Windswept land of myth and 800-year-old spells

PIC: Bruce Rollinson
PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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The famous limestone pavement at Sleights is pictured, above, looking up towards Ingleborough, beneath brooding, leaden clouds.

A lone tree provides a stark focal point as it grows amid the exposed rock, its branches scratching at the dour sky.

People have had a presence here since at least the Iron Age, as the remains of a nearby hill fort testify. Also nearby at the High Bridestones, standing stones which are though to be the remnants of stone circles.

Windswept and lashed by rain, this landscape provides timeless views across the Esk Valley. The area is rightly considered one of the most beautiful in the country and is a mecca for hill walkers and tourists. Popular walks in the are range from just a few hours to a few days. It is also popular with fell runners, who use the area’s challenging inclines to test their mettle.

The stones which litter the land here are thought to have once been the bed of an ancient shallow sea which existed tens of thousands of years ago.

The village of Sleights sits next to the river, which is the only salmon river in Yorkshire. There is a salmon leap there, which allows the fish to migrate up the river to their spawning grounds.

The name Sleights means ‘a flat place near the water’, although it is thought this probably refers to an old location, as at present most of the houses are built on the hillsides.

One old story related to the village has it that an 800-year-old tradition began here, specifically at a chapel about a mile-and-a-half upstream from one of its two churches. It is said that in 1159, a boar being chased by hunters took refuge there and a hermit monk who dwelt there refused to give it to the three hunters. So, they beat him and he later died.

When the Abbot of Whitby heard of this, he insisted the three and their descendants do penance for the crime, by planting a hedge in the mud of Whitby harbour at 9pm on October 16, such that it would withstand three tides. The ‘spell’ was only broken in 1981 when a freak high tide prevented the planting.

TECHnical Details: Canon 1DX MK11, Canon 24-70 f 2.8, 640th sec @f 6.3.