This walk from Clapham to Buckden took place in 2012 and the report appeared in an abridged form in the Society Bulletin of 2013.
In his book on Ingleborough, Landscape and History, David Johnson makes reference to the Lancaster to Newcastle coach road passing through the region. The route as described enters the area of the Dales at Clapham, goes over to Selside, through High Birkwith, and down Langstrothdale to Wharfedale, then over the tops to Wensleydale. Geoffrey Wright in his Roads and Trackways of the Yorkshire Dales calls it “a well-attested packhorse track…”(p.110). Johnson writes furthermore that the coach road is shown on Thomas Jeffrey’s 1771 map of Yorkshire, and so it is, though it is not named as such on the map. I was interested to see how much of the route has survived and to see if it can still be traced today. With this in mind I set out to walk it.
Leaving Clapham the road climbs the hill which passes through the tunnel under the grounds of Ingleborough Hall. The tunnel would not have been there in 1771 having been constructed in 1833. At the top of the hill, Summit Clump is the junction of Long Lane and Thwaite Lane, one of three important junctions on the route. Long Lane takes us over to Selside. Having walked Long Lane on a recent New Years Eve, heading for the summit of Ingleborough after a heavy fall of snow I feel that at such times in the past it would have been just about impassable to pack animals or horse-drawn vehicles. 1771 is in the period covered by the Little Ice Age which followed the Medieval Warm Period. The year 1770 was the second of three particularly cold intervals during an Age generally agreed to have ended about 1850. It is quite possible that on a number of occasions over the course of a winter this lane would have been impassable to all but the most determined traveller.
Thomas Jeffrey’s map shows the coach road from Clapham going just north of Selside and then stopping. How did traffic on the road get from Selside to High Birkwith? Although Jeffrey does not show it there is a very good track from Selside down to the banks of the River Ribble, though the last section is now gated and closed off to all traffic, walkers included. However where it comes down to the river bank can clearly be seen from the field on the eastern bank of the river. What is not clear is where the road went from there. The field on the east bank shows no sign of a trackway at all for a matter of 200 metres or so until the traveller reaches Dale Mire Barn from where there is an excellent farm track up the hill to meet the country lane that leads in a short distance to High Birkwith.
It has been suggested that the road followed the line of the present day public footpath, stile and footbridge across the Ribble that leads to Low Birkwith but compared to the very well preserved road from Clapham this footpath looks nothing like an old coach road and I am of the opinion that the road forded the river at the point at which the lane from Selside meets the river bank; two hundred and forty years on it is hardly surprising that there is little trace of the ford today. However, in winter this crossing would have been hazardous when the river was in spate. Did traffic on the coach road really cross the river anywhere along this stretch through the winter months?
Once our travellers have reached High Birkwith the coach road climbs the hillside to Old Ings and another fork in the road offering alternative routes. Left goes to Ling Gill Bridge and Cam End and on down into Wensleydale. Taking the right fork and avoiding the modern forestry road it is possible to follow the track on to High Birkwith Moor and a third significant junction. Left takes us down Langstrothdale whilst on our right is the very good track coming up from Horton in Ribblesdale of which more later.
The line of the coach road drops down through Langstrothdale to Hubberholme where Arthur Raistrick quotes an old source as saying that the coach road crosses the bridge at Hubberholme. He says that the bridge was in ruins in 1693 but was part of the “highe road way”. However Thomas Jeffrey’s map shows the road avoiding the bridge and going down to Buckden probably ascending Buckden Rake to Cray from whence it would have dropped down into Wensleydale.
In conclusion, with exception of a couple of hundred metres across a field by the Ribble, the route of the coach road is traceable and walkable and would probably still be suitable today for horse drawn vehicles over the length of road I travelled. However a couple of questions do arise. What happened in winter when sections over high ground were impassable due to snow and ice, and did travellers really negotiate the river crossing of the Ribble below Selside?
Raistrick, however, in Arthur Raistrick’s Yorkshire Dales (p.91) says that “The road indicated (ie ‘the high roade way leadinge between the markett towne of Lancaster…, and the markett towne of Newcastle-upon-Tyne…) would be a fairly direct line by Clapham – Helwith Bridge (repaired 1611) – Greenfield – Hubberholme,….He is consistent in repeating this route in his ”Green Tracks on the Pennines”. This means that at the fork in the road at Summit Clump above Clapham the way would be straight ahead into Crummockdale and over to Helwith Bridge before turning north towards Horton, and not to Selside at all. This route would avoid fording the Ribble. Horton could also be reached by going up Crummockdale and over Moughton, an alternative not shown on Thomas Jeffrey’s Map.
Horton had been important since monastic times. Fountains Abbey owned Greenfield as a sheep grange, land around Horton, and a lodge at Birkwith, and Jervaulx owned land at Fawber and had a horse breeding farm at Horton, and used the Greenfield road as their normal route into Wensleydale. So the route from Horton had been in use for centuries before 1771. Standing facing the New Inn in Horton the metalled road to the left leads to New Houses and branching right takes one up to Fawber and then to Top. Taking the route to the right of the New Inn puts one on the road to High Birkwith Moor joined half way up by the route from Top. Today this is a section of the Pennine Way. On High Birkwith Moor it leads to the fingerpost at the junction with the road from Old Ings referred to previously and straight ahead is the road down Langstrothdale. Perhaps the Selside route and the Horton route were both in use, particularly at different times of year.
Further research showed that from 1756 there had been a turnpike from Richmond to Lancaster authorised by an Act of 1751 and initially I made the mistake of assuming that the Turnpike and the coach road were one and the same. This puzzled me because I could not see any way that a scheduled coach service could be run over the coach road throughout the year if indeed such a service existed. However they are not the same road – do not follow the same route. The Turnpike came up out of Wensleydale from Bainbridge up to Gearstones and on down the west side of Ingleborough. In 1795 the route was altered slightly going from Hawes up Widdale to Newby Head and down to Gearstones where it joined the earlier route.
During the 17th C. and for much of the 18th C. rivers and the sea were the main arteries of trade. Under normal conditions goods transported by road were limited to short journeys, to market or to the nearest water. However during the 1690’s and early 1700’s threats from French privateers, and the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714) caused disruption in the Channel and in the Irish Sea making coastal journeys unsafe and trade was disrupted. Sometimes entire cargoes were lost and ships frequently had to wait for long periods in port for convoys and as a consequence goods were increasingly sent overland.
The highways of the 16th C. were mere rights of way across the country. They originated as trade routes, Roman roads, packhorse routes and drove roads and in appearance most of them were much like a well used cart track across a farmers field. A few of the nobility and gentry had private coaches but most people travelled on foot or on horseback and whilst some goods were carried in waggons, most went by packhorse.
The first Turnpike Authority was established in 1663 on a section of the Great North Road though the next Act was not passed until 1695, but the principle that travellers should contribute towards the upkeep of the road became the concept underlying much road improvements in the next two centuries. By 1770 around 500 trusts were controlling 15,000 miles of road. Most however were very short. As late as 1837 of 120 Trusts in Yorkshire the average mileage was only 14.3 miles. So the Richmond to Lancaster Turnpike, at 60 miles was longer than most. It was the only trans-Pennine turnpike within the heart of the Yorkshire Dales. As with many turnpikes, when created it was a stringing together of improved sections of routes already in existence.
In the 18th C. Richmond was not only an important market centre for a wide variety of goods, but also the centre of a Court of Archdeaconry whose jurisdiction covered a very wide area westwards, beyond the Lancashire border. It was also the main eastern outlet for lead mined in the northern dales. At the same time Lancaster was growing increasingly important as a west coast port and it enjoyed a prosperous trade in raw materials as well as manufactured goods.
The Richmond to Lancaster Turnpike started at Brompton Lane Ends on the North Road to the east of Richmond, went over to Wensleydale and then by the Cam High Road to Gearstones and Ingleton, but in 1795 the original route was altered so that the long climb from Bainbridge along the line of the Roman Road to Ribblehead was replaced by the present road to Hawes, up Widdale to Newby Head and down to Gearstones. This eased the gradient considerably as well as reducing by 500 feet the maximum height reached.
It was recorded in 1800 that the road helped provide Richmond and Wensleydale with “great quantities of grocery goods, liquor, timber, mahogany and various other articles brought from Lancaster”. Corn and butter were carried in the other direction.
National newspapers evolved during the turnpike period but the coming of the railways spelt disaster for the turnpike trusts. As for the Richmond to Lancaster Turnpike, by the mid-nineteeth century tolls were increasing but the receipts were falling. Gradually stages were closed and the road was deturnpiked by the early 1870’s.
Today the whole length of the 1795 alignment of the Turnpike survives as a link between Richmond and Lancashire. On the other hand the Lancaster to Newcastle coach road is, in the main, footpaths and country lanes. So who in 1771 would have used the coach road when there was a well maintained Turnpike as an alternative? Principally, anyone who did not want to pay a toll, because there was resentment at being charged., so that for foot traffic, travellers on horseback, packhorses and similar users, if the weather was good I think they would have taken the coach road. If the weather was poor and a traveller wanted to be sure of getting a wheeled vehicle through the Dales without undue delay they would probably have been better off paying the tolls.
Images © 2012 James Hutchinson
Albert, William. 1972. The Turnpike Road System in England, 1663-1840. London, Cambridge University Press. pp. 6, 14, & 237 Appendix E.
Freethy, Ron. Turnpikes and Toll Houses of Lancashire, ISBN 0 86157 217 3
pp. 4, 7,8,10,11,15
Johnson, D. 2008. Ingleborough: Landscape and History, Lancaster, Carnegie Publishing Ltd.
7, Routes through the landscape, p. 162, Coach Roads and Turnpikes.
Raistrick, A. 1965. Green Tracks on the Pennines. Clapham, The Dalesman Publishing Co. Ltd.
5. The Heart of Craven, pp 39, 40.
Raistrick, A. Compiled by David Joy, 1991. Arthur Raistrick’s Yorkshire Dales. Clapham, The Dalesman Publishing Co. Ltd.
Dales Bridges of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, 1 Bridges. P.91.
Tupling, G.H. 1952-3. The Turnpike Trusts of Lancashire. Memoirs and proceedings of Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, Vol. 94. pp.1-3.
Wright, Geoffrey N. 1985. Roads and Trackways of the Yorkshire Dales. Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Moorland Publishing Co. Ltd. p. 110, p.181.