A Dalesman’s Diary
Muker in Swaledale. Photo Rambling Tog (Adobe)
Muker is slowly surrendering her secrets: this ancient settlement, at the western tip of Upper Swaledale, is gently breathing life back into her past.
Long-lost place names, most not uttered for very many years, are rightfully claiming their place back in the lexicon of this area which has been occupied since at least the Bronze Age.
This fresh connection with the past, which has seen the production of a map full of delightful local colloquialisms, all started as something of a community enterprise experiment.
Landscape photographer Richard Walls, of Muker, takes up the story.
“Last winter members of the local community in Upper Swaledale got together to record the names of places – fields, woodlands, paths – stretching from Birkdale Common to Satron, roughly Muker Parish.
“Over the course of three evenings, over 700 place names were recorded: names used by the people who live and work in the dale, but that are not found on ordnance survey maps, only in the community’s collective memory.
“The names provide an insight into the landscape and into those who made it their home.
“Anyone who ever walked up the muddy, slippery, double walled track to reach Occupation Road, will understand why its name is Dirty Loaning.
“Similarly, those who’ve walked through the hazel trees of Ivelet Wood might guess why to some locals it’s known as Nut Wood.
“Annas, Alice, Gordon, Anty John, Miles Willy, Anne Scott, Jack Ned, Joyce, Bob Bill and many others are recalled in the names of the pastures, meadows and woodlands,” said Richard, who relocated to the village several years ago after a lifetime working in IT for giant corporations in his hometown of Leeds.
“I initially set out to capture the place names on and around Kisdon Hill, prompted by conversations with locals who used names I didn’t recognise and couldn’t find on the map; names like Bob Bills Wood or Breken Hill,” he said.
Thereafter, he hired Muker Village Hall, printed off a two metres by two metres map, big enough to show the fields, bought some coloured, numbered, sticky post-its, sent out invites and supplied some beer to fuel the exercise.
He expected to record perhaps fifty-or-so names, but by the end of the evening the map was populated by over 250 coloured dots and the corresponding names recorded.
However, that wasn’t enough! The farmers wanted to extend the map out to Birkdale Common and Ravenseat to the west, and to Satron and Oxnop in the east.
And so, over the course of three evenings over 700 hundred names were recorded.
Perhaps as importantly, the evenings were a great excuse for the community to get together over the winter, a social event with a purpose, if you like.
The enthusiasm of those involved was obvious. The names are a living history of the place in which they’ve grown up and worked all their lives, forever evolving as land is bought and sold.
John Waggett, Tom Metcalfe, William Raw, Ken Guy, Norman Guy and Alan Coates with some of the maps recounting the old place names in Muker
“A lot of the people who came along, I didn’t know, but over the course of this, we got to know one another really well and had a great laugh,” said Richard.
“As an incomer, I didn’t really know what to expect, but people were so keen to help.”
What was recorded is a snapshot of how, in fifty years, many of the names will have moved on again, or maybe, as hill farming declines in favour of re-wilding and tree plantations, may be lost altogether.
With the aid of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Sustainability Fund, maps are now being produced by Leeds artist Anji Timlin.
The maps will be displayed at Keld Resource Centre, where there will also be a database of names for those who would like to use them.
“There will be many communities with their own names for their landscape, not recorded in books or on maps, perhaps in danger of being lost.
“Perhaps what happened in Muker, could be repeated by communities across the Dales, not just capturing a slice of history, but also bringing everyone together,” said Richard.
“I do think that everybody could be doing this, it’s living history. We had essentially three social evenings, in which everyone got to know one another, and at the end have produced this living document.
“We used a tithe map from about 1841, which was a great resource, a very useful document.”