Yorkshire Dales: From Dent’s terrible knitters to the ‘Yorkshire Yeti’ - new book unearths Dales' little-known facts

A new book unearths little-known facts about some of the unique aspects of the Dales – from Dent’s terrible knitters to the supposed ‘Yorkshire Yeti’. Chris Burn speaks to author Mike Appleton.

Mike Appleton might hail from Lancashire but his lifelong passion for the Yorkshire Dales started as a child – and has now resulted in not only a full-time job but five books on the subject.

Appleton works for the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust as its Plastic Free Woodlands Officer and Grants Officer and has just published his latest book on the area called A-Z of the Yorkshire Dales.

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The breezy book might only be 96 pages long but packs in a huge amount of fascinating detail about the stunning area and the people who live there.

Imposing limestone wall at Malham CoveImposing limestone wall at Malham Cove
Imposing limestone wall at Malham Cove

Appleton, who worked as a media officer for his beloved St Helens Rugby League Club before joining the Millennium Trust initially in a similar role, says: “I have always loved the Dales even though I am from St Helens. I used to come to the Dales with my dad when I was young and found myself drawn to the place.

"I spent most of my time in Dent whenever I went to the Dales. I absolutely loved playing in the river and building rafts and things like that.

"I wanted to do two things – work for St Helens Rugby League Club and I wanted to write a book on the Dales. I am lucky that I have done both.

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"My first book on the Dales was a look at the Three Peaks area – not as a guidebook but more to focus on the socio-economic picture of what was happening at the time.

Gours in the streamway. (Bill Nix)Gours in the streamway. (Bill Nix)
Gours in the streamway. (Bill Nix)

"I love telling stories and listening to people’s stories and that’s what I did with that book.

"This is now my fifth book on the Dales – I wanted to show people the things that are in the Dales that aren’t anywhere else or are seldom seen in other parts of the country.

“It is like the Malham Sedge Fly which is only found at Malham Tarn, various species of plant that aren’t anywhere else, sheep and some of the special characteristics of woodland that we have got but also the people as well."

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The ‘D’ section of the book focuses on his beloved Dentdale and tells the story of Dent’s ‘terrible knitters’ who in the 18th Century produced vast quantities of stockings for the army.

Although they were known as ‘great gossips’, the ‘terrible’ part of their name relates to the speed at which they knitted, rather than their personalities or the quality of what they produced.

The ‘Ds’ also covers dialect with a fascinating entry from Yorkshire Dales National Park media officer Andrew Fagg about dialect following a warning in the 1980s by the last dialect poet of Upper Wensleydale, Revd James Alderson, that it was doomed.

Fagg says that while that judgement has unfortunately proved to be sound, “dialect survives in a phrase here, a word there. Old women still ‘toddle’. Children picky with food are still occasionally called ‘kystie’. After a big meal I am fond of declaring myself ‘brossen’.”

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He adds: “Farming families probably use what’s left of dialect more than most. Go to Hawes Auction Mart today and you might see the seller of lamb’s hand, a coin or two to the buyer. ‘I’ll gi thee a bit o’luck,’ he says. ‘Luck money’ is a bit of ‘brass’ back on the official purchase price.

“The only way that dialect will survive is if people speak it. So please, let’s not talk about rams and ewes. Long live the tup and the ‘yow’.”

Appleton says: “I could have had a go at writing something like that but I just felt I needed an expert and I learnt so much from Andrew.”

One area where Appleton is very much an expert is caving, which is another big part of the book.

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One section of the book focuses on Robinsons’ Pot - an entrance to a cave that directly under the kitchen window of Darnbrook farm, a National Trust tenancy around 3 miles from Arncliffe.

Cavers needed a permit to access it but those who get one can simply lift the unassuming grate and descend seven metres into the passages below.

The book includes an interview with Deborah Hall, who lives at Darnbook with her partner James.

She says: “We moved here in 1995 and a lot of people have visited the cave since then. Students, caving clubs, Cave Rescue … all sorts have visited us. As long as we can carry on doing what we are doing then it doesn’t matter to us that there’s a cave entrance under the window. We even leave a hose pipe in the garden so people can wash themselves off.”

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While Appleton is an expert on many and varied aspects of Dales life, the ‘Y’ section of the book touches on something he only heard about relatively recently; the supposed Yorkshire Yeti.

Late last year he was sent a video about British cryptids – animals that some people believe may exist in the wild but are not recognised by science.

A 1974 video shown in schools explained that between 1956 and 1961, more than 20 sheep worrying incidents were said to have been to the actions of the Yorkshire Yeti. Sheep deaths in 1949 were also potentially attributed to the Yeti.

Appleton says he doesn’t know whether he believes in such tales but thinks it is an interesting area to explore. "There’s always truth in the strangest of myths. I think there must be some kind of truth in it – even whether it is a sheepdog that got loose that ended up in the wild. These stories get handed down through time.”

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When it comes to own enduring fascination with the Dales, that is based on something much more tangible.

"It is the people,” he says.

“I’ve never encountered a more friendly bunch of people who want to help you and tell you their stories. It is also that connection with my dad and looking back on my past.

“I just hope people learn something new from this book – that’s all I ever wanted to do. I want people to realise it is a special place because of the people and these unique things about the Dales and there are people working hard to ensure its viability for the future.”

A-Z of the Yorkshire Dales by Mike Appleton is out now, published by Amberley Publishing. Visit https://www.amberley-books.com/az-of-the-yorkshire-dales.html