A day spent in the Tabular Hills, the southern half of the North York Moors. The limestone plateau of rich farmland is cut by several sheltered, steep sided valleys. Flassen Dale reminded me of a mountain meadow in the Jura Alps. Warm, humid and lush the bottom covered with swathes of Cow Parsley.
With its beautiful colouring, the pheasant is a familiar sight in woods and dales, usually spotted clucking away in full flight. But is it a wild or a farmed bird? Sure the pheasant is not a native British bird but it’s been around for two thousand years, believed introduced by the Romans. The RSPB lists it in its pocket book of birds and they don’t do that for the farmyard chicken. On the other hand 35 million pheasants are reared and released each year significantly adding to the wild population. With a total annual bag of 15 million birds it is estimated that the proportion of wild pheasants may be as low as 10%.
So is it a wild or a farmed bird? The 35 million birds that are reared each year would have been classed as livestock, this is so that some costs associated in their production will be exempt from value added tax. Furthermore as it is food production there is exemption from certain planning controls.
Now when the pheasants are released you want to be able to shoot them so they then need to be reclassified as wild. You can’t shoot chickens. They have to be sent to the abattoir.
Of course at the end of the shooting season some birds need to be re-captured to use for breeding the next year. As this is usually done with nets and as wild birds aren’t allowed to be caught with nets, the pheasants are then reclassified back to livestock.
Finally if you happen to run over a pheasant with your car, causing considerable damage, you will have no course of action against the keeper who released the bird as of course it’s a wild bird.
So it is a wild bird? I haven’t a clue.
90 AD, around fifty years after Claudius’s invasion of Britannia, and although campaigns were extended as far as Caledonia the northern Brigantes tribes were restless and hostile. To control the natives it is thought a chain of forts were built between Malton and the coast. The Roman camp at Cawthorne was a key part of this chain.
The Romans chose the fort’s location well. On the edge of the limestone plateau that is the Tabular Hills, it had clear views over the moors to the north with a gentle slope to the south. There were actually two separate forts at Cawthorne. An older enclosure in a polygonal plan and a newer following the more typical Roman rectangular pattern with rounded corners both protected by a rampart and one or more ditches. A wooden palisade would have topped the earthbank.
It is thought the camp was occupied for about forty years by which time the northern tribes had been subdued and the Roman efforts were directed at building Hadrian’s Wall as defence against raids by the Picts.
Earthworks are very interesting but I find them frustratingly difficult to photograph and this prehistoric earthbank is no exception. It’s a Scheduled Ancient Monument, or S.A.M. and it forms the boundary between the National Trust’s property of Bridestones and the Forestry Commission’s Dalby Forest. Almost a kilometre long with other Bronze Age features notably round funerary cairns. Over the decades since the forestry was planted it has encroached on the monument potentially damaging it. Historic England, the public body protecting ancient monuments, demanded that the trees are removed within a corridor of five metres either side. So work is progressing in clear felling this ten metre strip and erecting new fencing. Bridestones Moor is a rare example of moorland which has not been extensively managed for the sole purpose of producing the highest density of grouse. The result is a very biodiverse habitat.
It is not entirely clear what this boundary was actually for. A tribe or clan marking the boundaries of their land. Containment of stock. Protection from wild animals. To keep people out, or in. There is no evidence what, if any, form of structure was on top of the bank. A physically uncrossable barrier or one similar to the low palisade fencing frequently erected by residents on a modern open plan housing estate. Easy to step over but etiquette prevents us doing so. It could have identified sacred land. Indeed it could have had a multiple of functions.
Today Dale Town in Gowerdale is just a sheep and cattle farm but throughout the centuries it has undergone ups and downs in population. It was first mentioned in the Domesday Book. By 1433 twenty two tenants were recorded as living there but a century later there was just one house. This was probably the result of disease and crop failures, a fate of many mediaeval villages. Once we enter the 19th century records are more abundant. John Marius Wilson’s Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales was published in 1870-72, it lists Dale Town as having a population of 60 in ten houses. By 1894-5 in The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales the population is now 39. Interestingly Dale Town House, the current farmhouse existed at this time. It dates from the late 18th century and is constructed of sandstone blocks with a pantile roof and many original architectural details.
The two whale backed hills in the distance are Hawnby Hill to the left with a modest height above sea level of 298m and Easterside Hill marginally higher with a 310m contour. Between them on an elevated position above the River Rye is Hawnby.
Blue skies over the flatlands of the Vale of Mowbray. I am standing on the Bronze Age bowl barrow on Gallow Hill above Cowesby in the Hambleton Hills. Below me is Pen Hill with its pre-historic enclosures. Pen Hill is not really a hill, more of a ridge. The highest point does not even warrant its own ring contour, yet from the quiet village of Kepwick, nestling at its foot, it does indeed look like a hill, attainable only by a climb up a steep narrow gulley enclosed entirely by Rhododendrons.
The name Pen Hill is interesting. The Pen bit is an old Celtic word meaning hill and is found throughout Northern England, Wales and Scotland. Thus we find Pen-y-ghent in the Pennines, Pen y Fan in Wales, Pendle Hill in Lancashire. And nearer home: Pen Hill in Wensleydale, Penny Hill near Stokesley and Pen Howe near Goathland. So Pen Hill actually means ‘hill hill’. If you find this beguiling then consider Pendle Hill. The dle element comes from the Old English hyll so Pendle Hill means ‘hill hill hill’. One up for the Lancastrians I think.
In the Tabular Hills, limestone country in the southern half of the North York Moors and a view west over the Vale of Mowbray to the Yorkshire Dales, supposedly one of the “finest views in all of England”. White Gill, the stream at the bottom of a deep valley with no name, and downstream, the village of Kepwick.
The view though is largely manmade. The Vale of Mowbray is prime agricultural land, a patchwork of fields growing barley, wheat and nitrogenous demanding grasses for silage. Even the slopes of heather in the foreground are managed to maximise the production of grouse.