Ten years ago I arrived in the village of Langcliffe on an extremely blustery night at around 1.30am. I’d given a talk in the Forest of Bowland earlier that evening and had decided that even though I might not find anywhere open to book in for the night I could always sleep in the Land Rover.
Thus it was that for my first story on the debut of Country Week I became The Grinch with my car perched on the incline that leads out of the village in the direction of Malham.
The wind was howling, the car swaying but at least I was on time for my interview with Langcliffe School’s headmistress to talk about how they were battling to keep it open; and with villagers about their community turning to a second home or holiday home retirement village.
Langcliffe lost its school two years later in December 2007. It has also lost its shop and post office, the one pub that was situated just out of the village The Bowerley has gone and a quarter of the properties are either second homes or holiday homes. It would be wrong to write of gloom and despondency as a result because that’s certainly not the case, as I found out when I talked with villagers this week.
Barbara Fiorato is chairman of the parish council. Dick Middleton is the caretaker of Langcliffe Village Institute where most community activity takes place. He’s 87, professes to be the village’s oldest resident and both he and Barbara were born here.
Eric Parker and David Croll moved in 20 and 22 years ago respectively. Eric is chairman of the institute committee and David is treasurer of the church.
Stephen Dawson is the priest in charge at St John the Evangelist; husband and wife Kenneth and Helen Atkinson are verger and church warden, and Pat Smelt says she has no responsibilities whatsoever but had an allotment - her involvement becomes clear later.
“Losing the school was a great blow to the village,” says Barbara. “We fought very hard to keep it. We’re doing our best but it’s not the same. There were lots of things that used to happen that were connected with it. The second major blow was the loss of the shop and post office. Without the school and shop this means there are those who live on the outskirts of the village who have no need to come into Langcliffe any longer whereas previously they would be dropping off children at school or using the shop or post office.”
A positive addition to the village’s calendar in the past decade has been their own village show.
“It started in 2012,” says Helen. “Ian and Barbara Johnson came to live in the village and had been involved in Giggleswick Village Show so they knew how to do it. Ours is on a smaller scale but everyone gets involved and we have classes for everything from garden produce to cakes, photography and handicrafts. It has been very successful and money made is distributed between the church and the institute. This year’s show will be held on August 15.”
In the summer the institute opens not just for the regular weekly activities that include indoor bowls, snooker, table tennis, badminton, dancing and fitness exercise among many others, but also for those who are visiting the Dales.
“We host our popular Summer Sunday teas from July to the end of September,” says Eric. “This all contributes to its upkeep. The institute is very well used with something happening every day. A lot of people don’t even know that Langcliffe is here because although it is mentioned on a sign in Settle there isn’t a prominent village sign to indicate that you should pull in from the Settle to Horton-in-Ribblesdale road, but we still get a good number who enjoy our teas.”
Those assembled have their own feelings about how second or holiday homes have affected Langcliffe.
“It makes it a different sort of village but I don’t think you could call it a problem,” says David. “It’s just how things are. They are nice houses and people buy them. Those who do come for weekends or holidays join in and become part of the community. Children play on the swings and on the village green.”
Pat has her own theory: “Properties bought for these purposes are not generally family houses as people know them today. They are mid-terraced two-up two-downs. You can’t get a washer, fridge and freezer in these kitchens and families demand more now.”
While the loss of local amenities have had an impact, another recent development has left a bad taste. Up until January 5 the village had eight allotments on land owned by Langcliffe Hall Estate.
Pat, who with her husband Alan tended their plot every day, said: “It is the most devastating incident to occur in the village in the past ten years other than the closure of the school. We’d had our allotment 30 years and grew all kinds of vegetables and fruit.
“We don’t know why the decision was made to clear the allotments and we respect the fact that it is the estate’s land but it was the manner in which it was handled that has caused so much ill-feeling,” says David.
“We were very sad to see the school go and we’re still hurt by what has happened with the allotments but it’s all now part of our history and we have to move on.”
Tiny community pulls together
Just a mile out of Settle, North Yorkshire, Langcliffe has a population of just 333.
Dick Middleton says he is the oldest of that number. He grew up as one of 11 boys in a mid-terrace.
“In those days if you tumbled into the fountain you were a real Langcliffer!” he says.
A man less senior, new village recruit, Stephen Dawson comes from a farming family on the slopes of Ingleborough and his role as priest at St John the Evangelist has earned him many village plaudits.
“I just try to get people together and help them deliver what they want to see happen – and the church services are much shorter! There are also a number of farms around here and my background perhaps helps.”