WE look at how German prisoners of war in Skipton in 1918 spent their leisure time out on the fells:

IT was no holiday camp for the German prisoners of war locked up at the Raikes camp in Skipton in 1918 and 1919 but it had its brighter side.

Their incarceration was recorded in a diary which has come to light thanks to academics and students at Leeds University who are in the throes of translating the document "unearthed" at Skipton Library.

What it has revealed, in some respects, is astonishing. The men were allowed out to traipse about the Craven countryside exploring its spectacular sites and recording their feelings and impressions in the diary.

It is understandable that some local folk whose sons were dying, being maimed, drowned and terrified on the Western Front in France might have thought they were living the life of Riley.

But praise to the enlightened overseers of the camp who realised that happy prisoners are pliable prisoners.

It was enough for the Tommies that their imprisoned foe agreed to sign a pledge that if they were allowed out beyond the barbed wire fence, they would act like gentlemen and return.

This is what the prisoners pledged: "I hereby promise and undertake that during the time in which I have been permitted to leave this prison camp for the purposes of taking a walk, I will make no attempt to escape nor make preparations for any such attempts in the future and I will commit no act that could be disadvantageous to the United Kingdom or its Allies."

And most of the prisoners did return. There was just one spoiler who left, walked out of the camp unhindered, strolled on to Skipton Railway Station and demanded a ticket, claiming to the bemused staff that he had special orders to depart for home immediately. He was frog-marched back to camp.

The diary, "Kriegsgefangen in Skipton", which was compiled by two of the senior prisoners, was sneaked out of the camp in the autumn of 1919 written on cotton handkerchiefs and bits of material and sewn into the lining of their tunics. They were afraid that the rustling of paper would alert the English guards to their shenanigans. It was eventually published in Germany and at least one copy did an about-turn and ended up back in Skipton.

It is this one that university teaching fellow Anne Buckley, her colleague Caroline Summers, a lecturer in German, and a posse of students are now translating.

Anne says the book is a fascinating insight onto the life of the prisoners of war - all officers - and their opinions of the English countryside, which they experienced on their many fellside jaunts, and the English natives, with whom they were kept at arms' length after an outing into town turned sour as roughnecks showed their disfavour by chucking stones and other objects at them.

So discretion being the better part of valour visits to Skipton were abandoned but not quickly enough for our German cousins to have formed an opinion about the quality of Skipton' lasses. And it wasn't complimentary.

As expected, the men often had women on their minds and every chance they got they tried to sneak a glimpse. They were not impressed by the "flat chested and bespectacled" females on offer.

As one joker quipped, if he had been Adam it was unlikely he would have been tempted to bite the apple if Eve had been a Skipton girl.

It was on these regular hikes, some lasting as long as three and four hours, that the prisoners came to admire the Craven fells of which they frequently waxed lyrical.

They were particularly fond of Norton Tower at Rylstone - of which they were familiar through the poem "The White Doe of Rylstone" by William Wordsworth - from where despite the frequency of mist and rain, they enjoyed the magnificent view.

And at least they got the correct name for this "folly" because their attempts at identifying other villages around Skipton make for amusement - Drangleton for Draughton and Conenley for Cononley - although they managed to get "beautiful" Broughton Hall correctly spelled.

The diary refers to walking through woods, through moorland, up gorges and scrambling along ridges making special reference to Embsay and remarking on the great benefits to their physical and mental well being..

"In these hours we get a feeling of freedom, our eyes enjoying the changing beauty of the countryside, invigorating our spirits," wrote one prisoner.

One of the favourite jaunts was from the camp to magnificent Scale House at Rylstone, today a grade two listed home which they nicknamed the Green Palace.

An entry in the diary refers to one of these trips and humorously describes the return of the men looking forward to their lunch.

It reads: "The walkers return. 'Is the Green Palace still there?' I ask immediately. 'Yes, it’s still there.'

"I breathe a deep sigh of relief. Imagine if the Green Palace was gone! We wouldn’t be able to go on our walks.

“What is there to eat today?” asks one of the walkers. “Jacket potatoes with ghoulash.”

"No, that’s not a spelling mistake. Ghoulash bears many similarities to goulash, though this variant is cooked with the rump of an English horse," he jokes.

Anne and the group are busy collecting information about the site and have already held an open evening in Skipton encouraging people to learn about the diary and perhaps to contribute. More are expected.