Forty years ago, when the Shell Oil Company thought that it was both a public service and a good publicity ploy to sponsor the publishing of books, one appeared called ‘The Shell Guide to the Viewpoints of England.’ Written by Garry Hogg, a travel writer who died in 1976, the year after the book’s appearance, it was intended, as the flyleaf blub said, ‘for the motorist who likes to combine short drives with scrambling or walking to convenient viewpoints’ – though his guide is not a complete tour of the places he describes, rather a selection of places you might consider visiting.
Hogg chooses 15 ‘high places’ from which to view the countryside, each offering, he claims, a view encompassing about 900 square miles – enough to keep even the most avid day-tripper happy. He carefully divides in the view into eight segments and works clockwise round from the north, describing what’s in view and the history behind the landscape for each section. These include, he writes, ‘places of outstanding interest ranging from great houses, castles, museums, and historic and prehistoric sites open to the public, to medieval bridges, memorable churches, Iron Age forts, Bronze Age circles, Roman remains, natural features such as the ‘forces’ of Yorkshire and the tors of Dartmoor, the packhorse bridges in Derbyshire and Somerset, Cheddar Gorge and so on.’ In fact, anything that catches his fancy was grist to the mill of his book.
So where, you will be asking, does Garry Hogg place his views of Yorkshire? His first viewpoint in the county is the summit of Rogan’s Seat between Arkengarthdale and West Stonesdale, north of Swaledale. The summit, at 2,205 feet, was chosen ‘among many strong competitors, partly because it is less daunting than some others, but more particularly because it can be approached by road more easily’; of course, you need to drive to the viewpoint as effortlessly as possible. From its summit (to which, he fails to point out, you’d need a good couple of miles of moorland walking to reach) he first looks north towards Middleton-in-Teesdale (which he offers little hope of seeing) and round to Barnard Castle and even further away, Raby Castle.
Then at last his descriptions turn to Yorkshire; his first view is across ‘the fringe of Arkengarthdale Moor by way of Scargill and the emptiness of Stang Forest’, about which he has no more to say, to Richmond. He rightly calls it ‘surely one of the most splendidly-sited of all our smaller towns.’ But there’s little time to linger – a quick mention of the castle, the market place, the Theatre Royal and the ‘Lass of Richmond Hill’ – before we’re off again in his imagination, just tipping our hat to Easby Abbey as our gaze sweeps south.
Soon he’s deep into Swaledale (or ‘Swale Dale’, as he calls it, though we don’t find him referring to ‘Wensley Dale’), mentioning the former nunnery of Marrick Priory (he likes monastic ruins). You are offered side trips to Leyburn, to Middleham and to Bolton (castles, too, are a favourite), but the emphasis is always on the clockwise sweep of the view.
Garry Hogg seems to prefer Wensleydale to ‘Swale Dale’; he finds it ‘wider and more welcoming especially in its middle reaches; it never constricts or imposes a sense of claustrophobia, as some would say that Swale Dale does between, say, Muker and Keld’; it’s perhaps an understandable view from an author who lives on the borders of Kent and Sussex. So we are to admire Aysgarth Falls (‘kindly-disposed, picturesque, rather than menacing’ and the ‘spacious green’ at Bainbridge, where their seasonal hornblower gets a mention, before reaching Hardraw Force, which he prefers in its summer flow: ‘ethereal, translucent . . . a fairy-like quality’.
Then his view takes in the route over the Buttertubs Pass; we are to stop and admire the Tubs past Lovely Seat, from where we are to look down on (but not visit, it seems), Thwaite and Muker – about which he has little to say – before we turn to pass through Keld (‘even smaller’ is the only comment). The view then sweeps out of Yorkshire to encompass the Eden Valley and to Kirkby Stephen (‘one of our older market towns and well worth lingering in’) and on to Brough, where, of course, the castle catches Hogg’s eye.
Then his view veers round towards High Force in Teesdale in the last of Hogg’s eight segments seen from Rogan’s Seat. He admires its power, but we get the feeling that he would prefer something less dramatic. Indeed, it’s the drama of the landscape that he seems unable to appreciate. We are now approaching the top of his circle once again, by way of the huge sweeps of moorland and wide views of the landscape towards Stainmoor – of which he has no mention. He likes the detail, not the big picture.
He finishes, unsurprisingly, at the Tan Hill Inn. It’s not clear whether he ventured inside; there’s certainly no mention of the warm welcome it offers today to cyclists and bikers, motorists and hikers, who have braved the elements to reach the highest inn in the British Isles. He describes it as ‘in addition to being the highest . . . it must be one of the loneliest and most isolated, standing gaunt, four-square, and unprepossessing on the edge of Arkengarthdale Moor.’
And that’s it for this part of North Yorkshire. His gaze, though it seems to have possessed wonderful clarity in seeing things afar off, never reached as far south as Ripon. His only other viewpoint in Yorkshire is from Blakey Ridge on the North York Moors – and you can probably work out for yourself what he saw from there (plenty of mentions of Captain Cook, not one of Middlesbrough). It’s an interesting (though a rather dated and, perhaps, fanciful) approach to dealing with the countryside landscape and its history. You may like to consider though, where your own favourite viewpoint in the county is – and what features and attractions you’d point out to anyone who shares it with you.
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