Chequerboard moorland

I suppose it would be petty of me to whine about this anthropogenic change to the moors created by mowing of the heather moorland.

I should be thankful that this moor is no longer being burn and great plumes of smoke waft across the skyline but I fear the random patches of the old black swiddens did seem more pleasing than this new chequerboard effect.

‘Swiddens’, as you may recall, are the burnt patches of heather, and swiddening is a centuries old practice, pre-dating its ‘modern’ purpose of promoting the growth of young heather as food for the grouse chicks. It was the first step in turf graving, the cutting and gathering of the underlying peat for use as fuel, a practice no longer in use. In a record of the manor court of Fylingdales of 1682, the burnt moor looked “like a quilt that had been worked1Hartley, Marie and Joan Ingilby. “Life and Tradition on The Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire”. Page 77. J.M. Dent & Son. 1972. ISBN 1 870071 54 9.

Swiddening also provided an opportunity to gather the ling ‘gouldens‘, the name of the partly-burnt storks, tie them in bundles and send them into towns to be sold as ‘kindling2Ibid.. A task usually carried out by the older women.

It may take up to fourteen years for a new growth of heather to become established after a burn, however during this time the swidden may be colonised by a variety of other plants3Farra, Margaret, “A STUDY OF THE LAND-USE CHANGES OF THE NORTH YORK MOORS”. Page 37. ProQuest Number: 10097250.  ProQuest LLC(2016).. It’ll be interesting to see what the recovery and diversity of mowed heather is like. Diversity is of course the enemy of grouse management.

In a hard to read dialect poem by the Yorkshire poet, Stanley Umpleby (1887-1953), the task of swiddening is depicted4Swiddening. This World | Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer | Thursday 22 March 1934 | British Newspaper Archive. [online] Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000687/19340322/298/0008 [Accessed 27 Mar. 2022].:

Hoo can a poor fella ‘at’s choak’d up wi’ smeek
I’ t’toon, where he’s sattled ti addle his keak.
Fergit his au’d frinnds, an’ hoo all used ti sing
Awaay ower t’moors bonnin’ swiddens o’ ling.

An’ noo we ‘a’e March here. Ah knaw they’ll be,
Oor Jack, Bill an’ Tommy. Aye! all theer bud me.
An’ if war wiv ’em Ah seear Ah a’ud sing,
Awaay ower t’moors bonnin’ swiddens o’ ling.

  • 1
    Hartley, Marie and Joan Ingilby. “Life and Tradition on The Moorlands of North-East Yorkshire”. Page 77. J.M. Dent & Son. 1972. ISBN 1 870071 54 9
  • 2
    Ibid.
  • 3
    Farra, Margaret, “A STUDY OF THE LAND-USE CHANGES OF THE NORTH YORK MOORS”. Page 37. ProQuest Number: 10097250.  ProQuest LLC(2016).
  • 4
    Swiddening. This World | Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer | Thursday 22 March 1934 | British Newspaper Archive. [online] Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000687/19340322/298/0008 [Accessed 27 Mar. 2022].

2 Replies to “Chequerboard moorland”

  1. I wonder if `Gin Garth` was uncovered in this patchwork off moorland. Are the remains still there? Or is it further over to the right? It is quite a few years since I last walked over.
    John Watson

    1. If I recall, John, the Gin Garth is in the vicinity of the patch of green to the left of the tree. I think they wouldn’t have been able to mow near the stones anyway.

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