THE Yorkshire Dales is not where you would expect to unearth an historic longbow believed to have been used by hill tribes in India.
It was initially thought the weapon found beneath the floorboards of a disused chapel near Bolton Abbey was an English longbow, but it now appears to be of more exotic origins.
Experts including the actor Robert Hardy, who played vet Siegfried Farnon in BBC TV's All Creatures Great and Small and is a respected authority on the history of the longbow, as well as staff from the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds have helped piece together information about the find.
But many gaps still remain and those that made the discovery are hoping people will come forward with information to help them piece together the missing pieces of the puzzle.
The bow was found beneath floorboards in the unused chapel of The Priests House, part of the Grade I Barden Tower complex, near Burnsall. The Priests House is now a restaurant run by Leeds restaurateur Debbie Leathley and her husband Steve, and is part of the ruin of Barden Tower.
The six-foot tall bow, which is in good condition but minus its string, was found by head chef Mark Finch under the floorboards of an old, deconsecrated and disused chapel, which lies beneath the restaurant. Experts believe the weapon is early Victorian and originates from the Nagpur region of central India. It is a type which was commonly used by hill tribes.
Mr Leathley said: "Exactly how this ended up in rural Yorkshire hidden away is a complete mystery and one with which we would like some help.
"Is it evidence of the extent of the ancient trade routes or perhaps a gift brought back from abroad? I guess we will never know, but we'd like to appeal to readers to help solve this curious mystery."
Initially it was thought the bow may have belonged to Henry Clifford, who rebuilt the hunting lodge at Barden in the late 15th century.
Peter Algar, from Horsforth, Leeds, a historian and author of The Shepherd Lord, a novel about the legend of Henry Clifford, said: "It is one piece flat bow and differs from that of a traditional longbow, which has rounded limbs that are circular or D-shaped in cross-section.
"It was likely used for hunting, as Barden used to have its own deer park, or perhaps for target practice as archery was very popular in past times.
"It is handcrafted and the bowyer knew what he was doing as he left the knots in when shaving the bow staff to maintain its strength. It must therefore have taken a reasonably strong draw weight.
"I spoke to Robert Hardy, who was consulted when a large cache of bows like these were discovered in the hold of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship.
"Under the auspices of the Towton Battlefield Society, and recommendation from our resident archeologist, Tim Sutherland, it was agreed to take it for dating and expert analysis to the Royal Armouries at Leeds.
"It looks more like a hunting bow than a war bow, but the people I have spoken to say it is certainly significant and has got one or two people baffled."
Experts believe the bow is likely to have arrived in Britain when a shipment of weapons is thought to have come into the country from India, although establishing a precise date is difficult because of the way the bow was preserved.
Mr Algar said one possibility was that it could have been brought back to Yorkshire during the days of the British Empire when these types of items were collected.
The bow was discovered during a tidy-up of the disused chapel, and it was found purely by chance beneath the floorboards close to the chapel's altar, which had been boarded-up and was being used as a storage area.
Mrs Leathley, from Pudsey, Leeds, added: "This building is quite fascinating. We never know what we might stumble across next."
Anyone with information can contact Mr or Mrs Leathley via the restaurant's website at http://thepriestshouse.co.uk
Echoes of the Shepherd Lord
BARDEN Tower and its chapel have long historical associations with the so-called Shepherd Lord, Henry Clifford.
Clifford lost his aristocratic father in the War of the Roses and, as heir to his estates in Skipton and the surrounding areas, fled into the wilds of Yorkshire.
He was unsuccessfully hunted by Edward IV because of bad blood between the then ruling Yorkist faction and the local Clifford family, who lived at Skipton Castle. As a result, he was brought up as a shepherd boy before he was eventually restored to his estates under Henry VII. Clifford then rebuilt Barden Tower and made it his principal residence.
Historian Peter Algar, who thought the bow may have belonged to Clifford, said: "He needed a place of calm so that he could re-connect with his rustic upbringing.. In fact, he had the chapel built under the mezzanine of the Priests House for this purpose."