Opinion: Day the midwife walked the plank

Louise Graydon had a story-laden trip to the Dales.
Louise Graydon had a story-laden trip to the Dales.

“... I used to wash him all over in front of a roaring fire, a real dale’s character, and he used to live in that cottage.”

We knew, my friend and I, that the walk from Gayle in upper Wensleydale to Staggs Fell would be interesting, but when our companion was a previous triple duties nurse of the area it added a new dimension. In the 70s, she had been, district nurse, health visitor and midwife, she had also worn a further two hats, that of school and surgery nurse. A true vocation that no longer exists.

From Gayle we emerged into Hawes, Staggs Fell loomed above us like a high alter. April is lambing time in the Dales, the packed ovine maternity wards prompted nurse to continue her reverie.

“ I had some pet lambs one year, I’ve never been so tired, they were so demanding, wanting feeding non stop.”

“I think you should confess,” I reminded her.

“Oh yes, I nearly killed them with over feeding, they were the fattest lambs in the mart that October.”

Arriving in Hardraw we left the Peninne Way and made our way to Simonstone, then along the main road to the Buttertubs. Before attempting Staggs Fell we stopped to admire the view.

The fells were stunning, their sweeping green skirts kissing the stone cottages and farms in the valley below.

Nurse treated us to more medical adventures in this beautiful corner of England.

Once, an antenatal visit prior to a home delivery on an isolated farm, required her to walk the plank. A storm had washed the access bridge away, so the farmer put a plank of wood across the raging stream for nurse to walk across. If that wasn’t bad enough the plank was set at an angle and very slippery.

“I made it across, but was dreading having to come back for the delivery, fortunately the baby choose to arrive after the bridge was repaired.”

In the severe winter of 1978-79, she had been called to a delivery on a remote farm in Oughtershaw, the snow was so deep she hitched a lift on the snow plough, and got there just in time. With no heating in the farmhouse and ice on the inside she wrapped the labouring mother in rugs to keep warm. “Do you know that baby never ailed a thing.”

Trekking across Staggs Fell we listened to more of nurse’s recollections and began to realise that this “Cradle to the Grave” and everything in between care, was an important part of our social history the likes of which we’ll never see or hear again.

From Sedbusk we would complete the circuit, the village was quiet and unhurried as we walked past the newly built houses and second homes, nurse pointed to a traditional dales’ dwelling.

“See that cottage, one night I was called there, and all because...”