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A day of waterfalls

Wensleydale

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Wensley Falls

The name of Wensleydale is almost synonymous with its cheese, but there is more to the place than that. It is a beautiful valley, like all the Yorkshire Dales, although perhaps surprisingly the river that runs through it is not called the Wensley, but the Ure (Wensley is the name of one of its smaller villages). It is more visited than Swaledale to the north, perhaps because of that famous cheese!

We recently spent a very pleasant day out exploring the dale and visiting some of its many waterfalls and other attractive spots. The weather could have been better, but could also have been worse – it was cloudy but mostly dry although we had rain towards the end of the day. Nevertheless we managed to see a lot and had some very pleasant walks.

Wensley Falls

This small waterfall is often overlooked, and we therefore had it to ourselves when we stopped for a quick look on our way up the valley. We parked in the car park of the White Rose Candle Workshop on the edge of the village and followed a short path which brought us out at a viewpoint below the falls. The rocks were wet and a little slippery, so I had to balance carefully while taking these shots!

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Wensley Falls

Aysgarth Falls

These falls are far better known than Wensley Falls, and are among the dale’s most popular attractions, so unsurprisingly we didn’t have these to ourselves! There are actually three separate falls here, named rather prosaically Upper, Middle and Lower Falls. From the car park you walk a short distance in one direction to reach the Upper Falls, then retrace your steps, cross the road, and follow a longer path, about a kilometre each way, which passes the Middle Falls and then carries on to the Lower Falls.

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First view of the Upper Falls

The Upper Falls were the busiest, being the easiest to reach, but you could hardly call them crowded and it was easy to get good angles for photography. Like all three sections of Aysgarth, the falls are not very deep, and the water was brown – rich with peat from the moors above thanks to recent heavy rains.

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The Upper Falls

I experimented with slow shutter speeds and was quite pleased with some of the results even though I had to handhold the camera.

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The Upper Falls

The Middle Falls were livelier, and we could get a bit closer to the water here.

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The Middle Falls

The longer walk to the Lower Falls was pretty, leading through a patch of woodland and alongside some meadows with wild flowers. We passed a beautifully carved wooden bench. I thought the lines on it might be a quotation from something written about this area, but they don’t appear to be.

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On the walk to the Lower Falls

The falls themselves were, I thought, the prettiest of the three sections, surrounded by trees and attractively lichen-covered slabs of limestone. It was possible to walk a short distance right down by the water across some of these slabs, adding to the number of photo opportunities – I took loads of pictures here!

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The Lower Falls from the path

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The Lower Falls

Aysgarth Falls have attracted artists over the centuries – Turner painted them, and Wordsworth waxed lyrical about them, as did John Ruskin. More recently they were the setting for some scenes in Kevin Costner's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, including the famous fight scene between Robin Hood and his friend Little John – explaining perhaps the growing number of visitors.

Semer Water

After visiting Aysgarth we continued west up the dale, but took a detour down a narrow country road to see Semer Water – another location painted by JMW Turner. This the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire and one of only two natural lakes to be found in the Yorkshire Dales. The River Bain flows out of the lake and into the Ure – at only two miles long it has the distinction of being the shortest river in England.

The beauty of the lake has attracted many artists, of whom the most famous is Turner who visited the lake on 26th July 1816 on one of his many tours. Across the road from the lake is a raised area with a bench which is supposedly sited at the spot where Turner sketched Semer Water.

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Semer Water - Turner's view

It may well have been beautiful when he visited but trees have grown up and partly obscured the view from his bench, and on this dull day I didn’t find myself especially inspired by the landscape.

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Semer Water - the view from the water's edge

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Fishermen at Semer Water

Hardraw Force

Back in Wensleydale we carried on westwards to the popular small town of Hawes, where the famous cheese is made. It was thronged with visitors (enjoying a covid-safe staycation, no doubt) and in any case we hadn’t planned a stop here, so we turned north to cross the river and followed it a short distance on the other side to Hardraw, the location of England`s largest single drop above-ground waterfall. The falls are on private land belonging to a pub, the Green Dragon, but open to the public on payment of a small fee. We’d intended to park in the pub car-park but it was full, so we drove just beyond the village where we found roadside parking on a grass verge, along with several other cars. We decided to eat the picnic lunch we’d brought in the car (a very English thing to do), enjoying the view of the dale in front of us. Then we walked back to the pub to visit the falls.

The owners have invested some at least of the money they make from having the falls on their property in developing the land around them. There is a network of paths through the ravine (Hardraw Scar or Scaur) on both sides of the river which you can follow to reach the waterfall, and good viewpoints once you get there. The weather had turned a bit worse by now, with drizzle in the air, but that’s the price you pay for the beautiful green shades of the landscapes around here!

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Hardraw Force

The falls drop about 100 feet into a rocky pool. Like Aysgarth they were visited by Wordsworth and Turner, both of whom stayed at the Green Dragon. And also like Aysgarth, they were used as a location in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, for the scene where Maid Marian catches Robin Hood bathing under a waterfall.

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Hardraw Force

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At Hardraw Force

Hardraw

After visiting the falls we had a quick look around Hardraw itself. I took a photo of the late 19th century church, dedicated to St Mary and St John, but we didn’t try to go inside (it was almost certainly locked, as most churches have been during the coronavirus pandemic, although some are now opening up for worship). The church was used as Darrowby Church in the original TV series of All Creatures Great and Small (I don’t know if the new series also has scenes filmed here).

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Typical Yorkshire dry-stone wall

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Church of St Mary and St John

The clouds were low over the fells but the fields were still a lovely shade of green. The landscape here is just a little tamer than that of Swaledale to the north and the sheep slightly less hardy-looking, but it is nevertheless a bleak place in winter.

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Landscape near Hardraw

Askrigg and Mill Gill Force

We took the quieter and narrower road north of the river back down the dale, and made our last stop of the day in Askrigg. Here we followed a rather longer walk to Mill Gill Force. This started by St Oswald’s Church and followed a village street, Mill Lane, until this petered out into a stone path, which led us across a field with good views of the fells including the distinctively flat-topped Addlebrough.

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Addlebrough Fell from the path to Mill Gill Force

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Sheep sheltering from the rain

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Lichen on a wall

The path then entered the woods and crossed the stream, Paddock Beck. It was quite muddy underfoot as we followed the ravine. At one point the path forked and the signpost was somewhat obscured by trees but we had met another couple shortly before who had warned us about this and told us to take the right-hand fork to reach the falls, which we did. We arrived at a good viewpoint just as the rain, which had been threatening for some time, also arrived, so we stayed under the trees taking photos from a distance.

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Mill Gill Force

When it seemed clear that the rain was here to stay for a while, we decided not to risk exposing our cameras to more water by trying to get closer to the falls. So we turned back on the same path and returned to the village – at which point, of course, it stopped raining!

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In Askrigg

I took a few photos in the village before it could start again, then we headed back to the car and to the cosy apartment we were renting in Leyburn, happy with our waterfall-filled day out.

Posted by ToonSarah 08:34 Archived in England Tagged landscapes waterfalls lakes england views village weather yorkshire Comments (14)

A Cornish birthday

St Ives

‘As I was going to St Ives’

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St Ives harbour in stormy weather

My birthday falls at the end of October and we often go away, usually abroad. But with work being done at home (installation of new wardrobes) our holiday time was limited this year, so we decided on a break closer to home. I’ve been wanting to go to St Ives for some time, having not been to Cornwall since family holidays as a child, so that was our choice. We hoped for good weather (it quite often is fine and sunny at that time of year in England) but knew there was plenty to do there if it rained, in the form of the newish Tate St Ives and numerous smaller galleries and artists’ studios. Just as well, as it turned out!

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St Ives harbour

We decided to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel, which also proved to be a good decision, and to travel by train rather than drive the long distance from London. The train journey took us along one of the most scenic stretches of rail track in the country, so close to the sea in parts of Devon that some years ago it was totally destroyed in winter storms. Thankfully today’s weather, although wet, wasn’t bad enough to pose a threat to the line and our journey went smoothly – a long run from London via Exeter, Plymouth and Truro before changing at St Erth for the little branch line to St Ives. Waiting in the wind and rain at that small station I think we both wondered why we hadn’t made the time to go to Sicily, our original plan!

Arriving in St Ives we walked to the apartment following directions sent by its owner. These led us along what would be in fine weather a pleasant path right by the sea, but which today was at one point being regularly swamped by large waves. I manged to dash between them but Chris was not so lucky and got caught, resulting in a pair of decidedly wet trousers! Luckily our accommodation was only a short distance further, above a shoe shop near the market hall and parish church. We let ourselves in with the key that had been sent to us a week previously and climbed two flights of stairs to the very cosy flat. We liked it immediately, with its seaside themed décor and view of the sea beyond the roof-tops.

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Apartment sitting room

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Apartment bedroom

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Apartment kitchen

We settled in and, given the weather, decided not to go far on this first evening. Our hostess had kindly given us lots of local restaurant recommendations and one which appealed, Beer and Bird, was only a few minutes’ walk up the main street, Fore Street. This consists of a ground floor bar and first floor restaurant, and although it was busy we got a good table in the latter. We enjoyed our meal on the whole, but had to wait a long while for our main courses because the wood-fired pizza oven was playing up, and Chris had ordered pizza! They really should have just told us that pizzas were off for the evening as despite that being his favourite, I’m sure he’d have found something else on the extensive menu as an alternative. As it was, when the pizza did finally arrive, alongside my very good halibut, its crust was disappointingly brittle although the topping was good. Still, it had been a pleasant evening on the whole – and some dry weather was promised for tomorrow!

A wet birthday in St Ives

My heading above tells a different tale from that weather forecast. We awoke to rain that lasted most of the day, off and on (mostly on!) Clearly it was a day for indoor pursuits so after breakfast at a nearby café (Scoff Troff, which failed to live up to the rave review provided by our hostess but was OK) we walked along Fore Street to its northern end and then followed signs that led us to Tate St Ives by Porthmeor Beach.

Tate St Ives

As the name suggests, Tate St Ives is a regional hub of the original Tate Gallery in London (now Tate Britain) and the Tate Modern. It was preceded by the gallery’s first venture out of the capital, Tate Liverpool, and opened in 1993. A fairly remote small Cornish seaside town may seem an odd choice of location for a major gallery, but once you know something of St Ives’ history and its long association with artists it becomes much less surprising.

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Tate St Ives entrance

There is something special about the quality of light in this part of the country which has always tended to attract artists, and once the railway came to the town in 1877 many visited from London for short or longer stays. A local fisherman, Alfred Wallis, had taken up painting following the death of his wife, and his naïve style appealed to visiting artist Ben Nicholson, influencing his move towards more abstract art. When the Second World War started, Nicholson moved to St Ives with his wife, sculptor Barbara Hepworth, and other artists followed – Naum Gabo, Patrick Heron, Bernard Leach and many more.

The heyday of what became known as the St Ives School was in the 1950s and 60s, but the town continues to attract artists and is home to many small galleries and studios. Barbara Hepworth’s former home and studio has been open to the public for some years, displaying many of her works in the setting where she created them, and was taken over by the Tate in 1980, so it was a natural next step for them to build a new gallery in the town dedicated to the art movement that bears its name.

We bought our tickets, opting for combined ones that also included the Hepworth Studio, on our to-do list for tomorrow when it should be drier (most of the sculptures are exhibited in the garden). Although not large the gallery has a series of rooms telling the story of the St Ives School with works by all of the more famous artists considered members and others I hadn’t heard of.

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Artwork by by Otobong Nkanga

There are also rooms devoted to temporary exhibitions which were showing works by Otobong Nkanga, a Nigerian artist now living in Antwerp. She uses tapestry alongside photography, painting and video, and I found some of the works very intriguing. The exhibition From Where I Stand explored ‘the politics of land and its relationship to the body, and histories of land acquisition and ownership’, according to the Tate website, but I liked it most for the colours employed in her tapestries and the interesting video showing how she works to bring her huge designs to life.

After looking around the gallery we made our way to the top floor café where we were lucky to secure a table for our coffee break, as the café is quite small and the weather was far too inclement for anyone to be sitting out on the terrace! On finer days there would be wonderful views of Porthmeor Beach from here; as it was, the windows were streaked with rain and, inspired perhaps by all the art we had seen, I had fun creating my own abstract images using the colours of sea and sand blurred by raindrops. Even in this weather I could see that there was indeed something rather special about the light here.

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Rainy day photography, Tate St Ives

Porthmeor Beach

After our coffee we took advantage of a brief let-up in the rain to get a few photos of Porthmeor Beach. Quite a few people were braving the elements to walk dogs and a few even to surf!

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Porthmeor Beach

We then headed back to Fore Street where we had a light lunch in one of the pubs, the Union Inn – good toasted sandwiches and local beer. After our meal we visited some of the studios and independent shops. As it was my birthday Chris had suggested I pick out a gift here, and I found a pretty silver necklace in a Celtic design at Silver Origins at the southern end of Fore Street.

We spent the rest of the afternoon back in our cosy apartment before wrapping up again to walk to the restaurant where we had booked a table for my birthday dinner. The Porthminster Kitchen was another of our hostess’s recommendations and had also been suggested by a foodie friend who holidays here regularly, and what a good choice it proved to be. OK, we couldn’t really make the most of the lovely setting overlooking the harbour, but that didn’t matter when the food was so good and the service so friendly. Of course I had to have some local fish and chose mackerel pate followed by a hake special, both of which were delicious, while Chris had scallops and a pasta dish. An excellent evening – and surely tomorrow at last it would stop raining?!

A brighter day

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Harbour

Yes! We awoke to skies which, if not exactly bright, were lighter and no longer throwing water at us. So after breakfast at another local café (a much more successful choice, the Cornish Bakery on Fore Street) we walked down to the harbour, hoping to get better photos than we had managed yesterday.

There were a lot of birds on the lifeboat slipway which subsequent research indicated could be Turnstones in their winter plumage, or possibly some sort of Sandpiper – bird-watching friends might correct me, of course!

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Bird at the harbour

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The Island

We followed the water’s edge, taking a few more photos as we went. At the far side of the bay that forms the harbour is St Ives’ most distinctive natural feature, the Island. Despite its name this is not an island but a peninsula, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus and separating the harbour from Porthmeor Beach. On a map it looks to me a little like a face in profile, with a hook nose, a shock of hair and a very thin beard!

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Map showing the Island

There are great views from the Island of the coast in either direction.

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Panoramic view east from the Island

Rocky outcrops offshore were dotted with cormorants, and further away we could see Godrevy Lighthouse on its small islet. The lighthouse was built in the 1850s as a result of numerous shipwrecks on the Stones Reef – most famously one in 1649 when a ship carrying many personal effects of King Charles I, including his entire wardrobe, was lost. This is the lighthouse that inspired Virginia Woolf to write ‘To the Lighthouse’, a novel I studied for my A Level English Literature course, although she locates the lighthouse on the Scottish island of Skye.

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Rocky coastline

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Cormorants on rock, from the Island

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Godrevy Lighthouse

On the highest point of the Island is the Chapel of St Nicholas, which dates back to the 15th century. It was used in the past by 'Preventive Men', as the excise officers were known, to keep watch for smugglers, for whom the island provided an ideal landing place for their contraband. Later the chapel was used for storage by the War Office, who partially demolished it in 1904, unaware of its historic significance. Fortunately a public outcry stopped the destruction and resulted in its restoration in 1911. Inside it features floor tiles depicting fishing scenes, the work of the famous St Ives potter, Bernard Leach, but we found the door locked and very little could be seen through the somewhat grubby windows.

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St Nicholas Chapel

At the furthest point of the Island are the remains of an old gun battery, constructed in 1859 to help to protect Porthmeor Beach and the harbour against the threat of invasion by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III). There were three gun emplacements and a barracks, which housed the gunners and their families. Later the largest of these emplacements was adapted to serve as a Coastguard Station. This was closed down in 1994, when the government decided that the use of satellite and wireless technology to monitor distress calls made keeping a visual watch unnecessary.

In 1999, the coastguard station was reopened by the St Ives branch of the National Coastwatch Institution, a voluntary organisation established to ‘provide the eyes and ears along the coast’. The station is now manned by volunteer watchkeepers, who keep a log of all the activity within sight of the lookout all year round during daylight hours. Several were on duty when we passed, and outside a poster appealed for further volunteers.

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On the Island
~ you can see the gun battery at the furthest point

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Porthmeor Beach from the Island

Looking down on Porthmeor Beach we could see lots of surfers in the water so we decided to head in that direction to try to get some better photos than we could manage at this distance. We got our shots, then found a good table in the Porthmeor Beach Café, perched above the sands opposite Tate St Ives, for a cup of coffee with a view.

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Surfers, Porthmeor Beach

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Arty St Ives

Many of the town’s small artists’ studios and galleries are located along the winding streets of the area between Porthmeor and the harbour, and we spent a pleasant hour visiting some of these before descending again to the harbour-front.

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Door details

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Our harbour view at lunch-time

Here we bought Cornish pasties (well, it had to be done!) from one of several shops claiming to sell the ‘best in town’ and perched on a breakwater to enjoy our lunch.

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

After our break we made our way through some more of the back streets to the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. As I mentioned above, Hepworth and her husband, the painter Ben Nicholson, came to live in St Ives when World War Two broke out in 1939, as a haven from London. She stayed here for the rest of her life, living and working in Trewyn studios (which are now the Barbara Hepworth Museum) from 1949 until her death in 1975 (she died in a fire here at the studio she loved). It was her wish that her home and studio were set up as a museum of her work.

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In the studio

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Sleepy cat
(this one is real, not a sculpture!)

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Small sculpture indoors

Our visit here was a real highlight of our short stay in St Ives. Inside the house it was possible to get a sense of the artist and her work, through a series of photos taken over the full period of her time here. There were a few pieces displayed here too, but it was in the garden that the exhibits really come to life, placed just as she wanted them among the plants and flowers. To me their organic forms fit perfectly into this garden landscape.

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At the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden

Final evening in St Ives

We had dinner this evening in an Italian restaurant we had spotted and liked the look of earlier in the day, Caffe Pasta at the far end of the harbour-front. It was just as well that we had thought to make a reservation when passing, as on this Halloween evening lots of families were out and about and this seemed to be a favourite local choice for post Trick or Treating get-togethers. And our hunch that this looked a promising spot for our final dinner in St Ives paid off, as we had a delicious meal. I loved the sea bass special, served with candied beetroot & squid ink risotto, and Chris had some excellent wild boar meatballs.

Outside we had a go at a bit of impromptu night photography, using a breakwater as a slightly uneven temporary tripod!

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St Ives harbour at night

Farewell to St Ives

The next morning there was time for another good pastry and coffee breakfast at the Cornish Bakery before we had to make our way back to the station (no waves crashing over the path today!) and home to London.

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Last views of St Ives

The train journey, although long, passed as uneventfully as the journey down and we were home in time for dinner after our very pleasant, if not always dry, few days in Cornwall.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:45 Archived in England Tagged beaches art birds night boats rain harbour coast views sculpture weather seaside lighthouse seas chapel cornwall st_ives Comments (20)

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