History & Archaeology


The north-south running valley of Ribblesdale has long been an important routeway through the Dales. Neolithic polished stone axes from the Lake District have been discovered in the valley and during the 18th century it carried several well-used droving and packhorse routes. Settlement patterns in the main dale consist of small villages, while in the lesser dales, such as Kingsdale and Chapel-le-Dale, there are more dispersed farmsteads.

The dale is dominated by the highest peaks in the National Park. Ingleborough is particularly important since it appears to have been a focus for ritual activity in prehistoric times. Glaciation has left its mark in the form of drumlins along the valley floor. These are deposits of stone, gravel and clay gathered up under the ice sheets then left behind as hillocks as the glaciers melted. The underlying limestone geology is also an important factor, the action of glaciation and rainwater causes the formation of caves in this type of rock. The greatest concentration of such caves in the National Park is found in Ribblesdale. The contents of several have been excavated over the past 100 years and give us a glimpse of life in the area long before the first people arrived. 130,000 years ago, the climate was warm enough for there to be herds of rhinos and elephants roaming the area. 11,000 years ago, a Palaeolithic hunter lost a potential meal along with an antler harpoon point, both of which were subsequently dragged into a cave by scavenging hyenas.

Other caves have revealed evidence for use throughout the prehistoric period and into the Roman. Some caves seem to have been used for ritual activities and others as burial sites. None seem to have been dwellings. Elsewhere, the relatively high rainfall of this part of the National Park has led to acidic, less fertile farmland than in other dales. Grazing sheep and cattle has been an important way of life for over a thousand years. Anglo-Scandinavian settlers settled near Ribblehead and made their living in this way in the 9th century AD.

More cattle came in the 17th and 18th centuries as a long distance trade from Scotland was established, supplying meat on the hoof to the growing towns of Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Great cattle fairs were held at places like Gearstones. Other goods such as coal and salt were also moved along Ribblesdale’s upland network of tracks on the backs of packhorses, often the only means of bulk transport when the valley bottom highways were impassable with mud.

The limestone geology of the area was exploited from the 18th century when first farmers and then entrepreneurs started to burn it to produce lime. The lime was used to sweeten acidic pastureland, but soon industrialists found other uses for it and more and more had to be produced. The coming of the Ingleton Branch line in 1861 and the Settle-Carlisle railway in 1876 boosted the industrial production of lime. Ribblesdale also has deposits of a slate type rock that could be sawn into thin slabs useful as paving and to make water cisterns amongst other things. Helwith slate boundary markers are a noticeable roadside feature in the dale. Today the hard, dark grey-green mudstone from Helwith is much in demand for making anti-skid road surfaces.

Access to fast flowing rivers and streams plus good road and later rail transport routes allowed several of Ribblesdale’s southern villages and towns to become quite industrialised. As well as quarries and industrial lime burning sites, several large textile mills were built.

The railway also brought tourists to be enchanted by the caves and waterfalls of the area. Several money spinning visitor facilities were established in the 19th century including the famous Waterfalls Walk at Ingleton. Thousands flocked here on Bank Holiday weekends in the late 19th and early 20th century. In 1837 Ingleborough Cave was opened up by the Farrer family of Clapham, who also established an attractive walk through their estate up to it.

Today, quarrying is still a notable feature of the landscape of Ribblesdale although now the stone is often transported by lorry much to the irritation of those living in the towns and villages along the dale. Tourists are also still welcomed in ever increasing numbers and the rescue of the Settle-Carlisle line from closure in the 1980s means that a good proportion still come in by public transport.


Information from www.outofoblivion.org.uk/ribblesdale.asp#history