Last Updated on 2nd August 2022 by Mike@bitaboutbritain
Time for a walk in the Yorkshire Dales. We will stroll from the old market town of Settle, up into the hills and do a circuit of around 5 miles. The route will take in the lonely starkness of Attermire Scar, the Victoria and Jubilee Caves and, along the way, encounter preparations for war. This is limestone country. Limestone is a sedimentary rock, laid down during the Carboniferous Period around 330 million years ago when Britain was somewhere near the Equator and much covered by warm, shallow, tropical, waters full of calcium-rich corals and sea creatures. As they died, the creatures’ shells and skeletons settled, piled up, became compacted and, eventually, formed the limestones of the Dales, Pennines, South Wales and Mendips. Limestone is partially soluble, which creates a distinctive topography known as karst. A karst landscape has characteristic features, such as sinkholes, underground drainage, caves, crags, scars, gorges, waterfalls, limestone pavements (like the one at Malham) and dry valleys. The drystone walls and sheep came later. Anyway – the Yorkshire Dales’ limestone scenery has additionally been abraded by glaciers, moulded by wind and water – and further assaulted by man felling most of the trees, mining minerals, like lead, – and, of course, extracting lime from the stone. The lack of trees means that the scenery can sometimes appear to be barren and inhospitable; yet the big skies and panoramic views can also help make it stunningly beautiful.
Our perambulation begins in Settle’s Market Place. If at this point you realise you have forgotten your map (you need Ordnance Survey Explorer OL2, by the way), then you may struggle, because I will not be giving boringly detailed instructions of what stile to cross, and when. You’re an adult – get on with it. I hope you are wearing decent footwear too; those stilettos were all very well at the Young Farmers’ balls and such (be careful with that apostrophe now), but they won’t be much good up in them there hills. You need decent boots. You might need a head torch as well (more of that later). And, if you feel you could get peckish, this might be a good time to buy a cheese roll, a piece of flapjack and an essential bottle of water. Put them in the pocket of the waterproof you’ve very sensibly brought along. You don’t need me to remind you to visit the…? – Good, I am exceedingly glad to hear it.
OK, then. Head for the northeast corner of Settle Market Place, trying not to knock over too many motor cycles and substantial leather-clad bikers. Steel yourself for a climb and go up Constitution Hill. You will pass the Castlebergh Plantation and, hopefully, stumble into the relatively steep Pennine Bridleway. If you’re lucky, a friendly pony will snort at you. Look out for a 90 degree right turn east toward Malham. This is the Dales High Way and it will make you breathe heavily until the pain stops. Look back on Settle, by now a mere memory. Haven’t you done well? So far.
Underfoot, the going is relatively easy now (we did mention footwear, didn’t we?) and the path is straightforward. There should be a drystone wall on your left and, behind that, a large limestone scar. You may spot a cave or two in the side; the whole area is full of ‘em. Ahead of you is a much grander cliff face – this is Attermire Scar. Before you get there, and just after climbing over a ladder stile (example shown below), you may come across some rusting sheets of steel with bullet holes in them. These are the remains of the Attermire Rifle Range, set up in 1860 to train the Settle Volunteers for possible action against the French. Each of the sixty volunteers had to pay £2 and one shilling (£2.05p) for his natty grey uniform and £3 and eight shillings (£3.40p) for a muzzle-loading Short Enfield rifle and bayonet. The range continued to be used up to the First World War, by which time the rifles and the enemy had changed, and was also put to good use by the local Home Guard during the Second World War. It is a little glimpse into another time.
Attermire Scar is impossible to miss. You need to turn left, in a northerly direction, along a wide grass path in front of it. The path gets narrower and stonier. Keep going and eventually you will find Victoria Cave a short scramble up on your right. Once upon a time, I’m sure there was a helpful information board; however, it was missing the last time I was there. I assume the people whose tiny brains derive pleasure from being morons had taken it away, or hidden it. Or maybe my aging brain has misremembered.
Everyone will tell you that Victoria Cave was discovered by friends out dog walking in 1837. This is true. However, I suspect it had been found long before that, when it was called something else. Excavators found bones, the oldest 130,000 years old, including those of hippo, rhino, elephant and spotted hyenas. The suggestion is that the cave was the hyenas’ den and they dragged foraged pieces of other animals back to devour at leisure. After the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago, Victoria Cave had been used by hibernating brown bear. Most exciting of all – an 11,000-year-old barbed deer antler harpoon point was found; the earliest evidence of people being in the Yorkshire Dales. Possibly, it had been embedded in a creature that made its way back to the cave, and died there. You wonder who the hunter was and whether he or she was a resident or just passing through.
An interesting collection of artefacts from the much later Roman period has also emerged from the clay of Victoria Cave. This includes broaches and coins, and also a large number of broken personal items, such as spoons, combs and nail-cleaners. There was a Romano-British summer farm directly above Attermire Scar; is it possible that farm workers or visitors used the cave as some kind of shrine?
Victoria Cave is suitably cavernous, although you are strongly advised not to go in more than a few feet – especially if you don’t know what you are doing and haven’t got the right equipment. However, do look up to the roof and see the stalactites forming.
Stagger back down onto the main path, still heading north-ish, and a few hundred yards further on you will rejoin the Pennine Bridleway you left earlier. Keep on it, still heading north, and, up on your right, you will shortly spot Jubilee Cave. Apparently, this is named for the Silver Jubilee of George V in 1935, but is also known as Tratman’s Cave. Why, I do not know – but there was an E K Tratman (1899-1978), who was a dentist and speleologist (a cave expert – you knew that, didn’t you?), so maybe it was briefly named after him as well. Am I the only one that sees a link between caving and dentistry?
Again, Jubilee Cave can be entered. There are, apparently, inter-connected passages and this is where you might find your torch useful. However, the roof is said to be somewhat unsafe so, personally, I believe a quick look inside followed by a rapid exit is both sufficient and prudent. It is hard to pin down exactly what has been found inside and around about Jubilee Cave. Some sources suggest human, possibly Iron Age, remains have been discovered there. Historic England (and they should know), simply say, “In addition to Iron Age and Roman material, artefacts of Mesolithic and Late Palaeolithic type have been reported from the cave.” If anyone did once live there, I like to imagine them admiring the view with their early morning cuppa.
It is at this point that our expedition turns for home. The more intrepid among you may want to continue, but we lesser mortals have a date with a cup of tea and a bun. Anyway, there is still some walking to do. So, say goodbye to Attermire and the caves, go back down the hill and find that Pennine Bridleway. As you join the road to Langcliffe, the bridleway heads left across country in a southerly direction and your legs will take you, as if by magic, back to Settle.
Visit the website of North Craven Heritage for more about the Attermire Rifle Range.
Visit the Dig Ventures website for more about Victoria Cave, including the finds.
See the Visit Settle website for more about the town.