Following the Leadmining Trail – Grassington

There are certain landscapes that seem to belong to a certain place. Even an uncaptioned photograph takes you there. They are filled with memories, filled with stories, both your own and those only heard and read. They are the landscapes that you miss when you are away. They are the place that you remember, along with the people that you last experienced them with.

We all missed a lot over the last few years. Whilst we were luckier than most, the pandemic did mean that we went the best part of three years between visits to the north of England. This was easily the longest time away since I moved to Germany twenty years ago, and as we were coming in to land at Manchester airport, the thing we were looking for through the tiny window of the Ryanair plane was a glimpse of the moors.

The coastline of Wales and the moorlands of the north. These are the landscapes of home for me, alongside the forests of Brandenburg and the Baltic dunes. For a long time I struggled with this split, of feeling at home in many places but then truly at home in none. At some point I began to embrace it. It’s not a bad place to be, for a writer. And in any case, if a sense of home has become fragmented, it might be because home has nothing to do with land and landscape – not really – but with people and experiences, of the stories we’ve created together in those places, and the memories we share.

We were back in Yorkshire after three years away. In many ways, it felt like nothing had changed. Grassington was filled with people in the springtime sunshine. Early drinkers sitting outside the pub. Ice creams and tea shops. Strollers and hikers. We eased our way through the throng and followed Moor Lane up and out of the town. When the road ran out, we began to walk. It was not to be a big adventure. An afternoon stroll with friends. On the horizon, our target. A brick chimney, standing tall against the grass and heather of the moor. 

This corner of Grassington Moor was once a centre for lead mining in the region, and a short waymarked trail would take us through the remnants of the mines that once operated here. There were shallow shafts cut into the landscape. Reservoirs and abandoned buildings. Tramways and the chimney. We were walking with family and friends, picking our way through the history of this place, every so often stopping to look back and across, picking out landmarks on the horizon of places we’ve been. Of other days on the moors. Of other walks.

These mines operated in the 18th and 19th centuries, providing the income that made Grassington and once the main source of work in the local area. The last mine closed in 1882 and it was hard to understand or grasp, as we walked through this windswept place, desolate despite the sunshine, what it must have been like when it was fully in operation.

So many of what we think of as ‘wild’ places are home to the ghosts of different times, when these moors or islands, mountainsides or forest clearings, were once hives of activity in industries long abandoned and forgotten. We stopped for lunch just beyond the chimney, watching the birds as they dived above the ripples on a reservoir, reminding ourselves that everything we could see was shaped by the needs and desires of people. 

But more than anything, it was just nice to be back. Nice to follow an old industrial trail across a landscape that I didn’t realise how much I’d missed until we were back there again. Or maybe it was simply the people. These people with whom we’ve shared so many stories. On Grassington Moor, information boards tell the history of the place and the people who worked up there. Now, the landscape held another story. Of a spring afternoon when we were together again, after too long apart. 

54°05’41.6″N 1°57’22.7″W
Photographs: Katrin Schönig
Words: Paul Scraton