Archives for category: A Park of Many Parts
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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Squeeze stile, Beechcliffe Enclosure, Cliffe Castle Park

If you make your way through the avenue of cherry trees to the bottom corner of the Sports Field (part 2 of my slow walk with a sketchbook around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park) you come to a low wall which would stop you in your tracks if it weren’t for a carefully constructed gap. I don’t know the names for things like this, (being not originally from Yorkshire) and I have to look them up, but I think this is a squeeze stile – wide enough for people (and dogs) to pass through but too narrow for livestock (though true squeeze stiles are a lot narrower at the bottom and wider at the top, and the wall is higher) – presumably this gap is there just to allow the path to continue on down the bank to the Beechcliffe Entrance below.

You scramble down the bank and arrive on the paved surface of the main path that enters the park here through a gateway between tall stone pillars. If you carry on by climbing up the opposite bank, the perimeter path continues across the grass and alongside the wall, but if you look up the slope to the left there’s a landmark that’s hard to miss. In fact it’s clearly visible as you drive along the Skipton Road and for years I used to wonder what it was.

Watercolour sketch of the site of Beechcliffe House

The terraced rise which was the site of Beechcliffe House, bought by Henry Isaac Butterfield in 1875 to add to the Cliffe Castle estate. The house was eventually demolished in 1962 because of extensive dry rot and replaced in 1968 by a purpose built centre for elderly people which in turn burnt down in 1996.

It’s immediately obvious that this must have been the the site of something – the telegraph pole alone would tell you that – but it’s not clear what, and once you get up the hill and stand on the flat terrace at the top things get even more intriguing because there are raised planted beds (abandoned), a ring of standing stones, and at the entrance to the site beneath a stand of bamboo is a marker stone engraved with the words Keighley Garden of Life. The ring of stones is a lovely place – slightly mysterious as you come across it unexpectedly and there’s no indication of how long it’s been there, or why.

Watercolour drawing of the Keighley Garden of Life

Standing stones on the terrace in the Beechcliffe Enclosure. The site was briefly taken over and re-landscaped by a community project, the Garden of Life, in (I think) 2014, when the stone circle was built and other features were added (which are mostly now gone).

These stones in fact are a good example of how a place can be different things for different people. I often used to wonder if this spot was much visited but during just one hour of drawing I saw crows perching on them, small children clambering over them, dog walkers passing between them and families using them for photo-opportunities. There must be all kinds of other visitors both human and animal coming here at different times of the day and night.

Photo-opportunities in the Garden of Life

Photo-opportunities and gatherings in the Garden of Life

This part of the park which is known as the Beechcliffe Enclosure is layered with history, most of which isn’t obvious until you prowl around. Then you stumble upon things like a cast iron drain cover where you wouldn’t expect one, traces of the foundations of a buried wall, a hole that looks like a collapsing well cover (or another kind of drain) a pair of cast iron gate posts standing rather forlorn and crooked and without a gate – and a lot more. Like this…

Mosaic tile in the Garden of Life

Mosaic tile in the Garden of Life

I can’t help getting excited and then increasingly curious about these sort of things. Mysterious objects and buried history with an oblique meaning just demand investigation and sketching the things just intensifies my curiosity.

I know that Beechcliffe House itself was a very substantial building with more than 28 rooms, and the property included a coach house, stables, and a cottage – though where all these buildings were exactly, and how the boundaries and access roads and paths and entrances were arranged is more than I can work out – it requires the serious study of old maps and archive photos and the historical record and that’s a compelling red-herring that for now I have to resist.

The whole of the Beechcliffe Enclosure is perhaps about half the size of the Sports Field, but it’s so packed with interest that it’s too much to cover in one go. Some of this will have to wait until the next installment when I’ll be making my way north through the lower half towards the entrance nearest to Utley…

Aerial photo of Beechcliffe House, courtesy of Bradford Libraries

Aerial photo of Beechcliffe House, courtesy of Bradford Libraries

I’m doing a prolonged, slow walk around the perimeter of Cliffe Castle Park, sketching as I go. (There’s a map at the end of this post). Part 1 started (for no particular reason) in the Sensory Garden close to the Holly Lodge entrance, and I’m moving on in a northerly direction, anti-clockwise, across the Sports Field parallel to the Skipton Road….

Watercolour sketch of the view across Airedale from the top of the sports field

So…. if you leave the Sensory Garden through the gap in the hedge you find yourself at the top of the large, gently sloping field that stretches all along the lower edge of the park between the Skipton Road on one side and the path known as Dark Lane at the other. The views from here are some of the best you can find anywhere in the park – standing here looking across Airedale its hard to feel you’re in town and not way out in the country.

Sketch of oak sapling on the site of the venerable beech....

About two-thirds of the way down the field at this point you can still see the site of the giant tree that until last summer dominated the whole of this landscape. The Great Beech was truly remarkable and I wrote about it in a tribute post when I marked its sad passing – I wish I had sketched it before it eventually had to be felled, but I always found myself unable to draw it or even photograph it in a way that could express its enormous scale. I wish I’d tried to sketch it; it was extraordinary, and looking again at the photos I did take made me remember what it felt like to stand underneath its colossal branches. Generations of people in Keighley knew and loved this tree.

But the sapling oak that’s been planted here seems to be doing well despite the hot dry summer.

The field isn’t laid out for sports in any formal way – no pitch for cricket or football – it’s simply a good place to play games of all kinds, and big enough for a lot of games at the same time.

Quick sketch of girls playing rounders on the Sports Field, Cliffe Castle Park

A couple of weeks ago I watched a group of girls who’d come prepared to play a game of what looked to me like rounders, but while I sketched them a lot of discussion and organisation was going on, and after a while that game seemed to be put on hold and a tennis ball was batted about a bit. Hey, what does it matter what game you play? It was a lovely afternoon, not too hot, a pleasant breeze blowing, everyone enjoying themselves.

Sketch of two girls playing tennis in a rather informal way

I’ve seen all sorts of activities on this field; frisbees are popular, kites are sometimes flown, teams are organised, balls are kicked or batted or thrown (often for dogs).

Castellated top of the perimeter wall, Sports Field, Cliffe Castle Park

The castellated wall that runs round the edge of the park marks the boundary at the Skipton Road. Walls are a prominent feature of the landscape in the park, and they’re a subject in themselves – some are ancient, and some have been re-modelled and repositioned over time. From a sketching point of view a wall is a great thing to have in a landscape because it adds perspective and scale, and a nice sharp line to contrast softer shapes of trees and grass and people as well as often being a dark, solid form in the background.

Avenue of cherry trees at the bottom of the Sports Field, along the Skipton Road

Just inside the perimeter wall where the Skipton Road curves to the left at the roundabout there’s an avenue of ornamental cherry trees, and the unpaved path that runs along the edge of the field continues under the canopy of these trees, which in spring are a mass of pink blossom. In autumn the leaves turn delicate shades of apricot and lemon yellow and coppery red, and I picked up one or two windfall leaves that had already turned colour. I’m guessing that this line of trees may have been planted at the same time as the boundary was moved when the road layout changed – the older castellated wall ends just where the avenue of cherry trees starts, and the newer wall is lower and topped with flat flagstones. This means the trees are clearly seen from the road which was probably intentional, as they’re an eye-catching sight when they’re covered in blossom. But from inside the park they also successfully conceal most of the traffic on the Skipton Road, at least in summer, so the view is an uninterrupted leafy landscape.

To give an idea of where I started this walking project, here’s a map taken from one of the interpretation boards with my additions to show the location of the first two posts in this series. Part three to follow in due course!

Map of Cliffe Castle Park

One of the things I like best about blogging is reading other people’s blogs. A favourite of mine is The Perimeter by photographer Quintin Lake, an ongoing record of his long-distance exploratory walk around the British Isles. I love his choice of subjects and the way he frames his stunning shots, and his often wry humour is a delight. I would love to be able to tramp about the countryside (or the urban environment come to that) noticing and recording what I pass – though a walk on this scale would always have been beyond me.

I started to play with the idea of doing a perimeter walk of Cliffe Castle Park, sketching as I went (this being the extent of what I’m realistically capable of, spread over days or weeks or even months) – but not sticking slavishly to the edges. Like Quintin I’ll move inwards a bit here and there where necessary. And to make things more confusing I’ve not begun with a location that’s an obvious place to start as this is not at one of the gates – though it’s very near to the Holly Lodge entrance.

Two girls sitting on the wall in the Sensory Garden in dappled sunlight, one playing guitar

The Sensory Garden is still, like so much of the park, a work in progress – but it’s taking shape. The pre-existing raised beds are being planted with herbs, shrubs and plants that all have particular things to offer in the way of texture, scent and colour so that the senses of touch and smell will be as much a part of the experience as the ability to see, and at a height where touching and sniffing are a more natural and easy thing to do. I love this idea, and I found it interesting on this warm sunny afternoon that two girls had chosen to sit on the edge of one of the raised beds amongst the plants in the border, rather than finding a bench. Actually I notice this not-sitting-on-a-seat is quite a common thing in the park, and it struck me as I was drawing that I often do it myself – choose a spot, irrespective of whether there’s something there that’s designed for sitting on. It has to do with knowing where you want to be, I suppose. Anyway, there they were, in dappled sunlight, playing and singing.

Below the wall where the girls were sitting is the site of what will one day be an orchard – the top part of the enclosed field that stretches from the Sensory Garden down to the Skipton Road has been planted with young fruit trees, helpfully tagged with labels that include QR codes so that I was able to discover that this one is a young Bloody Ploughman. Perhaps another addition to the sensory experience will be taste! A little further down the field and stretches of grass have been left uncut to be little oases of wildflowers (this whole field has in the past been allowed to grow as a natural wildflower meadow) and there are grasses and clover, poppies and dandelions, dock and sorrel blowing in the breeze and the buzz of flying insects.

This journey of mine will be sporadic and most likely non-linear – I’ll probably jump about from place to place without following a regular clockwise or anti-clockwise route – but it’ll take me to parts of the park that I visit less often, and also demonstrate what an extraordinarily varied place it is. For its size it has an enormous range of different kinds of place – it’s truly a park of many parts.