Typical Swaledale landscape
England,  Landscape,  Travel galleries

Gallery: the barns of Swaledale

Swaledale is among the less visited of Yorkshire’s dales, much less busy than neighbouring Wensleydale, but I have often wondered why as it is so beautiful. Its scenery is characterised by its green valley dotted with trees; the fields above dotted with white sheep and separated by the traditional drystone walls; and windswept heather moorland beyond these.

This landscape may look in places like nature at its wildest but in truth was created by a combination of traditional farming practices and lead mining. On a recent visit to the area I became obsessed with capturing the patterns created by the drystone walls dissecting the fields above the valley and the stone barns scattered across the green landscape.

Swaledale barns were traditionally sited away from the main farm buildings, in the hay meadows themselves. They were used to store hay during the winter, and in a separate section, to shelter cows. During the winter the farmer would walk to his barns twice a day to feed the cows and let them out to drink. In the spring the manure they produced would be spread, by hand, on the land to fertilise the meadows for the next hay crop in the summer.

The barns have a distinctive appearance because of the traditional building technique used in this area. This involved two walls, inner and outer, with rubble used to fill the gap between them. To ensure the walls didn’t fall away from each other, long stones known as ‘throughs’ were inserted from outside to inside. In the case of houses, the throughs were cut off to make it look neater, but with barns there was no need to waste time doing that, which is why these Swaledale barns are so unique.

My photos were mostly taken in upper Swaledale, around the villages of Keld and Angram.

I visit Swaledale regularly; the photos in this post were taken in 2020

12 Comments

  • Alli Templeton

    Hello Sarah, now it’s my turn to nip over and say hello to you! Being a big fan of Yorkshire, I really enjoyed this, although I have to admit I hadn’t really noticed all the barns in the area before, so you’ve shown me something new. Great photos, too! I was particularly interested in their construction, because that’s exactly how they built castles in the Middle Ages – they used inner and outer dressed stone walls, and filled the gap in the middle with mortared rubble. It makes them nice and strong. But I had no idea they’d ever made barns like that too! Fascinating! 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hi Alli, good to ‘see’ you here 🙂 I guess once they’d found an effective building technique they used it on a wide variety of structures, and on these exposed slopes they probably needed the barns to be as strong as their castles! I don’t know that you find them all over Yorkshire however; I believe they’re, if not unique to the northern dales, at least much more numerous here 🙂

  • starship VT

    Love the Swaledale stone barns — the use of double walls and “throughs” are an interesting feature too. The use of stone reminds me of the few remaining field stone barns I’ve seen in Pennsylvania. The green fields dissected by the stone field fences make for some of the most beautiful landscape. Green and serene!! (Got notice of this post by e-mail.)

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hi Sylvia – good to know you got the email ok 🙂 Yes, this is a lovely landscape, and it even looks pretty good in poor weather! We’ve never been to Pennsylvania – it’s interesting to hear about the similarities!

  • Nemorino

    This time an e-mail arrived to inform me of this new post.
    Is there any way to enlarge these photos? I’d be interested in seeing what those not-cut-off through-stones look like.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I’m still experimenting with different gallery options Don. I did start with these showing larger, one at a time, but they portrait format ones overflowed the screen and couldn’t be viewed properly. I’ll keep experimenting, but meanwhile the ‘throughs’ should be clear in my opening shot I think

  • Easymalc

    Got this one through my normal channels Sarah. Swaledale is, in my opinion, the loveliest of the Yorkshire Dales and your pictures give them the credit they deserve

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks for the feedback Malcolm, that’s good to know. Reader included?! Glad you agree with me about Swaledale. I’ll be posting a longer piece about it on TravellersPoint in a day or two if you’re interested – a fuller account of our day out there.

      • Easymalc

        The links aren’t quite working according to plan, but I’m sure you’ll be able to get that sussed. As for Swaledale and the rest of that part of the world I could go on for ages, but I’ll let you do that in your posts 🙂

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