"Wharfe is clear, and Aire is lyth, Where the Aire drowns one, Wharfe drowns five... "
We counted the members of our expedition out, and we counted them in. Happily, no one drowned in the Wharfe. On a bright morning in early July, we visited the well-manicured landscape of mid-Wharfedale, between Bolton and Appletreewick—a name which is sensibly shortened by local people to Aptrick.
At Bolton, centrepiece of a 30,000 acre estate, we were in an area loved by early English painters such as Girtin, Cotman and Turner. Their pictures, when exhibited, stimulated a trickle of tourists. The trickle has become a flood.
Landseer, the favourite of Queen Victoria, arrived wearing a purple jacket. His large canvas, "Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time", was of the interior of any old abbey on rent day. Landseer's patron, the Duke of Devonshire, was not impressed.
We walked by the river, in which Landseer had waded when he made a sketch of the Priory. We watched men engaged in the old English sport of laying stepping stones. The old stones were not only worn but had vanished from sight during the restoration of the footbridge.
We toured the ruins of the Augustinian Priory, which in its heyday was served by 26 canons and about 200 layworkers, some of whom were spread through a monastic estate which took in part of Malhamdale. Taped chanting, played softly, gave us an inkling of the spirit of medieval worship as we entered the Priory Church, which has been used for Christian worship for 850 years.
The Duke of Devonshire, who is lord of Settle, gave us special permission to visit Bolton Hall, the oldest part of which was the Priory gatehouse. When the Augustinian canons were dispossessed, their lands were bought by the Cliffords of Skipton, passing through marriage to the Earl of Burlington and to the Dukes of Devonshire.
In a room adjacent to the gatehouse we saw family portraits and were then allowed to ascend stone steps to see the King's Bedroom, with its canopied bed, which has been used by visiting monarchs. George V is especially well remembered in the dale. He turned up annually for the grouse-shooting. A local man who had seen him crossing from Bolton Hall to the Priory Church one Sunday morning described him to me as "a gingerish little fellow".
Then to the Strid, set in woods with paths laid out by a cleric, William Carr (1789-1843) whose efforts were applauded by William Wordsworth. The Strid is where the river is pent up between slabs of a coarse sandstone laid down some 325 million years ago. The water seethes. We had planned to sit by the torrent and eat our snack meal, but most of us were reluctant to share food with a variety of wee beasties. We returned hungrily to our cars.
We reassembled eventually in the nursery garden of Parcevall Hall for a tour of the gardens, organised by Jo Makin, who has been largely responsible for their restoration. Sir William Milner, a York architect, transformed a Dales farm into a splendid house and laid out gardens from which we looked across the valley to the heathered slopes of Simon's Seat.
The 1994 outing will be to Wensleydale.
Bolton Hall from Bolton Priory. Photo by the author.