THE famous red guidebook to the Yorkshire Dales compiled in the 1950s by Ward Lock & Company for motoring travellers says of Leyburn: “The most noticeable feature is The Shawl, a lofty terrace behind the town, commanding a grand view of Wensleydale.”

The Shawl today still has fabulous views across the wide-bottomed dale to the flat-topped Pen Hill, and its well trodden clifftop paths wend their ways through the trees past spots called “The Queen’s Gap” and “Lady Algitha’s Cave”.


“Tradition has it that Mary, Queen of Scots, dropped her shawl here when attempting to escape from Bolton Castle,” says the guidebook.

The 1950s motoring guide to the dales

Mary was indeed kept at the nearby castle for about six months at the end of 1568, but she wasn’t really a prisoner as she lived in a degree of luxury, with a retinue of 50 and surrounded by all the best furniture and fittings borrowed from all of North Yorkshire’s finest properties to make her feel comfortable. It is said that one day she managed to escape the castle but only made it as far as the high piece of land near Leyburn, where, in the scuffle during her recapture, she dropped her head-wrap at The Queen’s Gap on The Shawl.

Mary, Queen of Scots, who may have dropped her scarf at The Shawl

The guidebook dismisses the story in a single sentence.

“It is sad to have to question so romantic a derivation, but there is little doubt that the name is derived from the Scandinavian ‘skali’, for huts, later modified to ‘schalls’ and so to ‘shawl’,” it says.

The final nail in the story’s coffin is that the word “shawl” didn’t enter the English language until 1662, imported from Persian, so 100 years earlier, Mary cannot possibly have known what a shawl was.

A panorama of Wensleydale from The Shawl

It is more likely that the town of Leyburn originated from people living in huts huddled beneath The Shawl for protection from the elements but still with a good defensive view across the dale.

Lady Algitha’s Cave on The Shawl was discovered in the 1890s. It was named after Lady Algitha Orde-Powlett, who married the 4th Baron Bolton of Bolton Castle in 1895, and, 20ft deep, it contained animal and human bones plus Roman era pottery shards and shaped stones. It was surmised that this was where early man once lived.

The 1950s guidebook doesn’t mention the cave, probably because it had long since collapsed and disappeared, although it is still marked on today’s Ordnance Survey maps.

In fact, the guidebook doesn’t see anything else to merit a mention at The Shawl and rapidly moves on to Wensley – “one of the prettiest villages in Yorkshire”.

But if its compilers had tarried a while, they would have seen that in 1841, tradesmen of the town began laying out paths, placing seats and grottoes along the clifftop.

The Leyburn Shawl Tea Festival in 1847 - an extremely early photograph

On July 31, 1841, they held their first Leyburn Shawl Tea Festival which quickly became such a popular annual event that it drew thousands of people from across the country.

“The tea was served in a spacious marquee, commanding the best view over the valley and decorated with flowers, evergreens and colours,” wrote visitor WGM Jones Barker in 1854. “Bands played and the festival usually ended with a moonlight dance upon the greensward.”

The last tea festival took place on June 30, 1858, but The Shawl was not long quiet as in the 1895, golfers laid out a nine hole course along the cliff edge. The huge natural drop into the dale on one side and the long tumble into the deep chasm of quarries on the other added an element of danger to the strokeplay.

It made, said the Yorkshire Post’s golf writer, Ernest Forbes, in 1931, is “the most astonishing golf course I have ever encountered”. This was largely because the fairways were covered in much loose rock, causing many unpredictable bounces.

The greens, though, appear to have met with his approval as he described them as being “of ladies’ handkerchief size by comparison with the circumference of a snufftaker’s bandanna”.

The Leyburn Golf Club Challenge Cup. Picture courtesy of David Copland

Somewhere up on The Shawl, the golfers had an attractive pavilion, and in 1896, Joseph Shaw presented them with a splendid silver Challenge Cup which a few years ago passed through the hands of local sports memorabilia collector David Copland.

A cigarette card showing William "the Doctor" Tweddell, the GP and amateur champion who learned his skills on Leyburn's golf course on The Shawl

W Tweddell’s name is inscribed twice when he won it in 1912 and 1913.

William, born in 1897 in Whickham on Tyneside, moved to Leyburn with his family when he was seven, and he learned all his golfing skills on the Leyburn course. He was in his mid-teens when he triumphed in the cup, but then the First World War broke out, and he served with the Durham Light Infantry, winning the Military Cross at Passchendaele.

William 'the Doctor' Tweddell's name is twice on the Leyburn Golf Club Challenge Cup. Picture courtesy of David Copland

In peacetime, he went to study medicine at Aberdeen University, but in June 1924, he was back home in Leyburn when a special correspondent for The Northern Echo’s sister paper, the Darlington & Stockton Times, drove out from Darlington for a hack around the course.

How a Darlington journalist reported on his golfing exploits at Leyburn 100 years ago this month

The correspondent, who signed himself as VAL, and his putting buddies arrived as the tail of the biggest storm for 40 years swept across the dale.

“In good weather, it must be a paradise for golfers,” he wrote. “The moorland turf is short and springy, offering the best of lies right through the fairways. The natural hazards are admirably placed and sufficiently testing to call for good golf, and the greens are good.”

The Darlington golfers managed to hit a brand new Dunlop Maxfli ball into an old quarry. Normally, they wouldn’t have bothered retrieving it, but Maxflis were precious, “so we single-filed it down into the quarry, braving sprained ankles and rushing rivulets and searched every nook and cranny in that desolate region” until they found it.

After climbing back up onto the fairway, they were introduced to William Tweddell on the tee.

VAL admired his “slashing quality” and noted how he used his driver as if it were a steamhammer.

“At Leyburn,” he wrote presciently, “they look forward confidently to the day when he will beat all comers.”

A couple of years later, in 1927 at Hoylake, Tweddell did beat all comers to become the British amateur champion, and in 1935, he was runner-up at Royal Lytham and St Annes by a hole to the US amateur champion, William Lawson Little.

In 1928 and 1936, Tweddell was selected as the playing captain of the British Walker Cup team – the amateur equivalent of the professional Ryder Cup – and went to Chicago and New Jersey where the British were humbled on both occasions.

The Leyburn Golf Club Challenge Cup. R Tweddell, who won the cup three times in the 1920s, is believed to be the younger brother of William 'the Doctor' Tweddell. Picture courtesy of David Copland

Golf was very much a hobby to “the Doctor”, who, when he qualified became a GP and settled near Birmingham. He was very highly regarded in the world of amateur golf – he entered the national championship 24 times between 1921 and 1955, and was the ninth best amateur of his era – and it all began for him on The Shawl.

The club faded away after the Second World War, and now there are no signs of it up on The Shawl, where the old quarry is full of solar panels and the views across the dale are still, as the 1950s guidebook said, beautifully commanding.