Les Taylor has written some memories of hackfall. Les was born in the Old Post Office in Grewelthorpe in 1925. He was a very active rambler in his younger days and is famous for his walk named “The Ripon Rowel” which passes through Hackfall.
My earliest memories of Hackfall are of the village street at Grewelthorpe packed with charabancs or coaches as they are now called, from Leeds, Bradford and many other parts of the country. The visitors made their way down the Masham road to Hackfall House where they paid an entrance fee in exchange for a ticket to enter the woods. In Hackfall House lived Mr and Mrs Anthony Stelling who were employed by the then owners of Hackfall, the Vyner family of Studley Royal estate. Mr Stelling was the forester who also kept the paths, steps and handrails arid also the buildings in good repair. Mrs Stelling made teas for the visitors and sold chocolates, cigarettes etc. She also made delicious ice-cream.
Visitors entered Hackfall through a wicket gate opposite the house which led on to a lovely flower strewn path by a long lake. At the end of the lake was a pretty man made waterfall. Older members of the village could remember swans being on the lake. After passing the waterfall the visitor could either take a path to the right or left. If they turned right the path crossed a stream known as the Hutts beck which flowed from the Hutts lakes on Lady Dalton’s estate and through the part of Grewelthorpe known as Wapping. They then climbed up the small conifer wood and a sharp left turn by a large holly bush brought them to a path high above the beck. This path was followed almost down to the river Ure and was regarded at that time as a public footpath to the village of Mickley. (it is not shown on Ordnance Survey maps nowadays).
If visitors chose the path to the left of Hutts Beck the path went down through a rhododendron grove after which, it divided into two, one path leading up towards Mowbray Point and Chateau Plain, the other going down, passing a stone built shelter with seats to a footbridge over the Hutts beck. Near this bridge a stream came plunging out of the hillside and cascaded in small waterfalls between the moss covered tufa rocks before joining the beck. A much admired view, especially in springtime, when primroses grew all around in great profusion.
Crossing the footbridge and recrossing the Mickley path the track leads to the mock ruin of Mowbray Castle by the side of which there are some stone steps. Looking down through the trees could be seen the winding course of the River Ure. In front of the castle was what appeared to be a badly filled circular pit about 12’ in diameter. Local folklore believed that this was the end of a secret passage to Fountains Abbey.
Leaving this vista and down the steps again, the path turned right, leading under the Rowan trees which grew on the hillside. Now high above the river the path led to the Rock Walk. This being the high-light of the Hackfall tour. As the name implies it led over quite high cliffs, but in those days the path was well maintained with steps, handrails and also seats, either to enjoy a rest or the beautiful views over the river. From here the path joined the route to Mickley.
Returning to the bridge over Hutts Beck, near the waterfall, the path follows the left bank of the beck as it cascades down to Fishers Hall (known locally as the Fishermans Hut). Fishers Hall as I remember it was in good condition with a roof, windows and circular wood seating with a stone floor. Many picnics we’re enjoyed here by school children and visitors alike.
More steps are now negotiated to the riverside, this being a public footpath and which was once joined by the old Mickley to Grewelthorpe path. Following the public footpath with the river on the left, past the cliffs on the right, the rockwalk path also now joins in. This footpath then led through a gate into Mickley Barras. The area between Hackfall and Mickley Barras wood was then a pasture but is now overgrown. On the Hackfall perimeter of the hillside was the grotto or dropping well formed out of Tufa rock. Harts tongues ferns grew in abundance around about the well and it. was like a miniature Mother Shipton’s Cave.
Retracing steps to pass Fishers Hall take the Grewelthorpe path for approximately 50 yds. Turn right to a stream joined now by a path from Chateau Plain. Cross the stream, where the path divides again, left for Fountains Plain, straight, ahead leads the public footpath for Masham. Continuing to follow the path high above the ure. Close by, is what used to be known as the Weeping Rock where iron coloured spring water dripped over into the river below. At the sharp bend in the river below is the Black Robin Whirlpool where village boys were warned not to swim.
Presently a stone wall comes in view on the left. This was regarded as the end of Hackfall. The other side of the wall was known as Edmondson’s wood. Beyond this lay Limehouse Hill with a footpath to Oak Bank on the Masham road.
Let’s go back to the bridge across the stream from where we took the Weeping Rock path. Follow the path with the stream on the left and a waterfall coming from the woods above, opposite which another stone summer house was placed.
We now come into a clearing known as Fountains Plain bordered by a lake under a wooded cliff. Behind another summer house stood a boulder called the Wishing Stone. There used to be a fountain on this lake and also I believe, a rowing boat.
On leaving the plain we rejoin the path we left earlier. This turns left uphill and leads inside the wood perimeter to Mowbray Point. To most people this was the main part of Hackfall. As a schoolboy at Grewelthorpe under the supervision of our Headmaster, John Fox Reid the school summer tea party was held here. We walked through the woods complete with our own tea mugs to sit down in the dining room at the Point. It was at that time, a lovely place with dining room, cloakroom and kitchen. Properly plastered out with ornamental cornices, floorboards and nice casement windows and tastefully decorated. Surrounded by a paling fence on the field side to keep out farm stock. On the woodside a stone balcony which over looked Fountains Plain and the lake to the rocks below. Around the balcony was a strong wooden fence. Mrs Stelling and helpers did the catering and games were played in the field.
Hackfall was at its heyday until about 1932 when it was then sold by the Vyners to John Green, Timber Merchant of Silsden. The lumberjacks moved in on the beautiful oaks, beeches etc. The only people who seemed to benefit were the two local pubs and would be landladies as money was scarce in the village around that period. One dear old lady who lived in Hackfall cottage had a notice in her window which read (Young men taken in and done for).
Most of the tree felling was done without the aid of chainsaws, axes and crosscut saws being the main tools.
Once the trees were cut down and trimmed the problem was getting them out. A tractor and teams of horses were used, the tractor being equipped with a winch and wire rope. Much of the wood was loaded onto pole wagons belonging to Butterfields and also Lunds of Otley. Accidents were quite frequent. It was said that the foreman had his thumb torn off with a wire rope, but calmly bandaged it up and carried on working.
When the wood had been cleared of all the good timber which took quite a long time, the woods had been devastated, the paths ruined, buildings damaged, and nothing seemed to have been rectified.
A token planting of conifers took place just before the war but not many survived. After the timber merchant had finished the wood was then passed into the hands of a Major Collins from Bedale. He gave the villagers permission to collect firewood which was quite plentiful. I believe he gave them a written permit. The next owner was John Kellet of Northallerton. By that time I had left Grewelthorpe but Hackfall still has very fond memories for me. It had wild life in abundance (I hope it still has). I have seen birds of all kinds, foxes, badgers, deer (probably from Swinton) and the only otter I have ever seen in the wild.