‘Ghost cows’ help celebrate end of Swaledale heritage project

Dry stone waller Vince Banks was one of those who brought the two ghost cows down from Kisdon.

A local choir called in ‘ghost cows’ from Kisdon Hill for the winter during a celebration evening in Swaledale to mark the end of the Every Barn Tells A Story project.

Calderdale-based company Handmade Parade had used willow sticks and paper to make two lifesize cows, and with children in Muker parish had also made two calves and a sheepdog, each containing LED lights within them.

On Friday evening the ghost cows were taken to Kisdon and – as the choir sang – were illuminated and brought down to Myers Bottom cowhouse in Keld, with kind permission of farmer John Rukin.

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Nearly a hundred people stood in the dark beside the cowhouse to watch the spectacle, before walking to Keld Hall where a hog roast was enjoyed.

Every Barn Tells A Story was a multi-media community project which – during the past two years – recorded, interpreted and shared the history of cowhouses in Muker parish.

Most of the barns are cowhouses which fell out of traditional use around 40 years ago.

A wide range of resources for businesses has been produced, to meet a demand for information from visitors keen to learn about Swaledale’s distinctive field barn system.

Karen Griffiths, who led the project in her role as Interpretation Officer at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), gave a short speech on Friday night, in which she said it had been an “absolute pleasure” to work with people in Muker parish.

“As I researched the history of these iconic Swaledale cowhouses and listened to the voices of the last people to actually use them for cattle, I began to carry the stories around with me.

“There were stories of taking the cows out to their summer pastures in the spring, of spreading muck on the meadows, of milking cows up on Kisdon Side, of haytiming and the hot dusty work treading hay down in the mew. There were memories of bringing the cattle down off the hills at the back end of the year and tying them in their booses, followed by cold winter mornings and dark winter evenings watering, foddering and mucking them out.

“Every time I opened the door and stepped into one of these empty, silent cowhouses, those stories followed me like ghosts.  And so the idea for Ghost Cow Night was born, and I hope it was a fitting celebration for the end of a truly magical project.”

One of those who enjoyed the event was Griffith Fellow from Angram, who sent a note to the Authority, saying:  “That was an amazing evening with the cows coming down off Kisdon and the feast to follow. It really was imaginative and great fun throughout. What a lot of work that entailed! Thanks so much.”

The Authority’s Member Champion for Cultural Heritage, Julie Martin, said:  “What a lovely event. The cows in particular were absolutely magnificent.  It was great to see so much active community involvement and celebration of the barns and their history.  Well done to all involved.”

The two-year ‘‘Every Barn Tells A Story’ project was funded by a £65,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £20,000 from the YDNPA and £5,000 from Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust.