Why I love Swaledale: “More goes on in this valley than in most towns”

Pete Roe lives in an ancient farmhouse without mains electricity or water in the Yorkshire Dales - and he wouldn't change it for the world

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As holiday-makers breathe in the fresh air and the splendour of the Yorkshire Dales this summer, many will stop to wonder what life might be like if they were to move there. However, few would choose to live like Pete Roe, one of the stars of More4 series The Yorkshire Dales and the Lakes, which explores what it’s like to reside in England’s biggest expanse of protected countryside. Roe lives alone in Swaledale, in a 300-year-old farmhouse without mains electricity or water – but he says he couldn’t be happier.

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To reach his home, he has to drive across the moor because there’s no proper track, but there are compensations. “It’s the best view in the country,” he says. “Even in the foulest weather,  I always think how privileged I am to be here.” Is he often cut off in winter? “You’re only cut off if you’re somewhere you don’t want to be. Sometimes the mud or snow is too deep to drive, but I can always walk or ski out.”

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In tonight’s episode of The Yorkshire Dales and the Lakes on More4, Pete is called out to try and find a puppy that has fallen down a 50-foot sinkhole near Wensleydale

Roe, who grew up in the Black Country and moved to Swaledale, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, 30 years ago, used to get by with oil lamps and gaslights. Nowadays his 12-volt LED lights are powered by a small wind turbine hooked up to a battery. He pumps his water from a spring and even has occasional access to the internet, thanks to a wireless transmitter in a barn three kilometres away. “So it works if I have enough electricity to power the router, if the wind’s blowing properly and if the farmer hasn’t parked his tractor in front of the barn!”

His day begins with a walk across the top of the fell with his dog before he trundles to work in his 20-year-old Land Rover. He used to run a youth hostel but now works as a craft mason – he’s currently repairing a packhorse bridge that may date as far back as the Romans. On his days off, he goes potholing, rock climbing or skiing.

In summer, he likes to spend the long evenings digging for new caves. “I love the fact that I can go into an undiscovered cave where nobody has ever been. Caves are recognised as an asset to the Park and as long as proper permissions from landowners are sought and appropriate safety measures taken, there are no impediments to this exploration of one of the few last frontiers on Earth, or rather under it.”

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Pete’s 300-year-old farmhouse

Today he’s spent the afternoon collecting firewood for his 60th birthday party: a bonfire on the top of the hill with a barbecue, a barrel of beer and fireworks at midnight. When he’s not relishing the great outdoors, Roe writes poetry and plays that are performed in the literary institutes that double as public halls up and down the Dales. Swaledale’s two-week music and arts festival is in late May, and there are gigs, historical talks and fêtes throughout the year. “More goes on in this valley than in most towns,” he says.

He’s also the leader of Swaledale Mountain Rescue, so he often drops his tools to attend a call out. Does he have any advice for visitors to the Dales? “Don’t let your dogs upset the nesting birds or the sheep. Make sure you’ve got some decent waterproofs, and plenty of food. Join a group that knows what they’re doing if you’re going into the high fells. But the main thing is: enjoy yourselves! I’m much more worried about people not coming out and sitting in front of computer screens getting lardy.” 

The Yorkshire Dales and the Lakes is on Tuesdays on More4 at 9pm 


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