On Sunday morning, we went over to Acorn bank near Temple Sowerby. Most interesting to me because it was the home of the wonderful Dorothy Una Ratcliffe – a quite remarkable woman in so many ways. A great chronicler of Yorkshire and its dialect, a champion of Gypsies – not only a leading member of the Gypsy Lore Society in its greatest days, but an occasional dweller in caravans and a traveller on the roads.

Acorn Bank

She was a great society beauty and a campaigner for a great many social causes – and a real lover of our countryside.

Dorothy Una Ratcliffe

Her book The Cranesbill Caravan, detailing her time in a caravan in the Yorkshire Dales, is a great favourite of mine and deserves to be read by everyone who loves the outdoors and the Gypsy way of life.

Bluebells at Acorn Bank

Dorothy was born in Sussex in 1887, and despite being brought up in Surrey, fell in love with the hills and the dales of the north. After an unhappy first marriage – during which time she was Lady Mayoress of Leeds – she wed Noel McGrigor-Phillips in 1932, and they bought Acorn Bank – once the manor house for Temple Sowerby, restoring the house and gardens. After Noel’s death in 1943, she married a third time. In 1950, the couple gave Acorn Bank to the National Trust and relocated to Edinburgh, where she died in 1967 – Dorothy is buried in Temple Sowerby’s parish church.

Blossom at Acorn Bank

In her lifetime she had many friends, including JRR Tolkien, Philip Larkin and Augustus John. But she was a pal of people from across society, including the farming folk of the Yorkshire and Westmorland Dales, Gypsies and tramps. Dorothy fought for many good causes. She bequeathed her art and ceramic collections to the city of Leeds.

Wild Boar at Acorn Bank

A remarkable woman indeed. Sadly, only a couple of rooms at Acorn Bank are open to the public, and it seems a shame to me that the National Trust are doing so little with the house – though the gardens are open to the public. Perhaps the National Trust could better use the place for residential writing courses in memory of its illustrious sometime owner?

Cross Fell from Acorn Bank

We were there when the blossom was on the trees in the orchard and the bluebells were out. There are grand views from the little woodlands towards Cross Fell – that magnificent highest point of the Pennines. The old mill – at least 800 years old, and possibly even older, was working on the weekend we were there – it’s run by a charitable trust. It stands hard by the wonderfully named Crowdundle Beck – a beautiful little river, its woodland banks filled with bluebells, wild garlic and bachelors’ buttons. There are also the remains of a couple of small gypsum mines to look at and a well situated bird hide.

The Old Mill

But as we wandered around the place, I thought most of Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, who so lovingly restored the place. Do seek out The Cranesbill Caravan – a delightful bit of country writing.

The Crowdundle Beck
Powder Store for the Gypsum Mine

14 thoughts on “Acorn Bank and Dorothy Una Ratcliffe

  1. We visited Acorn Bank on a fine day last October when we were staying in Appleby. The woods were lovely in the autumn snd we were a le to bag some apples too 😊
    We didn’t see any information about Dorothy Una Ratcliffe, so I was interested to read your post.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow! took me ages to be able to add a comment there – not sure what was going on.

    Looks a really great read that book so I must add it to my list.

    You’re giving me lots of ideas for when they finally let me retire. I’d be interested to see the gypsum mine (the processing plant with the long conveyor belt across the fields fascinates me when I’m passing on the train). And the gardens look wonderful. Is the woodland walking part of the gardens or outside them?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Acorn bank is not to far from my caravan in Melmerby, so we do visit sometimes , mostly to walk the dog through the grounds. The snowdrop display was beautiful earlier this year. Dorothy Una Ratcliffe sounds like a character, I will have to find that book.

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