Barningham revisited

by Michael Brown


When I joined JFF in 2000 the syndicate had just taken over the lease on what was referred to in my joining pack as Barningham Hill Tarn. The description sounded interesting and different and I could not wait to do a recce. Following a fruitless drive round the upper moor and further directions from Barningham Hall, I eventually found a gem I was not disappointed. It was everything I was looking for in a still water.

With good proximity to my home, I became a real enthusiast for the place. On autumn evenings with only the odd barn owl for company, I had the fishing to myself. The sun-sets looking towards the Stang were breath-taking and the fishing for the rainbows & indigenous browns wasn’t half bad ether.

The venue always had a special atmosphere for me, tucked away on distant moorland with a spooky old house by the water’s edge, and the strange little chuckles uttered from the grouse cavorting on the moor.

The derelict property known as Cow Close House situated on the western shore dates from 1697. The front lawn hasn't been cut for a bit.

It upset my applecart when I lost the chance to fish there and was surprised to learn that my supplier of championship sausages had stolen it from under my nose. The owner had an alternative offer he could not refuse. I cussed, swore to myself and harangued Derek but it was gone, and although I did not realise it then, it would be over 7 years until I fished it again

In the meantime Jervaulx lakes became my favourite still waters. I tried hard to love the replacement water, Gravel Hole, but it just did not cut it. A family outing in the Barningham area some months ago set my mind thinking again about that lovely hill tarn, and so I enquired of the riparian owner about the availability. To my delight it was free again and was ready for JFF tenure. A visit to the tarn showed little had changed.

The tarn looking south east towards Goredale Gill, one of two inlets. The bay on the far shore at the bottom of the valley is a known spawning area.

It was weed free and had the subtle clarity of weak Earl Grey. The water level was surprisingly good for the end of summer. As the season was about to end I decided to do a little test fishing (it’s tough but some ones got to do it).

There were rumours that the butcher had stocked with 15 lb. rainbows and on a bright September day I sallied forth to look for a monster. As I walked down the long slope to the dam, I could see plenty of fish rising. After picking a few field mushrooms, I fished the Goredale Gill inlet with a dry black midge which yielded 2 beautiful, fin perfect, apparently wild browns of about 12 – 16 inches. A couple of wet patterns also took 2 smaller browns nearer the dam. Not a rainbow to be seen! I later spoke to Roy the keeper from Moorcock Lodge who told me that a lot of the big browns perished in the huge floods of 2012. Sir Anthony was reported to have had one for his dinner and very nice too with a good burgundy!

I am looking forward now to the new season at Barningham and this time as have more leisure time the place will take on a new aspect, particularly in the history & ecology, and the realisation that this water has a rare resource in the 21st century – wild brown trout that have been spawned and grown into adults in the place of their birth.

For those with a further interest I have put together a few facts about the lake and how it got to how it is today with help from the owner, the game keeper and Jon Smith at the Barningham Historical Society.

Barningham Hill Tarn, or as it is known locally, Cow Close Lake, was created around 1989 by the riparian owner when the valley area known as Cow Close on Barningham moor was dammed. The tarn was constructed by the estate for variety of different reasons, including emergency water in case of draught for stock, a source of water for fire fighting on the grouse moors and a nature sanctuary for breeding birds. A fishery was not envisaged in the original brief.

There is an interesting old derelict building known as Cow Close House, formerly named Goredale, on the western shore which dates from 1697. This property originally had an access track from the north end of the water via an ancient green lane to Cow Close Lane, the road linking Barningham village with the ancient hamlet of Scargill.
Cow Close House was inhabited up to ~ 1900 by a farming family called Blades. They later moved to Moorcock Lodge, the farm on the eastern side of the lake, where the keeper lives with his family today.

Maps of the area show that the south west end of Cow Close and the area to the northeast towards Moorcock farm was the site of quarrying activity up to the end of the 19th century. The water has an area of approximately 4 acres and an average depth of around 3 - 5 feet with some deeper spots near the dam. There are four inlets into the tarn. Three of these are at the steeply banked gorge at the south end and appear to be spring fed.

View looking north towards the island and the dam beyond.

The main feeder is known as Goredale Gill which enters the tarn in the south eastern corner adjacent to the entrance gate. The flow volume can be quite high after rain and a relief channel has been dug to take extra water away from the tarn when flooding threatens.

Brownies have been seen ascending this inlet and fish are observed collecting on the gravel at the mouth of the gill as it enters the tarn at the end of the year. The main source of the moorland water is land drainage from the area to the south and west known as The Stang. Arndale Hill to the east of The Stang has spot height of 553m, and it is the highest point in the area before the drop down southwards into Arkengarthdale and Swale dale.

The outlet of the Cow Close Lake is situated in the North West corner of the dam. It flows in a north easterly direction into Norbeck which, gathering water along the way, assumes the various identities of Dyson Beck, Smallways Beck, Hutton Beck, Eppleby Beck, Aldborough Beck and Clow Beck before finally committing itself to the big time when it enters the Tees at Croft Bridge over 20 miles distant.

Indigenous wild brown trout appear to have existed in the tarns and becks of Barningham moor for many years. Our tarn holds a good head of wild browns in a variety of sizes up to about 16”/ 2lbs. They appear to breed in the mouth of the feeder streams and have been observed running up the feeder beck at the back end of the year.


A beautifully marked 16' brownie taken on a dry black midge.

The area surrounding Cow Close contains 3 other hill tarns, two to the south and one to the north west. The tarn situated above Haythaite Farm at the end of the moorland road also holds a head of indigenous trout. The estate preserves this area for shooting only.

View looking east showing the island with the game keeper's house, Moorcock Lodge, just in view on the left horizon.

There is has a good supply of fly life and a quick inspection of the stones reveals all manner of fauna. Leeches, chironomids (buzzers), corixa , water hog louse & sedges are present in large numbers. Occasionally up winged flies similar to a lake olive make an appearance. The usual range of buzzer patterns fished both dry and subsurface prove deadly when hatches are on. The writer has a yet to be challenged faith in small <18 black klinkhamer patterns when fish are taking surface hatching midges and corixa.

Recently a private game fishing syndicate held the lease to the tarn. Stocking of rainbow trout in a size range of 8 – 15 lbs. was carried out every other year for about 7 years. The tarn occasionally floods and in rare cases fish stocked for angling have escaped into the outlet beck. On a recent trip a decomposing fish was found in the beck below the dam which measured 26”. It was not clear if this was a long lived brownie or one of the rainbows stocked by the previous syndicate.

JFF have signed a new lease for the fishing in 2014 covering 2 years. Our policy is to stock with Swinton Park Rainbows in the normal 1.5 to 2.5 lbs. size range for the start of the season. The indigenous brown trout will be mandatory catch and release.

As in the past the start of season at Barningham will be a bit later than our other lakes on the 1st of June. This is to satisfy the estates requirement to avoid disturbance to breeding birds in what is designated as a bird sanctuary.

A maximum of 4 rods are allowed to fish at any one time.

I trust you will enjoy wilderness fishing as much as I have on our return to this special place.

Norbeck on its way to the distant Tees at the pack horse bridge on the road between Barningham and Greta Bridge.