Cliffe Castle Park in Keighley is being restored with funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Work started on site in June and I’m following progress and sketching whenever I can.

The starting point of the path that follows the route of Dark Lane, the ancient track that led out of Keighley in the direction of Utley

There are several ways you can enter Cliffe Castle Park, but most people don’t realise that if you come in through the Holly Lodge gateway that leads in from Spring Gardens Lane, you’re following part of an ancient road that used to continue straight on across the top of the lower field. This is Dark Lane, that led out of Keighley in the direction of Utley, and which is clearly marked on old maps. (It’s remembered as being an escape route during the Civil War – I imagine by defeated Royalists fleeing the battlefield and avoiding the main highway – but I don’t know if there are real records of this.)

The route is being restored as a path, and soon it’ll be possible to walk along it all the way across the top of the field until it joins the tarmac path leading down to Beechcliffe.

Dark Lane path behind the bandstand, under construction

The wall that runs along the edge of the field is what’s called a Ha-ha wall – a retainer for the bank behind it that was raised by Henry Isaac Butterfield to conceal Dark Lane which at that time was still a thoroughfare. Ha-ha walls (and sometimes ditches) were common features in Victorian landscaping where the idea was to have an uninterrupted view across your land without the sudden appearance of people walking about in it, or at the edge of it – and to stop these people being able to see you or your house. (The word Ha-ha is supposed to be what someone strolling about the estate would have said when they came across it unexpectedly, though whether it’s ‘ha ha! How amusing, what a good idea’, or ‘ha! ha! What’s this, who put that there, I nearly fell over the edge of the damn thing’ I can’t be sure).

Dark Lane wall at the start of repair work – and a wasps’ nest discovered

On the day the repairs to the wall started I went up to do a quick sketch and found work in one section had paused for a while because a wasps’ nest had been disturbed –  hidden deep in the wall where stones had fallen away. I stood back at what I thought was a safe distance and sketched with one eye on the wasps, and recorded the state of the wall, (above) and returned a week or so later to see how things were progressing (below)…

Repair work in progress

I was interested to see how the path itself is being made. I’d already spotted corrugated bands of rigid black plastic holding the hardcore in place peeping out at the end of a newly laid section, but a few days later I arrived just at the right time to see this black lattice being stretched out and arranged between the timber edges. It’s clever stuff – ribbons of plastic that are bonded together vertically at staggered intervals, so when you pull the ribbons away from each other the whole thing spreads out into a long flexible mesh which will stand up and make a sort of retaining grid of holes about 15 or so centimetres deep (I didn’t measure). I have no idea what it’s called and when I asked, the men laying it couldn’t remember either and told me they call it ‘egg-boxes’ – so for now, egg-boxes it is.

Constructing the path

Once the hardcore has been poured and shovelled in, it has to be tamped down firmly so I got another chance to watch the mechanical compactor in action – though one of these days I really must have a better look at this machine while it’s resting and sketch it properly. While it’s trundling up and down I find myself concentrating on the operator and the machine itself is still a bit of a mystery to me. Trouble is, there’s just too many interesting things to draw!

Compacting hardcore on the path in Dark Lane

More updates on the work of the conservation project, photos, plans, and background information at: https://m.facebook.com/Cliffe-Castle-Heritage-Lottery-Bid-304048249751094, at the Cliffe Castle Park Conservation Group website and on the Parks Service page of Bradford Leisure Services.