Freelance copywriter. Writing for business, education, arts and heritage.
Arncliffe and ‘English Landscapes’
Sometime in my teen years I suddenly discovered I loved the countryside. Perhaps all those walks up fells in the Dales and Lakes paid off – and if so, to my parents much gratitude. But it wasn’t just the greenery I loved; it was the villages and farms, the drystone walls and enclosures too: I loved the almost seamless interaction between the built environment, created by many unknown generations, and the natural lie of the land which would have been there no matter what. So I started to buy books on the subject: Pevsner guides to give me the stuff I needed on lintel stones, lych-gates, barns, byres and belfries, and the brilliant ‘English Landscapes’ by W G Hoskins.
My favourite page in this classic was the one with the picture of Arncliffe, the wonderful capital of Littondale in the Yorkshire Dales. Hoskins claimed: ‘The name takes us back to an earlier world when eagles nested on these precipitous walls of mountain limestone.’ Arncliffe does indeed mean ‘Eagle Cliff’ in the speech of the Old English. Hoskins then goes on to state that ‘Arncliffe is built round the perimeter of a large green, with entrances to it from all points of the compass so that cattle and sheep could be driven in from the fields in case of attack’. Nowadays I rather think Hoskins was mistaken on this point, but no matter: such tales used to abound for all sorts of places. In fact, I rather like the slight element of mythologising that Hoskins has allowed to creep in.
As a heritage copywriter, I know the value of an appealing myth! It took me many years to get to Arncliffe and now I am lucky enough to live just down the road. Every visit to it reminds me of Hoskins and those early years when the landscape of England was a treasure trove just waiting to be prised open.