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