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Swaledale barns restored – and stories told

5. Cowhouses in Muker Parish - one of Europe's most distinctive agricultural landscapes
5. Cowhouses in Muker Parish - one of Europe's most distinctive agricultural landscapes
1. Rampsholme cowhouse restored
1. Rampsholme cowhouse restored
2. Kit and Mary Calvert of Hoggarths, Keld having their hay time tea in the shelter of Purse Cow'us
2. Kit and Mary Calvert of Hoggarths, Keld having their hay time tea in the shelter of Purse Cow'us
3. Bobby Hutchison near Kisdon Side
3. Bobby Hutchison near Kisdon Side
4. Gillian Whitehead at Swaledale Woollens in Muker receives a cowhouse poster
4. Gillian Whitehead at Swaledale Woollens in Muker receives a cowhouse poster

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Muker, 20 October, 2017

Two traditional barns near Muker have been restored, while a multi-media community project has recorded, interpreted and shared the history of barns in the parish.

Rampsholme cowhouse and Keld Side hogg house have been re-roofed, re-pointed and limewashed.  

Yorkstone Builders of Leyburn carried out the work at Rampsholme, while David Hollingsworth from Arkengarthdale restored Keld Side.

“We are delighted with the quality of the restorations,” said Miles Johnson, Senior Historic Environment Officer at Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA). “Both barns can now be returned to light industrial uses such as winter feeding. The public can see inside Rampsholme cowhouse, which is remarkable for its original features, such as cattle neck chains and poles used to stop cows bumping into each other.”

As the restorations were taking place, local people, businesses and schools were taking part in a separately-funded but closely-linked project called “Every Barn Tells A Story” (see ‘funding note’ below).  Together with YDNPA staff they have researched and collected the stories behind one of Europe’s most distinctive agricultural landscapes.

“The cowhouses, drystone walls and hay meadows in Swaledale represent the absolute classic Dales landscape for many people,” said the YDNPA’s Interpretation Officer, Karen Griffiths. “But with the barns falling out of traditional use around 40 years ago, there was a need to gather the stories of people who remember using them as cowhouses.  Local hospitality businesses also told us there was a high demand for information from visitors – so together we embarked on the ‘Every Barn Tells A Story’ project.”

The vast majority of barns in Muker Parish are cowhouses – ‘cow’uses’ to locals – with a few being hogg houses for young sheep.  Most were built in the 18th and 19th centuries.  They housed cows in the winter months; the animals would be given hay stored in the mew or hayloft above them and would be let out once a day for water.

During the past 18-months the Every Barn Tells A Story project has seen:

  • Local researcher Glenda Calvert interview 30 people to produce a new oral history resource.
  • YDNPA Interpretation Officer Karen Griffiths use maps and old documents to study 20 cowhouses, carrying names such as ‘Dirty Piece’, ‘Burnt Down Spot’, ‘Willy Greens’ and ‘Myers Bottom’.  She inspected four of them with a building specialist for historical detail.
  • Dales-based artist Helen Peyton create cowhouse-inspired designs for reproduction on items such as tea towels, tote bags and mugs.
  • The holding of three open days, during which people shared family photos featuring cowhouses and the stories associated with them.
  • 3D models created of several barns, including the Keld Side hogg house.
  • The creation of seven new outdoor interpretation panels. Visitors approaching Upper Swaledale from the south will come across the first panel by the Muker Millennium Cairn viewpoint on the Buttertubs Road; it tells the story of the roadside Banty Barn, which can be seen from the viewpoint.  
  • The creation of six walking booklets, each with a clear map plus descriptions and photos of the cowhouses on the route.  It is the perfect souvenir of a visit to Upper Swaledale and owners of B&Bs and holiday homes in Muker Parish can receive free copies.  
  • The production of framed photographs and A2-sized cowhouse information posters for local B&Bs, shops and cafes, such as Keld Lodge and Kearton Country Hotel, as well as a leaflet which can be printed out and handed to guests walking the Coast-to-Coast route.
  • The creation of a portable display unit for Keld Resource Centre, which has been toured around the north east to promote Upper Swaledale. New, permanent exhibition panels have also been installed in the Resource Centre, along with a built-in audio player so that people can hear Glenda Calvert’s interviews.
  • Beermats produced for the Farmers Arms in Muker.

In the next few weeks the final strands of the project are expected to be completed, including:

  • The publication of three short films, featuring people in Muker parish sharing their memories of the cowhouses.  The films will also include footage from the Yorkshire Film Archive in York.
  • The publication of a children’s walk leaflet. As well as looking after the oral history side of the project, Glenda Calvert has been working with local children to produce a leaflet about cowhouses especially for children.  Local children have walked the route with her, taken photos, written about what they’ve seen and taken part in craft workshops.  The leaflet will be available from the Keld Resource Centre and accommodation providers.
  • Half-term “Ghost Calf Making” children’s workshops to be held in Muker Public Hall on 23 and 24 October.
  • A final open day to be held on Thursday 2 November at the Keld Resource Centre from 10:30 to 13:00.
  • An end-of-project celebration event in late November.

Robert Clarkson, formerly of Scarr House Farm and Blackhow Farm, was one of those interviewed as part of the project.  He remembered working in cowhouses:

“You soon got in the way of going round all buildings of a morning. They were all to go to. You usually had three or four cows in. At Angram we had the Skeugh cowhouse; it had four tied in it. You went down there, let them out to the well, they all had a well had cow’ouses, and cows went out to drink. You mucked them out with shovel out at back of them. They came back in, you put their hay in front of them, and they came back in to look for their hay, and you tied them up again by neck.”

During the project, Billy Hutchinson, formerly of the Cathole Inn and Keld Green Farm, shared a photo of his dad Bobby with a northern dairy shorthorn near Kisdon Hill.  He described the family farm’s cowhouses and how cows would be milked outdoors in the summer:

“Each one would have its own meadow and each one held about three or four [cows]. Wintered there, yes. Then of course, in summer time the milk cows went out. They went right onto the top of Kisdon and me dad used to go on up there on a 1927 motorbike with backcan on and milk the cows by hand. When I was about 14, 15 year old, I had to go on another motorbike up with another backcan, because we were milking about 8 or 9 cows then, and that was our sole income. Our milk really was the main income.”

For more stories see the Every Barn Tells A Story blog: http://everybarn.yorkshiredales.org.uk/

Funding note:

  • The restorations of Rampsholme cowhouse and Keld Side hogg house cost a total of close to £26,000.   Owners of the barns contributed £5,000, with the remainder coming from a fund made up of a legacy being managed by the YDNPA and a £20,000 grant from Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.  There are plans to use this fund to pay for a number of other farm building restorations next year.
  • The ‘Every Barn Tells A Story’ project received £65,800 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £20,000 from the YDNPA and £5,000 from Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.

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