This film is part of Free

The Dale That Died

How long can Joe Gibson continue as the last sheep farmer in Grisedale, Yorkshire?

Documentary 1975 48 mins


"I thought there was a great future in these hills," laments 61 year-old Joe Gibson, "I cannot see any future now." Joe is an ex-miner, now scraping a living as a sheep farmer in Grisedale, a Yorkshire dale once home to 14 families but now farmed only by Gibson, with help from his wife and son. But Joe and his family’s future on the farm now looks uncertain as the owner plans to sell. This poignant, elegiac film, directed by Barry Cockroft for Yorkshire TV, hit a nerve when it aired in 1975.

With help from Cockroft's own spin-off book written, Joe Gibson's story stuck in the memory of many viewers. 34 years later, the Yorkshire Post revisited Grisedale, finding it somewhat revived, thanks to a number of 'incomers' from elsewhere. Joe Gibson's Mouse Syke Farm was now home to his grandson, Matthew. The dale was as wild and beautiful as ever (synth-pop maestro Vince Clarke's plans for a music studio and a helipad were apparently blocked by the National Park) and the land was still being farmed. Perhaps, suggested the Post, Griesdale might better be dubbed "the dale that never says die". The Lancashire-born Cockroft had an abiding interest in threatened rural ways of life: other films explored the travails of a woman farmer (Too Long a Winter, 1973, and it's follow-up, A Winter Too Many, 1989), and the plight of the Romany people (A Romany Summer, 1977). Sunley's Daughter (1974), about a farmer's daughter under pressure to continue her parents' vocation, is also available on BFI Player.