WharfeQuest Home | Links| Gallery  
Geology & Landscape
Natural History & Wildlife
Local History
Towns & Villages
Legends & Stories

Home > Local History

UPPER WHARFEDALE - Link to Out of Oblivion


Wharfe is a Celtic river name meaning the winding river. The main villages in the upper dale are Grassington - a name meaning 'Grazing land farm' and Appletreewick - the farm where apple trees grew. 'Wick' meaning farm can be an Anglo-Saxon or Viking word. Arncliffe is a village on the River Skirfare, a tributary of the Wharfe. The skirfare forms the valley called Littondale to the north of Grassington. Arncliffe's name means Eagle's Cliff.

Appletreewick was the birthplace in 1548 of Sir William Craven. He later went on to become Lord Mayor of London and was dubbed the 'Dick Whittington of the Dales'. Bolton Priory (Bolton Abbey) near Skipton, to the south of Appletreewick was established in 1154 and is the main historical feature of Wharfedale. It was an Augustinian Priory destroyed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. A thirteenth century church at Bolton Priory is still in use, but the priory itself is a ruin.


Ingleborough, Pendle Hill and Pen-y-ghent are highest hills between Scotland and Trent, so a Pennine saying goes. This is not strictly true, Cross Fell in the Pennines is higher, as are many of the Lake District Fells. Pen-y-ghent, the 2,273 feet high hill near Settle, North Yorkshire is however one of the most famous peaks of the Pennines. Located near the source of the River Skirfare (Littondale, a tributary of the Wharfe) it has managed to retain one of the oldest names in the Pennines.

A clue to the origin of the name may be gained by looking it up in the Atlas. Here we can find Pen-y-fan, Pen y Gadair, Pen y Gaer, Pen y Parc, Pen y Rhwbyn and many other names beginning in this similar fashion. In this list Pen-y-ghent is very much the odd one out because it is found in England. All the others are Welsh. Pen-y-ghent's name is Welsh and is a reminder of the days of the Ancient British, when most of the country we now call England spoke a language closely akin to Welsh.

Pen usually means hill and y is the Welsh definite article. The meaning of ghent is however unknown, although it may mean 'Border Country'. Pen-Y-Ghent's name would thus mean 'Hill of the Border Country'. It is known that a number of Welsh Kingdoms notably Craven, Elmet and Loidis survived in the western part of Yorkshire into early Saxon times and the name of Pen-y-ghent may be a throwback to these times. It is not unusual for English hills to retain the word pen however, which is why we have for example Penshaw Hill near Sunderland and Pendle Hill in Lancashire.


Skipton is the main town of a district of Yorkshire called Craven. In early Anglo-Saxon times Craven was a kingdom inhabited by the Ancient Britons. The name of the district derives from the Welsh Craf meaning 'garlic' and wild garlic still grows herabouts. Craven was one of a number of Welsh speaking Ancient British kingdoms in the area. Others included Loidis at Leeds, Elmet near Tadcaster and Hatfield near Doncaster.

Skipton is located right in the centre of the Yorkshire Pennines in a Pennine pass called the Aire Gap. The A59 road passes through it linking Yorkshire and Lancashire, as well as linking the Yorkshire valleys of Wharfedale, Airedale and Ribblesdale. To the north west of Skipton is Gargrave (It means Gara's grove - the grove belonging to Gara), where the most northerly stretches of The Leeds and Liverpool canal link the famous Yorkshire Town with the great Lancashire port.

John Wesley preached at Skipton in 1747 and described the town as 'all pent up' between the hills. The name of Skipton is Anglo-Viking and means sheep farm, but it is now a busy market town. Skipton's main feature is its castle dating from Norman times, when it was built by Robert De Romille. It was almost one hundred per cent rebuilt by the Clifford family in the fourteenth century and remained in their hands until the seventeenth century. Skipton is one of the most complete castles in England.

Along the Aire valley to the north of Skipton are a number of notable geological features including Malham Tarn, Malham Cove and Gordale Scar.


The River Aire is the main river of Leeds but also forms a dale to the west of the Yorkshire city. Keighley is the largest town between Skipton and the Leeds/Bradford area. It is mainly of nineteenth century origin. Nearby is a seventeenth century National Trust House called East Riddlesden Hall, but the main attraction of the area is the former weaving village of of Haworth in the moors to the south.

Haworth was the home of those famous literary sisters the Brontes - Charlotte (1816-55), Emily (1818-48) and Anne (1820-49) and their brother Branwell (1817-48). Their novels were set in the district and include Emily's 'Wuthering Heights', Charlotte's 'Jane Eyre' and Anne's 'Agnes Grey'. The Brontes lived at Haworth Parsonage between 1820 and 1861 and the building is now one of the most popular museums in the country. It has rooms furnished in the style of the period.



The upper reaches of the River Ribble are in Yorkshire but the river itself enters the sea near Preston in Lancashire where it forms the southern boundary of Blackpool's Fylde peninsula. Upper Ribblesdale is very different country however. The main town in the dale is Settle, famous for the Settle and Carlisle Railway line which links Settle with the great Cumbrian city. Settle has many buildings of Georgian origin and was the birthplace of Benjamin Waugh, founder of the National Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Nearby is the village of Giggleswick. It has a Viking name meaning Gigel's farm or village. Giggleswick's church is dedicated to St Alkelda, an Anglo-Saxon princess who was murdered by two Viking women. It is a rare dedication, although the parish church at Middleham in Wensleydale is dedicated to St Mary and St Alkelda. Giggleswick's most famous historic feature is however its public school ,which was founded in 1553.

Geological features including numerous pot holes and caves are abundant around the village of Clapham to the North East of Giggleswick. Ingleborough Show Cave, nearby is a linked to the Gaping Ghyll Cave system. The famous 'show cave' is situated on the slopes of Ingleborough, one of Yorkshire's highest fells . A reminder of that Yorkshire saying;

"Ingleborough, Pendle Hill and Pennyghent - are highest hills 'tween Scotland and Trent."


ˆ top


Quick Links:

Pre-History Pre-History
Celts & Romans Celts & Romans
Victorian Era Victorian Era
© 2008 All Rights Reserved. WharfeQuest.
e-mail: info@wharfequest.co.uk