Recently I’ve taken to studying old maps in an effort to unearth some of the many hidden obscurities around the Yorkshire Dales – a number of them are surprisingly detailed, and identify a wealth of features you’d be hard pressed to find on more recent editions. I spotted this particular property on a 1914 Ordnance Survey specimen1 and would have totally missed it, half-hidden away in a small copse, had I just done my usual trawl through the area focussing on only satellite imagery.

I can scarce find even a mention of this place online, let alone photos – to assume its undocumented territory is probably naive – I daresay others have come before me and someone, somewhere has a hard drive of images (or possibly a bin of negatives) of this place; but no hits on Google bar a few OCR’d historic records, is as sure enough a sign of obscurity as can be had in these enlightened times of the Information Age, so I’ll take the little victories where I can. In a time where it seems increasingly impossible to go where none have been before and ‘off-the-beaten-track’ is a worldwide top-trending hashtag, its nice to come across somewhere that’s at least virgin territory as far as a cursory image search goes, so I can at least feel somewhat a pioneer.

High Dovescar lies far up the dale of Walden, a small, often overlooked valley in the Southern Yorkshire Dales. There’s no through road so its not somewhere anyone’s likely to find themselves passing through on their way to someplace else, and although its pretty in its rural ruggedness, there’s no real topographic drama to draw flocks of tourists hence. Instead you get a two-pronged fork of roads leading up the valley, separated by Walden Beck which runs up the centre, each road branching off occasionally to the sporadic, dispersed farmsteads dotted throughout the dale.

The location that grabbed my interest is the highest property in the valley, and named after the prominent limestone escarpment that runs above it, and yes there is a Low Dovescar that lies beneath it, just a few hundred metres away. High Dovescar is laid out in typical Dales ‘longhouse[PDF]’ fashion, with an attached barn that’s been strategically positioned to take the brunt of the prevailing Westerly winds.

The barn attached to the farmhouse - still in use by the resident sheep.
The barn attached to the farmhouse - still in use by the resident sheep.

The main (once) 2-storey living area has long been open to the elements and crumbled away to ruin, but is still home to a couple of tenants – a scraggy looking, moss covered Elm, and a rather sickly looking sheep waiting patiently for the next life. The kitchen area is in a better state thanks to a more recently installed corrugated metal roof, and really shows its age with what looks to be a primitive hotplate constructed out of stone complete with an iron disc to more evenly conduct the heat – at least that’s what I’m assuming it is, I’ve had trouble finding anything similar online so I’m not discounting the possibility it could have some other mysterious purpose.

A tree invading the farmhouse's ruined living area. The sheep underneath it didn't move when I approached and looked in ill health. Chances are when I return, only its bones will remain.
A tree invading the farmhouse's ruined living area. The sheep underneath it didn't move when I approached and looked in ill health. Chances are when I return, only its bones will remain.
Inside the kitchen/pantry area of High Dovescar. This looks like some kind of early hotplate, although I can't seem to find anything similar searching online.
Inside the kitchen/pantry area of High Dovescar. This looks like some kind of early hotplate, although I can't seem to find anything similar searching online.

I checked census records for this one, and the last date of occupation I can find is 1871, where it was home to a young farmer, his wife and four children. By 1891 it was uninhabited and remained so until 1911, which is the last census I can legally get my hands on2.

Ordinarily that would be it – these remote houses have often been abandoned for so long that little remains in the way of artefacts, and even structurally, many of them are failing after generations of neglect. High Dovescar though, does have something else attached that I’ve not seen before in the Dales: a tiny tin-roofed wooden chapel that’s steadily rotting, although more intact than I would expect any wooden structure to be in its exposed position. These chapels were popular around the mid-late 19th century, generally prefabricated, and available to order from a catalogue, although this one appears to have either been modified, or is a totally custom job as its been half-mounted atop traditional Dales dry stone walls – something else I’ve never previously come across.

A break in the cloud illuminates the shed of God.
A break in the cloud illuminates the shed of God.
Inside the farmstead chapel. It has a really odd construction where the central portion of the walls are built atop a dry stone wall. The wide angle lens also makes it looks misleadingly spacious - I'd say no more than 8 people could be seated comfortably inside.
Inside the farmstead chapel. It has a really odd construction where the central portion of the walls are built atop a dry stone wall. The wide angle lens also makes it looks misleadingly spacious - I'd say no more than 8 people could be seated comfortably inside.
The wooden entrance to the tiny chapel.
The wooden entrance to the tiny chapel.

There’s little left inside – a small satchel on the ground, decades old soda cans, an old leather shoe displayed on one of the shelves affixed to the far wall, some mouldering curtains on the floor – but it still retains the original heavy studded door and Gothic style arched windows that belie its ecclesiastical purpose. I’m unsure if this was some kind of private place of worship for the farm’s residents, or served as something more communal for other pious inhabitants located way up the dale – info is scarce and perhaps even non-existent on such a minor fixture.

An old mossy shoe, displayed for posterity in Dovescar chapel.
An old mossy shoe, displayed for posterity in Dovescar chapel.
Gradually greening lace curtains on the floor.
Gradually greening lace curtains on the floor.

I visited twice to document the site – the first on a relatively calm (but grey) day in late November, and the second 2 weeks later, after a period of incredibly heavy winds. On the latter visit, the chapel’s far wall had fallen, and the remaining structure had a parallelogram-esque lean. Further high winds wracked the area in the following days so I’m not too optimistic for its survival – looks like I got to this one just in time.

  1. I did find out later that it does show up on modern OS maps, although its much less prominent and thus easier to miss.
  2. In the UK, census data is only released after a 100 year moratorium to protect individual’s privacy.
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