Michael’s Sheepfold

On the tourist trail although not many Wordsworth devotees make it this far up Greenhead Gill. The gill is the setting for Wordsworth poem ‘Michael’ about a hill farmer building a sheepfold. Michael owns his land but has got himself into debt. His options are to sell part of the farm or to send his son, Luke, to the city to earn enough money to pay the debt. Luke is sent away but before he goes Michael brings Luke to his half finished sheepfold to make him feel the value of this place and way of life. But Luke is corrupted by the city and never returns. Michael dies of a broken heart and his land is sold. A way of life lost. Wordsworth and the Romantics were concerned about “traditional values” just as much as we are now.

Of course Michael’s fold only existed in Wordsworth’s imagination. This ruin could well have been the place which gave him the inspiration. There is no other candidate. He would certainly have explored the valley, being just half a mile from his house. His sister Dorothy writes as much in her diaries.

Here are some extracts from Michael. I must admit it’s a bit heavy going for me.

Near the tumultuous brook of Green-head Gill,  

In that deep Valley, Michael had design’d  

To build a Sheep-fold, and, before he heard  

The tidings of his melancholy loss,  

For this same purpose he had gathered up  

A heap of stones, which close to the brook side  

Lay thrown together, ready for the work.  

With Luke that evening thitherward he walk’d;  

And soon as they had reached the place he stopp’d  

And thus the Old Man spake to him. ‘My Son,  

To-morrow thou wilt leave me’…  ———————————————————————————   

   … the Old Man paus’d,  

Then, pointing to the Stones near which they stood,  

Thus, after a short silence, he resum’d:  

‘This was a work for us, and now, my Son,  

It is a work for me. But, lay one Stone—  

Here, lay it for me, Luke, with thine own hands.  

I for the purpose brought thee to this place…

 … Luke, thou hast been bound to me  

Only by links of love, when thou art gone  

What will be left to us!—But, I forget  

My purposes. Lay now the corner-stone,  

As I requested, and hereafter, Luke,  

When thou art gone away, should evil men  

Be thy companions, let this Sheep-fold be  

Thy anchor and thy shield; amid all fear  

And all temptation, let it be to thee  

An emblem of the life thy Fathers liv’d,  

Who, being innocent, did for that cause  

Bestir them in good deeds. Now, fare thee well—  

When thou return’st, thou in this place wilt see  

A work which is not here, a covenant  

’Twill be between us—but whatever fate  

Befall thee, I shall love thee to the last,  

And bear thy memory with me to the grave.’


The Shepherd ended here; and Luke stoop’d down,  

And as his Father had requested, laid  

The first stone of the Sheep-fold; at the sight  

The Old Man’s grief broke from him, to his heart

He press’d his Son, he kissed him and wept;  

And to the House together they return’d.  ———————————————————————————   

There is a comfort in the strength of love;   

’Twill make a thing endurable, which else   

Would break the heart:—Old Michael found it so.  

I have convers’d with more than one who well  

Remember the Old Man, and what he was  

Years after he had heard this heavy news.  

His bodily frame had been from youth to age  

Of an unusual strength. Among the rocks  

He went, and still look’d up upon the sun,  

And listen’d to the wind; and as before  

Perform’d all kinds of labour for his Sheep,  

And for the land his small inheritance.  

And to that hollow Dell from time to time  

Did he repair, to build the Fold of which  

His flock had need. ’Tis not forgotten yet  

The pity which was then in every heart  

For the Old Man—and ’tis believ’d by all  

That many and many a day he thither went,  

And never lifted up a single stone.  

There, by the Sheep-fold, sometimes was he seen  

Sitting alone, with that his faithful Dog,  

Then old, beside him, lying at his feet.  

The length of full seven years from time to time  

He at the building of this Sheep-fold wrought,  

And left the work unfinished when he died. 


Top Withins

Decided to visit to Haworth today. Never been before, on the moors about that is although I’ve done the village before; a long time ago. A bit of a disappointment really, the “Brontë Waterfalls” a mere trickle. Top Withins, supposedly the inspiration for the Earnshaw home in Emily Brontë’s 1847 novel Wuthering Heights, was no better. Benches, information boards, memorials and the inevitable discarded water bottles drained the atmosphere for me. But then I’ve never read the book. The stonework walls were heavily pointed and neatly capped off with cement obviously to stabilise the structure. The farmhouse would have been just one of a small cluster which stood on Stanbury Moor above Haworth. It’s accepted amongst the devotees that the building would actually have borne no resemblance to Brontë’s description in the book but “may have been in her mind when she wrote of the moorland setting”. 

Surrender Mill

A trickle of water flows down Barney Beck, or Old Gang Beck as it was known in the 19th century when the lead ming industry in Swaledale was at its peak. Then there would have been enough water to drive stone crushers housed in a small building which stood adjacent to the beck but long since demolished. Further away up the slope the remains of smelting mill still survives, a reminder of the industry. Here bouse, the lead ore, was fired to a high temperature to release the metal. Either coal, from the nearby Tan Hill colleries, or peat from the surrounding moors, was used to fire the four furnaces in the mill. The pigs or ingots of the pure lead were then transported by packhorse to sea going ships at Yarm and Stockton. A water supply would also have been required in the smelting mill to drive the bellows, carried by a wooden launder or chute from higher up the beck. The mill operated from 1839 to 1881 and replaced two earlier 17th century mills.

Surrender Bridge Map

Whorlton Castle

Of course Robin Hood didn’t exist. Or did he? There is no doubt that medieval England was full of outlaws roaming the countryside trying to take advantage of unwary travellers. Some may have given to the poor. Robert de Thweng, a knight of Yorkshire may have been a contender for the legend. He came to Kilton Castle by marriage to widow Matilda de Kilton. In 1228 the Prior of Guisborough tried to seize Robert’s parish church at Kirkleatham. Robert’s protests turned into outright rebellion and he took to roaming Yorkshire with a band of hooded outlaws taking the nickname of “William the Avenger”. He plundered the church’s barns and storehouses giving it away to the poor. The church retaliated by excommunicating Robert. But Robert had the support of many northern Lords and the King, Henry III, sent him to Rome to put his complaints to the Pope who forgave him.

What has this got to do with Whorlton Castle? Well Robert’s great-granddaughter, Lucia de Thweng, was born in Kilton Castle but lived in Whorlton Castle with Nicholas de Meynell while her husband, William le Latimer, was fighting the Scottish Wars. At Whorlton she had an illegitimate son, Nicholas de Meynell Nothus.

Lucia was quite a woman. Her story would make a good film, “The Man Eater of Cleveland”, a title by which she was actually referred to at the time. As soon as her husband was called to fight for the King in Scotland she had begun living at Mulgrave Castle with Peter de Li Manley. Not surprisingly on his return le Latimer divorced Lucia, who went on to marry Sir Robert de Everingham. Lucia became a widow when de Everingham was killed in the Scottish Wars. She didn’t hang about long before marrying Sir Bartholomew de Fanacourt, her third husband. Lucia was in her seventies when she died at her manor house at Brotton. Did she die happy or longing for loves lost? Perhaps a clue lies in the ghost of a woman in long flowing robes that has been reported walking along Kilton Lane. Legend says it is Lucia looking for her lost loves.

Whorlton Castle map



Just a tumble of moss covered sandstone rocks at the junction where a footpath off Bilsdale Moor West meets the footpath from Staindale to Raisdale Mill. It’s easy to forget that Clough was once a working farm, a family home. A family history on the internet tells us that a Sarah Bell was born here in 1816 and was still living here at the time of her marriage, 23 years later. This view must have been so familiar to her and can’t have changed much. Clough is an Old English word meaning a steep valley or ravine, nearby Clough Gill is flowing off the moor. Gill also means a ravine, this time the derivation comes from Old Norse. So Clough Gill is a bit of a double dip name.

Roseberry Ironstone Mine

A flock of sheep from Aireyholme Farm graze around the few remains of the Roseberry Ironstone Mine. These can be seen from Aireyholme Lane. In the distance is Coate Moor with Captain Cook’s Monument. The concrete bases, probably machine foundations for the workshops, are slowly being lost to nature, covered with a fine carpet of moss. One contemporary grainy photograph I’ve seen shows the mine buildings at the time of closure were semi-circular with a skin of corrugated steel, a type of Nissen hut. The mine provided periods of employment for the men of Great Ayton until final abandonment in 1921.

Roseberry Ironstone Mine map

Bishop Middleham

One of the best things about this task I’ve set myself of posting a photo a day is coming across the unexpected. Something completely out of the blue. It may be a terrific sunset like last week, or a new vista or a close encounter with a bird or mammal, or the evidence of a piece of history I knew nothing about.

I had to take the van to the supplier at Ferryhill, Co. Durham, for the day which meant four or five hours to kill in the Land of the Prince Bishops. I hatched a rough plan to walk the 7 km or so to Hardwick Hall, a bit of lunch there and then back by a different route. Browsing the map my eyes settled on the name Middleham Castle in a Gothic font. That looks interesting. And so it was.

Set on a limestone bluff overlooking the low lying deer park and fish ponds Middleham Castle was more of a fortified manor house than a castle although earthworks and a tantalising glimpse of the foundations are all that’s left now. Between the 12th and 14th centuries it was one of the residences of a succession of the Bishops of Durham. The first bishop known to have lived here was Bishop Hugh le Puiset otherwise known as ‘Pudsey’. By 1349 the castle and estate was still owned by the Bishop but leased to a number of notable families including the Eures of Witton Castle. The site is unassuming. Access is through a muddy farmyard. No tourist carpark exists, there is just an information board, yet the place gives you a real feel for its history. Inquisitive sheep and the drone of the nearby A1M are the only disturbance.

Close by to the north is the village of Bishop Middleham which prosperity has fluctuated over the centuries. When the castle was occupied the village comprised just over 30 households. Middleham itself is Anglo Saxon for the middle village. The Bishop element only began to be used in the 16th century. By the 19th century a colliery, quarries and a brewery resulted in a rapid increase in population.