It snowed at intervals throughout this walk, big wet flakes driven by a cold cold wind. A dozen hardy souls donned waterproofs at the very outset as we gathered once again in Clapham carpark. Our destination was the famous Norber erratics on the hills overlooking Austwick, a distance of about 4 miles (7k.) with 460 feet (140metres) of climbing. With apologies to those who had heard it before in the previous October we spent a short time reviewing the 1963 carpark created from Ingleborough Hall’s kitchen garden and the Old Manor House built or altered in 1701.
We had scarcely settled into our pace when we stopped outside one of the Hall’s pairs of wrought iron gates to point out the original line of the road from Gildersbank to the Church Bridge. That route was abandoned in 1832-33 when the landowners, James and Oliver Farrer, obtained Quarter Sessions approval to realign the road towards the new arched entrance to their gardens and grounds. We followed this new route, now Church Way, to admire the arch with its 1833 date-stone and to take in the scale of the Farrers’ remodelling of this end of Clapham, where they swept away the village green, tithe barn and vicarage before building a large embankment which hides much of the village from the Hall which they created 1827-43 from an earlier shooting lodge built in 1807. We then turned to take Thwaite Lane, also realigned and here enclosed in two short tunnels to afford the Hall more privacy from passing traffic. Above the entrance to the lower of these tunnels we noted another date-stone of 1833 and beside that arch the walled up mouth to the old service tunnel leading to the Hall kitchen.
As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom we were able to pick our way up the steep and stony track to emerge into daylight between stone walls and mature plantations. The gradient levelled off as we approached the junction of Thwaite Lane and Long Lane, respectively the old packhorse route to Fountains Abbey and the old coachroad to Selside. Here the view opened out to north and east and we could appreciate the importance of a ‘thwaite’ or clearing in the heavily wooded medieval landscape. This length of Thwaite Lane is level and we made easy progress, passing the remains of a lime-kiln in the field on our left, admiring the marvellous Bowland skyline on our right and pausing only briefly to examine a cattle creep passing beneath the lane as we approached the point at which we left it to cross short easy turf towards the foot of Robin Proctor’s Scar. Close by the Scar is a large oval field, once securely walled to prevent stock from becoming mired in what was then a marsh or shallow lake, now open access land but with no public access. Speight (1892) has this named as Tarn Thwaite and claims that it was drained about 80 years earlier, say 1811-13 which would fit nicely with the time that the Farrers were making great changes in and around Clapham.
Passing beneath the scene of Robin Proctor’s fatal fall on horseback in 1677 we climbed the first of the day’s many stiles and left the path to zigzag up the slope and gain the Norber plateau. We picked our way among the large boulders until we found one which seemed to be a classic of its kind, stern blue-black on its pedestal of pale grey limestone. The plateau is covered in them, all silurian mudstone* gathered up by the glacier as it ground its way through Crummackdale only to dump them on Norber as it melted in retreat. Some now perch on limestone pillars well over a foot high, showing just how much of that limestone has eroded away in the intervening centuries.
Yet another snow shower sent us hurrying off the height to find relative shelter in the walled fields below. A stile and a gate brought us back to another stretch of Thwaite Lane, within easy reach of the road to Austwick. To avoid the tarmac we turned back towards Clapham for a short distance before more stiles and gates brought us to the edge of Austwick. Our Chairman has dwelt at length on the charms of Austwick, allowing us to pass them by to leave the village and join the footpath across the fields back to Clapham.
Warmer now we spent some time viewing the several cultivation terraces and south facing lynchets along our way. Soon we came to the site of an old hillside settlement and field system, presumably Iron Age or earlier, overlooking the rushy unimproved grassland lying in the hollow below. In prehistoric times this may have been an ideal spot for fishing and wildfowling. We were reminded of the article on “Historic Finds on a Path between Austwick and Clapham” by John Brassey in the Trust’s Journal of 2002. On or near this spot he found coins, jewelry and other artifacts from Celtic, Romano British, Viking, Tudor, Carolingian and later periods, proving that our path had been trodden for at least the past 2,000 years. To add to the interest one of our number spotted an unusual length of stone walling which appears to have many wallheads in only a short length. We pondered whether this was the site of a walling competition, apprentice test pieces - or simply signs of a farmer or landowner changing his mind and his fields more often than customary.
The modern copper dome of Ingleborough Hall now hove into view, we were nearly home. The path was muddier as we passed the sadly battered copper beech avenue of the Hall’s one-time route to and from Settle. Past the Hall’s 1935 tennis court we took the little used path through the farm yard to find a curious metal label on a gatepost, announcing that “On this spot in 1832 nothing happened”. How wrong that is - remember the extensive remodelling of the village that was planned at just that time.
A few more strides took us past the restored market cross commemorating the Clapham charter of 1201 and back to the carpark. The weather had not been kind to us and the walk had taken longer than expected (the stiles, the stiles) but the afternoon had been full of variety and interest.