Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ancient field systems, Langcliffe

click photo to enlarge
The derelict field barn in today's main photograph can be seen on the first ot the smaller photographs. It is at a position on a line approximately ten o'clock from the centre of the image. It's one of the more recent features of the fields on this section of hillside between Langcliffe and the old Craven Quarry. How old is it? Probably nineteenth century judging by the style and the stone main roof, though it could be earlier. An extension with a slate roof is newer.

I've often looked across the valley at these fields, especially when the sun is low, because then the shadows reveal the work of farmers over hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. The most obvious remains are several cultivation terraces or lynchets. These appear to be deliberate constructions rather than those that passively arise due to ploughing across the slope. The west-facing aspect of the valley side would mean that terraces enabled farmers to make easier use of the land and maximise the warmth of the sun. Celtic field systems often exhibit such features, and they continued to be used into the medieval period. There are also a number of close parallel ridges that go down the hillside. These are long medieval fields that appear to have had earth or perhaps stone boundary walls, probably to separate them from neighbouring plots. Some are not unlike the Gaelic "lazy beds", cultivated banks separated by channels, an agricultural system not unknown in England, though some here must surely have been simply narrow holdings (see the photograph taken from nearby with the floodwater). Small, square fields can also be detected that are probably Romano-British in origin.

The narrowness of the Ribble valley at this point leaves only one or two field widths available in the valley bottom. These would benefit from silt deposition when the river flooded but during such times they would be unusable. Consequently early farmers would have had to clear stone and trees from the inundation-free lower slopes to make fields suitable for planting or for improving to make hay and pasture. Grass is the main crop today. It feeds both sheep and cattle, beef and dairy, both as it grows and in the form of silage or hay. The fields that are deeper green, showing less brown, indicate where herbicides and fertiliser have been used to improve the grass. Farmers long ago, as today, must have carefully weighed the costs against the benefits of improving the ground on the higher slopes. Often the answer will have been to run fewer sheep on the unimproved grass of the rougher ground and "tops" and bring them down into the valley for the winter.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 14.6mm (39mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/500 sec
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On