Wild Yorkshire

York Minster gargoyle 2

At the end of our four-day weekend in Yorkshire, we found ourselves peering through telephoto and zoom lenses at the gargoyles high on the walls of York Minster.

puffin at Bempton Cliffs

Which was not unlike the way our trip began, peering through telephoto and zoom lenses at seabirds nesting on Bempton Cliffs, on the North Sea coast,

Bempton Cliffs 5

which includes the largest mainland gannet colony in the U.K. Wind and rain made photography difficult — but see Rachel’s blog post for the several stunning wildlife photos she was nonetheless able to capture.

Bempton Cliffs 2

I’d never been to a seabird nesting colony like this before, and found it awe-inspiring both for the sheer numbers of birds and for their spectacular, if bizarre-seeming, choice of a nesting location. It was a little surprising, too, because I don’t tend to associate Great Britain with teeming wildlife.

Medieval bird paintings

But perhaps I should. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds had its origins not far from Bempton Cliffs, in a campaign against the hunting of birds for plumes in the 19th century. And as we viewed the archaeological collections of the Yorkshire Museum three days later, it became clear that an affection for animals has deep roots in this part of the world.

keep-dog-on-leash sign

The tension between bird-lovers and dog-lovers found expression on various signs around the uplands, where we hiked with friends over Midgley Moor in the Hebden Bridge area on Saturday.

golden plover

The exhortations appear to be bearing fruit, judging from the number of skylarks and curlews flying and calling on all sides on top of the moor. A golden plover (above) appeared to be trying to lead us away from a hidden nest.

landscape with ruined farmhouse

The moors with their abundant bogs and peatland have preserved archaeological artifacts that wouldn’t have survived in most other places,

Medieval leatherwork with hunting scene

such as this Medieval leather box embossed with hunting scenes.

landscape with hikers

As elsewhere in Britain, there’s a robust walking culture based on an ancient network of public rights-of-way.

Medieval pilgrim

In earlier centuries, long-distance walking might have been for trade or religious purposes, though I’ve always suspected that many of those who went on pilgrimage simply wanted an excuse to go tramping over the moors for a while.


Where public footpaths cross fencelines, farmers have to install gates or stiles.

landscape with waller's tools

Walls of dark standstone are still the preferred form of enclosure here. We passed one that had just been finished.

landscape with distant sunlight

The stone walls shape and give character to the landscape, supplying a visual link between the lush river valleys with their stone buildings and the high moors with their rocky outcrops.

slate roofs

A spirit of whimsy seems to infect the local stone architecture,

rock art

and apparently it’s not uncommon to find artists manipulating the river stones in Hebden Bridge a la Andy Goldsworthy.

landscape with bus

Coming from a country with poor to nonexistent public transportation, I was charmed to see local buses appear like mirages between the stone walls. One bus exists solely to ferry walkers about.

Six Young Men

A trail-side plaque reminded us that people have been photographing each other on picnic excursions here for some time… and also that Ted Hughes grew up in the area.


The transition from pasture to wild glen can be sudden,

mossy oak

with forests of some considerable age and diversity alternating with pine plantations and young woodlands.


In Hebden Bridge itself, we were treated to a tour of a private cemetery that transitioned abruptly into gardening allotments.

allotments 2

I’d been curious about the whole allotment phenomenon, and our hosts, Polly and Liz, were happy to show us around their plot.

cemetery allotment

The allotments of the dead were smaller and shadier,

Fred Crabtree

but some of the occupants seemed to have been named with just such a resting spot in mind.

Sam Greenwood

Sam Greenwood’s name is disappearing under a coat of moss. It doesn’t get much more poetic than that.

Viking animal carving

Cultural attitudes toward nature are millennia in the making. The Vikings brought an animal-obsessed art to Northumbria when they invaded in the ninth century,

bronze horse head

but as older artifacts in the York Museum demonstrate, that was just a new variation on an old theme,

Medieval pottery with beast-human interaction

an amalgam of native, Anglo-Saxon, and Irish monastic motifs.

Medieval pottery with deer

Regardless of the medium, Medieval artists and craftsmen were obsessed with beasts.

landscape with grazing horse

Creatures such as horses and deer had sacred significance in pre-Christian times, so archaeologists and art historians tend to assume a religious motivation behind some of this art.

Medieval gold boar brooch

And the tradition of the royal hunt preserved the form if not the content of ancient, sacrificial rites.

Angel of falconry

For at least one Medieval sculptor in York, the angels practiced falconry.

The Light Twite

These days, it’s beer bottles that Yorkshiremen decorate with rare winged forms, such as the endangered twite.


The natural history wing of the Yorkshire Museum features an exhibition on extinction, including such relics as this cobwebby and disgruntled-looking giant moa, and winding up with exhibits on locally extirpated species, such as wolves and great bustards, that might someday be reintroduced.

black-faced sheep

Last year, Hebden Bridge was devastated by floods, due in part to the poor condition of the peatland on the moors. I can’t help thinking that a few wolf packs may be just what this landscape needs.

York Minster gargoyles

But that, of course, is up to the people of Yorkshire, who perhaps prefer to keep their wildest creatures confined to the stone ramparts of cathedrals or the rocky cliffs at Bempton.

9 Replies to “Wild Yorkshire”

    1. The Light Twite was very good, as I recall, but my favorite local brew was Black Sheep Brewery’s Riggwelter Ale. (I took a photo of that label too, but it came out a bit blurry for some reason.) You might enjoy the etymology:

      Riggwelter Ale takes its name from a local Yorkshire Dales farming term which has Old Norse roots; “rygg” meaning back, and “velte” meaning to overturn. A sheep is said to be rigged or “rigwelted”, when it has rolled onto its back and is unable to get back up without assistance.

      It seemed the perfect name for a strong beer from the Black Sheep Brewery in Yorkshire.

  1. Great post, Dave! Love the cemetery names and gorgeous views, and nice to see Polly, whose blog I follow (albeit sporadically as everyone’s given limited time). Looks like you guys are having a great time. Looking forward to further reports…

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