Watercolor sketch of Trees in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

Trees on the lower terrace in the Beechcliffe Enclosure, seen from the lower part of the field.*

In my exploration of the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park I’ve arrived at the Beechcliffe Enclosure. In part 3 I wandered about the Garden of Life on the terrace where Beechcliffe House once stood, and now I’ve been meandering through the lower part of this area, working my way north towards Utley and the corner of the park near the UAK school (the University Academy Keighley).

I thought I knew this area quite well as it’s the part of the park that’s closest to my home, but it’s turning out to be packed full of things I didn’t know about, and I discover more and more every time I go there . (In fact I’m coming to realise that this would be true of any small part of a given location that I chose to concentrate on, and that fact in itself was worth discovering).

So to start where I was at the end of the last post – if you walk through the circle of standing stones in the Garden of Life there’s a faint path continuing through the trees where the ground slopes down to a lower terrace which is now a small wood. This area was obviously planned and planted with trees of different varieties, perhaps shortly after the buildings that stood here were taken down – this must have been where the coach house and stables for Beechcliffe House once stood. At the edge amongst other trees is a very large ash, and going further in there’s a double line of ornamental cherries mixed with sycamore, maple, oak, and here and there some elder and young self-seeded horse chestnut saplings. Then as you come closer to the steep bank that forms the edge of the terrace there’s a beautiful tall blue conifer (I want to say blue spruce, but I haven’t definitively identified it) and at the bottom of the bank, standing clear of all the other trees, out in the field, a large silver birch. I stood at the bottom of the field looking up towards these trees to do the sketch at the top of this post* (and that odd looking square object in the distance is a tree stump, by the way).

Leaves from trees in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

At the back of this wood and running the whole length of the Enclosure (explaining the name) is an old drystone wall, the continuation of the wall retaining the raised bank that runs the full length of Dark Lane, which starts over by the bandstand near the Holly Lodge entrance. All along the top of this bank is a line of beautiful tall mature trees – mostly beech and lime – some of which have affected the structure of the wall over time. In some places the roots have pushed out stones and in one place the wall has toppled completely so that it’s possible to scramble up and stand on top of the bank looking down, which I did – and from this vantage point you can learn a lot about how a drystone wall is made, which is fascinating.

Drystone wall half collapsed, seen from above

Drystone walls are impressive structures and when skillfully built they’re immensely strong and durable. I didn’t appreciate until I started reading up about them quite how amazingly strong they can be (this – http://www.merchantandmakers.com/history-of-dry-stone-walls – is a really good read if you’re interested) – but the roots of trees can be their undoing. What’s exciting about this bit of tumbled down wall is that you can clearly see one of the through-stones, the large pieces that are inserted periodically to pin the structure together – as well as the infill of small bits and pieces, and the wedge shape of the coping stones at the top. It’s like a text-book illustration of a cross section of drystone wall, except for the fact that it’s overgrown with moss and a bit obscured by mud and fallen leaves.

If I wrote about everything I’ve discovered in this section of the park it would turn into a whole project in itself, so for a shorter version – if you cut across the field from here (which is a lovely stretch of grass often frequented by rabbits) and head towards the perimeter wall, there’s more to explore along the edge of the park.

Closed gate in the perimeter wall in the Beechcliffe Enclosure

About half way along the wall next to the Skipton Road is a green wooden gate, now nailed permanently shut. I wonder if this would have been a secondary or trade entrance to the property, leading to the stables and the coach house and cottage – it doesn’t seem quite grand enough for the main access to Beechcliffe House and the entrance further up near the boundary with the Sports Field seems more fitting as a proper gateway. There are two rustic benches here, one on each side of the gate, rather beautifully made from rough hewn timber. They blend in with their surroundings in an unassuming and natural way that I really like; I don’t know when they were put here but it was before I arrived in Keighley 12 years ago, and they look like they’ll be here for many years to come.

Path along the perimeter wall in the Beechcliffe Enclosure, near UAK

Turn left and walk along the path beside the wall and you’re once again passing through a small wooded area. The path here is well used by students from the school, but most of them seem to pass through it quite quickly without lingering. As I stood doing the drawing above I was facing away from the school looking back in the direction of Keighley at about 3.30 in the afternoon, and while I was sketching a stream of noise and clamour made its way up behind me as dozens of school pupils swarmed out of school and into the park. Most of them passed without stopping and only made a few loud and unanswerable comments (unanswerable because often I couldn’t catch what they said) but after a while I became aware that someone was quietly looking over my shoulder. When I glanced up a shy boy with red hair said solemnly ‘it’s a good drawing’. And that was answerable only with a smile.

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