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After the Ice


Today’s Landscape

The Westmorland Dales is the product of millions of years of Earth processes and a few thousand years of human activity. Geological processes continue to shape the landscape on a range of scales. Rocks tumble from crags, fissures in limestone widen and sinkholes develop as the rock gradually dissolves. The area’s becks and rivers are constantly eroding, transporting and depositing material.

The River Eden eroding channels and potholes in brockram at Stenkrith Park south of Kirkby Stephen. © M. Byron
Potholes eroded in limestone in Asby Gill. A particularly large one is known as Great Kettle. © D. Evans

Geology has governed where settlements are located, what they are built of, what local resources exist and what industries developed. Rocks and landscape have also shaped local people’s beliefs, leading to a rich cultural heritage of stone circles, cairns and the intriguingly named ‘thunder stones’.

Boulders of Shap Granite forming the large Neolithic to Bronze Age Gamelands stone circle, east of Orton. © D. Evans

The activities of people living and working here for millennia have had a profound influence on the landscape. Agriculture has played a major role, through early woodland clearance, enclosure by dry stone walls, drainage and liming, and the development of farming settlements. Quarrying has also greatly influenced the landscape, leaving a legacy of old workings, limekilns and a distinctive built heritage. Some old workings, where safe, are now excellent places to explore the area’s geology, as well as being important wildlife habitats.

View west over farmland on the slopes south of Great Asby Scar. © E. Pickett
Great Asby Scar, with pavements of Great Scar Limestone giving way to farmland on till-covered Yoredale rocks in the distance towards Great Asby. One of the low limestone ridges in the middle distance has been quarried. © D. Evans
Industrial limekilns next to an old limestone quarry at Smardale Gill. The lime was used in steelmaking and was loaded on to trains on the Stainmore Line (1861–1962), now the grassy path in the foreground. The quarry is an important limestone grassland habitat. © E. Pickett