Village focus: Horton-in-Ribblesdale

IT WAS not long after dawn that the day's first bus rolled into Horton-in-Ribblesdale, and unloaded its cargo of 50 for a day's walking around Pen-y-ghent.

Horton-in-Ribblesdale

The July pilgrims represented passing trade for the village’s two pubs and two cafes, but as they took in the incomparable Dales scenery, they could have been forgiven for not noticing that elsewhere in Horton, all was not well.

The tiny school that had been at the heart of the community for three centuries had just rung the playground bell for the last time and closed its doors for ever.

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Villagers had put together a detailed case to keep it open, and more than 50 people – a busful – had put their case to an independent schools adjudicator. But their appeal against the county council’s decision to close it was denied.

Horton-in-Ribblesdale

There was, said Nicky Rhodes, co-chairman of the school’s governors and a mother of two pupils there, a feeling of social injustice and community loss.

Five months on, the wound is still bare. The tourist buses will return next season but the little Church of England primary will not.

“The village is still is shook,” said Richard Welch, a councillor on both the county and Craven district councils.

“There is ill feeling and a few bad tempers. They lost their shop, they lost the post office, and now this.

Horton-in-Ribblesdale

“We fought long and hard to keep the school but the numbers were diminishing, there’s a lack of affordable housing, a shortage of families in the village and a lot of holiday cottages and second homes.

“It’s probably very much the same as what’s happening all over in North Yorkshire at the moment.”

There were just 12 pupils on the school roll. They and eight others who were due to start are now being bused the five miles to Austwick. The outbound school bus crosses the inbound tourist one.

Coun Welch reckoned that as many as 47 other schools in the county might also face a fight for their future. The primary at Rathmell, eight miles south of Horton, closed this year.

The paradox that is Horton – a honeypot for tourists but not for families – is a conundrum familiar across the Dales. Its 350 inhabitants work at the nearby quarries or in farming or are retired. A few commute.

“Lack of employment is probably the main concern,” Coun Welch said. “People are getting priced out of the local housing market.”

Horton is popular with walkers navigating the Three Peaks, but the walkers themselves are less popular.

“They do get noisy, very early on,” Coun Welch said.

“One person put up a sign that read ‘Congratulations on finishing the route – but don’t tell everyone on the village about it’.”