When I first came to the Dales I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape. Swaledale and then Wensleydale opened up before me: tiny barns in the corners of green and buttercup fields, clusters of ash trees overhanging rambling stone farmhouses and the ever-present drystone walls. But as we drove from Hawes, through Widdale, something amazing appeared - the Ribblehead Viaduct. This enormous structure effectively bridges the spaces between two of the three peaks when approached from the East. With Ingleborough to the left and Whernside to the right the vast twenty-four-arched viaduct spans the rough expanse of Batty Moss.
In those days the Settle Carlisle Railway was being threatened with closure and this building was one of the key reasons. Looking closely at the piers I could see that they were being held together with vertically clamped lengths of rail. Prior to its eventual restoration the viaduct was in serious danger of falling into the peat bogs around it.
Fortunately, after much campaigning, the viaduct and the line were saved. Its somewhere I frequently return to , sketchbook in hand, and it never fails to amaze me, even in the kind of weather I've captured in the painting above.
There are all kinds of stories about the area round the viaduct. Here's one from my book Tales of the Dales:
The Gearstones Fairies
When I went down a pothole for the first time it was a brief trip of a few minutes. We walked into a cave called Calf Holes. I remember water flowing over my boots, the daylight disappearing and that once-sniffed-never-forgotton smell of carbide lamps. The stream rippled before us into the dark and I saw it fan out into the depths of the cave as it formed a waterfall.
Later the same day I made my first proper trip underground. I had a helmet but the rest of my gear consisted of a pair of borrowed wellies, a torch and a boiler suit. Despite the wet and the discomfort of crawling and contorting myself I was amazed by the other worldliness of the pothole. Over the next few years I went through some wonderful caves, learned the difference between stalagmites and stalactites (tites come down!) and saw things you couldn’t see anywhere else.
Its not surprising that they are lots of stories to do with potholes, but this tale is very strange. The two men who told it to me promised to write down all the details and email them, but I never heard from them again.
Two cavers, with a passion of caving photography, went to a pothole at Geartsones, high on the plateau where Ribblehead Viaduct stands. They changed into their wetsuits, unpacked their gear and set off.
But once underground they found that, whatever they did, their floodlights and cameras stubbornly refused to work. Finally they gave up trying and just decided to go through the cave for fun, rather than waste the day, so they stashed their gear high above the water level and set off.
Now the cave was fairly full of water but it wasn’t a fast flooder so they weren’t worried about getting trapped. However there was a low duck in the cave where they would have to put their heads underwater briefly to enter the main chamber. They were both experienced and negotiated the duck without a hitch.
When they got into the main cave, however, they immediately felt something strange happening. Around them they could hear, what they could only describe to me as “fairy music” – unearthly sounds ringing and echoing across the deep water in which were standing up to their necks. Simultaneously they felt a gentle, insistent force pushing them back the way they’d come. They were both convinced that someone or something was telling them that they weren’t wanted. Without panic, but puzzled and slightly frightened, they retreated.
The next week one of them returned. After a few sleepless nights he’d convinced himself that he couldn’t let this experience turn him against potholing and he had to face his fear. He went back to the main chamber and – nothing! Everything was calm. Mightily relieved he went home.
But a few weeks later he was back with a school party. The water levels were well down and the visit was exciting for the children but in safe conditions. In the cave he asked a little boy what he thought of the place. The lad paused and then said: “Its great, but I don’t like the people in the rocks.”
If you'd like to buy Tales of the Dales it costs £12 and you can order it by clicking HERE
If you like the painting its available, framed, at £595. CLICK HERE for more details.