Once an industrial site with “grim” working conditions, the former Langcliffe Quarry and Craven Limeworks has been quiet for decades and reclaimed by nature. Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s media officer Andrew Fagg investigates.

A NEW era is dawning for the former limeworks as major re-development work, planned to start early next year, is expected to attract business and people back.

My colleague, senior historic environment officer, Miles Johnson, pointed to Stainforth Scar, on top of which sits Winskill Farm.

“Most people look at that and think it’s a natural cliff. It’s not. It’s a quarry face nearly all the way up to the top,” said Mr Johnson.

As with so much else in the dale, the story of Craven Limeworks, also known as Stainforth Sidings, is bound up with that of the Settle-Carlisle railway.

The creation of the Settle to Carlisle line (1869-75) created a new industrial opportunity. The railway brought in coal to burn the limestone quarried from the scar, and took away the finished product, lime for building and agricultural use.

Mr Johnson said: “It’s a pretty vast industrial monument. A colossal amount of stone was burned. It’s had various uses since it stopped being a limeworks. There was a recycling centre here for many years and a part of the quarry floor is not accessible because it was used as a landfill site in the 1970s and 80s.

“The National Park Authority has been involved in managing part of the site for upwards of 20 years. A lot of the interest of the site is in that mix between the historical structures and the return to nature. Some of the structures have bats in; there are all the bee orchids; cave spiders live inside the kiln; and the quarry face has had peregrines nesting on it.

“The Authority has always taken the view that it’s been a ‘discovered site’. We have had some interpretation here and a trail for about 15 years, but basically we made a conscious decision not to promote it. But the new developments here will change the numbers of people visiting.

In August, the National Park Authority’s Planning Committee debated an application brought forward by the owners of site, Craven District Council, to build industrial units, offices and workshops on it. A formal decision is expected to be made in January once a conservation management plan has been agreed.

As you move through the site from south to north, a modern set of light industrial building and the railway are on your left, with the monumental remains of the ‘Spencer kilns’ on your right. Next comes arguably the highlight: the lozenge-shaped, 22-chamber Hoffman kiln.

“It’s quite something, isn’t it?” said Mr Johnson as we stooped through one of the chamber entrances.

“We’re looking from the north end of the kiln to the south end on one side, and you can see ten entrances with shafts of light coming through each. The shafts of light illuminate the arching. In between, you’ve got strips of darkness. Just from an artistic sense, it’s amazing to look down. But for me, it’s also, I suppose, the sense of people’s experiences of it in the past that makes it special.

“It’s quite pleasant space to be in now but while it was in use it was probably absolutely grim. Lime is really nasty, caustic stuff to work with. The lime burners who worked in here had to cover every inch of their body with rags and clothing to try to keep the lime dust out. When lime dust meets moisture or water it reacts and generates a lot of heat. So if you’ve got lime dust on your body, and you’re shovelling and starting to sweat, then you’d start to blister and burn quite quickly. The limeburners’ hair would turn ginger.

“There’s not another experience quite like this in the Yorkshire Dales. We’ve got a lot of very special industrial monuments, particularly with the lead industry, and there are some amazing underground places as well, but as a place that’s easy to access, I don’t think there’s anywhere quite as good as this.”

Look up while inside the kiln and you will see holes where coal would be dropped through. These have now been taken over by rare cave spiders, their egg sacks suspended around them.

“Cave spiders are not for everybody. But you know, I don’t think they’re particularly interested in people,” said Mr Johnson, who himself appeared more taken with the various states of the fire bricks in the ceiling.

“Here you’ve got different phases of lining. What happens with intense heat is that the brick gets affected and starts to vitrify and lose its insulating properties. So fairly regularly throughout the lifetime of the kiln they’d have to peel off these bricks and reline the interior, hence, the reuse of them all around the site. Spent fire bricks are found in structures all around the local area.”

It isn’t known how many visitors the site currently attracts. However, data from a footfall counter installed by rangers on the right of way running along the railway, for a five year period to 2011, suggested only a relatively small number of people knew about it.

One suggestion for inclusion in the new management plan, for instance, is for bat boxes to be placed in a former tramway tunnel which is out of bounds to the public owing to safety concerns.

Mr Johnson said: “It does get a steady trickle of visitors - more so on weekends and interestingly at times like New Year’s Day, Boxing Day, that kind of thing. We don’t know whether 20% more people will come after the development, or 500% more, so I think one of the challenges for the management plan is to work out how we can be responsive over future years to conserve the site.”