Wild West Yorkshire nature diary
lapwingSwaledale sheep

Fryup Dale

Thursday 29th June 2000
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lapwing A LAPWING swoops at the car as we drive across the moor then descend into Esk Dale to visit the Moors Centre at Danby, headquarters of the North York Moors National Park. Walking away from the centre towards Little Fryup Dale it's not long before the visitor centre blends into the background; it is housed in a rambling old shooting lodge, part of the history of the landscape.

Moorland Memories

We walk for a mile in Little Fryup Dale with two women hikers; one a retired teacher, the other a retired nurse. The nurse tells me about her childhood on a North York Moors farm. I notice she refers to the cattle we pass as 'beasts'. She comments on such details as bands tied around their tails and that one cow is close to calving.

Friesian topairy Did she keep Friesians?, I ask her. They bought whatever sort of calf was available, and they sold it whenever times were hard. Their small farm was at the head of the dale. Neighbours helped each other at harvest time. The only time everyone got together was at the Harvest Festival, then farmers would get out their old black suits. Funerals were another occasion to get together. Her family had a long cart, horse drawn, which they would clean up to carry the coffin. But in a hard winter when the ground was frozen solid they might have to wait a month or six weeks before they could dig the grave.

We walk by a grove of old Hollies. The old trees have died back but new shoots have sprung up around the trunk. These have been nibbled into topiary cones by the cattle.

Up hill, down dale

Great and Little Fryup from Oakley Walls
A typical valley would start out steep, narrow and v-shaped then get wider towards its lower end. Fryup Dale is rather different. In the afternoon we walk up the slope, once the site of a deer park, to Oakley Walls above the Moors Centre, and look back at the route we had taken in the morning.

From here Little Fryup Dale is just a nibble in edge of the great plateau of the moors. At its head is a small conical hill (imaginatively named 'Round Hill'). But beyond it there isn't a small v-shaped valley cut by the headwaters, as you might expect; instead it connects with the top end of Great Fryup Dale, Little Fryup's larger twin. Seen together two dales make a U-shaped notch in the edge of the moors, as if a gigantic horse had set its hoof-print there.

Crunkly Gill

Crunkly Gill Another mystery; this stretch of Esk Dale, the main valley, isn't quite what it seems either. On our morning walk I took a second glance at the direction the River Esk was flowing, as it appeared to be heading towards a valley wall. It looked as if it was going to flow uphill.

From this viewpoint you can see that it actually heads into Crunkly Gill, a deep, narrow wooded gorge.

Crunkly Gill and the twin Fryup Dales may have their origins in the last ice age, if not earlier. During that advance of the ice sheets, 18,000 years ago, the North York Moors remained ice-free, but glaciers hemmed it in. One flowed southwards, over the Vale of York and another eastwards, over Teeside. Meltwater channels ran along the edge of the ice and may have created gorges such as Crunkly Gill.

But exactly that helped create the enormous horseshoe hollow of the Fryup Dales I'm not sure.

purple moor-grassmusk thistle Purple Moor-grass, which has slender purple flowerheads is typical of acidic moorland soils. It grows by the track that climbs from the valley floor pastures to the open moor.

Musk Thistle grows by the roadside at the edge of the moor. Garrard and Streeter's Wild Flowers of the British Isles says that it is 'easily recognised by the large, solitary drooping heads and reflexed outer bracts'. The flowers are said to smell of musk or almonds, but as it was a thistle I didn't think to get so near it with my nose.

bird's nest fungus In Crow Wood by the Moors Centre a clump of what I identify as Bird's Nest Fungus grows on an old stump. They're about the size and shape of one those little plastic milk containers you get with a cup of tea in a café. They look as if they're sprinkled with a few sesame seeds, which I expect represent the 'eggs' in the 'bird's nest'.

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

E-mail; 'richard@daelnet.co.uk'

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