Both Sides of the Aire

4 October 2009
Leaders - Rosemary and Robin Bundy
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Saturday had seen the first real blast of Autumn with rain and gale force winds which left the ground strewn with leaves, twigs and not a few branches. Sunday morning dawned fine and sunny but as we set out from Eshton the heavens opened. However, when we crossed the Aire the road turned from wet to dry and the next rain we saw was on the windows of the Town Head Farm Shop tearoom as we drank our post-walk teas and coffees.

Eleven of us met on the green at Airton and after a brief look at the old Airton school and other buildings around the green we crossed into Scosthrop and set off up the Settle road, turning off at the site of the former War-Ag buildings at Moor End Farm and up the gentle slope through the fields towards Kirkby Malham. As we crested the hill we got a panoramic view from Weets Top in the east through Goredale Scar and Malham Cove to Pikedaw, Kirkby Fell and Rye Loaf Hill. The change of colour of the vegetation from brown on the gritstone to rich green on the limestone on the line of the mid-Craven fault up the side of Pikedaw stood out strongly in the Autumn sunshine. We joined Kirk Gate (Kirk Gait on the fingerpost), the old route from Otterburn to Kirkby Malham Church, and followed this down into Kirkby. Cutting through the churchyard some of us stopped to look at Walter Morrison’s tombstone and at the ‘watery grave’. This is the grave of Colonel and Mrs Harrison. She decided that as they had been much separated in life by his service overseas they would be buried on either side of a small stream so as to be separated by water also in death. Unfortunately when her turn came a large boulder prevented her grave being dug so they were buried together after all.

Leaving Kirkby Malham we had a few hundred yards on the road before cutting across the fields to Scalegill Mill. This is recorded as a manorial corn mill as early as the 13th century and remained as a corn mill for about 500 years. In the 18th century it seems that the mill was used for both corn and cotton and towards the end of that century the Serjeantsons built a new mill on the site specifically for cotton spinning. By the beginning of the 20th century cotton spinning had petered out and the mill was then used as a sawmill and joiners shop, still using water power until 1924 when two Pelton Wheel turbines were installed to drive a generator to provide electricity for Hanlith Hall. After the Second World War the mill was leased to and then bought by the Sharp family who used it for chicken rearing and egg production before it was finally converted for residential use about thirty years ago.

We then turned downstream, crossing the river to the other side of the Aire at Hanlith Bridge. The first Hanlith Hall was built by Robert Serjeantson in 1668 and was owned by his descendants until the early 20th century when they first leased and then sold to the Illingworths. Although for most of the time Hanlith was not their principal residence, the Sergeantsons had carried out several alterations over the years and the Illingworths continued in the same vein with major extensions in 1911/12. The Hall narrowly escaped destruction in 1959 when, after being sold at auction to a builder for demolition, Sir William Bulmer negotiated a private purchase and reduced the size of the building to a more manageable scale for 20th century living.

The final stretch of our walk took us alongside the Aire on the Pennine Way to Airton Bridge and our second mill. This too had started life as a manorial corn mill, owned by Bolton Abbey, before new mills were built on the site for cotton spinning in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 20th century it housed an engineering company and was used by Reckitt and Coleman for Dettol production when their site in Hull was bombed in 1942. After the war it also was used by the Sharp family for poultry before conversion to housing as we see today.

A short pull up the road to Airton Green brought us back to our cars. The rain had held off, the sun had shone and there was just time to make our way to the Town Head Farm Shop tearoom for welcome refreshments.