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03/22/2008 Archived Entry: "Leyburn Shawl"
Leyburn Shawl is a wooded area near the pretty little Dales town of Leyburn in North Yorkshire. From time to time, I am asked by visitors if I know why Leyburn Shawl is so-called.
There is a wonderful legend that seeks to provide an explanation although detractors would probably stress that the word shawl comes from shaw meaning a wood. Alternatively, it might derive from a very ancient Norse word schalle or skali that mean huts or shelters. Indeed, on the land below the Shawl there are said to be some remains of pre-historic dwellings that used to be occupied by early dales folk.
Certainly, the vista from the Shawl is splendid even if much of it is viewed through trees. Penhill is very prominent on the horizon, with several small villages in a fine expanse of Wensleydale plus, if conditions are right, the mighty sound of Aysgarth Falls, particularly when the River Ure is heavy with flood water. Access to the Shawl is easy – you leave the top of Leyburn market place and go through Shawl Mews to the right of the Bolton Arms Hotel, and then follow your nose.
Not far away is Castle Bolton, not to be confused with Bolton Abbey, and it was this mighty stronghold that gave rise to the legend of Leyburn Shawl. It was home to the Scropes from 1284, a family that produced two earls, twenty barons, four High Treasurers and two Chief Justices.
There was also a Lord Chancellor and an archbishop, with many family members being honoured as Knights of the Garter. It is a formidable record. Although they clung tenaciously to their Catholic faith, they were trusted by Queen Elizabeth I at a time when she was persecuting so many members of that church. But it was she who imposed a difficult task upon the Scropes and their famous castle.
Elizabeth was worried that Mary Queen of Scots might make a bid for the English throne and so she ordered that Mary be held in safe custody, possibly for her own good. The Scrope family of Castle Bolton was entrusted at least temporarily with that task.
Mary arrived in the middle of July, 1568, coming from Carlisle via Appleby and crossing the Westmorland border near Kirkby Stephen. She crossed Mallerstang Moors to Hawes, and travelled down Wensleydale to Castle Bolton. She was accompanied by six personal attendants, twenty carriage horses, twenty-three saddle horses and forty men to look after the horses and deal with other matters during the journey. All had to be accommodated in and around the castle and many of the men were boarded in nearby farms and cottages.
Even though she was technically a prisoner, Mary was not placed in the awful dungeon but had her own suite of rooms within the castle along with some servants. She remained for about six months. It is said she inscribed her name Marie R on one of the windows, using a diamond ring, although that pane of glass was eventually broken in an accident.
During her stay, Mary was allowed out of the castle to go hunting and she was also an honoured guest at some of the mansions in the area. It is said she spent one night at Nappa Hall, with the bed she used being kept for many years afterwards.
But, according to the legend, Mary became quickly bored with this controlled existence and wanted her freedom. Her opportunity came one day when she managed to dodge her guards and climb out of a window at the castle from where she managed to flee into the surrounding countryside. There are stories that she was aided by friends, but she wanted to reach the nearest town – Leyburn.
Having hunted in the area and travelled around the castle, she knew her way around and fled along the high path through the woods leading to Leyburn. Not surprisingly, the alarm was quickly raised, with men, horses and dogs being mustered to mount a search. As she ran through the trees she could hear the baying of the hounds behind her but, so the story goes, in her desperate flight her shawl caught on some briars and was dragged from her body. With no time to halt and retrieve it, she ran on but the shawl confirmed her recent presence.
Mary, who would be only 26 at the time, was caught and returned to Castle Bolton where she remained until January, 1569. That incident, so the story tell us, is why that part of Wensleydale is known as Leyburn Shawl, while some say it is the place where Mary Queen of Scots finally lost her freedom.