Kempswithen, an 18c agricultural experiment

The moorland across the dale is Kempswithen, a ridge of land lying between Commondale and Baysdale.  It was the scene of an ambitious agricultural experiment, the brain child, in 1773, of Sir Charles Turner, owner of the Kildale Estates. The snow nicely accentuates the network of ditches he had dug to drain the land.

In the late 18c landowners were keen to adopt new farming practices and to improve yields. After paring and burning the surface vegetation and ploughing the ashes back in, Turner brought in tons of lime at considerable expense to improve the moorland soil. Normally 800′ was considered the maximum height for the cultivation of crops on the North York Moors but Kempswithen rises to over 1000′. Much to the surprise of his contemporaries Sir Charles did successfully grow crops of corn, wheat and barley although success is perhaps the wrong word considering the expense of labour and materials incurred in the improvements.

Turner died in 1783 and the land was abandoned soon after following a slump in the cereal markets. Later the Victorian fashion for shooting meant that heather was encouraged resulting in the grouse moor we see today. Again the snow highlights the patchwork of heather resulting from the practice of burning off old growth to encourage new growth on which the grouse like to feed.

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