Being a farmer in Swaledale was always going to be hard work for man but sometimes it was hard work for horses as well. Let’s imagine a farm at Muker. It’s a beautiful place and absolutely idyllic in Swaledale. It’s an ideal place to keep a few dairy cows and to make some butter.

Now Muker is about 250 metres above sea level. If a farmer had butter to sell he’d have to take it to Hawes Market. It’s a journey of about 12 miles and when you get to Hawes you’d be about 250 metres above sea level. But Hawes is in Wensleydale and between Muker and Hawes there are mountains which rise up to 526 metres above sea level – that’s a road height.

Hill climbing with a load was and is definitely hard work for a horse but farmers reckoned that if they had unsold butter at Hawes Market, rather than haul it all the way back to Muker they’d dangle it on a rope in the cool dark limestone caverns that descend vertically from those hills. There were convenient places close by the road which served this purpose – and the butter would still be fine the following week when the farmer returned to Hawes Market. He could haul up his butter and it was all downhill (almost) to Hawes. The area became known as The Butter Tubs which is often shortened to one word – Buttertubs.

If you’ve heard the name it may be because the 2014 Tour de France cycle race came to Yorkshire and used Buttertubs pass as one of the hill climbs.

We went over Buttertubs in our car in 2014. It was thick mist and we were actually unable to see where the old farmer storage chasms were. We had better luck earlier this year.

And here are these deep grykes as these gaps are called, that constitute the Buttertubs.

image001We both read the information boards.



This is not a safe area for the unwary. It would be all too easy to fall.


The view towards Swaledale and Muker


These grykes are deep. The notice board which we read offers a diagrammatic explanation.


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