Yesterday, as I passed over the gated footbridge in North Dale, I noticed wisps of smoke rising into the blue sky ahead. I continued on up the hill towards the old dog kennels, stopping only when I got to the next gate, through a wall by a large Ash tree. Here I could see the fire below. Orange flames danced high, lighting up a hunched figure standing within the reaches of its heat. Whatever it was he had in his hand, he tossed it into the flames making them pirouette away a moment, before they returned with increased energy spiralling higher and brighter.
Now he stood stock still, staring straight into the depths of the fire. Part of me wanted to join him, to share the beauty of the fire, the heat and the comfort that only an outdoor, evening fire can give. I didn’t. It would have been an intrusion. He seemed to be burning more than rubbish, on this his last day as Tenant Farmer, steward of the land that is upper North Dale. Soon he would be gone, literally moving to pastures new.
Up at the house others busied themselves, loading his life and more, into lorries and onto trailers but the house stood as proud as ever, its face glowing in the low sun. Whatever is to become of it I hope it doesn’t stand empty and hollow for long.
Sitting high near Stone Bank I once watched George, on his quad bike and Hanna on her horse with a dog running hard and fast between them on the slopes above Bell End. They worked as one, gathering up sheep. With each twist and turn of their steeds they picked up more ewes and moved them on up the dale. Hanna, riding high on the slope with George below, soon had an arrow of white moving before them. The dog seemed to be controlling himself as I could not hear any whistles or shouts of direction. The rumble of the quad and yips and yells of Hanna shattered the usual peace of the dale but it was a welcome noise. The two were in harmony, a song of work. Suddenly Hanna turned and shot higher up the hill, her horse seemed to have no difficulty going straight up the steep slope. She had spotted a small group of sheep out on a limb and was getting above them to bring them into the ever growing flock. The dog instinctively took her place to keep the main flock whole and together with George kept them moving along.
George Watson loved the land, the stock and the wildlife that shared his dale and we would talk around these topics whenever we met on the hill. I will be forever grateful for the trust and support that George gave me, encouraging me to take small groups up Northdale to share wild places he knew, away from the usual paths. Here strangers would come together and cook a meal on small campfires, sit whittling and engage in other Bushcraft related activities. Really they were learning to love these wild places as George and I do.
While Rosedale and Northdale have lost something today, The Vale of Pickering has gained a passionate custodian of the land. Good luck and happy times to you George and to you Hanna and thank you, on behalf of all that have enjoyed wild upper North Dale in recent years.
Wild Country Walkabouts