Heart of the Dales is a magnificent collection of photographs and life snippets of the people who lived and worked in the Dales in the 1970s and 1980s. Lesley Tate takes a look at the book, and wonders how times have changed.

“AS a contribution to the history of a place and people, this book is invaluable,” says singer songwriter and broadcaster Mike Harding in his foreword to Mark Thompson’ s wonderful ‘warts and all’ book ‘Heart of the Dales’.

Harding, a Lancastrian , says he was probably about the same age as Mark when he first came to the Yorkshire Dales.

His two week holiday left him with an ‘abiding love of the Dales’ which led him to move to Craven in the 70s, where he has lived ever since.

One of his favourite shots in the book, he says, is of a twin seat,outside privy.

“I used to play dominoes in the Crown at Horton-in-Ribblesdale with Fritz the German ex Prisoner of War, Harry the ex-signalman and Nip, the retired quarry worker, and I often wondered why they called a double one,” the old country closet”. Now I know. Thank you Mark for that nugget of knowledge and for this beautiful book,” he says in his foreword.

Mark Thompson was born in Bradford in 1957 and moved to Wharfedale in 1960, where he became interested in the traditions and culture of the Dales. He attended Ilkley Grammar school before going to Bradford College of Art and Leeds Polytechnic, where he specialised in printmaking.

Aged 17, he was Britain’s youngest youth hostel warden, running the hostel while also studying at college.

He has also designed and restored buildings in the Dales, was until last year landlord of The Green Dragon, Hardraw, which he still owns, and is still custodian of Hardraw Force - England’s highest drop single waterfall.

The photographs in the book were taken in the 1970s and 1980s of people and buildings in all corners of the Yorkshire Dales National Park - but also include villages of Greenhow and Askwith, near Otley - a village Mark used to pass through on his way to work. Mark spoke to hundreds of people, taping their conversations that were later transcribed by his mother, Anthea Thompson, who died in 1992 and to who the book is dedicated.

The black and white photographs were taken on Mark’s Pentax K1000, and he carried out all his own processing and developing.

All of his subjects were people he met on his travels, and most are now dead. He would however like to know what happened to a traveller child he photographed keenly smoking a cigarette, despite being just two years old.

“Two years ago, I accidentally unearthed the contact negative sheets and realised that with the passage of time, the images had an importance of their own. Just how much had the Dales and its people actually changed in the 30 years since I formed my archive,” he says.

“Looking through recent work, from 2010, onwards, I became aware that although the landscape and villages had remained remarkably intact, the way of life had moved on, and those institutions and people that I was still photographing were fast becoming the last custodians of traditions stretching back well over a hundred years.

Included in the book is Ruby Harrison, whose farm cottage was thought to be the first in Askwith to be built without a thatched roof.

Mark says: “For many years as I travelled through Askwith toward the Blubberhouse road especially at twilight I would come across Ruby working in her nine acre intake at the bend of the road below the moor. Sometimes she would be walking her cow and its calves hitting their backsides with an old stick, at others carrying pails of water dangling precariously from a centuries old yoke about her neck, or talking to her pet gander.”

She told him: “I wanted to be a dressmaker - I love sewing. That’s what I was promised but mother had her leg taken off when I was 15 and I had to stop and look after her.”

Another of those in the book is trapper Chas Holmes, who lived in the former school teachers house tenanted from Weston Hall.

“Chas would skin his moles and pin their skins with four inch nails to large tea chests scattered in his garden so they could dry, before selling them for a shilling a skin and they would be made into waistcoats,”Mark says.

“He was well loved by the whole community and his was one of the largest funerals the district witnessed in many years.”

Heart of the Dales, which Mark has self-published, is intended as part one of a series of books using the hundreds of photographs he has taken and stored, along with pen and ink sketches and recordings of conversations, since the 1970s.

Copies of the book, which is priced £24.99, are available at The Dales Book Centre, Grassington; Lamberts, Settle; The Grove Book Shop, Ilkley; Masons, Hawes; and at the Yorkshire Dales National Park centres in Hawes and in Aysgarth.

Alternatively, email Mark at mark@hardrawforce.com.