All barns great and small! Dales’ ‘laithes’ receive a makeover

May 25, 2022

Two field barns which helped make the Dales landscape world famous have been restored with the support of the family of the late All Creatures Great and Small author, Alf Wight.

Alf, better known by his pen name ‘James Herriot’, loved the Yorkshire Dales.

Through his world-famous books, he shared his experiences of living and working as a vet in North Yorkshire. He had a great affection for the people, the animals, and the landscape of this unique part of the world.

Working with the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and with the support of Alf’s daughter Rosie Page – who is now a YDMT ambassador – we have been able to help restore two barns in Arkengarthdale to their former glory.

The aim? To leave a legacy not only to the landscape but also to the famous author.

At Low Eskeleth, specialist contractors repaired the roof with existing slates, replaced the door frame, half the stable door and small window to the front of the building, and repointed using traditional lime mortar.

And just three miles away, at Whaw, they restored the ‘cowhouse’ by re-roofing, replacing defective timbers and lintel, and repairing the main barn walls by pinning and repointing.

Rosie said: “Dad was brought up in Glasgow; he was a city boy, but with a deep-seated love of the great outdoors. From the moment he first saw the view of the Swale valley from Grinton Moor, he was enchanted by the Yorkshire Dales, and he had a particular affinity with the wild scenery of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. Over the years he imbued my brother Jim and I with the same love of these remote areas.

“I feel privileged to be in a position to be able to help, in a small way, with the wonderful work which YDMT are doing to preserve the beauty and heritage of the Dales for future generations to enjoy. Donating in Dad’s memory seems absolutely right and fitting; I am certain that it is something that he would be very proud to support.”

Arkengarthdale has many small field barns, or cowhouses as they are known in the area. They formed part of a unique style of farming which probably started in the seventeenth century and continued on into living memory.

The names of the parts of the local cowhouses preserve the old ‘Swardle’ dialect, which had its origins among the many Scandinavian farmers who settled in the northern dales from the eighth century AD.

YDMT Development Officer, Sarah Hodgson, added: “Preserving the built and cultural heritage of this special landscape is something we have actively been involved in since 1997. In recent years, we have restored more than 10 barns and 4,050m of drystone wall, and have given grants to help local organisations protect heritage features such as water fountains and milestones across the Dales.

“We’re delighted to be able to help provide a feature for the Dales that Alf would have known well. It is also fitting that both barns are located in the landscape used for the filming of the original All Creatures Great and Small. We’re looking forward to being able to show everyone the fantastic restoration of these barns and supporting more new projects over the coming years.”