Fascinating features in our countryside

Stang Stoops:

What on earth is he on about this week you might ask? Well walking round the countryside there are many things which might attract your attention, the wildlife is certainly fascinating, as are the myriad of buildings, new, old and ruined.

As part of a continuing delve into our heritage and archaeology this is the start of a series of articles explaining what we might see on our walks. One thing all walkers will encounter during their expeditions is gates and stiles. Indeed many years ago whilst walking the Dales Way I recall someone I met on the way describing it as the way of a thousand different stiles, as each one seemed different.

The modern ones are usually made of wood and seem to have been purchased as a job lot. They probably were! But the next time you are out walking, pause a while to look to look at the stone ones and be prepared to be amazed at their different construction.

One of the most interesting is the stang stoop; a stang is a bar usually made of timber which fitted across a pair of stoops or gateposts. The stoops contained holes to accommodate the stang, which could be removed should folk wish to allow cattle or bulky items through. Sometimes the word is spelt stoup and described as a stone monolith for gateposts, although I prefer to ascribe the word monolith to those huge structures such as the Devil's Arrows at Boroughbridge. These holes were carved out of the stone, probably by chisel.

The distance between the stoops can be any size and can allow a horse and cart or just a packhorse through. A typical stoop might be seven foot long, tapering to the top and let into the ground about two foot six inches. The age of stang stoops is difficult to determine although it is clear that all field enclosures and trackways required gates and these can date back at least as far as the Iron Age, whilst many must be medieval,others dating from the Enclosure Acts.

Sadly as farmers acquire larger and larger vehicles entrances need widening and the gateposts, despite their fascinating heritage, need to be removed. Sad because many of these stang stoops not only reflect ancient times but in some cases are probably older than the farms and houses on whose property they sit. Next time you are out in the countryside keep a lookout for these ancient entrances and perhaps take a photograph for prosperity.

You might also find these stoops reused, perhaps as part of a newer stone wall or with gate crooks added. These were added by chiselling a hole out of the stone, placing the crook at the required position and then encasing it in a clay cup. Molten lead was then poured into the lead and any surplus lead pared off. Apparently this system was not without danger because the lead was liable to spit on contact with the metal crook and the heat from the molten lead necessitated the use of a very long handled ladle. It did of course mean the crook could be added whilst leaving the gatepost upright.

Macmillan Walk:

Why not join me on Saturday, May 20 for a walk in aid of Macmillan starting from The Old Station Inn, Birstwith at 10.30am. The walk coincides with The Old Station Inn's launch of a series of three walk leaflets all starting from the pub and which will be available on the day. The Birstwith walk will be around two miles and features some super countryside, Nidderdale's hidden delight - the Packhorse Bridge, monastic remains and lost trackways. It is suitable for most folk although we will have to negotiate a few stiles and if wet a muddy lane. If you do wish to come please join me at your own risk and a donation to Macmillan would be most welcome.

Travelling Through Time:

Travelling Through Time is the theme chosen by the Hartwith Heritage Group for its next open day on Wednesday, May 24, to be held at Hartwith Schoolroom on Stripe Lane, close to Hartwith Church. The exhibition concentrates on the south eastern area of the parish, where the Group has recently finished its studies, and will highlight their discoveries, old routes, bridges and buildings. The exhibition will also enable visitors to be brought up to date on the progress of the Group over the last 18 months.

The Schoolroom will be open between 2pm and 5pm, and then in the evening between 7pm and 9pm there is also the opportunity to join a guided walk within the area, for those interested in joining the walk please contact Jim Stark (01423 780765) to book a place as numbers are limited. The Group are always interested in new members joining, if you would like some walking in the summer and learning about studying the landscape and the fascinating history of the parish, call in to meet Group members on May 24 and learn more about the project.

The Hartwith Heritage Project is a fascinating attempt to explore the parish, discover its heritage and document the findings and involves not only desktop research but also much work outdoors as landscape detectives. Membership is free and members are able to work at their own pace on their own projects, if they so wish, provided they meet the group's overall aims.

Denmark Street:

If you know Harrogate then you will know where the Fire Station is on Skipton Road next to Grove Road School. Well some folk will also recall that this area prior to 1954 was known as Smith Hill through which ran Denmark Street, an area of housing, the Denmark tavern, boys club and a number of shops including a cobblers.

Well Walter Smith lived on Denmark Street and as part of his research for Bilton Historical Society is seeking more information about the place. If you have any memories, photographs or documents relating to the Smithy Hill area then please contact Walter on 01423 563389. Walter assures me that any such documents will be carefully copied and quickly returned in the condition he received them in. Alternatively drop them in to Bilton Historical Society on a Tuesday morning at Bilton Community Centre.

Farm Visit:

Harrogate District Local RSPB Group are holding a youth and young persons event this Sunday from 1-3pm. Meet at the car park in Ripley at 1pm to go to a local farm visitor centre and for a walk around the farm. Finish by 3pm. Details Danny Heptinstall 01423 548683


Nigel Bromhead recommends a walk along the Ripon canal tow path, outside the bypass by the racecourse towards the observation hides and beyond to where the canal meets the river Ure: “There was a great deal of activity in the sandy banks on the opposite side of the river, perhaps 50 - 75 sand martins flying around exploring the holes in the banks. These banks have no access to the public so this perhaps explains such a popular site but it certainly made a spectacular sight and is well worth a visit.”

Darren Henderson of Bilton, Harrogate, reports seeing two deer come down the banking from the old railway line. They came down on to the main footpath that leads to the railway bridge that takes you over to Claro Road. Darren got to within about 20 feet, before they heard him and ran off back up the banking and onto the old railway track.

Recent Nidderdale sightings include a male merlin on Heyshaw Moor, wheatears on Coldstones Moor and around Duck Street, redshank around Padside and a beautiful snipe on Dallowgill Moor.

Bob Debell of Collingham was in Lanstrothdale Chase recently when he was delighted to see a pair of goldcrest. Perhaps town council meetings are not as dull as folk suspect.

At a recent Knaresborough Town Council meeting one of the councillors said red kites had been spotted recently flying over Forest Moor Road, Calcutt, near Knaresborough. The news was apparently welcomed by all those present!

Dave Graves sent me this photograph of a lovely holly blue butterfly (below) that has been visiting his garden on Knox Lane, Harrogate for the past two weeks.