Sedbergh & Dent United FC – Church Bridge Field

‘Strangers Beware’ reads the title of a bizarre and ill-tempered TripAdvisor review written by Kathy, a member of the online platform from Derbyshire. It is the only negative review to be found on the website about the quaint, cobbled village of Dent. Kathy’s review, which includes a rant about “curtain twitchers” and locals being gifted “preferential treatment” in the village store, rambled on in tedium until I became distracted.

This isn’t my proudest admission, but I do have to say that I found myself becoming somewhat invested in Kathy’s life. The next few minutes saw me falling deeper and deeper into an internet wormhole as I proceeded to read about more of her travel experiences. A particular highlight was her day trip to Bleanau Ffestiniog, which she titled, ‘SLATE, slate and more slate’. Which begs the question, what exactly was she expecting to see in a town labelled as the ‘former slate capital of the world’?

Ultimately, I decided that this Derbyshire based travel writer wasn’t a good litmus test when it came to adventure. Paul and I would go against Kathy’s recommendations and would indeed plough on with our scheduled sojourn across the Yorkshire Dales, as we aimed to watch Sedbergh & Dent United host Shap in the world famous Westmorland League Benevolent Cup.

However, to give Kathy her her due, there was actually some truth in what she moaned about in her original post. The local village shop, which I won’t name, was uncomfortably yet comically like a visit to Royston Vasey. Edward and Tubbs must have been off duty, as I didn’t see them hiding behind the counter but I was still met with an odd air of suspicion when I entered in search of a bottle of beer. This was, indeed, a local shop, for local people.

It wasn’t all like that though; far from it. Dent was beautiful. Tucked deep inside the rolling hills of Dentdale, drystone walls tumbled down narrow cobbled streets which were decorated with seasonal flowers. Almost everything in Dent made you happy that you had made the effort to travel there.

The drive across from Thirsk, where I had caught the train to, to meet up with Paul, took us through Castle Bolton. I demanded that we should stop at the castle so I could say a prayer to the football gods, who had been missing in action for many seasons. My beloved Bolton Wanderers were hosting Exeter City and a win would see us gain promotion back into the big time; League One. The Bolton Arms, around the corner in Leyburn, looked to be a prime location to celebrate promotion from on the way home. What could possibly go wrong? (Spoiler alert: we lost)

Continuing our journey eastwards, we passed through Hawes and arrived in Dentdale where we were greeted by the impressive structure that is Dent Head Viaduct. Spanning ten arches across, it was built between 1869 and 1875 for the Midland Railway Company. The viaduct is built from massive blocks of Dent marble and crosses over the very quarry that produced it.

An old couple, who I thought could have been part of the local dogging community, were sat eating their dinner in the layby underneath. I asked Paul to flash his headlights at them, to see whether we had arrived at an unsolicited meeting. He refused to do so but our unwelcome neighbours soon scarpered, leaving remnants of their lunch behind. Were the freshly discarded egg shells an invitation?

Towering above us, was the Settle Carlisle railway line. As a rail passenger travelling across, you would soon arrive at Dent train station which boasts being the highest above sea level in England, standing at 1150 feet in altitude. We drove up the steep, curving roads to reach the station, wondering how passengers ever make it up here in the first place.

There’s only a train here every two hours or so, so we weren’t surprised to find the area deserted. Northern Rail, in their wisdom, had still chosen to litter the gates and notice boards with signs telling passengers not to travel at peak times due to the pandemic. I’m not sure there were ever peak travel times in Dent. Plus, I’m not sure passengers would opt to stay sat on the platform for a couple more hours if the carriages were slightly too busy.

It seemed, these days, that the station is more of a tourist destination than a useful transport hub. If you’re into that kind of thing, you can stay in the old station building, which has been made into self contained accommodation, appealing to those train enthusiasts who have always dreamt of sleeping metres away from the platform. Experiences like that don’t come cheaply though, with a 7 night stay in the depths of January costing £695, providing the snow doesn’t prevent access. If you want to go when the weather is *hopefully* nicer, prices rocket up to the eye watering sum of £1,295 for a week in the summer. For context, you could purchase an open return between Dent and London for the same price.

Five miles away from the station sits the actual village of Dent. Paul told me the amusing story of a couple of groundhoppers we know who once caught the train here, walked all the way down the valley to the ground, only to find the match postponed due to a flooded pitch, before having to hike all the way back for the next service. With the sun shining and the match being advertised on Twitter, we were in a more confident mood, with the added luxury of a car.

Signposts that welcome you to Dent are very proud to inform you that the village is the birthplace of Adam Sedgwick. Neither Paul or I had any idea who Sedgwick was. If you’re reading this and you think you do know who he was, then you are either a liar or you are related to him. No answer was forthcoming. We were well off the grid by this point; our phones struggling to find even a small glimpse of an internet connection which would allow us to conduct some research.

Having parked up next to the ground, we walked up through the narrow cobbled roads which run through the centre of the village. It wasn’t long before we came across a strange looking monument to Adam Sedgwick. Again, this provided absolutely no information, with not even the smallest bit of writing on it to tell us who this bloke actually was. The monument, which was inscribed with a peculiar style of writing, was in fact a fountain, made of Shap granite. Standing beside it was where I plucked up the courage to ask an older couple if they knew who Sedgwick was. “Not a clue.” Thankfully, my internet connection was soon restored and it transpired that he was in fact a geologist and priest who was born here in 1785, which was what I thought.

Charles Darwin studied geology under Sedgwick at Cambridge University, which is all well and good. However, people who have achieved far greater successes in life have had less, and in most circumstances, nothing created to celebrate their lives. It seems even more bizarre, when a further delve into Sedgwick unearthed some rather questionable ethics, the type which we were surprised hadn’t resulted in the fountain being smashed down by groups of outraged activists.

In 1835, Sedgwick was awarded £3783 in compensation for 174 slaves, following the abolition of slavery by the British government. He was a harsh critic of Darwin’s work, not believing in evolution by means of natural selection. On top of this, he strongly opposed the admission of women to the University of Cambridge, in one conversation describing aspiring female students as “nasty forward minxes.”

Greater controversies were to follow around the corner, when it transpired that neither of the two pubs in the village were open, which hadn’t gone down well with regular clientele on their respective Facebook pages. Paul and I, with nowhere else to go, sat down for a lovely dinner at the Meadowside Cafe, which was ran dutifully by two minxes. We took our place in the back garden, which overlooked a pleasant camp site where young hikers were wiping the sleep from their eyes, waking up after what I liked to imagine had been a late night drinking session in the fields.

Not wanting to be left out, I joined them by ordering an ale with my lunch. Dent Brewery – who sponsor the football club – had their bottles stocked in the cafe, meaning I could sit down and feel like I was still in the pub. A pint of Golden Fleece went down a treat with a Wensleydale Cheese Rarebit. The minx who was looking after us commented that she had served a few football fans in recent weeks, with many groundhoppers making the pilgrimage to Dent to tick the ground off while the club were playing there.

***

Sedbergh & Dent United FC, in their current form only came into being in 2019 following the merger between Sedbergh Wanderers FC and Dent FC. Usually, the first team – who were in action today – use Glebe Fold a few miles away in Sedbergh for their home matches. However, with that pitch undergoing remedial work, they were using the reserve team ground, Church Bridge Playing Field in Dent. So while there is no immediate danger of not being able to catch a game at this scenic setting, it felt nice to tick it off while the first team were in town.

Kick-off now wasn’t far away. We made our way back down the hill through the centre of the village and across the yards of St. Andrew’s Church, which helps to make the backdrop at this football venue even more eye-catching and memorable. Approaching the ground, which is bordered by the River Dee behind one goal and sheep fields the other, a healthy crowd could be seen assembling. We recognised Pete who had made the journey up from Southend just for this match, which shows just how special this place is considered to be.

With the referee’s whistle drowned out by the sounds of newborn lambs, the game got underway. Sedbergh & Dent were in green shirts with black shorts and socks, while visitors Shap were in black and white stripes. I noticed immediately that the two blokes who had been roped into being linesmen were both sporting club tracksuits, which while not being unusual at this level, would have a huge impact on the game as I saw a level of corruptness tantamount to a Venezuelan presidential election.

Normally (or at least in my experiences of this level of football in and around Manchester and York) linesman are only asked to raise their flags for ‘ins and outs’ but on this occasion, they were also asked to be in charge of offsides. Pete said that this was common down in Essex which brought us to the conclusion that different parts of the country seem to create their own rules for this level of football, which shouldn’t really be the case, should it?

What made the decision to allow the opposing coaches to be linesmen even more farcical, was that they were somehow allowed to judge their own defensive back line. This meant they could easily rule out an opposition goal if they felt like it simply by raising their flag for offside. It made for great entertainment though, as many who had rocked up to watch began to turn on one another through the medium of high levels of colourful language.

Before madness had time to ensue, Sedbergh & Dent found themselves in front after just three minutes when a corner was volleyed home at the far end of the ground. The families who were staying in the caravans that were perilously perched at an assortment of different angles in the field behind the net would have had a spectacular view of the finish. I doubt any of them were watching, probably all too busy dealing with their chemical toilets or whatever caravan owners like to do.

Midway through the half, Shap – who, to put it kindly, were feisty opponents – were bearing down on goal when their attacker was scythed down by a late challenge on the edge of the area. The referee pointed to the spot, before looking to his right hand side to see a very late offside flag raised by the Sedbergh & Dent coach. The penalty was cancelled and arguments broke out on the touchline. It was ridiculous, unsportsmanlike and totally and utterly hilarious.

In the second half, the linesmen switched sides, meaning that they were still in charge of flagging the opposition front line. Shap, clearly incensed by events in the first half decided that they would get their own back, so when Sedbergh & Dent were awarded a penalty, they too flagged and the decision was reversed. A sarcastic laugh and nonchalant shrug of the shoulders from the linesman said it all, as he came under attack from a barrage of insults.

The home side would find themselves 2-0 up a couple of moments later when a free kick was hammered into the top left hand corner from distance. It was harsh on Shap, who had arguably been the better side and had simply been punished by clinical finishing.

With the match drawing to its conclusion, Shap did earn a penalty which they dispatched to reduce the scoreline to 2-1. Number 8 for Shap, who was a prime example of a ‘loose cannon’, despite his diminutive stature, thought it would be wise to try and wrestle the ball back from numerous Sedbergh players who were built tall and strong, like farmers. Maybe they were. At one point, he bounced off one of them and landed straight on to the floor, leading to much laughter from the sidelines.

This wound him up even more, encouraging him to proceed running around the pitch kicking out at any United player who had the misfortune to be in possession. A strapped up knee suggested this lad had previous. The match was now close to boiling over; with the decision to allow coaches from both sides to ‘help out’ looking more ill advised with each passing minute. With a few minutes remaining, Sedbergh & Dent brought on a substitute who judging by his reaction wasn’t expecting, or wanting, to gain any minutes today. Despite this, he lobbed the Shap goalkeeper with a speculative effort with seconds to go and booked his side a place in the next round.

It had been an exhilarating encounter between two extremely physical sides, with the added bonus of ‘Benevolent Cup corruption’ making it even more tasty for the neutral. After my conversation earlier in the game with Pete where he said the roped in linesmen do indeed do the offsides in his local leagues, it made me wonder one thing. Does this make the Manchester League a pillar of democracy and fairness?

Following the full time whistle, both sets of players retreated back across to the changing rooms which were found a couple of minutes walk away. Over the bleating of flocks of sheep, you could hear the screaming and grimacing of a ground grading committee who would no doubt be absolutely furious that the changing facilities are over a main road, along a public footpath next to a river and in a neighbouring field.

Parking right next to the entrance allowed Paul and I to get away from Dent almost as soon as the match finished. We would have stayed longer but the decision to keep both pubs in the village shut meant Paul suggested we could stop off in Leyburn on the way eastwards, hopefully so I could watch the final few minutes of Bolton’s match in the Bolton Arms, where I could then enjoy a well deserved promotion pint.

Of course, when we arrived at the Bolton Arms, the Wanderers had lost. We stayed for one drink before pressing on. Further along the route back to Thirsk, where I would be catching the train back to York from later on that night, our attention was caught by a cricket match taking place in the beautiful village of Crakehall.

One sole spectator was watching this Nidderdale and District League between Crakehall 1st XI and Ripon 2nd XI. He made himself at home on his deck chair with numerous pints of beer, which he kept collecting from the pub opposite. “Sting used to live in that house!” he proudly told us, pointing at the grand hall which houses the cricket field in its front garden. The bloke had clearly had a great day as despite trawling through the internet and asking other locals, Paul and I are yet to find any evidence of Sting having lived in the village. It was suggested that we could join a Sting supporters group on Facebook to ask the question, but as of yet, I am still not a member.

Crakehall’s cricket ground, other than including the possible former home of Sting, is like nothing I had ever seen. A drystone wall belonging to the village church cuts into the boundary at a right angle, while two trees sit very close to the wicket. It all meant that hitting the ball for six was discouraged, in fact, it was outlawed, with players not allowed to score six at this venue. “I’d have got even more if we were allowed to hit more boundaries,” lamented one Ripon 2nd XI batsman as we sat outside The Bay Horse Inn, which with the addition of ’emergency chairs’ had now managed to take over the village green.

It was time to press on, with Paul dropping me in Thirsk where I made friends with the regulars at the Vale of York pub, which sits next to the train station. Being well looked after, I decided to miss a couple of trains, before catching the last service back to York. I finished the day off in the York Tap, a place that I had thoroughly missed over the course of the past year.

This was possibly my favourite outing during the mess that was the 2020/21 season and frustratingly left me wanting to also complete the Westmorland League, on top of the hundreds of others I’m fascinated by. While Sedbergh & Dent are due to return to the village of Sedbergh for the next season, there will still be chance to catch a game in Dent. If you do go, follow the advice of Kathy. Be careful and watch out for those curtain twitchers as in the words of Sting; “Every breath you take. Every move you make. Every bond you break. Every step you take. I’ll be watching you.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: