BOOK REVIEW
Yorkshire Dales: The Official National Park Guide
by Colin Speakman
pub. Pevensey Guides, 2001
Paperback, 112 pages, 8.99
ISBN 1 898630 17 8

The author of this book is a former officer of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and founder Secretary of the Yorkshire Dales Society, so readers are in the hands of someone who knows the Dales intimately.

Split into six sections - Geology and scenery, Climate, vegetation and wildlife, Man's influence, Landuse, culture and customs, Recreation, and Exploring the Park - Speakman's book covers off almost everything that you will need to know about this favourite National Park.

The word 'Dale' means a narrow, steep-sided valley, and in his Introduction Speakman attempts to define the essence of the Dales - its mixture of natural beauty, isolated communties, as well as some industrial development in the old days. He also reflects on how those damp old lead miners' houses have become sought after summer cottages.

One thing that Yorkshire's Dales are not short of is geological formations and - for those who like adventure - potholes. The author takes his readers on a comprehensive tour of the landscape, backed up by a liberal use of photographs featuring some of the area's most significant landmarks: Malham Cove, Stainforth Scar, Aysgarth Falls, and the great limestone pavements. There is a particularly striking photograph of a solitary tree growing out of one such pavement at Wharfdale. Speakman also points out that, given the abundance of rocks and rock formations, it is perhaps unurprising that one of the great geologists of all time - Adam Sedgwick - hailed from Dent.

Elsewhere the author takes us on a fascinating journey of human influence on the area; from the hunters who left a reindeer antler harpoon at a cave near Settle over 10,000 years ago, to remnants of Bronze Age and Iron Age hut circles, to the Brigantes (a local tribe) and their Queen Cartimandua, references to the Romans leaving their stamp on the area, and to Dentdale being a fine example Norse settlement. And then there are little specific details such as: 'In Burnsall Church there are three magnificent Viking hogback gravestones, their carving possibly representing Viking style long-houses to shelter the souls of the dead'. Details which beckon the reader to explore the area in person, as do the photographs of sinuous dry-stone walls which straddle many parts of the Dales landscape.

The last sections of the book deal with Recreational activities and Exploring the Park, and give a good idea of access and communications, and a recommended number of villages and towns to visit. There is also a small final section offering useful contact addresses for local organisations, TICs and wildlife trusts.

The bottom line... Like other Guides in the Pevensey stable this one nicely balances textual information and visual illustration, and doesn't overwhelm you with either. Thoroughly readable and a very useful starting point for anyone wanting to enlighten themselves about this beautiful corner of Britain, or plan a personal visit.

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