Old Gang Smelt Mill, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

Keen to exploit the prowess of my new P&S power zoom camera (a fine Christmas gift, thank you kind parents) I proposed to my good friend and photographer extraordinaire Graham that we embark on a walk through some of the creator’s finer work, Swaledale, to take a few snaps and enjoy the crisp January weather. Beginning our journey in Scorton, North Yorkshire, a mere 51 metres above sea level, we set forth for Low Row, via Richmond and Reeth. Once escaped from the cobbled hustle-bustle of the picturesque market town, the previously distant snow topped dales and fells became our immediate surroundings. Despite growing up only arms length from this part of the world, I still marvel at the natural beauty of Swaledale, a walker’s, artist’s and photographer’s paradise if there ever was one.

Old Gang Beck

As we approach Low Row, the roads are covered with fresh powder and Graham’s trusty Ford Fusion suddenly isn’t as sure-footed as its passengers would like. We make the executive decision to park up at the crest of Low Reeth Moor, about 260 metres above sea level in noticeably deeper fresh snow. After quickly admiring the view we headed off down towards Mill Gill (The Old Gang’s Beck), surefooted as a caution mountain goats through the ice and snow.

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We are soon on the apex of a turn overlooking the Surrender Bridge. We take some time to muse on its odd name; taken from the near by Surrender Mine. The origin is unknown, which only serves to make the name even more curious. We push on and casually speculate whether there may have been a battle here where one force pushed their foe so far up the dale they forced surrender. We conclude though its incredibly unlikely as there were no know battles or wars around the likely time of the mine’s sinking or bridge’s construction. As we trek our way up the other side of the dale the conversation turns to Norse heritage of the Yorkshire Dales and its continuing influence. The term ‘Dale’ itself is taken from the Norse word ‘Dalr’ which translates to little valley. The Norsemen who travelled from Scandinavia and first landed on the West coast of Ireland around a thousand years ago, eventually moved East to England and then across the Pennines to what is now Yorkshire. They settled in the Dales and took up their father’s and fore-father’s work pastoral farming, a practice still operated today by their ancestors. If anymore proof of the Norse heritage of the Dales was require, simply attend a sheep market where it is still common place that sheep are counted using the Old Norse words and dialects; Yan, Tyran, Tethera, Methera…

The conversation is interrupted by Graham, with gun-dog like tendencies, spotting a dry stone wall running across the other side of the Dale that he knows instinctively will make an interesting picture. He begins to set up his impressive looking camera and tripod while I produce my modest Canon Powerzoom and fit it atop my also modest tripod.

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As he goes about his work, I begin testing out the various manual settings of my new camera and trying to copy Graham’s shot! After all he is the master at this sort of thing. No he really is, go check out his blog before you read anymore: https://grahamvasey.wordpress.com/about/ then go buy some of his work, your eyes will thank you for it: http://www.gallerina.co.uk/vasey.html

In fact, while you’re at it, go take a look at the pictures he took on this particular outing:
https://grahamvasey.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/land-of-lead/

Done? Good, back to it. So after a brief stop, we head onwards and soon come up to our first glimpse of the Smelt Mill. The first thing I notice is the wholly intact flue and chimney rising up over the horizon before the tip of the ruined building’s gable end begins to give chase. Much of the old complex is still standing and there is even some old rusted machinery still within. The Old Gang Smelt Mill was the largest to operate in this area and the main part of what is still standing was built in 1846 and operated until 1907. Graham went about setting up his camera, apparently he had a ‘score to settle’ with photographing the mill. I wasn’t sure exactly what this meant or if it would erupt in violence against the old industrial complex, but I left him to it and took the opportunity to have a look around.

setting up a shot

setting up a shot

Though it was the largest smelt mill in the Dales, there are enough buildings still standing to see that working inside with the fires roaring and smoke and fumes bellowing probably wasn’t the most pleasant of experiences. Intense hard work, long hours and the looming threat of arsenic poisoning in this desolate place probably outweighed the worker’s appreciation of the surrounding natural beauty. On site are the remains of a few hunting lodges and sheds where the workers would have stayed. Even with the sun out, the freezing wind was still biting through my triple-layered, goretex-coat, throwing into stark clarity what the young men who operated this mill must’ve endured to feed their families. Certainly the hardy stock one would associate with Viking lineage!

Inside the smelt mill

Inside the smelt mill

After taking in my surroundings I decide to try and take a few pictures myself. As I’m still new to this photography lark, I’ll leave to you to decide what you think about them then pretend I had some sort of process going on. To be frankly honest, I was just experimenting with setting of my camera and getting a feel for taking pictures in black and white.

The peat store atop the Dale

The peat store atop the Dale

View of the Smelt Mill from the old peat store

View of the Smelt Mill from the old peat store

The master at work

The master at work

Old Gang Smelt Mill, an Iconic ruin of a bygone age.

Old Gang Smelt Mill, an Iconic ruin of a bygone age.

For a first attempt at landscapes (other than holiday pictures!) I’m fairly happy with the outcome. I feel a little more confident with my camera than before and keen to go out and shoot some more pictures now. More than anything though, I can look at these pictures and associate them with a fine day out, with a good friend in a very beautiful part of the world, that just so happens to be next door to where I was lucky enough to grow up. I think I could enjoy photography. I by no means expect to become as proficient as my mentor and friend Graham, nor should I attempt to emulate his work (to begin with he doesn’t use of this new fangled digital rubbish! He’s a craftsman!). I think I’m more into heading out for some good walks, in good company (or peaceful solitude) and an excuse to take in some beautiful scenery. Any photographs along the way will be firstly a good memory and secondly and simple attempt at capturing a piece of this fair land I’m blessed to live upon.

Winter Morning Sun

Winter Morning Sun

The Door to the Dales

The Door to the Dales

Bridge over Old Gang Beck

Bridge over Old Gang Beck

The Monolithic remains of the old peat store.

The Monolithic remains of the old peat store.

There’s certainly much more adventure and photography to be had in Swaledale alone, but I want to document all of my beloved lands, from the fells and waters of the Lake District, across to the desolate but beautiful north-east coast. The trek across Hadrian’s wall and the shores of Lindisfarne, a holy pilgrimage and infamous/legendary site of the first Viking raids on Great Britain. The fishing towns and villages of the North Yorkshire coast, across the West Riding and eventually down to the incredible natural beauty of the Peak District. I’ll do it all (eventually). And if there’s a pint at the end of it, well that’s not bad either. Now where did I leave my walking boots?

Acknowledgements:

Cheers to Graham for being my guide
http://www.imagesofengland.org.uk/Details/default.aspx?pid=2&id=322273
http://www.walkingenglishman.com/dales46.html
http://dittzzy.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/surrender-bridge-old-gang-smelting.html
http://www.dalesfolk.co.uk

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3 thoughts on “Old Gang Smelt Mill, Swaledale, North Yorkshire

  1. Pingback: Land Of Lead « Graham Vasey

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