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Sunday, 4 January 2009


I live quite close to Cockfield Fell which is the largest scheduled ancient monument in England. This is because it has a history dating from pre-Roman times and has remained unenclosed ( not owned by anybody) in all that time. These days locals can request the right to graze animals from the Fell Reeves for an agreed annual rent and so horses, sheep, cattle and poultry range freely across the pastures. The village is located to the south of the fell and we started our walk there.

These gaudily coloured buildings are old pigeon crees (lofts). Once a common hobby of coal miners, the crees were built from any available materials and I think the gaily painted fence-tops at the front were to deter the birds from roosting there and to encourage them to re-enter their boxes. Sadly these are no longer in use. Many of the miners are no longer alive or able to care for their birds. Pigeon fancying and racing are still more prevalent in the north of England though, and I have seen the owners gathering in country lanes nearby to release the racers.

The fell has been occupied, farmed and mined for over two thousands years. The evidence of mining ranges from mediaeval bell pits to the shafts and drifts (adits) of the last century.

This pockmarked country shows the remains of the old mine workings. These indicate the locations of the old bell pits. The hole in the ground was the shaft and the miners dug down and around themselves to extract minerals such as coal and iron ore. When the hole got dangerous and the roof started falling, they got out and started a new one next to it. That left a bell shaped hole where they had been. The old holes were often filled with the spoil from the next hole.

Quarrying has scarred the fell along the line of the Cleveland Dyke in order to extract Whin stone for use in road building. This stone left the fell by railway. The picture below shows the remains of the Gordon House Colliery tramway which descended to the Haggerleases branch of the Stockton to Darlington Railway. The branchline ran along the valley of the Gaunless river, a tributary of the Wear.

Along the valley bottom are the remains of many "Bee Hive coke ovens". These were used to produce coke from the highly volatile coals of the local mines. The coke was used in iron smelting and highly sought after. The heat created in these closed ovens was sufficient to cause the firebrick lining to glaze with use.

We wandered back up the fell from the valley, past the horses and ponies, the Swaledale black-faced sheep, the chickens and the lads and dogs out rabbiting. The weather was fine and still and the views were distant as we sat on the heathland grass tussocks and had our picnic.

Today I woke to a few inches of snow. More has fallen since but the sunshine is encouraging me to go out even though it is too weak to melt the snow.

Tomorrow another ramble is planned and I am hoping that the snow will last so that I can make footprints.

Cheers for now


sue said...

How interesting to read all that. I love learning about the past of things. At least you are a great teacher and a great storyteller. I hope you get your wish for more snow too.

Heide said...

What a fabulous living history you're surrounded with! Thank you for sharing.