Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
From Orbea: History isn’t simply about what is recorded in books. History is people, lives, experiences. The best history is tangible. The kind we can reach out and feel and that touches us back in some way. In Episode 2 of Trail Tales, Lead By Generations, we travel to the Yorkshire Dales to ride a trail with more history than most.
Singletrack threads its way along the steep sides of Gunnerside Gill connecting the village of the same name below to a ghost town of derelict mine buildings. Set in bleak, yet beautiful moorland, tunnels stretch deep into the fells for mile upon mile. From the early mining of lead in Roman times until a heyday and decline in the 17 and 1800s, humans have shaped the landscape of Gunnerside: and with it their marks have been cast.
At the bottom of that trail stands the Old Smithy of Gunnerside. It has a tale or two to tell. In fact, it has barely changed since it opened in 1795. Stephen Calvert, the sixth generation of his family to work as a blacksmith stands in the very same spot as his ancestors before him. He heats metal in the same furnace and shapes it over the very same anvil. The world beyond the deeply featured door of the Smithy may have changed beyond recognition, but step inside and you’ll find the old art of blacksmithing lives on.
Stephen works deftly and efficiently as he removes the red-hot metal from the furnace. Each hammer blow has purpose. In so many ways it is a simple process, but like riding a bike, true skill takes time to master.
The blacksmith of Gunnerside may no longer serve the mines, but his art is very much alive. The fells above are quiet: gone are the miners of Swaledale. But their daily journey to and from the tunnels have left a trail for us as riders to navigate: through the skeletal mine workings and across rolling fellside. Clicking freehubs replace the shouts, singing, chatter and clangs of industry, amplifying the sounds of the past.
We, as riders, can literally follow in the footsteps of history, and in doing so, we keep the stories alive a little longer, just as Stephen does each time he opens the Smithy door.
Watch the first Episode of ‘Trail Tales’ HERE.
Lead By Generations
Video by Steel City Media.
Photos by Duncan Philpott.