Churches mark British countryside, often peppering landscapes with their spires. These historic buildings, of which most villages have one, may be hundreds of years old and congregations may be on the decrease, but they are still phenomenally important – both as a focus for community life and also to teach us a little about local history.
When thinking of a topic for my latest walking book, I chose churches for these exact reasons – they can tell us about the history of some beautiful villages, but they are also the gateway to some fantastic scenery. The first of two books I’ve written with Rev. Kate Bottley looks at churches in the Yorkshire Dales. And what a brilliant selection of churches there are up there in the National Park. It was hard to narrow down the choice of churches to just 20, and the book is bursting with great church buildings and lovely walks from them. Among my favourites are Settle, Malham, Ingleton and Clapham. Hubberholme, of course, is well known for its architecture and amazing design of pews inside featuring the designer’s trademark mice.
It was lovely to have Rev. Kate Bottley on board for this book as it adds a completely new dimension to the walking book. You may know her from her appearances on TV’s Gogglebox and Songs of Praise, or perhaps from her Pause For Thought slots on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on Radio 2. For this book, she has provided a Thought For The Walk to add inspiration for you and your friends as you hike over Yorkshire’s lovely dales. An example is found later in this blog, along with a walk around Hubberholme. Try this walk around Hubberholme for yourself and get out and visit your local churches, find out about their history and take in the countryside they sit near.
Walking route from Hubberholme
Distance: 5.5km/3.4 miles Time: 2hrs Difficulty: Some steep path and uneven ground. Start: SD 926, 782
At Hubberholme, you’ll find the church across the river and there is some roadside parking there. This Church Walks sets off from here, and it’s clear to see from the outset what a remarkable building you are setting out from. Take the path at the side of the church and then follow the path turning left along the Dales Way to Yockenthwaite. This takes you to the side of the River Wharfe and it’s a simple route to follow as you walk up this delightful dale. There are a couple of gates to go over and a footbridge taking you over a stream as you make your way further up the valley.
Crossing another footbridge, look out for Strans Gill joining the river from the right; there are some great limestone features on the river bed and waterfalls to look out for when the rain has been heavy. Pass an old building on your right and then head through a gate into a field, keeping to the left of it, close to the river. Go through a gap in the wall and you’ll be walking on a section with the wall on your right and the river on your left. Keep heading along the riverside path, and as you journey further along you’ll notice parts of the river where the water slows and sections where it flows very fast indeed. When you reach the farm buildings at Yockenthwaite, take the path heading up the hill to the right (SD 905, 791) and follow the signs to Hubberholme.
One of the most famous churches in the Dales, this is in a fabulous setting beside the River Wharfe flows downstream close to your path.
Continue along this limestone track as it climbs up the hill and bends to the right. Take the path leading off to the right, entering the woods, and you’ll find the initial section here is flat but it soon starts to climb again. Head up towards a wall and turn right once you’re through it. You’ll pass some great limestone outcrops on the left, along with an old building, and also begin to enjoy some cracking views down the valley to the right. There are a few unusual Yorkshire walls to go through here, with the stone built thickly and meaning there has to be two gates to get through one wall.
You enter some more woods and then meadow land, before reaching the brilliantly positioned Scar House. You need to turn right at the house and follow the path as it winds down the hillside to the valley bottom. Before long you’ll be able to see the top of the church tower and this path will guide you towards it. When you reach the church, turn right along the path to reach the road where you set out from.
A little about Hubberholme
There are many curious traditions up and down the country, and you can find one taking place here on the first Monday of each year. On that day, fresh from New Year celebrations, people pour into the George Inn and hold an auction to decide who has the right to use 16 acres of pasture land linked to the church. The money from the winning bid traditionally goes to help the poorest people on the parish, and much fun is had by those taking part. The auction is overseen by the vicar in the pub’s dining room, which adopts the name House of Lords, and the interested farmers in the bar – or House of Lords – get their highest bids in before the burning candle goes out.
Famous writer J.B. Priestly loved spending time at Hubberholme and mentioned it fondly in his English Journey, drawing particular attention to the “fine little old church and cosy inn.” Indeed, Priestly was so taken by Hubberholme that he arranged for his ashes to be buried here. A plaque inside the church refers to how Priestly thought the hamlet was “one of the smallest and pleasantest places in the world.” After spending an afternoon here, it’s really difficult to disagree.
Rev. Kate Bottley’s Thought for the Walk
There is a light and it never goes out
This ancient village, which was a favourite of Priestly, has its own lovely tradition. The George Pub has an unusual way of declaring that it is open for business and serving. A lit candle sits on the bar during serving hours extinguished when the bell is rung for last orders. Despite our reliance on electric light, candle light is still part of our culture. Candles are used at times of celebration, think about the candles on a birthday cake or at a romantic dinner. Candles, of course, in church indicate the presence of the Divine. People light candles often to remember loved ones they have said goodbye to.
There’s nothing quite like candle light. It is romantic, evocative and has a way of connecting us back to ancient, more primitive times.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself ‘The Light of the World.’ In Holman Hunt’s famous painting of the same name, the face ‘light of the world’ glows bright by the light of a candle in a lantern.
Candle light, despite being incredibly beautiful, can be fragile and candles need tending and nurturing to keep alight.
For many, faith can be something similar. It can be incredibly beautiful, evocative and with a deep connection to the past. But with a fragility and vulnerability.
Buy the book
Twenty walks are in this book - each starting off from an idyllic Yorkshire Dales church and having an inspiring Thought for the Walk written by Gogglebox vicar Rev. Kate Bottley. The walks are planned by outdoor writer Peter Naldrett and include stunning scenery and outstanding natural features in classic Limestone Country.