My connection with the Dales, and Ribblesdale in particular, goes back many years. Growing up as a southern lad, we used to come on family holidays to the Dales. In later years I studied geology and geography and grew to understand the landscape and the factors that shape it. I was attracted north to Sheffield University, which was the first time I lived in Yorkshire.
In the first week at Sheffield I went on a trip with the Caving Society, which on reflection was a fairly terrifying experience. We stayed in the caving club building in Horton-in-Ribblesdale; so that was my first real taste of the Dales, crawling around underground! A year later I came as a budding geologist to Horton, training to map the local rocks. Those were great experiences with friends; out exploring the landscape, learning how to measure, understand and read it – combined with work for the pub landlord, helping on his farm stacking straw for the winter and having a lot of fun. That week left a real impression on me, an incredibly positive one.
Over the following years there were coincidences that brought me back here: wandering across Malham Moor and visiting Tarn House; hitch hiking from the Lake District through Settle and over Buckhaw Brow, before the by-pass was built, and seeing the view of Giggleswick Scar and Settle. All these memories were steadily building up a connection with the place.
Life then took me all over the world in environmental education and adventuring: to South Devon, Asia, the Antipodes and then to South Africa. In 1997, I landed a post with the Field Studies Council at Malham Tarn Field Centre. I’ve lived in Ribblesdale ever since, only a few miles south from that experience I had as a young geology student. I spent five years working at Malham Tarn and I must have travelled up and down the hill to Langcliffe Brow en route to Malham with thousands of students, colleagues and friends. I would often stop and get them to sit on the limestone and take in this view. For me it’s the richness of the dale in terms of the human activity that’s shaped how it looks. It’s not a pristine one by any stretch of the imagination, but for a geographer that’s all part of the rich tapestry that makes up a view.
In the backdrop there are the Three Peaks and in particular the massif of Ingleborough. There is the quarried landscape at Helwith Bridge with the striking exposures of gritstone and limestone. The caravan site in Little Stainforth marks the importance of visitors to the area’s economy. The River Ribble, the wonderful limestone terraces, meadows and field patterns, field barns and walls, the winding Settle-Carlisle railway, the pockets of woodland and the glaciated faults at Stainforth Scar. This view is constantly changing throughout the year and is something I have got strongly attached to.
I have worked at the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust for 11 years which has enabled me to widen my involvement in the Dales. We have developed a very successful outreach, training and education programme which has supported a broad range of people to come and enjoy and understand the landscape. My work also involves developing practical conservation work. It is a true privilege to be in a place I love, able to shape and support how it might evolve in decades to come with a group of wonderful, dedicated, passionate, inspiring people.
I was lucky enough to have those formative experiences as a young person – I had great teachers and people who really inspired and excited me to find out why the landscape looks like it does. Those are magic moments in life – the sparks – which have led to a lifetime of fulfilment and enjoyment. Now I’m in a position where I think, ‘great, I can create those sparks for other people’. They don’t all catch fire, but some of them will.