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YORKSHIRE YARNS

Story and photos by Margaret Deefholts

Once upon a time, a good-natured giant named Wade lived with his wife Belle on the wild fells of the Yorkshire Dales. When out for a walk one windy day, Giant Wade decided to demonstrate his strength to Belle, so he picked up a clod of earth and flung it as hard as he could over his shoulder. It flew over the moors and landed in the Cleveland Hills, to become the only mountain in Yorkshire.

The locals tell this story with a twinkle in their eye, because Giant Wade's "mountain" is only 1,100 feet above sea level. They tell other tales too, of ancient customs, legends, robber barons and ghosts. The Swaledale hills, desolate and bleak, are haunted by wraiths as fine as the autumn mists, and banshees who scream across the moors on cold winter nights.

The skeletal ruins of the ancient Abbey, founded by the Benedictines in 1078, dominates the skyline of Whitby, a pretty little town on the east Yorkshire coast. An earlier Abbey here dating back to 657 AD, was founded by St. Hilda, who converted to Christianity from Paganism. Although nothing remains of it, it is here that Caedmon, England's earliest known bard, sang his hymns of mystical devotion. Today, curlews and seagulls wheel on the wind, their plaintive cries a lament for that old, lost simplicity of Faith.

Whitby has other ghosts too. Bram Stoker is reputed to have written Dracula while staying in here and this is where his vampire crawled ashore in the guise of a dog. Captain James Cook was an apprentice in Whitby, and departed from this harbour on his historic voyages. He lived in the attic of the building that now houses a museum dedicated to his life and exploits. Lewis Carroll's spirit also lingers in Whitby, where he composed "The Walrus and the Carpenter", and their whimsical conversation "of cabbages and kings".

Some of Yorkshire's old customs bear testimony to the hard-scrabble existence of people who lived in the remote reaches of Swaledale. In byegone times, farmers on their long journey to market towns, would suspend their butter and cheese in sacks overnight in deep, cool, rocky fissures-the Buttertubs-which lie along the high, stony pass between Swaledale and Wensleydale.

Most of these small villages had no consecrated churchyards in which to inter their dead. So, the body, wrapped in a sheet (coffins were too costly), would be carried in a large wicker basket along the "Corpse Way"-a 15-mile hike-down to the coast. Smoking their clay pipes to ward off the smell of death, the men would plunk the basket into special barns called "Dead Houses" that dotted the Corpse Way, and repair to the nearby pub to fortify themselves before continuing their journey. Today an annual charity walk is held along the Corpse Way. The prize? A little coffin-shaped lapel-pin!

Richmond is a cheerful market town with craft shops, country pubs, rural cottages, stone churches, parks and gardens. The old Norman castle built in 1071 overlooks the River Swale and local lore has it that a little drummer boy was once sent into an underground tunnel to find a secret escape passage. Soldiers followed the drumming above ground-when suddenly it ceased. The little drummer boy was never seen again. But on still, moonlit summer nights, his drumming is sometimes heard near Castle Walk, which circles Richmond Castle.

Richmond legends also include the tale of Potter Thompson who, after an argument with his wife one night, left home and crept sulkily into an opening on Castle Rock, beneath Richmond Castle. To his astonishment, he found himself in an enormous cave with none other than King Arthur and his knights, all asleep. The king lay with his hand on his sword, and when Potter Thompson touched the hilt, all the knights stirred uneasily. Terrified, Potter left hastily and, quarrel forgotten, raced home to tell his wife. But no one was able to find the magical cavern again.

So somewhere in the depths of Richmond's Castle Rock, King Arthur and his knights slumber on until England needs them to come to the country's rescue once again.

IF YOU GO:

Yorkshire is easily accessible from major airports and cities by British Rail, sightseeing coaches and by car. For more information on package tours, attractions and accommodation go to:

http://www.yorkshire.com/cps/rde/xchg/ytb/
http://www.yorkshirenet.co.uk/

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

PHOTOS by Margaret Deefholts

1. Buttertubs between Swalesdale and Wensleydale
2. Pretty stone cottage in Yorkshire
3. Swaledale
4. Street in Whitby town
5. Whitby landscape with the Benedictine Abbey against the skyline
6. A rural scene amidst Yorkshire's moors and fells

 


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