.  Fickle buggers these royals!

At this point you might think, ‘what the hell is he rambling on about?’, well please bear with me.

They produced a son, James then a year later the house was destroyed in an explosion and Darnley was found murdered in the garden and James Hepburn, 4th Early of Bothwell was believed to be implicated but acquitted at trial. 

…keep bearing with me…

A month after the acquittal Mary and the Earl got married and the Scottish folks took umbrage, threw a tantrum, binned them both, locked Mary up and forced her to abdicate in favour of her one-year-old son James. The moral here is don’t act too quick even in love and especially after a murder. 

Now keep an eye on James, he’s only a baby but you never know what life will throw at you.

Mary makes a break into the northern counties but Elizabeth I of England is a bit twitchy about her motives as Mary had previously made a bid for the English throne and there was a significant number of English Catholics that supported the idea so – long story short – Liz locked her up for 18 years. In fairness, her incarceration was in luxury because she was of royal stock but Liz moved her about to ensure there was no chance of a build-up of allegiance and any consequent threat to the English throne.

One of the places that she was purported to have spent her time was Bolton Castle where she managed to contrive an escape into the woods near Leyburn. They let the dogs out and chased her of course and she made a tremendous attempt to lose them by running and hiding in the thick woods around the castle but eventually, she lost her shawl in the prickly gorse and it was this that gave her away. She was eventually moved to Fotheringay Castle where she was found guilty of treason and sentenced to death by beheading. 

These days the executioner would have been subject to a personal improvement plan and ordered to undergo retraining as the reports were thus.  

The first blow only cut into her head, the second blow cut through some of her neck but a third piece of sawing action was necessary to complete the separation. There are two morals here:

1. ‘don’t upset the monarch’ and
2. if you’re going to have your head cut off then offer the guy with the axe a big tip for a clean strike.

Baby James was destined for greater things and became King James I of England and VI of Scotland unifying the two countries but the two bits of his mum would never know this.

Now what the devil has this got to do with walking near Leyburn you may ask? Well the ridge that we would be walking is called Leyburn Shawl and legend has it that Mary’s break for freedom and loss of shawl is the reason for said name. 

Of course there is a counter-claim that shaw’el means ‘woodland on a hill’ and this is the reason for the name but I prefer the former.

I have a starting point at York and TP Express cancel my train so the irony is that I may miss the walk due to a failure on the national network causing me to miss the Wensleydale Railway connection from Leeming to Redmire; however, a passing LNER train to Edinburgh saves the day although my ticket doesn’t technically cover me for travel on their enhanced rolling stock. Like before, I’m keeping my head low with my story of canceled train at the ready but it’s not necessary and within 20 minutes I’m on Northallerton station and heading for my car to head for Leeming and the excellent Wensleydale Railway service to Redmire.

It was closed to passengers in 1954, three years after my birth but kept open to haul stone and keep heavy lorries off the tiny roads through the dale. It also has a strategic aim in as much as heavy military machines can be transported quickly and efficiently from Catterick should the need arise.

The car park at Leeming is nearly full and I’m lucky enough to get one of the last spaces but there is ample space on the road if you take advantage of this service. 

There is the smell of coal and steam that immediately reminds me of my childhood near the main East Coast Line linking Edinburgh to London. We lived in an end-terrace house that had quite a long garden that ran adjacent to the embankment carrying the tracks. The edge of the garden and the embankment was denoted by a wooden fence and we would put milk bottle on the posts. We found that the firemen in the huge steam trains that thundered up and down the mainline from Edinburgh to London and back would throw coal at them as they passed. They rarely hit one but the harvest of coal that we would find in the garden was well worth it.

As I walk on to the platform I see the culprit, it’s a J27 although I don’t know that yet, I have to Google it but what I see makes fascinating reading. This is a fabulous machine first designed in the early 1900’s the first batch being produced in 1906. The one that I’m looking at was actually built in 1923 and weighs 86 tons, it had a brush with death in the mid 60’s when it was sent to Tyne Doc for dismantling and breaking. In 1967 it was bought by a dedicated group of enthusiasts and beautifully restored then bought by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and maintained by them still. It’s currently on loan for us to enjoy and it’s worth spending some time here or at any point along this fabulous railway to see the spectacle of a ‘steamer’ in full flow in this glorious dale.

Click on any photo to be able to page through at full size

Please remember though that this is not a commercial organisation, it needs our cash to sustain it so, when possible, please use it or give generously to any of the appeals, it really is worthwhile.

The ‘boys’, I use the term with affection (average age is now 70) but our heads are 17, are waving enthusiastically from the buffet car, it’s Yorkshire Day and we’ll be celebrating with a cup of Yorkshire tea on the way to Leyburn.

Ensconced now in the standard livery seats we’re in full flow, it’s astonishing the noise that a group of enthusiastic ‘mature’ gentlemen can make but we’re tolerated for the wit.

Young Michael is looking after us and he’s out on the platform ensuring there are no stragglers as the doors are closed then with a loud and meaningful whistle he jumps on-board, closes that last door and we’re ready to go.

I’ll not describe every aspect of the rail journey save to say we’re well looked after by the team. Michael, the ticket inspector, and guard; Nigel, the train manager; Niall and Keeley, both on day release from ‘proper jobs’ and manning the buffet car with smiles and enthusiasm; Vince is the driver today and his expertise ensures a safe and smooth journey to Redmire. Thank you to all of you, you’re a credit to the Wensleydale Railway and I urge readers to take a trip up to Leyburn or beyond just for a day out. It’s about an hour and the scenery is wonderful.

We alight at Redmire and although being able to pee standing behind a bush is an advantage of being a man we call in at the portaloo just to check it’s clean!

The first part of the walk is ‘up’. It’s better that way. We do occasional walks where the ‘up’ is at the end and they’re a bit waring if you’ve already covered seven or eight miles.

So we’re looking for a lane that heads off the main road towards Redmire Scar but we find that much of the area has been fenced with “Do not Enter” signs indicating the quarries as no-go areas. There has been a new footpath established but we’ll only know that when we reach to the top as the signage doesn’t start until we’ve actually arrived at the footpath (not helpful); however, we have GPS and a paper OS map so follow the track as designated and risk the wrath of the man with the clipboard if it happens (it doesn’t).

As we reach the top of Redmire Scar the full extent of beautiful Wensleydale becomes clear, it’s fabulous at any time but even better today in the sunshine.

We manage to find a style next to a sign indicating that we should not enter; however, there is little option so we scramble our way up the scree and emerge at a point that we recognise from last time. It turns out that this path has been closed and rerouted around the other side of the quarry but we’re on top of it now and only a couple of hundred metres from being ‘legal’.

To our North there is a column. None of us have any idea what it is and it’s too far away to walk to it to find out so if anyone could throw any light on this mysterious column in the middle of the Preston Moor or thereabouts I’d appreciate it.

We stop for lunch and the steam train whistles its intention to pull the train out of Redmire back towards Leyburn and we strain our eyes trying to identify it in the row of trees that camouflage the line especially in the cuts. We do get a few sightings and they’re fabulous but at 1000 feet (300m) plus the linear distance it makes it impossible to get good photos without a long lens. 

Another 200 yards (190m) we turn down towards Preston-Under-Scar ensuring that, on this occasion, we walk to the left of the fence and avoid the bollocking that Pete got from the farmer last time we were here.

The name Preston-Under-Scar is said to be derived from “Priests Farm Under Rock (or Cliff)” and seems entirely appropriate when the ecclesiastical activities in these parts especially in the early years are considered,

Later, there was significant lead processing conducted here and there is still evidence and buildings in Condenser Wood nearby. It is said that the processing of the lead and the low chimneys meant the fumes would cling to the valley and not disperse; because of this they built a flue that extended over 2 miles (3km) and fed into a chimney at Cobscar Mill over 1200 feet (380m) above Preston-under-Scar.

We leave the village along the tarmac road and within a couple of hundred yards bear left onto the public footpath across the field and into the woods where we cross a number of streams (or it could have been the same stream several times) over simple plank bridges. This part of the walk is pleasantly cool and we take advantage of the new atmosphere by slowing down and enjoying the birdsong and odd rabbit in the glades.

As we leave the wood the track bears left then cuts across two fields well out in the open then goes up and the incline increases steadily as we travers the open ground. At the top we’re out of breath and stop. We can see the rolling expanse of Wensleydale including Penhill, the views are astonishing.

For the next half mile or so we only get the occasional teasing glimpse of the dale. We’re on the Leyburn Shawl and there is a sporadic bench seat dedicated to some local who enjoyed the walk with the odd one highly decorated or carved.

The walking is easy along here and the next mile and half is goes very quickly and before we know it Leyburn is upon us and a place to eat is the only decision left.

We’ve eaten at various establishments in Leyburn and always been well looked after so the ‘all day breakfast’ that two of our midst indulge in are unsurprisingly excellent and we manage to while away an hour before the return leg on the Wensleydale Railway. A word of advice, do leave yourself plenty of time (20 minutes) to walk from town to the station, it’s a goodly walk along the Bedale road.

With regard to the Wensleydale Railway, please support it, use it or volunteer for it, it’s an excellent resource and the track goes through exquisite countryside.

This walk is 7 miles long and includes one or two steep climbs but well worth the effort.

Thank you to George Renwick, Peter Hymer, George Preston, Dave Rider and the staff of the Wensleydale Railway.

Feel free to ‘share or’ or ‘like’, some folks that can’t get around anymore enjoy an armchair day out and that’s nice.

Also, please feel free to comment below, I appreciate feedback.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

3 thoughts on “Beautiful Wensleydale by Train and Foot”

  1. The “column” on Preston Moor is the chimney of the old Cobscar lead smelter and mill. Your favourite search engine will find plenty of info about it.

  2. Thanks very much Richard. We’re planning a new walk that may take us in that direction. I’ll certainly try to find out a little more about it if we do. Thanks again, George.

  3. Good to read and I had been wondering about the origin of the name of Leyburn Shawl. Nice to get a mention in your blog too! Keeley


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