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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