IN addition to the emotional and financial effect upon farmers due to the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, it has already had a devastating impact upon the entire economy of the countryside.

Its lengthy tentacles have touched many individuals who might never have dreamt that such a disease would affect their businesses - the range includes almost any small tourist-based enterprise in the countryside, from bed-and-breakfast accommodation to rural museums by way of shops, cafes, hotels, visitor centres, zoos and a host of other industries and retail outlets which depend upon the visiting public for their livelihood.

The simple fact is that people are not venturing into the countryside and some are cancelling previous commitments. For example, the Isle of Wight walking festival, the biggest such event in the UK with an attendance around 25,000, has been postponed because the festival makes use of footpaths which pass through farmland.

In my part of the world, public footpaths which cross moorland or farmland have been placed out of bounds, although many Lakeland hoteliers are advising visitors that they can visit the Lake District while emphasising they must not wallk upon the farmland fells and should keep their dogs on leads. Even with severe restrictions upon the movement of livestock, the Lake District is not closed to human beings but a counter-argument is "better be safe than sorry".

As I compile these notes ahead of the start of the flat racing season, there is genuine concern within the horse-race industry and although horses are not liable to catch foot-and-mouth disease, there are mixed views as to whether or not racing should continue, especially within an infected area.

Some experts believe that horse racing could safely continue even within an infected area, so long as there had been no farm animals in any fields adjacent to the racecourse within the preceding 24 hours. Even if it is safe, however, public perception might condemn the exercise. Consequently, it seems likely that many race meetings will be in jeopardy - and the effect of that reaches others like horse transporters, farriers, the staff of racecourses, caterers, bookmakers and a host of support services.

It is gratifying to record the support of organisations like the Ramblers' Association and other more localised walking clubs who have sought the co-operation of their members in keeping away from footpaths through farmland and moorland, but some visitors appear to have no conscience or sense of responsibility.

One farmer was physically attacked by two dog-walkers as he tried to dissuade them from walking over farmland which was at risk from foot-and-mouth disease - one of them said he didn't care a toss about the disease. Perhaps the daftest comment comes from a pair of ramblers - a man and a woman - who were stopped by a farmer while crossing his land. Politely, he asked them to leave his premises due to the restrictions of foot-and-mouth disease, whereupon the man said: "Oh, but that doesn't affect us. We're vegetarians."

Tourist trials

One of the features of this region is the number of steep hills, often associated with narrow roads and sharp corners. People living and working in the district never regard such hills as particularly difficult or dangerous, but tourists do find them alarming and, at times, beyond their motoring abilities.

I remember one visitor who could not coax his loaded car up one of the hills in the North York moors but who was rescued by a local resident who then explained that it helped if one engaged bottom gear. The man had been trying to climb the 1-in-3 gradient in second gear, adding that he had no idea his car had such a low gear. It transpired he always started off in second, later admitting he was a London taxi driver.

Many of these hills are on minor or even unclassified roads and I believe that the North York moors alone has 13 hills each with a gradient of 1-in-3 (33pc).

Sutton Bank, however, is on a main road and has three gradients of 1-in-5, 1-in-4 and 1-in-5 (20pc, 25pc and 20pc) and another, not quite so steep, is Blue Bank near Sleights - both these command wonderful views of the surrounding countryside but still, in spite of the mechanical safety of our vehicles, they do seem to cause alarm to some drivers.

Neither Sutton Bank nor Blue Bank can match the 1-in-3 gradients of those minor hills - I can think of examples such as White Horse Bank near Kilburn, Chimney Bank at Rosedale, the descents into Littlebeck, Runswick Bay and Robin Hood's Bay and the renowned Limber Hill at Glaisdale. There are others in the North York moors, and I'm equally sure both the Yorkshire dales and the Durham Pennines can provide further examples of heart-stopping, hair-raising hills.

Out on a limb

The local dialect meaning steep is brant - a familiar saying says that a hill is "as brant as a house-end" and the term sometimes creeps into place-names, like Brantgate or Brantfield. I was reminded of these hills in a letter from a Yarm reader who asks if I can explain how Limber Hill at Glaisdale got its name.

The short answer is that I do not know. Various suggestions have been promulagated over the years, one of which concerns the term "limber" which was used for a section of a gun-carriage. The limber was the detachable front section comprising two wheels, an axle, a pole and an ammunition box which was used as a scat. The term to "limber up" means to join the two parts of a gun-carriage and the word is also used to indicate a form of physical exercise.

In this sense, it means to be flexible or lithe and to "limber up" in this sense means to prepare oneself with exercises before some event - like limbering up before a football match, athletics event or cross-country race. There is also a nautical term "limber" which is a type of gutter on board a ship.

Not surprisingly, the dialect of the North Riding of Yorkshire also produces some associated words. They include limber meaning pliant, lithe or active, and this was sometimes used to describe a thing as being "as limber as a willow wand", or "as limber as a lamb".

I doubt if this could be linked in any way to the name of Limber Hill, but there might be a connection with a similar dialect word - limmer. Limmer might be associated with the limber of the gun-carriage because it meant the shaft of a horse-drawn carriage, or even a pair of shafts. To "raise the limmer" was to lift the shafts in preparation for the introduction of a horse.

Following this, there was the limmer-horse. This term was used when two horses were utilised to draw a vehicle normally hauled by a single horse. Leading the unit was the lead horse, but the one between the shafts was then known as the limmer-horse.

I am wondering if Limber Hill got its name because it would generally require a limmerhorse to haul a cart up its gradient, or whether the name comes from some association with gun-carriages, or whether there is some other perfectly simple and logical explanation