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Notes from the Sticks: Magnificent Malham


WE ARE so lucky that where we live in Lancashire is only 20 miles from one of the most spectacular landscapes in Britain.

Malham Cove is a curved vertical limestone wall, 260ft high. Here is a video from the top. (Don’t watch if you have vertigo.)

As well as being magnificent, it is fascinating geologically. It is a terrific example of a type of landscape known as karst, from the German. As rain falls it picks up carbon dioxide and forms a highly dilute solution of carbonic acid. This very slowly dissolves the calcium carbonate from which limestone is formed, and distinctive features develop. One is limestone pavement, of which there is a large expanse on the top of Malham Cove, where rock joints and fractures have been enlarged to form separate blocks, known as clints, with deep fissures between called grikes or grykes which provide shelter for rare wild plants.

This gradual erosion of the rock allows water to sink into the surface as far as it takes to reach an impermeable layer, when it will find a way out.  

At one time the Cove was a waterfall fed by the outflow from Malham Tarn, a mile or so back. However over time the ground became more porous and now the stream disappears a few hundred yards from the Tarn at a spot called Water Sinks.

Where the stream used to flow is now a dry valley.

It was thought to be at least 200 years since water last flowed over the Cove – until Sunday December 6, 2015. Extremely heavy rainfall filled the old stream bed and the waterfall came back to life, for one day only. Thank goodness Malham resident Stuart Gledhill took a video.

It is unlikely ever to happen again as the process of erosion is continuous, opening more and more spaces for the water to sink.

At the foot of the cliff is a slot out of which a stream called Malham Beck flows as the start of the River Aire. You would expect that this is the stream which disappears at Water Sinks but oddly enough, beneath the surface it turns at an angle and emerges a mile beyond the Cove. Malham Beck comes from another sinking stream, and the two water courses cross each other within the rock.

Malham has a special place in my heart for it was at Malham Tarn House that I spent one of the best weeks of my life, as a 16-year-old on an A-level geography field course. I don’t know how they did it but the teaching was superb and I have written most of the above without needing to look anything up, getting on for 60 years later.

You can see what a wonderful location the house has.

It was built in the late 18th century for Thomas Lister (1752-1829), later Lord Ribblesdale. The house was mainly used by the Listers and their guests in the summer and autumn for sailing, fishing and shooting. In around 1873 Liberal MP Walter Morrison extensively re-modelled and extended the house, adding a bow-fronted wing (which I am not sure is an improvement, being a quite different architectural style).

Attribution: Martyn Gorman

In 1947 the house was given to the National Trust and in 1948 it became a centre for the Field Studies Council. I am sad to report that the centre was closed last year, and the NT is still considering the house’s future.  I expect this means that researchers are even now leafing through dusty tomes trying to find tenuous links with slavery that they can pin on any of the owners.


IT’S THE first weekend in November but a few Welsh poppies are still blooming. We have mainly the yellow form (Meconopsis cambrica) round here but there are always quite a few of the orange variant, (Meconopsis cambrica var aurantiaca). I love them but I have never managed to get them to grow in my garden.


WHERE have all the duck eggs gone? Fried hen’s eggs are delicious but duck eggs are even better. Hitherto I have been able to get them at Waitrose, Booths and at two or three stalls in Clitheroe market (one of which occasionally has goose eggs too) but for months now they have been absent from the shelves. I have seen avian flu blamed, but that doesn’t seem to have affected the supply of hen’s eggs, and they are birds too.


Bovine of the Week

I THOUGHT long and hard about the title of this new segment featuring cattle. ‘Sheep’ handily covers male and female, singular and plural. ‘Cow of the Week’ doesn’t work as well, apart from sounding a bit insulting. Alternative nouns are ‘neat’, as in ‘neat’s foot oil’, and ‘ox’ but both are a bit old-fashioned. So ‘bovine’ it is – a noun as well as an adjective.

These are Chillingham wild cattle. Their origins are not clear but it is thought that they are descendants of medieval domesticated cattle. They have lived on the 300-acre Chillingham estate in Northumberland for about 800 years, probably since the estate was walled in the 13th century to keep out Scottish marauders. They have never been touched by humans, not even a vet, so their behaviour is that of wild animals.

The herd was badly affected by the hard winter of 1946/7, and only 13 individuals survived. The population last year was 138, all descended from those 13. Since there is no culling, there are roughly equal numbers of bulls and cows, which means there is a lot of competition and fighting between the bulls. Despite the inevitable inbreeding they are healthy and energetic.

Here is an excellent video featuring Chris Leyland, who was then the park manager.

Chris died in 2016 at only 62, and you can read an obituary here. 

There are some well-known art works portraying the cattle. This is by Thomas Bewick in 1789, and this is by Edwin Landseer in 1867.

The Chillingham Wild Cattle Association, a charity which looks after the estate, runs tours to view the cattle from a reasonable distance. Its website is here. 


Wheels of the Week

THIS is another in the occasional series featuring cars photographed by TCW contributor Brian Meredith when he chanced upon the Mille Miglia Rally in Florence in 2013. I wrote about the background here. The rally is for cars which were entered for the original Mille Miglia race which took place from 1927 to 1957.

This is a 1953 Aston Martin DB-2. I think I have found a similar model online with more pictures, which you can see here. 

It is a very rare car. Three pre-production models took part in the Le Mans 24-hour race in 1949, and commercial manufacture started in 1950. The first 49 cars to be made had a three-piece front grille, and subsequent ones had the one-piece grille shown above. A total of 411 had been made by the time production ended in 1953. A drophead coupé version was introduced later in 1950 and about 102 were made.

A closed coupé tested by Motor magazine in 1950 had a top speed of 116.4 mph and could accelerate from 0-60 mph in 11.2 seconds. Fuel consumption was 20mpg. The test car cost £1,914 including taxes, which according to the Bank of England inflation calculator would be £54,137 now. I found one for sale at £250,000. See here if you are interested. 

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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