Aestheticism and Athleticism: The Changing Depictions, Pursuits and Visitors in North Craven, 1750-1900

Kay Exton
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

North Craven in West Yorkshire is one of the most diverse, exciting and beautiful landscapes in Britain. With its dramatic limestone scenery, intriguing underground potholes and scenic villages, all set against the backdrop of the majestic Three Peaks, Craven attracts around five million visitors each year. The area first became fashionable in the mid-eighteenth century as the Picturesque movement grew in popularity, and artists, aesthetes and their followers flooded to the region. The advent of the railways nearly a century later opened Craven up to a new wave of travellers, and increasingly rambling, potholing and mountaineering became the favoured pastimes of visitors, alongside the search for beautiful scenery. Aestheticism has been a central aspect of North Craven tourism since the 1750s, but as the railways brought a more diverse demographic of travellers, athletic pursuits have grown in appeal and it has evolved into one of the most popular tourist destinations of the North.

The Creation of Domestic Tourism

During the mid-eighteenth century tourism experienced a gradual redirection, as a combination of political, cultural and economic factors led to a re-evaluation of the destinations, pastimes and expectations of travellers. Traditionally, touring had been a pastime of the wealthy, which became widely popular during the late-Tudor period when an explosion of patriotism and an improvement in roads and highways inspired the British to travel the land, celebrating the beauty, industry and history of their nation.

During this time most travel literature took the form of traditional poetry, most famously Drayton’s Polyolbion, which describes in detail the landscape, history and legends of Britain. In his discussion of North Craven, Drayton focuses upon the Ebbing and Flowing Well, attempting to explain its movements through mythological allegory and the classical characters of the beautiful nymph chased by a lusty satyr.
     They hurry down the rocks, o’er hill and dale they drive,
     To take her he doth strain, t’ outstrip him she doth strive,
     Like one his kind that knew, and greatly feared his rape,
     And to the Topic gods by praying to escape,
     They turned her to a spring, which, as she then did pant,
     When wearied from her course, her breath grew wondrous scant,
     Even as the fearful nymph then thick and short did blow,
     Now made by them a spring, so doth she ebb and flow.

Fellow poet Richard Braithwaite also wrote of North Craven in Drunken Barnaby’s Four Journeys to the North of England (1638). Though writing from London, he had grown up in Burnside, near Kendal, and was also intrigued by the well, alongside Clapham and Ingleton. The noted William Camden and John Speed were also writing around this time, but the literature relating to travel within the British Isles during the sixteenth and seventeenth-centuries was remarkably scant and typically shaped by literary conventions.

Though select aristocrats and artists were touring Britain before 1750, it was not until the second half of the eighteenth-century that tours of Britain became customary among wealthy families, largely due to the continental hostilities that made the fashionable Grand Tour of Europe impossible. Traditionally the Grand Tour had been considered an essential part of a young man’s education, teaching him about art, industry, languages and politics, and in time the British Tour came to hold a similar significance. Celia Fiennes had stressed the importance of knowing one’s own nation nearly a century before it became popular, writing in the foreword to her journal,

‘... if ... both Ladies, much more Gentlemen, would spend some of their tyme in Journeys to visit their native Land ... it would ... form such an Idea of England, add much to its Glory and Esteem in our minds and cure the evil itch of over-valueing foreign parts ... But much more requisite is it for Gentlemen ... especially those that serve in parliament, to know and inform themselves the nature of Land, the Genius of the Inhabitants, so as to promote and improve Manufacture and Trade ... ’
As well as being ahead of her time in appreciating the educational benefits of domestic travel, Fiennes was also forward-looking in the routes she chose to take, venturing as she did into the remote areas of Scotland, Wales and Northern England. As the routes of typical early-Georgian traveller Daniel Defoe illustrate, for many Englishmen travelling through the British Isles, it was the ordered gardens, lively trade centres, grand country houses and industrious agriculture that held greatest appeal. It was not therefore until the second half of the eighteenth-century that rugged areas such as Craven became popular with fashionable tourists, much of which can be attributed to clergyman, art enthusiast and essayist William Gilpin, who Ian Ousby described as ‘one of the most influential travellers of the eighteenth century, or indeed of any century.’ Gilpin travelled to many of the largely unexplored areas of Wales, Scotland, Derbyshire and Cumbria between the late-1760s and 1780s, writing extensively and popularising the wilderness through the new vogue of the Picturesque. Some historians have argued that to define precisely the movement would inevitably misrepresent it, as the fluidity of personal experience is what made it so appealing, and even in the eighteenth-century a definition of the deeply organic, subjective term was almost impossible. Gilpin himself encouraged this ambiguity when writing to Joshua Reynolds in 1791, explaining, ‘With regard to the term picturesque, I have always myself used it merely to denote such objects, as are proper subjects for painting’.

The appeal of the Picturesque for landscape artists was that by creating the perfect artistic composition, previously neglected and frightening wildernesses became accessible and aesthetic, while retaining the desirable frisson of excitement. Defoe wrote in the mid-1720s that Craven and Westmoreland were ‘country eminent only for being the wildest, most barren and frightful of any that I have passed over in England, or even in Wales itself. ’ He dismissed the region as unworthy of description, and moved on to the more ordered Lancashire farmlands. However, as Britain edged itself towards industrialisation and urbanisation in the latter half of the eighteenth-century, aesthetes such as Gilpin and his Picturesque followers began to reconsider their native wildernesses, respecting them as unspoilt refuges from their hectic, modern society, rather than fearing them as uncultivated dangers. What they saw had not changed, but the eyes through which they saw it had.

The new popularity of these untouched landscapes drew many artists and poets of the 1790s and 1800s, including Wordsworth, Keats, Coleridge, Blake, Turner and Girtin, who all travelled extensively throughout these Picturesque and Romantic landscapes, searching for inspiration. The presence of such internationally renowned cultural figures in these areas increased their presence in the national consciousness, and attracted many other followers to the region. As John K Walton has argued, ‘The new aesthetics of the picturesque and the sublime, in tandem with romanticism…provided new fashionable grammars and vocabularies for gazing upon and evaluating upland landscapes.’ But, while the relationship between the Lake District and Romanticism (particularly Wordsworth) has been well documented, the equally illuminating interaction between the Picturesque and Craven has been largely overlooked.

Early Guidebooks of North Craven

The Picturesque Movement profoundly changed the way in which North Craven was seen, and the work of the many popular artists and poets of the day including JMW Turner and William Wordsworth brought fashionable aesthetes to the region. The earliest such aesthetes actually preceded these artists, and included John Hutton and Thomas West, both of whom published guides to Craven in 1780 that were clearly influenced by Gilpin’s revolutionary re-evaluation. John Byng emphasised the importance of such books in The Torrington Diaries 1781-1794, saying he would not have visited Craven had he not read of it’s “curiosities ” in popular travelogues of the day.

Guidebooks of this period primarily took the form of travellers’ diaries, since it was not until the mid-nineteenth-century that it became common for a town or region to produce its own promotional literature. Diaries contain what Esther Moir calls ‘the simplicity and spontaneity of…eye-witness accounts’, by which she meant the use of personal experiences that, though often tinged with emotion, retained an objectivity in the descriptions of destinations. Though not all the manuscripts were published at the time of writing, many have been latterly, including those of John Byng and Jabez Maud Fisher. That they were not published at the time should not lead us to believe them unimportant, because then, just as today, the oral tradition was significant. The passing of a manuscript among friends, or the tale of a tour told to one’s family were important motivators in encouraging one to visit a region. No doubt some stories have been lost, but enough survive for us to build a valuable and interesting picture of the tourists who visited North Craven in the early years of domestic tourism.

The late seventeenth-century had seen the remarkable rise of the Peak District as a tourist attraction, largely as a result of Thomas Hobbes and Charles Cotton’s extensive travel literature. However, the growing contradiction between the desire for wild solitude and the influx of visitors eventually caused many to turn away from Derbyshire, looking for other regions displaying beauty and Sublimity, one of which was Craven. Accordingly, initial literature relating to North Craven often emphasised the areas’ similarities with Derbyshire, most notably Thomas West’s account of his tour, published in 1780 as an appendix to his Guide to the Lakes, which focused on the caves and subterranean waterways. The appendix’s subtitle, Some Philosophical Conjectures on the Deluge, and the Alterations on the Surface and Interior Parts of the Earth Occasioned by this Great Revolution of Nature, emphasised the geological anomalies of the region, while the places featured bore a remarkable resemblance to Hobbes and Cotton’s “Seven Wonders ”. Several Georgian writers of the time used the term “curiosities ” to describe these unusual but exciting limestone features, a term that conveys the initial fashion for Derbyshire-esque rock formations, as does the recurrence of the Ebbing and Flowing Well as one of the key sites of the region. John Hutton, the most influential writer upon Craven, shared this love of “curiosities ”, talking at length about the ‘stupendous subterranean cataract’ of Weathercote, the ‘long, deep, and dreadful chasm’ of Meir-gill and how Allan-pot ‘excited the several passions of curiosity, dread, and horror’. In A Tour to the Caves, first published in 1780 and reissued in 1781 with several additions, Hutton states that it is the geological peculiarities that hold the greatest appeal, and the foremost trip for him was across to Malham.

‘We had already indeed seen so many, that our wonder could not easily be excited, except they were more great and terrible ... Malham cove ... is a fine amphitheatre of perpendicular limestone rock on the side of the moor, at least a hundred yards high in the middle…a stupendous cataract, in height almost double that of Niagara. This is the highest perpendicular precipice I have ever seen, and I think not enough known or admired by travellers for its greatness and regularity. ”
Hutton’s choice of vocabulary in this section is very interesting, for he clearly delights in the chaotic and frightening elements of the landscape. He says his preference is for the ‘great and terrible’, terms Defoe had used only fifty years earlier in a derogatory sense. This search for the frisson of excitement pervades much of the early literature about North Craven, and indeed can still be found in some of the later writings of the nineteenth-century. For many early visitors to Craven therefore, it was the unusual limestone scenery, which was at once both beautiful and threatening, that held the greatest appeal.

Linked to the early searches for a frisson of excitement was the recurrence of classical literature and allegory to describe the limestone “curiosities ”. Hutton’s descriptions of Yordas Cave and Gate-kirk Cave respectively are typical,

‘As we advanced within it, and the gloom and horror increased, the den of Cacus and the cave of Poliphemus came into my mind. I wanted nothing but a Sybil conductress with a golden rod, to imagine myself like Æneas going into the infernal regions…’

‘We could not but fancy that it was like the cave of Polypheme, or of some giant in modern romance, who hung up the mangled limbs of the unhappy victims that fell into his hands, to the dome of his murky den. From the roof were pendent large petrifactions in every grotesque shape; some like hams, others like neat’s tongues, many like the heads and various parts of different animals.’

These allusions are to Virgil’s Æneid, a Latin poem written around 10 BC, but also included are direct quotes from the text, as are works by Milton, Ovid and Shakespeare. The classical allegories were often used to convey the history and mystery of the caves, while knowledge of the Roman texts in particular conveys their mythological nature. Educated tourists of the time would have been familiar with such classical poetry, but their inclusion in tour guides of the time reveals the elitism of most early tourists to Craven. Wealth and culture were essential characteristics of the eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century tourists, so much so that Malcolm Andrews has claimed ‘A literary education thus functioned as an extra, expensive piece of intellectual equipment to take into the field.’

As well as classical allegories, local dialect littered the pages of early North Craven travelogues. While scientific advances in geology had tried to standardise the use of such terms as “gorge ” and “chasm ”, the local words “scar ” and “pot ” remained in use, to such an extent that in the nineteenth-century speleology gained the more colloquial name “pot-holing ”. Many writers also tried to explain the origins of a town’s name, and no place-name had more debate than Giggleswick, which was explained as either the wick, or village, of Gikel, a Saxon elite, or was attributed to the ‘gurgling’ sound of the nearby Ebbing and Flowing Well. Several books were also written specifically about dialect including Reverend Carr’s The Dialect of Craven (1828) and Cartwright’s The Craven Dialect (1824). Hutton also included a glossary of terms that explained a “cleckin ” was a young chicken, “farnteckles ” were freckles and to “swarmle ” was to climb a tree that has no boughs. This interest in local terms, and indeed local customs, reflected a wider aspect of the Picturesque movement, namely the appreciation of the so-called “noble savage ”. The “nobly savage ” communities of the wildernesses were simultaneously seen as somewhat backward, and yet pure and morally superior, untarnished as they were by industrialisation. While this notion did not have the same impact in Craven as it did in other areas, particularly the Lake District, the guidebooks’ inclusion of local customs and dialect reflects a cultural trend toward the appreciation of rural integrity.

As well as attracting fashionable tourists such as Hutton, Craven attracted many eminent artists and poets including Turner and Wordsworth. Undoubtedly the most popular site for painters was Gordale Scar, which inspired Turner, Thomas Girtin, William Ward and James Ward. If we take two of the most popular depictions of Gordale Scar, Turner’s 1816 version and James Ward’s 1814 painting, possibly the first of Gordale Scar, we can see how the Picturesque movement and later Romanticism inspired and directed the two men.

Romanticism favoured the dramatic and violent landscapes, and both Turner and Ward show the height of the perpendicular rocks by painting the scene from below, forcing the viewer to put themselves at the base of the scar. Ward also chooses to include cattle in the foreground to stress further the rocks’ towering nature. Many Romantic painters included animals or local people in the foreground of their work to show the relationship between man and the wild. While both painters successfully portray the size of the scar, Turner’s work does not show the enveloping nature of the place in the way Ward’s does. The dark, stormy skies with the tumultuous clouds block out most of the light, casting the scar into shadow. Where the light does shine through, it illuminates the fissures of the rock face and the strewn branches, further emphasising the chaos of nature. Turner’s painting meanwhile is much warmer, with the slash of blue sky in the centre allowing light to flood into the gorge, illuminating the light browns and yellows of the limestone. Turner’s work is therefore more typically Picturesque as the violent, frightening landscape has been tamed by the composition, colours and tones. Thus, while both artists show the scale of Gordale Scar, the atmosphere each chooses to depict and the style used is markedly different.

Turner and Ward, alongside Thomas Girtin and William Ward, were respected, popular and widely exhibited painters of their day, and consequently many art enthusiasts travelled to North Craven to see the sites which they had immortalised on canvas. Engraver William Westall’s Views of the Caves near Ingleton, Gordale Scar, and Malham Cove, in Yorkshire (1818) was also very important to the popularisation of North Craven. The book included a number of sketches of the area’s most dramatic scenery, including an engraving showing Yordas Cave from inside, looking up to the light of the entrance. Like Turner and Ward, Westall included a drawing of Gordale Scar from below, but instead of incorporating cattle to emphasis the height of the rocks, he depicted a party of visitors emerging from the chasm, walking to the viewpoint from which he was looking. The book was very popular both with those who visited the area and bought it as a souvenir, and those whose interest in geology led them to Westall’s work.

Though William Wordsworth is more commonly associated with the Lake District, he also visited Craven in the late-1810s, where he was inspired by Gordale Scar, as fellow poet Thomas Gray had been before him. Wordsworth wrote,
     At early dawn, or rather when the air
     Glimmers with fading light, and shadowy Eve
     Is busiest to confer and to bereave;
     Then, pensive Votary! let thy feet repair
     To Gordale-chasm, terrific as the lair
     Where the young lions couch; for so, by leave
     Of the propitious hour, thou may’st perceive
     The local Deity, with oozy hair
     And mineral crown, beside his jagged urn,
     Recumbent: Him thou may’st behold, who hides
     His lineaments by day, yet there presides,
     Teaching the docile waters how to turn,
     Or (if need be) impediment to spurn,
     And force their passage to the salt-see tides!

Wordsworth’s choice of the sonnet form, a popular poetic template of Romanticism, is very revealing as it implies an affection and love for his subject. The wonder Wordsworth feels when he views Gordale is expressed eloquently with his call to a “pensive Votary ”, a term he could equally apply to himself. The phrase “terrific as the lair where the young lions couch ” conveys the sense of fear and trepidation one feels upon approaching Gordale Scar, as though such a dramatic and impressive natural structure could only be home to a waiting beast. The term “lair ” is used throughout much of the travel literature of the period in reference to numerous cave and scars in Craven, and usefully conveys the foreboding felt when entering the unknown. As popular artists and poets of the day admired and immortalised Gordale, “the local Deity ”, it swiftly developed into one of the principal destinations for fashionable tourists to visit.

Despite everything that Craven clearly had to offer, for a long time it was viewed as a calling-point in a longer summer tour, rather than a destination in itself. John Hutton suggested that, ‘The caves may be visited in their return [from the Lakes] without inconveniency to most.’ He directly sets up his account as an appendix to West’s Guide to the Lakes, a suggestion that was accepted for the third edition. In fact, by 1784, West’s book had received several additions relating to Craven, including Thomas Gray’s letter to Dr. Wharton and Adam Walker’s “A Description of Some Natural Curiosities in the Western Edge of Yorkshire ”. This tendency to attach Craven onto a tour to the Lakes seems to have become increasingly fashionable, with William Wilberforce visiting Ingleton, Weathercote Cave and several sites in Wensleydale, during a four day break on his way up to Cumbria in 1779. James Plumptre’s summer tour of 1797 also included a brief visit to Craven during a longer exploration of the Northern Counties. Likewise, when young American businessman and Quaker Jabez Maud Fisher had travelled north in 1776, he fitted Craven in as a local excursion. Though he was encouraged to visit the region by the advice of his friends rather than the literature of his contemporaries, he was very pleased with the sites he saw, in particular Gordale Scar, which he described as

‘One of the most Romantic and pleasing Scenes…A Rock burst asunder by the hand of Nature gives vent to a small but delightful River which rolls down over the rude Rocks till it meet a massive Mountain of prodigious height. But deriding all Opposition it has perforated a Passage through a vast Chasm in the cliffs, from whence it tumbles sometimes perpendicularly and at others rolls over the crags, for some hundreds of Feet, til at length it gain a soft Bed in a beautiful River under mountainous Rocks which project their rude and awful heads directly over us. ”
That Fisher used the same language as Hutton and Hurtley, without having read their work, is a testament to the remarkable impact the Picturesque movement had in changing perceptions of the British wildernesses.

Thus, during the early nineteenth-century North Craven gaining a national reputation as a tourist destination, although it was rarely seen as the focus of a summer excursion. However, the arrival of the railways in the mid-nineteenth century was to profoundly and irrevocably change all customs, views and expectations of domestic tourism.

The Popularisation and Democratisation of Craven Tourism

The single most important development in the history of British tourism was the advent of the railways in the mid-nineteenth century. Initially the new technology was intended for industry, but it soon became evident that there was profit to be made in the transportation of people too. The fares were cheap, the journeys fast and the transport comfortable so it is easy to see why the railways gained such widespread favour. The first known railway excursion took place in 1838, when a group travelled from Wadebridge to Bodmin to see a double execution. As the gallows were near the train station, the ‘day-trippers’ didn’t even leave their seats, but watched from the carriages. The cult of ‘day-tripping’ soon grew, and during the 1840s Thomas Cook, an inventive entrepreneur, began to organise cheap outings and short holidays for the masses. However, the popularisation of tourism did not meet with total approval, particularly among wealthier Britons whose travels had previously been a luxury. John Ruskin complained, ‘Going by railway I do not consider as travel at all, it is merely being “sent ” to a place, and is very little different from becoming a parcel.’ Others complained that day tripping was not the same as travelling, as the structure and speed of one’s fleeting visit meant that sites were hungrily consumed, rather than contemplated and enjoyed. Many also argued that the essential reason for travelling, to find oneself and gain an education, was negated by the tawdry package holidays. Regardless of this criticism however, railways had opened the entire nation up to the masses, and wealthy or poor, educated or illiterate, urban or rural, anyone could now visit and explore Great Britain.

The impact was no less felt in North Craven, where the 1846 Darlington-Richmond line, 1847 Leeds-Skipton line and 1856 Northallerton-Leyburn line immediately began bringing new people to the area. However, it was the completion of the Settle-Carlisle railway in 1876 that really transformed the region. Urban workers from Manchester, Lancashire and Yorkshire were all encouraged to visit the area, and they did so in their droves. As the railway network spread across West Yorkshire it was increasingly used to both take visitors into Craven, and to transport them around the region to the key sites. Much of the travel literature of the second half of the nineteenth-century reflects this new reliance on the railways, including William Dobson’s Rambles by the Ribble, which first appeared in 1864. Dobson was a prolific writer, who travelled extensively in the North, often following the course of a river, and recording his experiences as he went. Dobson relied on the railways to begin and end his day’s walking, and his praise of the fast and efficient service may well have encouraged other travellers to do the same.

By the 1890s the use of the railway during one’s tour was almost inevitable. As time and money constraints meant that many visitors could only afford to spend a short time in Craven, much of the literature from the last decade of the nineteenth-century encouraged readers to use the railways and to take specific routes in order to fit as much as possible into their short holidays. George Brown’s The Tourist at Settle; Twelve Walks Among the Limestone Hills of 1898 promotes a series of quick visits to Craven’s key sites, and on one trip Brown encourages day-trippers to take the train from Settle to Ribblehead, and from there walk over the glens to Weathercote, Jingle Pot and Hurtle Pot, through Chapel-le-Dale, across the moors to Selside and down to Horton, to catch the afternoon train back to Settle. Thus, sites that Hutton and West may have spent several days exploring, are neatly confined into a day’s excursion. The railways changed not only who saw the sites of Craven, but also how they saw them.

Many of the Victorian visitors to North Craven were from nearby industrial centres such as Bradford or Lancaster, who came searching for solitude, space and beauty in an increasingly urban world. While some historians have assumed this movement was essentially confined to the wealthy industrialists, Harvey Taylor has convincingly argued that the early rambling clubs were made up of people from all classes. He said, ‘A significant level of social hybridisation in the sphere of leisure, engendered by a cross-fertilisation of values and interests, was a manifest influence on the formative stages in the development of the outdoor movement.’ Mechanics Institutions and other local societies were usually created on the basis of shared experiences, and were often permeated by conventional morality, and the desire to improve oneself. Many societies promoted athletic rambling as recreational, encouraging the simultaneous improvement in the body and mind it would bring, a philosophy echoed by many guidebook writers. W.H. Burnett, who wrote Holiday Rambles by Road and Field Path, was a staunch advocate of the benefits of rambling, calling his first chapter ‘The Importance of the Sound Mind in the Sound Body’. This growth in recreational rambling occasioned a shift in the attitude of many visitors, as instead of travelling between “curiosities ” being an inconvenience, it now became part of the overall experience. This in turn meant that several previously overlooked sights now grew in importance, not least Ingleborough. Guidebooks from 1750-1850 usually treat the Three Peaks as a backdrop, worth climbing only if the visitor has an interest in botany. However, as rambling became increasingly fashionable, Ingleborough became particularly popular, with several writers plotting routes of varying difficulties, all of which offered fantastic views and the climatic beautiful panorama from the summit.

Most groups spent their summer months walking in the countryside, and the dark evenings of winter learning about botany, geology, religion and art that reflected their outdoor experiences. Thomas Brayshaw was involved in organising several tours around Giggleswick and Settle for the Bradford Historical and Antiquitarian Society. The trips usually took place on a Saturday, and featured a train ride from Bradford to Giggleswick among the rolling hills, followed by a short excursion into Giggleswick where various historical points of interest such as the Old Market Cross and Parish Church were remarked upon. From there the party would visit the Ebbing and Flowing Well and Giggleswick Tarn, before heading into Settle, then up Castleberg. Members of the tour were encouraged to take notes in their programme, in preparation for the later philosophical and historical discussions. Many excursions and guidebooks of this period reflected a growing interest in local history, and in particular the Victorian fashion for church architecture, a topic upon which Brayshaw wrote extensively. Just as the popularity of rambling led to more trips to Ingleborough summit, the growth of local history encouraged visitors to spend more time in the North Craven villages, particularly Settle and Giggleswick.

Craven had long been renowned for its botanical and geological interest, as the limestone scenery offered various unusual finds. Several guidebooks of the later-nineteenth-century included a section on these disciplines, and this trade was supplemented by a wide variety of scientific books and academic articles. Potholing was also becoming popular during the nineteenth-century, as an athletic extension of geology, and was significantly advanced in Craven by the work of John Birkbeck of Settle and William Metcalfe of Weathercote in the 1840s. The two men spent much time exploring the region, investigating the potholes and working out the best routes and viewing spots. Their work was encouraged by the discovery and exploration of Victoria Cave in 1837, which is now one of the foremost visitor sites in West Yorkshire. Gaping Gill also attracted much attention during this period, with Birkbeck and Metcalfe making initial descents in the 1840s. However, it was not until 1895 that French speleologist Edouard Martel made the first successful attempt, bringing international renown to Craven.

By the 1880s the influx of new visitors had spawned an explosion in popular tourist literature and instead of diaries and travelogues being used as guides, specific publications were commissioned and produced for visitors. This development into advertising tourism has been largely attributed to the railways, which encouraged capitalist competition between destinations and led local men such as Thomas Brayshaw, George Brown and Frederick Riley to promote Craven in short guidebooks and pamphlets. These books often included adverts for local restaurants, inns, hotels and shops which may have been useful to the traveller, a move which reflected the flourishing tourist trade. Settle was a particular beneficiary of the growing number of visitors, with its central location and good transport links long heralded as a good base for a tour. William Howson reported as early as 1850 that tourists were expected to pay for access to Castleberg, an example of the money to be made by astute locals. Thomas Twisleton who wrote Poems in a Craven Dialect was another beneficiary of the tourist trade, with his humorous book (including such verses as ‘Lines Composed on Seeing a Woman Intoxicated in Settle Street on a Market Day’) favoured as a souvenir for tourists.

Interest in the region also encouraged a number of more scholarly, historical analyses of the area by locals, including the Reverend W. Thompson’s Sedbergh, Garsdale, and Dent; Peeps at the Past History and Present Condition of Some Picturesque Yorkshire Dales, a fascinating book which focuses on the effects of the Celts, Romans, Saxons and Civil War in West Yorkshire. However, the two most important writers of the 1890s were H. Speight and Edmund Bogg. Speight was a local man with much affection for the area, who felt that many tourists had overlooked the Craven district, so wrote extensively between 1891-1902. Bogg did a very similar job to Speight but his works are less formal, including poetry, literature, ballads, legends, specially commissioned artwork and the memories of local people. When speaking of Pen-y-Ghent he remarks, ‘Just to the south of Penyghent may be seen the giant’s graves; unfortunately, a practical farmer in this district has removed the large stone grave covers to make gate posts! still the depressions which mark the spot can be found by those who seek and enquire.’ This informality and humour that pervades the book made it very popular, and Bogg’s style undoubtedly opened the area up to new visitors.

During the last decade of the nineteenth-century then, tourism in Craven became increasingly commercial, with locally published guidebooks written for specific audiences. While visitors still came to appreciate the aesthetic scenery, they also began to partake in more athletic pursuits such as rambling and potholing. At the beginning of the twentieth-century Craven was poised to become one of the foremost tourist destinations of the North. With the arrival of the motor-car, mounting pressure to preserve Britain’s beauty spots and the increasing numbers of foreign visitors to the UK, the region has continued to grow in popularity year by year.

The story of North Craven’s rise to international renown reflects the development of tourism in upland areas over the last 250 years. Like the Lake and Peak Districts, Craven’s acceptance into the British cultural conscious was initiated by William Gilpin, the Picturesque Movement and later Romanticism. The work of distinguished artists, poets and philosophers brought wealthy aesthetes to the region, whose subsequent travelogues promoted the area among their peers. Early visitors favoured the limestone “curiosities ” of the region, particularly Gordale Scar and the Ebbing and Flowing Well near Giggleswick. However, with the spread of the British railway network in the mid-nineteenth-century, Craven was profoundly changed as workers from industrial towns flooded to the region in search of solitude, enlightenment and recreation. The growth of athletic pursuits such as rambling and potholing, alongside educational pursuits such as local history and botany, led to a specialisation of the tourist industry. By the beginning of the twentieth-century Craven was a distinguished area, catering for everyone from the casual day-tripper to the ardent speleologist. It is this diversity and individuality that enabled North Craven to flourish between 1750-1900, and which continues to entice millions of tourists each year.


I would to thank the North Craven Heritage Trust and Sylvia Harrop in particular for the help, support and deeply engaging topic they offered me. I would also like to thank Giggleswick School for the kind invitation to use their Brayshaw Library, and I extend my warmest gratitude to their librarian Barbara Gent for her help, encouragement and biscuits.


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Editorial note

This article was written as part of the course which lead to the award of the MA degree to Ms Exton from Lancaster University.

JMW Turner, Gordale Scar circa 1816
James Ward, Gordale Scar 1812-4

JMW Turner, Gordale Scar circa 1816

James Ward, Gordale Scar 1812-4