Handale Abbey Farm nestles in a sleepy valley near Grinkle Park in the north of the North York Moors. On first glance there is little to indicate its dramatic past but closer inspection reveals clues to its history…
The farmstead was once the site of a Cistercian Priory and home to a small community of nuns. Handale Priory was founded in 1133 and is thought to have stood somewhere near
the existing farmhouse. Nuns from Rosedale Abbey in the south of the North York Moors were sent to this outlying subsidiary house as a penance, presumably because of the difficult journey required to get there over the moors and possibly due to the hard day to day life once they got there although little documentary evidence survives to help us understand what life would have been like for the women who lived and worked at Handale Priory.
In the centuries following the Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries, the Priory’s surviving mill building was used for the manufacture of cotton undergarments and the Priory ruins were incorporated into a new farmhouse and walled garden. Evidence of the Priory can be seen today in the medieval fish pond to the south of the walled garden and the medieval tomb lid and cross base which have been relocated to the base of the medieval wall to the left of the farmhouse. There is a small carved stone that stands next to the tomb which is a memorial to the last cart horse at the farm before diesel engines took over.
There is also a less historic more fantastical tale associated with the site too. Local legend tells of a ‘loathsome serpent’ that lived in the area and would steal beautiful maidens from nearby Loftus, bringing them back to its lair at Handale to devour. One day a brave knight called Scaw killed the serpent and rescued one of the beautiful maidens called Emma Beckwith from the serpent’s lair. The couple wed and presumably lived happily ever after. The nearby wood is known as Scaw’s Wood. In 1830, along with 16 other burials (possibly remains from the nuns’ graveyard) a coffin was found on the site with a picture of a sword and the words ‘snake slayer’ carved in the lid. The skeleton inside was apparently holding a four foot long sword and so naturally was believed to be Scaw himself.
In 2011 the LEADER Programme funded the repairs of the disused, listed walled garden at
the site which was in a parlous state and classified as being at ‘extreme risk’. The project also commissioned an imaginatively designed interpretation panel and bench, and a contemporary gate to keep cattle out. At this current time permissive access into the garden is still extant and visitors are welcome. Along with the local apple varieties introduced into the reinvigorated garden there were also initially bee hives. The current owners would be keen to host new hives if anyone is interested in producing Handale Honey.
HEATHER and HEATH
The North York Moors is renowned for its heather – the largest continuous expanse of heather moorland in England and Wales – which blooms purple during the summer months (July/August). The display is mainly made up of three species – Bell heather (Erica cinerea), Ling heather (Calluna vulgaris) and Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix). The main difference between a heather and a heath plant is their leaf structure. In addition there is a record of another heath plant in one location on the North York Moors – St Dabeoc’s Heath (Daboecia cantabrica) – which is more familiar in the west of Ireland.
The moorland habitats of the North York Moors are dominated by heather and heath. The dry climate in the east of England favours NVC (National Vegetation Classification) types H9 Calluna vulgaris – Deschampsia flexuosa, with some H10 Calluna vulgaris – Erica cinerea heath on well-drained areas and large areas of H12 Calluna vulgaris – Vaccinium myrtillus heath on steeper slopes. However there are also smaller areas of M16 Erica tetralix – Sphagnum compactum wet heath. From North York Moors Special Area of Conservation site details.
Hedgerows are man-made lines of trees managed and manipulated to demarcate boundaries and to control stock. Every hedgerow will have had a purpose and every hedgerow has a value. Hedgerows can develop their own understorey of plants and provide shelter and food for invertebrates, birds and animals. They act as living connecting corridors between other habitats and are important visual features in an English landscape. Hedgerows can last as hedgerows for a very long time as long as they continue to be managed and the longer they last the more biodiverse they can become – one new plant species establishes in a hedge about every 100 years.
Because of the importance of hedgerows in the North York Moors we’re offering grants to help land managers regenerate and gap up their valued hedgerows.
Where hedgerows no longer have an agricultural purpose they might be seen as a hindrance to modern land management. To remove an agricultural hedge more than 30 years old a land manager must apply to the Local Planning Authority for a Hedgerow Removal Notice (under the Hedgerow Regulations 1997); for the North York Moors National Park we’re the Local Planning Authority. When this happens we need to establish whether the hedgerow is ‘important’ according to a number of set criteria that consider both its ecological and historical value. If the hedgerow is ‘important’ the hedgerow is retained and if it isn’t, the hedgerow can be removed. There are very few applications for hedgerow removal in the North York Moors.
Herbert Read (1893 – 1968) was born at Muscoates Grange in Ryedale, just to the south of the North York Moors. As a child, following the death of his father, his family moved from the pre WW1 countryside to the city (Leeds and Halifax to be precise). The feelings engendered of loss and contrast had a profound effect on him.
During his lifetime Herbert Read was an army officer, a bank worker, a museum curator, an academic, a journal and book editor, a writer, a poet, a theorist and critic. He co-founded the Institute of Contemporary Arts and was President of the Society for Education in Art. He was a prodigious thinker and believed in art as a necessity for society. He saw art as a natural organic phenomenon that comes out of a need for expression and championed modern British sculptors and artists of the mid-20th century. Despite being a theoretical anarchist he was knighted in 1953.
Herbert Read returned to Ryedale in his later years. Here he wrote about his recollections and current thoughts, now that he was back.
From Between the Riccall and the Rye: selected writings on Ryedale from Herbert Read’s poetry and prose (© The Herbert Read Trust):
“I think I heard those hooves again the night my father died, but of this I am not certain; perhaps I shall remember when I come to relate that event, for now the memory of those years, which end shortly after my tenth birthday, comes fitfully, when the proper associations are aroused. If only I can recover the sense and uncertainty of those innocent years, years in which we seemed not so much to live as to be lived by forces outside us, by the wind and trees and moving clouds and all the mobile engines of our expanding world – then I am convinced I shall possess a key to much that has happened to me in this other world of conscious living. The echoes of my life which I find in my early childhood are too many to be dismissed as vain coincidences; but it is perhaps my conscious life which is the echo, the only real experiences in life being those lived with a virgin sensibility – so that we only hear a tone once, only see a colour once, see, hear, touch, taste and smell everything but once, the first time. All life is an echo of our first sensations, and we build up our consciousness our whole mental life, by variations and combinations of these elementary sensations. But it is more complicated than that, for the senses apprehend not only colours and tones and shapes, but also patterns and atmospheres, and our first discovery of these determines the larger patterns and subtler atmospheres of all our subsequent existence.”
Highland Cattle are great at conservation grazing, they’re particularly hardy, and they’re also extremely placid.
There are currently five Highland Cattle on the coastal slope at Common Cliff (also known as Beast Cliff) near Ravenscar. Common Cliff is a 44 hectare area of undercliff habitat at Ravenscar. The site is designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its seacliff grassland communities; however these grasslands are being encroached upon by rank grasses, bracken and scrub. So a 5-year conservation grazing programme was introduced in 2015, hence the cattle.
Grazing cattle on the site has three particular effects:
Defoliation – The cattle are ideal for removing long, coarse vegetation – they wrap their tongues around the vegetation pulling tufts into their mouths which leaves a tussocky appearance. Removing this coarse vegetation will allow wildflowers, such as the Common Spotted Orchid, to flourish. Cattle are less selective grazers (compared to sheep or ponies) and do not eat flower heads, unlike sheep.
Trampling – Cattle are heavy animals and as they walk around the site, they trample the vegetation, creating pathways through the bracken and scrub, opening up the dense sward and suppressing growth of these unwanted species. Hoof marks can also create germination niches – areas where wild flower seeds can germinate.
Dunging/manuring – Dunging returns nutrient back to the soil whilst also providing a food source for invertebrates.
Because of their hardiness the cattle can remain on the sea edge site throughout the year. They are also very sure-footed, a must for grazing on coastal slopes! The stock is checked regularly, the site has been fenced to help manage the animals, and there is a year round water supply, to ensure that the cattle stay happy and healthy.
Historic England (officially the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England) is the Government’s statutory adviser on all aspects of the historic environment and its heritage assets. This includes archaeology on land and under water, historic building sites and areas, designated landscapes and the historic elements of the wider landscape. The National Park Authority works closely with Historic England to achieve shared objectives, recent examples of partnership working include:
Traditional Estates Craft Apprenticeship Project (2012-2014) – In partnership with the University of York, and Historic England we launched a new apprenticeship scheme which offered three young apprentices hands-on experience in a range of building maintenance and conservation skills. Hosted by Estates in the North York Moors the apprentices gained the specialist skills needed for conserving the nationally important built heritage of the National Park whilst achieving their NVQ Level 2 at York College. The initial project was so successful we’re hoping to follow it up with a new Trailblazer Apprenticeship.
New Listings – Historic England advises the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on which heritage assets are nationally important and should therefore be protected by designation. Buildings and structures which meet the criteria for national protection are listed. This protection system has been in place since 1947 and operates under The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990. The test for listing is architectural or historic special interest, with the final decision to list being taken by Government. Recently within the North York Moors Historic England has listed a rare surviving Clapper Bridge and a Battle of the Somme War Memorial on Commondale Moor.
Monument Management Scheme – This is a partnership initiative largely funded by Historic England which has been running in North York Moors since 2009; we’re now into Phase 3. The essential aim of MMS is to improve the condition of scheduled monuments and ultimately to remove ‘At Risk’ monuments from the Heritage at Risk Register, using the most practical means available. The current Register includes 54 of the National Park’s 841 Scheduled Monuments (as of November 2015) – a big reduction from the 198 which were ‘At Risk’ when the MMS began in 2009.
Buildings at Risk Survey Pilot – Using funding from Historic England, we created a smart phone survey application to help with condition surveys of listed buildings. The App allows volunteers to remotely access information about the National Park’s listed buildings and enables on-site condition assessments to be carried out and data automatically updated. With a runners-up prize from the Campaign for National Parks’ Park Protector Awards, we were able to refine the App and Historic England have since used the concept to create their own version which is now being trialled prior to launch.
Grant provision and advice – Joint funding projects between the National Park Authority and Historic England have enabled the removal of several key buildings from the Buildings at Risk Register recently, like the Ionic Temple and Nelson Gates at Duncombe Park in Helmsley. The Authority also liaises closely with Historic England in providing coordinated expert advice to support the conservation of important historical sites in the North York Moors, such as Whorlton Castle Gatehouse and Arden Mill on the River Rye.
Historic England have lots of useful advice notes and guidance on managing and maintaining our built heritage, for example suggesting sensitive and practical ways for home owners to improve the energy efficiency of listed buildings such as draught-proofing of windows, secondary glazing, cavity walls and insulation.
A lot of cultures have their own ‘other folk’. These other folk have lots of different names such as Fairies, Trolls and Goblins; in the North York Moors they are known as Hobs. Hobs are little and aren’t renowned for their good looks. They can be very helpful and are keen to work hard, just as long as you are grateful in return. If you’re not suitably grateful or you try and trick a Hob – woe betide you.
The National Park has a team of Volunteers known as The Hobs. They’re not necessarily little or lacking in good looks but they do work hard.