Village Focus: Crayke – Vale of tranquillity

Crayke, near Easingwold
Crayke, near Easingwold
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It is a chocolate box village in the Vale of York, with a castle at the top and a pub at the bottom, and it would be easy to imagine – especially on a fine spring day when the daffodils line the route between – that life has not much changed since the bishops of Durham passed through, on their way south.

But in Crayke, as in many a rural idyll, appearances can be deceptive.

Sitting two miles to the east of Easingwold, with panoramic views west to the Pennines and east to the Yorkshire Wolds, it has been an agricultural community for centuries – and at the start of the last one, it supported 34 working farms.

It also kept around six shops going, including a butcher’s and a greengrocer’s. But a generation has passed since the last one went.

The generation in question is one Michael Ibbotson, who has run the remaining pub, the Durham Ox, for the last 20 years, calls Crayke’s baby boomers.

“There was a period, about 15 years ago, when the village was full of small children,” he said.

“Now it’s turned full circle and those kids come and work for me, on their way to university where they go on to do wonderful things.”

Gerard Shepherd, who has been in the village since the 1970s and organises a local website, has also seen how it has adapted to the challenges of modern life.

“The farming families are still here, but with mechanisation, there are fewer people working on the land,” he said.

“In the 1980s, it would have been considered a commuter village, but even that has changed. People do it from home these days. The commuting era seems to be behind us”.

Crayke’s old village hall was sold long ago for housing, and the castle, Grade I listed and dating from the 15th century, is also in private hands. At one time it was owned by Kevin Hollinrake, then an estate agent and now the local MP.

Now, the modern sports pavilion has taken on the additional role of community centre.

“We’re trying to bring a lot of the old village hall activities back, and get in the side of the village that isn’t really into sports,” Mr Shepherd said.

“The community side of life has increased dramatically over the years. With the shops gone, it’s the pub where everyone goes to meet, eat, dance and have fun.”

Among those doing so, since 2015, have been up to 65 attendees at a time of Friendship Lunches, organised to combat loneliness and rural isolation. The Ox was the first in Yorkshire to host them, and interested visitors included the then Prime Minister, David Cameron.

Mr Ibbotson said: “Businesses like to keep their initiatives close to their chest but this is one that I hope everyone else will copy.”

As late as Victorian times, Crayke remained a detached part of County Durham, a legacy of the ownership by the Diocese there of the castle.

“It was an island of Durham in the middle of the North Riding,” said Colin Merritt, chair of the parish council. “It was about three miles across with a three-mile circumference.”

There has been a castle on the hill since the 13th century.