Reeth, A Yorkshire Dales village

PUBLISHED: 21:32 14 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:07 20 February 2013

The village green

The village green

Maggie Stratton finds out what it's like to live in an historic Yorkshire Dales village. With a century of life here between them, there's little Gordon and Enid Walker can't tell you about Reeth

Gordon Walker was 23 when he moved from the family farm in neighbouring Arkengarthdale to the historic Swaledale settlement with his Durhamborn wife. Forty-eight years later, the Walkers live on the same Reeth street where they first set up home and where Gordon Walker opened the plumbing business which served local communities for more than four decades until his retirement. They have experienced first hand Reeth's rise to the bustling tourist centre it is today.

At Swaledale Museum, around the corner from the Walker's home, a community oral history project is underway to preserve first-hand reminiscences of lives gone by in the historic village. Gordon Walker will be among the first to be asked to record some of his Reeth memories. 'We're part of the furniture,' Enid Walker laughs.

Aside from installing the first bathrooms and central heating boilers in most homes in the neighbourhood, Gordon Walker has given long service in many community hats including as local magistrate and a retained firefighter. His wife has run local shops, scout groups, and now has a holiday cottage business. 'And Gordon can go right back to his great grandparents in Arkengarthdale - he must be related to most of the families round here!'

'For a small village, it has got an awful lot going on'

Reeth was a significant enough settlement by the 11th century to warrant a Domesday Book place, but grew up in the 1900s as a service centre for the lead industries of Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. The decline of the lead mining industry came at the end of the 19th century and led to a massive drop in the population. Reeth continued as Swaledale's hub, and Gordon Walker has wonderful anecdotes like that of his grandmother's weekly market trips. 'In the days before myxomatosis the valley was full of rabbits. They paid the rent with rabbits and you'd see the buses go off to market with boots full of rabbits.

'Even the bus driver carried a shotgun, and if he saw a rabbit or a pheasant along the route he'd stop and add his catch to the load in the boot,'

'Then they'd go off and do their shopping and you'd see an empty bus full of baskets on seats. They'd leave it on the seat and keep popping back with bits of shopping,' his wife adds. 'I didn't know what to do when I first got on a bus and it was full of baskets and in fact you'll still see it sometimes.'

In the 1960's Reeth began its rebirth through tourism. Today, the charming village of pretty 18th century stone cottages on cobbled streets that wind away from the emerald carpet of Reeth's trademark village green, is a thriving centre for artists, walkers, cyclists, day-trippers and holidaymakers alike.

It's a perfect base for those who wish to stride the surrounding climbs, stroll the beautiful wildflower meadows, or simply take in the spectacular Swaledale vista from one of the many cafes and pubs that embrace the green. 'The light that can come across the valley, the colours that reflect from the fields can just be incredible some days,' says Jenny Curtis, a good friend of the Walkers and former postmistress of Reeth.

Jenny Curtis is one of Reeth's 'incomers'. A retired teacher from Holmfirth, she moved here nine years ago to run the Post Office. 'I feel cocooned here,' she says. 'It's wonderful.'

'It's like we are living life as 20 years ago,' Enid Walker agrees. But while Reeth offers an appealing relaxed way of life, it is far from an aging rural community. 'People come and they say what do you do?' says Jenny Curtis. 'Well today I had to make myself a promise to myself that I would have my first night in, in a week.'

Reeth is very much a living village and is incredibly well served. In addition to the tea-rooms and pubs - the upside-down sign on the Black Bull is the landlord's planning protest - and it's Michelin mentioned Georgian hotel, it has two garages, two convenience stores, a hairdressers, it's own doctor's surgery, a community IT centre, a highly regarded bakery, gift shops and is a well-established arts and crafts centre, with potters, clock-makers and furniture designers among the resident artisans.

It has a brass band, two choirs, is home to Swaledale Museum and host to the many of the acts of the Swaledale Festival. And it's not just the professionals who draw audiences to Reeth - the village teems with amateur dramatists. Gordon Walker was among those who recently starred in the headline making Reeth pantomime, performed after the discovery of a 1949 script- and one of many in both the original 20th century and the 21st century cast.

But what is crucial to Reeth's ongoing success is the continuing arrival of new blood. Families like that of Paul Longden, former Scunthorpe United coach, who moved here three years ago to take over the Post Office. 'For a small village, it has got an awful lot going on,' he says.

Longden is also keeper of a treasured local document - the government letter that says Reeth Post Office, is, for now, safe from closure. And families like that of furniture designer Peter Cummings, whose workshop is among those on Reeth's craft centre.

'We had been in Scotland for a number of years and there was no obvious place for us to make home. I said to my wife, if you could chose anywhere to live where would it be? She said Reeth. The family's initial stay was short, but they returned when Peter Cummings switched careers from IT to contemporary furniture design.

'A lot had changed in the seven years before we came back. Before, there was a very large, elderly indigenous population. Now the school rolls have increased and there are a lot more families.

'When we left there was only one shop and that was on the brink of closing. Now we have two grocery stores and a lot more besides.

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