We had a delightful day yesterday, dodging hail showers while visiting Heather Hodgson at Lowlands Farm. We’ve already met her father-in-law David Hodgson through his oral history recording, so it was fascinating to actually have a look round the farm he talks about in such detail.
The name ‘Lowlands’ is a perfect description of the farm’s low-lying meadows, south of Askrigg and running down to the River Ure. Heather told us that some time in the early nineteenth or maybe late eighteenth century, the marshy riverside land was drained and improved, with large fields created, bounded by long straight drystone walls.
A quick look at the 1839 Tithe Map for Askrigg shows us that the process of creating these fields in Askrigg Bottoms pre-dates it. The field name New Field (no 295) also indicates that the work of reclaiming the land was relatively recent. Removing walls and creating even larger fields has gone on since, as many of the fields we photographed are larger than shown.
We walked down through these fields to Little Barn. We wondered if it had always been known as that or whether it once had a more colourful name. The Tithe Map suggests not as the field it sits in is simply called ‘Barn Field.’
From the outside it looks like a fairly typical late eighteenth/early nineteenth century field barn, with a later added cart doorway and possibly a new or enlarged forking hole on the front. Round the side is another forking hole into the baulks or hayloft with a low ramp below to help with access from the time when loose hay was forked in by hand. The new forking hole was probably created for use with an old mechanical hayloader, the sort used for square haybales.
Inside Little Barn, we were in for a treat as all the original furniture is intact including the booses or cow stalls, divided by a low stone boskin; the rudster posts to which the cows were tied in the winter; the hayloft or baulks/baux above; the boosehead dividing the booses from the hay mew beyond and the foddergang leading into the mew.
This all looked to be of the same date or later as the barn itself, however, when we walked through into the mew we were really excited to see that even though the building was re-roofed relatively recently, the builders kept many of the original large roof timbers, and their curving shapes and adze rather than saw marks tell us that these may well be much earlier than the barn itself.
We look forward to doing a bit more research on these to see if we can spot carpenters marks or even actually date them. For the moment we can only speculate that they came from an earlier timber-framed building, either a house up in the village or a field barn nearby.
The arrival of the Wensleydale Railway must have had quite an impact on the farm as it cuts right across its fields. Various crossing points had to be added so that the farmers could get their cows to and from their fields. One was a huge stone-built cattle underpass, now filled in but with quite a lot of the stonework ‘funnel’ down to it surviving.
The railway would have added to the prosperity of the farm allowing fresh milk to be carried away quickly to city markets as far away as London.
Having explored Lowlands’ dairying heritage, we then followed Heather up to Marsett, once the site of a possible Viking cattle shieling site and then a medieval vaccary, now a tiny farming hamlet far up beautiful Raydale. Lowlands owns a remote bunk barn here called Raydale Barn on what must have been very marginal haymaking land, right next to the wetlands north of Semerwater.
The barn has been converted sensitively by its previous owners, preserving the stone boskins and limewashed interior.
The setting is amazing but we can only imagine how hard it was getting a haycrop off the tiny field it sits next to. A check on the 1841 Tithe Map for Bainbridge parish reveals that the field was called Back Haw and that would once perhaps have been the name for the barn which is shown standing in it. Nothing inside or out indicated an earlier building on the site so it can probably be dated to the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century.
Heather particularly loves the limewashed alcoves beside the entrance door where oil lamps or candles were placed when milking on a dark winter’s evening. Cattle medicines were also stored in them she told us.
Just as we were about to leave Marsett, we spotted a modern barn in the village with a gaggle of black and white cows in the yard next to it. It is pleasing to think that cows still graze these hillside pastures in the summer.