(the retrospectives…)

The idea of exploring and painting all the named Dales of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) was always going to be a long haul and a bit fuzzy around the edges. It sounds easy to define – paint all the Dales on the list supplied by the YDNP rangers – and tick them off one by one.

Currently the list has a grand total of 44 Dales (boundary changes of the YDNP in 2016 added a few), most draining to the North Sea but several draining to the Irish Sea in the West.

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My latest conquests have been on the western boundaries near Ingleborough and further north near the upper reaches of western Swaledale.

The beautiful moors above Doedale often go unnoticed as Ingleborough dominates the scene across the valley; and the light on the remote barren moors between Great Sled Dale and Little Sled Dale (tributaries to Swaledale) often dances unseen. I depicted these wonderful spaces using small compositions to be simple and powerful in ‘OVER-SHADOWED’ and ‘MORE WEATHER’:

But what about pictures I painted four or five years ago when the QUEST idea was just forming, do they count? And what about those from even longer ago, do those check-off on my list?

Perhaps it depends on how I captured each Dale. Maybe the question is whether these retrospectives still convey what I’d like to convey about these places? Do they offer you the experience of being in that Dale, on that moor? Do they put the wind in your hair?  

A few years ago I focused on the Three Peak area and the big drama there, with compositions such as ‘I AM INGLEBOROUGH’ and ‘UP AND DOWN WHERNSIDE’. I think they still speak for themselves…

…so that allows me to check off Silverdale (below Ingleborough) and Ribblesdale (flowing south from Whernside)!

I also previously captured the big drama around Swaledale, with compositions of its glorious upper reaches and its distinctive barns, in ‘SWALEDALE BARNS I’ and ‘SWALEDALE BARNS II’:

Having walked in this area very recently, these still work for me! But there are other characterful aspects of Swaledale – I love the way it journeys eastwards, swaying from side to side, creating fabulous patterns of swooping contours amongst the fields. I will definitely paint it again one day.

Dentdale has a different remoteness and quiet charm. I have painted it twice: once when the horizon of Middleton Fell slowly emerged from an early morning mist, and another time capturing the huge moorside of Aye Gill Pike in a triptych (which was a large paintig, even though it looks small here!):

I still like both paintings… but I think Dentdale also deserves another visit, yet another Dale with several different sides to its character.

Much closer to my home in Ilkley, Airedale is just over the moor. Scenes in Airedale change substantially along its route – from the industry around Bingley and Saltaire to beautiful farmlands around Skipton and beyond. Nearest my home mid-Airedale has a gentle pastoral quality, which I captured when the stone stiles caught my attention a few years ago: ‘YORKSHIRE STYLE I’ and YORKSHIRE STYLE II’.

Each stile is a unique sculpture of stone, a signature of the local dry wall craftsman, and an invitation to wander the footpaths and fields whilst the walls keep the livestock safe. I hope I have done them justice and earnt Airedale a tick on the list.

So many vistas, big dramatic places, other secret landscapes, other places in-between. Some Dales with one character, others with many. My list feels a little endless as I continue to explore - but I’m loving its fuzziness and lack of time scale.

Gradually the checked-off list grows bigger. Despite the fuzziness, I think I’m about half way there!



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Spending time out in the Dales is always a pleasure – and the area near Ingleton is astounding. Here at the Western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) is some of the most spectacular scenery – this is THREE PEAK’S country!

Just in to the Park from Ingleton, Ingleborough towers above the Dale with its challenging shapes: ancient horizontal limestone steps and steep plunging slopes of scree. (photo taken on my walk)


A couple of miles north is the huge curving shoulder of Whernside (photo below), formed by the strong and mighty millstone grit over-layering the limestone.

Big scenery indeed.

I enjoy my ramble and drink it all in – then look again. Trying to ignore these iconic peaks is tricky, but if you re-focus you are richly rewarded.

Just below Whernside to the north is KINGSDALE with incredible scenery of its own on offer. What an amazing find - with more geological puzzles to solve…

My sketch foreshortens it – the distance you see from its upper contours on the left to the curious bump in the valley bottom on the right is 3 miles. Whernside and Ingleborough peak out above Kingsdale’s upper moors to the south, trying to attract your attention. But I ignore them and enjoy Kingsdale itself.

Kingsdale Beck travels towards the west (to the right in my sketch); once it leaves this part of the valley it crashes down Ingleton Falls and eventually drains into the Irish Sea. To explain the Dale’s strange shapes requires quite a lot of geological knowledge, and a re-visit to the ice-age. That odd bump at its western end is terminal moraine – glacial debris leftover when the ice melted. This damned the valley, and a meltwater lake formed here – imagine this filled by a lake…

(Photo looks up the Dale towards the east, taken from the terninal moraine bump)

(Photo looks up the Dale towards the east, taken from the terninal moraine bump)

Eventually the water found a way through the bump of terminal moraine, and the lake drained away. But the silt it left behind created rich fertile soil – fabulous pasturelands protected on three sides by huge moors and on the fourth by our small bumpy hillock….

What a lot to take in! I gaze again at the strong upper contours and begin to find my compositions here….

With the royal-sounding name I muse that the real dominant forces are the underlying rocks and the weather itself, and I focus on those.

At the top of the dale the underlying millstone grit creates beautiful rounded contours; a few stone walls try to tame this high landscape but the clouds seem to be the star performer; what a joy to celebrate them in ‘CROWNING GLORY’…

Yorkshire Dales’ weather can change quickly: later the same day the sky cleared, suddenly showing off more of its beautiful blue.

The moors flanking the northern side of the dale are a celebration of limestone, and the sudden sunshine allowed the greens to dance amongst the escarpments. I thought my painting aptly named: ‘ROYAL BLUE’.

But a puzzle remained… I hadn’t yet discovered the origins of the Dale’s royal-sounding name. I turned to my friends at the YDNP for help…

Their answer was quite conclusive: ‘Kyen’ is an ancient norse word; and ‘Dael’ is old English. Put them together and ‘Kingsdale’ emerges. But the meaning?

Well, it turns out that the locals understood the real gem of this beautiful valley, and it goes back to that rich pasture formed on the silt from the ancient glacial lake. Beautiful pasture usefully protected on all sides….. ‘KYENDAEL’ means ‘the valley where the cows are kept’!

Maybe I need to refocus again?


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Throughout the Yorkshire Dales I have found some baffling place names, but Apedale has to be one of the strangest. There were never any apes here; but this wonderful place offers up some amazing stories.

Exploring by foot simply intrigued me further. Apedale is a fabulous, barren, wild Dale, hiding in the contours way above Swaledale and Wensleydale…

(the photos below are from one of my walks…)

…I looked closely but the top layer can only hint at the past. Rather than dig into geology, this time I dug into the history books, wondering what tales might be revealed.

I have always been curious about how our land can be used, abused, invaded, and inhabited, yet still restore itself. My home town of Ilkley is a merging of various ancient hamlets and villages, and even a Roman Fort settlement! Little of these remain.

Just above the town on a glorious south facing slope is a building known as the Monastery. It overlooks a large beautiful lush green field of pasture. Stopping to catch my breath as I walk up its steep hill, I envy the sheep grazing here; their field catches all of the sunshine and has a superb view of Ilkley Moor. (photo from my walk below)

But the field is not as it seems.

In the 15th Century, this very spot was full of buildings: the hamlet of Scalewray. There were tracks and homes, outbuildings and enclosures – now all long gone. No-one knows why Scalewray, in its fine location, was abandoned. Now restored by nature I only see rich top soil and grass. Some series of slight undulations offer the specialists tantalising traces of earthworks and buried remains. This innocent-looking field actually has ‘monument’ status!

(visit Historic England to see  the 'monument' area marked on a map:

So I am well aware that some seemingly raw, uninhabited places might have startling stories to tell; and a bit of internet digging is all it takes to find them…

 Returning to our Dale nestling in the high contours between Swaledale and Wensleydale, I discover that in the 7th - 8th centuries it was chosen as a place for settlement by the invading Norsemen. I guess there were several fresh springs, wooded slopes, some protection in the dip of the valley from the weather, and good views from its upper reaches to spot any encroaching trouble.

(first pencil sketch of my composition plan below)

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And here is the explanation of the strange name! These Norsemen were known locally as the ‘Appi’ people. The ‘Valley of the Appi’ gradually shortened to become Apedale.

That settlement eventually faded; but this barren place was going to offer up more riches. Seams of iron ore and coal were discovered close to the surface – they were easy to mine. By the 19th century Apedale was a hive of industry: four different collieries sank deep shafts into this land. Their pit head buildings, chimneys and transportation railway tracks scarred the landscape; their hard working miners a daily presence.

Yet now, just a hundred years later, that industry is gone. Only some small ruined stone-works remain, gradually sinking into the peaty surface.

The restoring power of nature amazes me. I planned my painting with wild, exciting colours, striving to convey that strength.

(my layer of underpainting, ready for soft pastel)

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Today the Dale buzzes with noise only in the grouse shooting season, some lines of grouse butts mar the smooth horizons.

Despite our best attempts to tame it, I like to think this place is still wild…

(My soft pastels build the clouds…)


 …Walk here and the wind will whip your face as the clouds dance and the grouse fly up from the heather. Scarred, barren, but still itself.

Naming my painting was easy….. UNTAMED.

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The Bits Inbetween

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The Bits Inbetween

The Yorkshire Dales are so sculptural: I love these 3D maps showing the stunning contours, dips, dales, u-shapes, v-shapes and big wide moor shapes. Capturing any of it on my 2D canvas is always going to be a challenge; just one of the many challenges along the way!

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Each named Dale has, of course, a very specific place – usually identified by its river or beck and the journey of that water along the valley bottom. Although I enjoy walks by any beck or river, some of my favourite places are further up the contours, where the space feels bigger, the vistas exciting, and the weather and skies entertain.

These are the places of the watersheds – the boundaries between the Dales.


When I painted ‘WATERSHED’ a couple of years ago (between Wharfedale and Wensleydale), I mused at the abundance of these places:

‘the watershed is the point where here the water flows in one direction into one catchment basin rather than there where it flows another way into a different valley and a different river. And so the Yorkshire Dales are riddled with them…..’

I am now wondering whether the watersheds move over time - when a new spring bubbles up here and another over there sinks into the underground maze of limestone cavities? Maybe these spaces are more fluid than we think, somewhat fuzzy on our maps, and a little bit undefined?

But I love them!

(‘HEATHER BOTH WAYS’, above Wharfedale and Washburndale – image below)

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Often, when you are so high, you can no longer see into the lower parts of the nearby Dale. You know it is there, in a comforting way – with its pubs and cafes and car parks. But up here you feel removed from the normal pace of life; here is a place to sing, shout, be uplifted by the emptiness and hugeness.

Looking at my watercolour map of the YDNP I realise that it is these places - the places around the watersheds -  that fill a great deal of the map. All those expanses that I have depicted in purply hues! In the hundreds of square miles of the Dales (there are evidently 841 sq miles in total), only a fraction are the valley bottoms and running waters. An awful lot are the beautiful spaces inbetween.

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It is therefore not surprising that these spaces are the focus of many of my compositions!


Here I enjoy the bright green pastures of some of the upper limestone scenery above Kettlewell (the purples were an oversimplification on my map). From these upper moors you can look straight over the valleys, across the hidden valley bottoms to the moors opposite; across Wharfedale towards the distant contours of Littondale.

The moors between Sleddale and Widdale are celebrated in my painting ‘SLEDDALE GRIT’, and the upper contours between Coverdale and upper Nidderdale in ‘A PLACE TO PIROUETTE’…..

And most recently, here are the moors between mid-Wharfedale and mid-Nidderdale, shown in their glorious orangey winter hues…

It was choosing a title for this which got me thinking: I called it ‘BETWEEN’.

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Special places indeed, places we are lucky to have. They are a huge part of my connection with the YDNP.

As I continue on my quest to paint all the named Dales, I must find a way to count these fabulous bits inbetween…. any suggestions?

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New finds in old places

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New Finds in Old Places

I have come across some fabulous ‘new finds’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Of course, they are only new to me – these are ancient places with huge tales to tell – stories that span millennia.

My latest find is Mossdale.

I was rather staggered when I realised there was a tributary Dale to Wharfedale that I’d not heard of and never visited. But as it doesn’t have a tea shop, a tarmac road, or a pub, I had to take a good look at the map to find it at all!

It is hiding on the upper fells above the well-known confluence of Wharfedale and Littondale. From this angle above Consitone (depicted in MEET AND GREET below), Mossdale is literally hiding behind you.


Take the bridle track which starts in Conistone and head away from Wharfedale towards the fells. It is a three mile journey but the track offers easy walking all the way, and after the first steep bit behind Conistone the ascent is quite gentle.

Oddly placed on the high-up plateau of grasslands the Dale takes shape as you approach. You become aware of a dry river bed following the track, a heather-clad slope ahead entertains you with its abrupt change of colour. You can hear a gushing waterfall, but there is no sign of its whereabouts.


What a puzzle! My new understandings of geology help me understand: layers of millstone grit mainly lie on top of the limestone on these upper fells (as shown in my LITHOLOGICAL SKETCH of MEET AND GREET above), but in some places the millstone grit has been eroded and it is the limestone which sits just beneath the top soils.

The personality differences of these rocks explain the odd scene before us; the sudden changes of underlying rock showing on the surface in the sharp changes of contour and vegetation colour. There are rounded contours formed by millstone grit covered in purple heather, suddenly giving way to wide flat grasslands supported by the well-drained top soils of the limestone.

Pinning down a composition to make it behave was quite a task: MOSSDALE MISCHIEF seemed an apt name!


But Mossdale wasn’t finished with me yet: it had a glorious final piece of magical trickery for me to find. After gathering in the springs of the uplands, Mossdale Beck meanders quietly across the wide valley bottom of the Dale then…. suddenly disappears!

The Beck favours a different route to the old dry river bed of previous years; it now noisily plunges underground into a hole at the base of a limestone outcrop.

I was mesmerised. The mysterious sound of that gushing waterfall was now explained - I am told by our friends at the YDNP that after descending into the pothole, the Beck joins the River Wharfe a few miles away underground. As I sat and looked I knew I had to paint it.

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Capturing water is quite a challenge: but observation is always the key. Lots of photos of the Beck and visits to other rivers to study and watch water flow were required, and gradually the composition took shape.

Soft pastels are wonderfully forgiving and eventually I managed to sort out the textures and movement: Mossdale’s DISAPPEARING ACT.


Thank you, Mossdale, for your magical entertainment.

……I wonder what my next find will be?


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snow already?

surely not!

a seasonal distraction…

Painting Wharfedale in any weather is wonderful – it is a Dale of so many contours and vistas, so many favourite places. Having lived here most of my life I have watched it change through many annual seasons – and none is more mesmerising than SNOW!

A wintery blanket changes everything: the light, the focal points, the colour. Snow covered contours seem completely different: snow textures the steep slopes of rocky vegetation, it bounces the light from deep drifts in moorland dips and on the fields, it dramatises the dark lines of stone walls. The valley dances with different light, shadows become more purply, snow drifts become blue, the sky is full of grey hues. A dazzling distraction.

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Soft pastels are brilliant at capturing this: they flow, blend, colours can be gloriously vivid or nudged into soft shadows; texture can be added, light augmented to a wintery gorgeousness. A new set of purples makes my fingers tingle!

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But first, there is a bit of hard work to be done. Making these lovely sticks of pure colour behave themselves requires a bit of prep work. Over the decades I have realised that successful landscape painting is not just knowing the land, enjoying it, walking in it, observing it…. but also taking time to lay some good ground work on my pastel surface before I start to paint it. (It is still called painting, even though the pastel pigments remain dry.) It might sound a little tedious (especially when you’re all revved up ready to paint!), but I have 2 big rules: taking time to properly PREP MY SURFACE and carefully consider my COMPOSITION PLAN.

To make the fabulous, vibrant colours of soft pastel stay on the surface of any paper, the surface needs to be gritty – the grit being ready to grip all those particles of pure colour!

Any thick paper or card that has a slight texture can work and lots are available from the art material shops. I tend to prime my own card (I use artist mount board) with a readymade primer so that I can control it and layer it thickly where it will be required.

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But where will it be required? What shape does my card need to be? What size? Where will the horizon of my landscape be, where will rich under-colour be needed?

The answer is all in my composition plan. A cheap pad of paper and a pencil is all that is needed – plus a bit of patience! All my landscapes are carefully planned before I start: on my sketch pad I can erase mistakes easily, play with where a horizon might sit, what overall shape will suit the scene best, how the light is going to flow.

My plans are not pictures in themselves, but MAPS… with notes and arrows and ideas and thoughts. It all might evolve a little as the painting gets underway, but starting with a composition ‘map’ I feel I’m halfway there already.

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I cut my card to the right size and shape and apply acrylic paint to get rid of the blank surface. When that is dry I brush on a generous coat of primer. I have a good idea of where I’m going as I pick up my soft pastel colours, and I can focus on the dazzling snow without distraction.

And so I’m rather hoping for more snow this winter, I wonder what other Dales look fabulous with a winter coat?


My QUEST is underway, and here's a second 'blog'!

My first blog (scroll down to find it) outlined some of the task ahead: I aim to explore and paint ALL the named Dales in the Yorkshire Dales National Park - it might take some time!

The first question is…

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………where is Widdale?

… and why is it so different from Waldendale?

Most of us have heard of Wensleydale – if only for its cheese. A grand, wide, majestic Dale of fields and farming, cows and sheep; and the River Ure gliding gently through its wide flat valley bottom.

But it has some great secrets: begin to explore its side tributary Dales and you’ll find some fabulous places that are spectacularly varied.

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Starting at Wensleydale’s southern flank from the west, I discovered WIDDALE. I had driven through it many times before but not stopped to look. It is a fabulous place of upper contours and grandeur which I had whizzed past on my way from Hawes to Ribblehead viaduct. Now I stopped and found a path up to the moortops, discovering a glorious space where the Dale delivered its best – even under grey skies it entertained me. My painting invites you to ‘PRESS PAUSE’ and soak it in.

Neighbouring SLEDDALE shares some of this rounded grandeur. It is Sleddale that offers the breath-taking scenery when travelling the road over from Upper Wharfedale down through Gayle and into Hawes. Here the top soils appear to be quite barren in places, having easy-to-mould muddy gritstones beneath, and the rain-pounded slopes are riddled with stream rivulets.

Some hardy farmers work this land, maybe it is their gritty determination that I refer to in ‘SLEDDALE GRIT’.

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RAYDALE comes next, with the gorgeous treasure of Semer Water nestling in its bowl. It is totally different from the previous two! Here limestone takes prominence under the soil, limestone escarpments protrude and there are steep slopes of scree. The underlying mixture of rock belong to the famous Yoredale Series, which offer well-drained, rich top soils, so I use a lush green palette to depict the scene.


But there is a further local tale: these limestone escarpments stand guard not only over Semer Water but also look down on the site of Wensleydale’s old Roman Fort at Bainbridge. I fancifully feel that they remain as Roman Sentinel Guards, and name my painting ‘YOREDALE SENTINELS’.

I continue east to find WALDENDALE, yet again a different type of place. Its two roads peter out and only old tracks and pathways cross its upper moors. These purple contours surround it protectively: there are lush green fields and old stone farms, sheep and overgrown paths. Secluded and quiet, almost in a time zone of its own: as depicted in ‘WALDENTIME’.


What a taster of variety; and I have only just started! It is time to retrace my steps along Wensleydale’s southern edge and fill in some gaps. RAYDALE has two tributaries of its own: I painted bleak BARDALE last year, I have recently walked CRAGDALE and am mulling on how to capture it. And there is farm filled BISHOPDALE to wander, bleak COVERDALE to ponder, and COLSTERDALE to find. I’m going to stay busy.

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How many Dales?

the start of a QUEST……

I have only recently realised how few of the Yorkshire Dales I know. The ‘main’ dales such as Wharfedale, Wensleydale and Swaledale are my familiar walking territory, and even some of their main tributary Dales are well known to me; but looking more carefully at my Yorkshire Dales National Park (YDNP) map I realise there are many more side Dales I didn’t know existed and certainly haven’t visited!

Donning my walking boots, and with eyes peeled for good compositions, I have started to explore….

It is amazing how DIFFERENT some of the Dales are from each other - and the smaller tributaries that I’ve found seem to be even more individual in character. To find out why, you have to dig a bit deeper: I found the answer beneath the surface in the rock beds. Our Yorkshire Dales National Park has a particularly rich and exciting variety of geology - and back in 1954 this helped secure its National Park status.

Limestone layers result in steep contours, pavement plateaux, well-drained upper grasslands and lush green valley bottoms. Exciting angles, lots of greens…fun to paint!

In contrast the millstone grit offers peaty, rounded moorlands; impressive smooth contours, covered with colourful heather and cotton grass. Big wide open spaces I can drench in colour and light.

And many Dales have a glorious mixture which creates a very specific landscape unique to that particular Dale.

I have yet to pin down the actual number of Dales in the YDNP; I have 45 on a list provided by a YDNP ranger, but other lists suggest over 50. Locals give valleys names which are not shown on maps, other names seem to be used more than once… visiting them all and painting them all is going to be an interesting quest!

But A QUEST it is. I am setting out to use my walking boots, my composition sketch pad, my easel and my soft pastels to capture ALL the named Yorkshire Dales within the National Park.

They will need observing carefully. For each I will aim to distil something of its essence, something of its unique character, atmosphere and space. Some Dales might need large wide canvases with big primed surfaces and dramatic underpainting, others may be glimpsed via a small intimate composition on a water-coloured background - throughout it all I am sure my soft pastels will be put to the test!

Recently I have been exploring Wensleydale, finding Widdale, Sleddale, Raydale and Waldendale, and that’s just for starters. If you’d like to join me without having to put your walking boots on or pick up a map, just follow this blog!

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