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

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