Winskill Stones

Location: near Settle, Yorkshire Dales National Park, North Yorkshire

Grid Reference: SD 834 664

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A unique landscape with spectacular views northwards to the Yorkshire “Three Peaks” of Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent.

Plantlife bought Winskill with the help of a public appeal, to stop the extraction of rock from its limestone pavement, and to allow its varied flora to thrive. The late Geoff Hamilton, writer and TV gardener, launched the original appeal and the reserve is dedicated to his memory. There was grant support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, too.

As well as the small patches of limestone pavement, the reserve supports a large area of limestone pasture. In spring, cowslip and early-purple orchid flower here. A little later, the mainly yellow flowers of mountain pansy become common. Scattered in the grassland are a few plants of carline thistle, with spiny leaves and flowerheads that look like they have been dried on the plant.

Cliffs and grykes

Other species prefer the low cliffs or humpbacks of limestone around the reserve, and the boldest displays of colour can be found on the ledges out of reach of grazing animals. You may see kidney vetch, horseshoe vetch, common rock-rose and two saxifrages, with meadow saxifrage usually found in grassland whilst mossy saxifrage prefers more exposed conditions.

Where the soil is thinner, or on crumbling limestone, you can find cushions of spring sandwort, whose flowers have five white petals that are just a little longer than the green sepals between them. Here too are mats of limestone bedstraw, with tiny white flowers and narrow leaves in whorls of six to eight up its stems. Herbs such as this and wild thyme are beginning to colonise even the desolate patches of rubble waste and pavement remains in two of the reserve’s fields.

Then there are the limestone pavements that were saved from destruction. The deep fissures (grykes) provide a moist, shady hideaway for a range of woodland plants, including ramsons (wild garlic), dog’s mercury, brittle bladder-fern and hart’s-tongue fern. Rarities that are harder to spot include green spleenwort, common twayblade and wall lettuce.

Such variety underlines why Winskill Stones was well worth saving – it is still a special place.