In an extract from his new book celebrating the joys of walking , Stuart Maconie debates the thorny issue of Yorkshire Dales boundaries.
Just off Junction 37 of the M6 lies the town of Sedbergh. Nice place it is too. Literature fans will enjoy its ‘book town’ status. There’s a good and diverse music festival every June. And the walking’s good.
The town nestles at the foot of the Howgill Fells, Wainwrights’s sleeping elephants, and you can wander here all day, from Winder to Arant Haw, from Cautley Spout to The Calf, and sometimes not see a soul, even on a Bank Holiday Monday.
On the main street there’s a shop that for years boasted my favourite sign in the world, one that I mention often during my book talks about Middle England and that has even been immortalised as one of my radio jingles.
In thick black marker on a hand-made poster in the shop window it reads ‘Please note; we do not sell lightbulbs or batteries!!’; the ‘not’ and the ‘or’ treble-underlined for emphasis.
This speaks volumes about some of our national traits. Because clearly the only need for such a sign is if a fairly constant stream of people are entering the shop asking sheepishly for the aforesaid items. In the USA, the land of Victor Kyam, Bill Gates and Henry Ford, I’m pretty sure they’d be getting a box of both put by. Not here.
There’s something hilariously, vexatingly English, something very ‘folded arms’ and ‘we’ve never done that sort of thing here and we aren’t about to start’ about it.
Sedbergh, or rather the countryside hereabouts, has been at the heart of a very English row. Or a very Yorkshire one anyway. Essentially, discussions have been afoot on boundary changes to extend the Yorkshire Dales National Park further into parts of Cumbria and Lancashire.
Already Sedbergh is in this curious position of being in the country of Cumbria but the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
However under recent proposals, the Northern Howgill Fells, Mallerstang and Wild Boar Fell, Middleton, Barbon and Leck Fells, Firbank Fell and the Lower Lune Valley would all be included in the National Park. And in the event of this extension of course, it starts to become problematic if that park is still to be known as the ‘Yorkshire Dales’ .
Yes, there’s a whiff of Anschluss and an echo of Sudentenland – a very, very gentle echo of it – around this gorgeous, lonely part of England. And, unsurprisingly I’d say, but then I’m Lancastrian, most of the fuss has been generated east of the Pennines.
You see, it’s being mooted that the National Park be renamed the Dales and some folks are reet brassed off abaht it. There is, inevitably, a Facebook campaign. I just looked at it on the site and saw almost immediately, and just as inevitably, the phrase ‘God’s Own Country’.
A member of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Mr Blackie, said: “There must be some geographic anchor if we are to keep the Yorkshire Dales special. The scenery is iconic and is the very definition of what Yorkshire is about.” Poul Christensen, chair of Natural England, said when announcing the start of the consultation: “If we do not protect the name and identity, then we are doing the people of Yorkshire a great disservice.”
I can sort of see their point. But I can also see that the good folk of the disputed bits of Lancashire will not take kindly to being absorbed into anything bearing the name Yorkshire.
We do have a bit of form in this regard. Look up the Battle of Towton if you don’t believe me.
Does it matter? Will Randygill and Yarlside be any less lovely? Will Nine Standards Rigg become any more humdrum? Will Wild Baugh Fell become any less austere and wonderful? Will they start to sell lightbulbs and batteries in Sedbergh? I’ll keep you informed.
The walking Lancastrian
Stuart Maconie is a broadcaster, journalist, author, presenter of the afternoon show on BBC6 Music and above all an avid walker.
Three years ago he completed all 214 Wainwright fells and once walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall as part of a special outside broadcast for his radio show.
Previous books have included Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North and Adventures on the High Teas: In Search of Middle England.
Never Mind the Quantocks by Stuart Maconie is out now, published by David & Charles, priced £10.99.