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John Houseman

John Houseman visited Malham around 1800, and his account of the visit is interesting in that it describes a cattle and sheep fair being held at the time, as well as the usual tourist attractions. This extract is taken from his book:

Guide to the lakes, caves, mountains and other natural curiosities in Cumberland, Westmoreland, Lancashire and a part of the West Riding of Yorkshire
John Houseman, published 1800


From Coniston it will be convenient to proceed eastwards, in order to view the caves, and other natural curiosities, in the neighbourhood of Malham; from whence we may go northwards, by way of Settle and Ingleton and visit the surprising works of Nature in their neighbourhood.

The diftance from Conifton [Cold] to Malham is about, six miles, along a pleasant valley, washed by the river Air. High irregular grounds appear on each side, the declivities of which, as well as the vale below, are interspersed with thinly-scattered farm-houses, large pasture fields, well wooded, and some regular-built villages. This is wholly an agricultural country, but grass is much more attended to than corn. The cattle are excellent, being the best breeds of the Lancashire long-horned sort. The sheep are horned, white-faced, fine-wooled, and pretty large, somewhat resembling the Dorsetshire breed: they are rather peculiar to this district and other hills in these parts of Yorkfhire; and are esteemed a profitable sort. The roads are generally bad, and little frequented, as they principally lead into the mountainous parts of this county, among the sequestered dales inhabited only by farmers and shepherds.

Malham (provincially called Maum) is a small but pretty well-built village, situated at the head of the vale (which is here contracted), near the source of the river Air, with high mountains, and rising grounds, on every side.

Happening to arrive at Malham during the fair, we were unfortunate in not being able to procure tolerable accommodations at the inn, which was so fully occupied with farmers and dealers in cattle, that it was with the greatest difficulty that either a seat near the fire, or any comfortable refreshment, could be procured.—Cattle and sheep of excellent sorts and in great numbers, were exposed to sale in the village by a set of jolly, healthy looking farmers. On the afternoon, as soon as the sheep and cattle are disposed of, the old people return homewards : when the young of both fexes, from all the neighbouring dalps, come to Malham, and spend the evening in dancing to the music of a village minstrel. A little stall, placed among the mud, with a little hardware, and a few baubles thereon, attended by an old man, and surrounded with, a gaping crowd of wondering rustic boys, formed tihe only signs of; traffic (sheep and cattle excepted) observable at this rural fair.—The perpetual clack of tongues, and the frequent repetition of "Not a farthing less" "Not one halfpenny more," continually struck the ear, at the same time: being almoft suffocated with the fumes of tobacco and punch issuing from every quarter. We soon became disgusted with our inn (which at any other time, would, perhaps, afford the traveller very comfortable accommodations), and procured a guide as soon as possible to shew us the curiosities in the vicinity.

Malham tarn is a circular-formed lake, of about a mile in diameter, and remarkably situated on a high moor at a little distance from the village. The surrounding objects form no very interesting scene, but the lake itself is of fine clear water, and contains trout in abundance, and of very great weight. Mr. Leicester, the proprietor of this water, is very strict in the preservation of the fish. The river Air takes its rise in this lake; but does not proceed far before it descends through a subterraneous passage, and again appears issuing from the foot of a rock of immense height, called Malham Cove. During heavy rains this subterraneous passage is too confined to admit the necessary discharge of water, the remainder of which, makes its way along the surface till it reaches the top of the rock, and then tumbles down, in a majestic cascade, with a fall of about 60 yards.

Malham Cove is a perpendicular limestone rock of 288 feet high, whose front wears the grizzly tint of age. Near its top are two shelves, one above the other, covered with a carpet of grass, and a few shrubs, which take root in the crevices. On these frightful ledges, which would seem almost sufficient to make a goat tremble, we were told, the nymphs and swains of the village, and adjoining dales, frequently sit and amuse themselves during part of a fine Sunday afternoon, without the least accident having ever happened inconsequence: the danger indeed, though considerable, is not so great as it appears to be from the bottom. This rock is chiefly remarkable for its perpendicular and very extraordinary height, and its fine colour, which gives it the appearance of an old wall of prodigious strength; it forms the base of a mountain of considerable elevation, whose feet and sides, particularly towards the west, are fringed with shrubberies and brushwood.

Gordale Scar is the principal object of most travellers who visit Malham. This extraordinary work of nature lies, about a mile and a quarter south of the village: we -proceed one mile along a good carriage road, with a deep dell on the -right, to the bottom of which the waving green fields slope irregularly; on the left is a ridge of hills which runs on, and, with a grim countenance, seems to turn across, the direction of the road. We leave the road, turning to the left near a new farm-house, and follow the course of a small murmuring brook through some meagre fields, inclosed with stone walls; while a monstrous chasm in the dismal looking mountains stares us in the face. The craggy ridges on each side rise to a terrific height, and approach each other; while the desolate glen contracts in proportion, and, a little further, seems totally shut up by a close embrace of these monsters.—The brook rattling along its stony channel, brings a yellow substance along with it, which tinges all the pebbles with that colour, and even forms a thin coating over them. We now seem to approach the end of our excursion; the grey rocks on each hand, intermixed with small evergreen shrubs and verdant turf, ascend, Stratum Super Stratum, in a pretty regular sloping position, to the height of 300 or 400 feet perpendicular from the base.— Pursuing the dim path, and cautiously directing our steps over fragments of rocks towards a rent in the mountain immediately before us, with the brook on our left, we suddenly turn an acute angle of a perpendicular rock to the right, when a scene at once opens in full view, which excites the greatest astonishment. We perceive ourselves just entering the apparent ruins of a huge castle, whose walls are moftly entire to the height of about 126 feet. The gloomy mansion strikes us with horror; and a lively fancy would readily place before us the massy form and surly looks of its ancient gigantic inhabitants. What greatly adds to the sensations of fear and amazement, which every one must feel, in some degree, on his first entering herein, are the rushing cataracts at the farther end, and the hanging walls, particularly that on the right, which projects considerably ever its base, and threatens to crush the trembling visitant. The form of this chasm is somewhat elliptical, quite open at the north end; but the south end, through which the water pours, although partly open, is sufficiently barred up by immense fragments of rocks so as to prevent all further progress. It consists of two apartments, or areas ; the first is about 100 yards by 40; the other is inaccessible, and appears to be about 20 yards by 10 ; its area probably a pool of water. At the farther end, a stream issues from the top of the rock, and falling 8 or 10 yards at one leap, disappears in the upper apartment, till, reaching its confines, it again tumbles down in a broken sheet of foam into the greater area, and hurries down a rough channel to the river Air. The walls are black; and, as before observed, project frightfully over their bases: bushes of ivy and some small ash trees appear on the tops of these rocks, from the pores of whose horrid front large drops of water continually distil. No roof seems ever to have covered this gaping wonder of Nature. Part of the rock, over which the brook forms the latter cascade, is a soft, yellow, calcareous substance, and extremely porous: it wastes away continually by the washing of the water, and adheres to the stones, occasioning the curious appearance before noticed.

Our guide related to us the following dreadful accident, which occurred near the scene just described, not many months before our visit.—As two men traversed these wild mountains, they were benighted, and unfortunately missing their way, they came to this horrid precipice, when one of them stepped over its brink, and instantly disappeared, without time to utter a syllable as a warning to his companion. The companion, however, alarmed and terrified at the accident, dared no longer to walk erect, but creeping on his knees, and examining with his hands, he was so fortunate as at last to regain the road in safety. The body of the unhappy traveller, which had pitched on several rocky shelves in its fall, was found next morning lodged in a bush of ivy, more than half way down the dreadful precipice.

We now proceed from Malham to Settle, seven miles. The road (where it can be called such) leads us over a wild hilly country, and extensive tracts of moors.— Ascending a steep hill from Malham, we come upon a rocky common, and presently lose almost every vestige of a path.—Here are several pits, from which calamine (a kind of fossil bitumenous earth) is dug, close to the road. We continue to traverse a high elevated country, till at length we descend rapidly to Settle, in the vale of the Ribble. Excepting the moors, we see little besides large grazing farms, with stone walls dividing the fields.—It is wholly a limestone soil, the rocks of which stone are peeping up above the surface very frequently, and in some places hang upon the sides of the hills in awful precipices. The road is no where good, and some of it almost impassable, notwithstanding the abundance of excellent materials every where at hand : but its being not much freqented is probably the reason that so little labour and care are bestowed upon it. On the moors, the traveller has no other guide than some distant mountain to direct his steps, of which he is deprived in misty weather, which is frequent in this country.—When we crossed this mountainous pafss, a thick mist surrounded us in darkness, and would certainly have caused us to deviate from the right path, had not the tracks of a cart, which had passed that morning from Settle to the fair at Malham, acted as a guide, and conducted us in safety. This road between Settle and Malham is, by no means, to be recommended to strangers, except in clear weather, and even then with every necessary direction and precaution: that by way of Long-Preston, though tolerably good, is a circuitous route of about 15 miles.

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