Nidderdale excursion

3 September 2003
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Leaders - Alan and Dorothy Hemsworth

Meeting place - Pateley Bridge

Lead mining, quarrying, textiles and brewing have all played their part in Pateley's past prosperity but nowadays the economy is based mainly on tourism and agriculture. Participants with long memories reminisced about the days when a level-crossing bisected the High St. near the river bridge until the late 1950s. In its railway heyday Pateley Bridge boasted two station termini - east of the level-crossing being the Harrogate branch (opened 1862, closed to passenger traffic 1951 and goods 1963) and west of the crossing the Nidd Valley Light Railway. Operated by Bradford Corporation, the latter serviced the construction of reservoirs at Angram and Scarhouse as well as providing a passenger service as far as Lofthouse. It opened in 1907 but on completion of Scarhouse reservoir the track was lifted in 1937.

Crossing into Church St. we visited the Playhouse Theatre. It was built as a Methodist Chapel in 1859, then used by the Salvation Army from 1936, then the local dramatic society took over the premises in the early sixties and five years of conversion work saw it open as a theatre in 1968. We were given a brief history of this delightful intimate 70 seat theatre, together with a conducted tour.

St. Mary's Church

Resuming our journey up the High St. we turned up Panorama Walk - the line of a medieval route from Ripon to Skipton - to St. Mary's Church. This involved walking through the modern cemetery which appeared to have been savagely vandalised but it was later learned that the headstones had been laid flat by the council for safety reasons! On arrival at the old churchyard we observed the memorial stone to Mary Myers who died in 1743 aged 'near 120 years'. St. Mary's was established about 1321 and sustained various additions and alterations over the years before being abandoned and the roof dismantled in the 1820s. (The congregation transferred to St. Cuthbert's, the new church in the town built from the proceeds of government grants to commemorate the victories of the Napoleonic Wars. Such churches were thus known somewhat unkindly as 'Waterloo Churches'). St. Mary's was saved from complete ruin in 1906 as a sister's memorial to her brother and is now an English Heritage site.

Scot Gate Ash Quarry

The walk continued up the Kirkby Malzeard road affording panoramic views of Gouthwaite reservoir, the two remaining stoups of Yorke's Folly at Guise Cliff, across to the lead mining area of Merryfields and, seemingly at our feet, Foster Beck Mill with its 35 ft diameter waterwheel. Before reaching the hill's summit we turned on to a high level track running parallel to the valley and which eventually brought us to one of the walk's main objectives - Scot Gate Ash Quarry. Nature has taken over now but there remain sufficient relics of ironwork, spoil and piles of dressed stone to indicate what a hive of activity it once was. Opened by George Metcalfe in 1873 - eight years after the railway has arrived - it boasted steam cranes, cutters, polishing sheds, blacksmiths, stables, offices, stores, mechanics shops and a workforce of 150 men. Many of these would be former lead miners whose industry was in terminal decline due to cheap imports. (A philanthropic gentleman, Mr Metcalfe owned the flax mill at nearby Glasshouses and was thus able to offer employment to the men's families also). An inclined standard gauge tramway led from the quarry to the railway sidings far below - a distance of 1000 yards with a drop of 600 ft - on which the full wagon descending pulled up an empty one on an endless steel rope, the wagons passing each other on a double track at the halfway point. Three trains per day left Pateley Bridge loaded with 'Delphstone', nationally known and used in the construction of the Albert Memorial, steps at the British Museum and platform edging at Victoria Station. Although now designated a public footpath it is difficult to make out the line of the incline from the top due to the trees and shrubs which now grow there.

Grandfather of Rudyard Kipling

After a picnic lunch we continued along the quarry track eventually emerging on to Wath Lane, following it to Wath village and the Methodist Chapel. Built in the 1850s at the end of a row of cottages it is unique in having five sides, all of different lengths. With a seating capacity of 50 it is the smallest chapel in the country still in use and in the days of larger congregations the Dutch barn across the road coped with the overspill. The first Superintendent Minister, appointed in 1859, was the Rev. Joseph King, grandfather to Rudyard. A real bonus was the presence of the chapel's neighbour, a retired farmer, Mr Jack Suttill. A sheepdog trialist of international repute and still training dogs, Mr Suttill had received further accolades in 2003 by being featured in the Dalesman magazine and Yorkshire Television's 'Dales Diary'. Now in his nineties, Mr Suttill told us that on many an occasion he had milked his cows at 4 a.m., travelled with his dogs to take part in a trialling event and got back home to milk his cows again at 10 p.m. His links with the past far outreached the arrival of the railway; his father was born in 1847 - being 63 years old when his son was born. It was a great pleasure to sit in that small chapel and listen to his wealth of local lore and we hope we made his day also by lustily singing his favourite hymn 'How great Thou art'.

Then we visited the southern end of Gouthwaite reservoir, which has a 500ft long and 80 ft high dressed sandstone dam which took 8 years to build and when full holds 1 1/2 million gallons of water. The cost a century ago? 100,000! Back to Wath again for a look at the river bridge - originally a packhorse bridge built by the monks of Fountains Abbey who had a grange at Sigsworth Grange Farm. It was widened for vehicles in 1890.

Nidd Valley Light Railway

The walk back to Pateley Bridge was a pleasant riverside stroll, much of the route being on the track bed of the old reservoir line and emerging at Pateley's millennium hall and landscaped nature park extension. The end of the walk brought us to the old station buildings of the Nidd Valley Light Railway. Unfortunately the site is a builder's yard cum lorry park with huge piles of gravel obscuring the view. The exit from the complex goes past the bottom of the inclined tramway gradient and from here one gets a much better view of the route up to Scot Gate Quarry.

As a postscript we must give sincere thanks to the ladies at the Playhouse Theatre for their hospitality and the volunteers at Pateley Bridge Museum for their co-operation on our visits when this outing was at its planning stage.

St. Mary's Pateley Bridge

St. Mary's Pateley Bridge