Grisedale: The 'abandoned' Yorkshire valley that came back to life

Grisedale
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The Dale That Died was one of the most illuminating documentaries of the 1970s.

Yorkshire Television film-maker Barry Cockcroft became a specialist in profiling the hard lives of those living in remote Pennine communities. It was Cockroft who brought Baldersdale farmer Hannah Hauxwell to wider attention, and she acquired a global fanbase.

Grisedale

Grisedale

One of his lesser-known projects was The Dale That Died, his 1975 film that depicted life in Grisedale, where 14 farmers had been reduced to just one, Joe Gibson.

Dent - the remote Dales railway station that became a holiday let
Then 61, Gibson was determined to eke out a living tending sheep at Mouse Syke Farm, the last working farm in the valley. The community had suffered a population exodus over several generations as harsh winters forced families out and young people sought opportunities elsewhere. Several derelict properties remained.

Described as 'wild and unkempt', Grisedale is close to Yorkshire's historic border with Westmorland. It's a 'cul-de-sac' dale, which compounds its isolation, and is nearly three miles long. It's beneath Baugh Fell and Wild Boar Fell. Garsdale, Sedbergh and Mallerstang are the nearest outposts of civilisation, and Garsdale has a railway station on the Settle to Carlisle Line. Few people pass through here.

Yet Grisedale has experienced something of a renaissance in recent years, and has been sought out by those who appreciate its seclusion, many of whom have renovated the old farmhouses. Farming may not be the prominent activity it was once, but the lonely dale's population has recovered.

Some of those who bought the historic farmhouses are 'incomers' who have moved from all over Britain in search of rural tranquility and authenticity.

Farmers remain - including Matthew Gibson, Joe's grandson, who keeps Swaledale sheep and still lives at Mouse Syke. His grandfather's fears that his family would abandon Grisedale proved unfounded.

The Yorkshire Post visited Grisedale in 2009 to speak to members of the newly-germinating community of retired city dwellers.

They met John Pratt, who keeps sheep, cob horses and Shetland ponies in the dale, although he lives outside it. He has farmed in the area all his life, and recalls that difficult post-war winters precipitated a decline in the community. He once sold a building to Erasure musician Vince Clarke, who wanted to open a recording studio and build a helipad - but when his plans were thwarted by planning regulations, he gave up and moved abroad.

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Residents of the Moor Rigg Cottages include a retired Metropolitan Police officer who swapped his London beat for the peace of the semi-wild, secret valley. Ian Squires and his wife Joan have no mains water and get their supply from a spring. They discovered Grisedale on a walking holiday.

A lawyer, Pat Thynne, restored a farmhouse called Reachey to its original condition using local tradesmen.

"I do feel slightly self-conscious about how much space I have compared to the people who used to live here. It's recorded that they had 12 children plus a farm worker living in the main house.

"There are a couple of brothers and their mother who I have met who used to live in Grisedale and come back to visit. The brothers say that it used to take two hours to walk to school - and they used to do it every day, even in bad weather.

"The family kept chickens here when it was a ruin, but they said they really like what I have done to the house. That gave me great satisfaction."

Another house, Aldershaw, was purchased by a couple from Cheshire in the late 1990s - the 17th-century property had been empty and derelict since the 1930s. The fantastically-named old farm Fea Fow became the weekend home of a piano teacher from Cambridge who discovered the grave of a small child who died during a harsh 1940s winter on her land, which was once a buttery with 64 acres.

East House was re-occupied by Linda Fawcett, who was the first person to move back into the dale after the exodus of the 1950s and 60s. She raised her family there before moving to Dent and renting out the property.

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Landscape photographer Stuart Petch visited Grisedale in 2016, and found another property, Blake Mire House, had recently been sold after a long spell on the market. An access road was under construction. The old Methodist chapel, Chapel House, has been converted into a holiday let.

Yet there were still signs of decay and abandonment - he came across the ruins of Rowantree, a stone house that had crumbled and was covered in moss and lichen. The farms at East Scale and West Scale are still desolate.