Local author David Joy celebrates the publication of his new book, A Passion for the Dales, and views the future, post coronavirus, with optimistic hope.

The book is the culmination of an overwhelming desire to share the discovery of the Dales and the inhabitants of 'God's own county' over the last 70 years.

MINOR changes can often occur between finishing the writing of a book and its appearance in print a few months later.

They are part of the course, which most authors take in their stride as a mere hiccup in the joyous moment of seeing and touching the result of what is often years of labour. Even if they have written dozens of books the magic will always be there.

Such seemed a likely pattern of events when the proofs of A Passion for the Dales were cleared for printing in January.

The book is the culmination of an overwhelming desire to share the discovery of the Dales and its people over the last 70 years.

It is a celebration in words and pictures of a lifetime spent in this extraordinary corner of what has become known as “God’s Own County”, growing up on the family farm and then developing a career that embraced editorship of the Dalesman magazine followed by the launch of Great Northern, publishers of the book.

There was a determination to be objective in assessing the present and future of Dales life, stressing many successes rather than succumbing to pessimism.

It might seem a touch of second sight that the text dwelt on a dreadful infection spreading west from Asia with devastating consequences and likely to cause death of the living by the million.

Yet it was no foretelling, as the disease is ash dieback, plaguing trees and now of necessity put out of mind by the human tragedy that started to unfold in March. Within weeks the world portrayed in A Passion for the Dales was under wraps with no clear indication when it would be seen again.

Life in what soon seemed distant days swiftly succumbed to lockdown.

Looking back, there were previously problems stemming from an ageing population and the climate crisis but there was also hope with social media and broadband making it infinitely easier to share local pride, job opportunities and a sense of community.

If all else failed, anyone prepared to listen would discuss the Dales obsession with weather in its many moods.

Those living and working in the Dales were bound to be dismayed by what often seemed chaotically unplanned easing of lockdown.

Visitors criticised abrupt ‘Keep Out’ signs but failed to appreciate that the farming community had seen it all before.

The Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001, which wiped out precious herds of cattle built up over many generations, would never have devastated the Dales to the same extent had it not been for careless breaches of a total lockdown. Living among it all was like being under siege and will never be forgotten.

The pages of the book look at the area’s past history, when previous disasters were generally sudden and recovery only gradual.

The same may well again be the case but it is not all gloom. Less disturbance and much-reduced road traffic has brought huge benefits to wildlife with ground-nesting birds having a remarkably successful year.

Among those featured is the ‘Yorkshire shepherdess’ Amanda Owen. She is convinced that some good can come out of the pandemic both for individuals and the environment – and that several businesses will benefit through developing online deliveries.

She also feels it will foster a new appreciation of the countryside, as does the writer Bill Bryson who is also featured. He recently went on record to anticipate the freedom of again being able to go to the Dales as one of the places he most looks forward to revisiting. He confidently added: “I am content that they will still be there when this lockdown nightmare ends!”

Like so many he is eager for more normal times and returning to a matchless landscape.

There will be the magic of autumn and then unforgettable night skies on dark winter nights. Far sooner than it might seem, the coming year will bring the cries of peewits and the haunting sound of curlews symbolising the coming of spring.

There will always be places to pause where the novelist Jane Gardam has described the view as ‘almost too beautiful’.

It takes little imagination to bring back times when past Dales people, unknown and unsung, laughed and loved, wept and slept, toiled and triumphed through all seasons – and wondered what lay ahead.

It may take time but what surely now lies ahead is heroic determination to rally in the face of crisis and lay new foundations for a better future. It has happened before and will happen again. There has to be a deep belief in the lasting fortunes of the Dales as a place of breathtaking beauty and deeply committed people. A passion for the Dales is an emotion that not only endures but strengthens.

A Passion for the Dales, price 19.99, is a 160-page hardback with 150 photos. It will be available from all good bookshops, or direct from Great Northern Books on 01274 735056, or online at www.gnbooks.co.uk.