Of Dales and Henges

I have traveled only in North America and Europe, so when I say a place is the most beautiful in the world, I mean in my world. It’s entirely possible that the plains of Tanzania, the shores of the Bosphorus, the Great Barrier Reef, are more extraordinary. But to me, nothing tops the Yorkshire Dales. And this trip, I wanted to check and make sure that Garsdale was the most beautiful. Thanks to my friend Jenny, I have.

Photos, of course, are essential. Here is a beautiful dale, between Hawes and the Buttertubs:

And here is Garsdale:

While some prefer London, I mostly like it for its cultural assets. These are substantial, of course: museums, parks, bridges, monuments. I agree with Samuel Johnson that when you are tired of London, you are tired of life. But sometimes, you’re just tired, tired of bus drivers who don’t even look you in the eye much less say “good morning”, tired of the bemused sound of the few English people working their way through polyglot crowds, tired of sore feet on the pavement. The “provinces”, as they call them, are better, and of these, the North is the best.

There is nothing in London like the Buttertubs. They are deep crevices dug through rock by water. The story goes that merchants carrying their butter over the hills to sell in Sedbergh on warm days would stop and lower their butter into the crevices to cool and solidify it. Some are 28 meters deep. There is, of course, a highly protective fence to prevent one falling in. We went around the wall instead to get close and take a look. Call it “Women on the Edge”, if you like.

Many people, however, prefer the Lake District to the Dales. Stone circles and henges, I learned, abound in this area (and here I thought it was just O! and Ruskin). I have been to stone circles and henges before (a henge is basically a circular ditches — Stonehenge is surrounded by one, thus the name). I visited Stonehenge in 1981, long before the coach tours and long queues and roped-off stones. It was magical then, not so much now. I also went to Avebury in 2005. But today Jenny and I visited several in the Lake District, Castle Rigg. So a quick time warp:

We visited two stone circles (Castle Rigg and Long Meg) and a henge (Mayburgh Henge). Castle Rigg felt like sacred ground, like a cathedral. Even with many people and dogs there, the atmosphere was hushed and reverent. There were sheep. (The panoramic shots below are clickable!)

Long Meg, just past Penrith, had cows, and it was a much larger circle. Unlike Castle Rigg, no one seemed to know about this one. There were only a few other people there. The tree had a sign warning not to let your dog foul the ground, as dog feces can cause cows to abort. Ick.

Then on to Mayburgh Henge, which was much higher than I expected, and made of piled up rocks. Inside the henge, in an indentation like a bowl, was the single remaining stone. A man told us they destroyed the others using them for target practice. Near the stones were cows. The cows at Long Meg were not very bold, but these were different. A few gave me (as Paddington would say) a hard stare, and edged closer.

This one was coming right at me, stopping every few steps, like the angels in that episode of Dr. Who. I realized I was wearing my bright red Marks & Spencer trench coat. I turned slowly to find Jenny (don’t blink!) and she told me to walk towards her, as the cow (above) butted me from behind, very gently. I have since read that they do that to those inferior to them. Certainly an urban American in a red coat with the toreador song from Carmen running in her head qualifies as inferior.


2 comments to Of Dales and Henges

  • jmm

    Cows are lovely animals, dumb as bricks and afraid of virtually everything. You could have spooked this one forever, and given it something to warn its children about, by speaking to it sternly. Or even Sternely.

    I love the picture of you with the red scarf and the standing stone…although coupled with the threatening coo, it reminded me of the historian in Monty Python & the Holy Grail.

    Keep an eye out for kniggettes. <3

    • Lisa M Lane

      Jenny did scare the cow away for me, but I very much doubt I could speak sternly to a cow.

      Oh dear, yes, the historian. I shall beware!