From Richmond right up to Ravenseat, from cheese to Cherry Kearton, a new book about Swaledale celebrates its wonderful landscape, its characterful inhabitants and its unique history.

But it doesn’t do it as a traditional coffee table book, although its pictures are excellent, and it doesn’t do it as a comprehensive tome, although its stories are fascinating. Instead, this is a delightful dip into the life of the dale, a light-hearted look at its past and present.

It is billed as an insider’s guide because it is written by Joe Willis, formerly a correspondent and columnist on the Darlington & Stockton Times who now runs his own news website, Richmondshire Today, and who has a lovely light touch.

Darlington and Stockton Times: A panorama of Arkengarthdale by Ian Short, from the new insider's guide to Swaledale

“Low Row was raided by Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Jacobites in 1745, months before their famous defeat at the Battle of Culloden,” he says. “These days, the only battles taking place in the village, other than those with the local planning authority, are the challenge of getting served on a summer’s day at the popular Punch Bowl Inn.”

He introduces us to the dale’s characters, from a fungi foraging doctor to Spider Woman Baroness Brenda Hale, the former President of the Supreme Court, to a farmer rebuilding a stone wall running up to the top of Fremington Edge – “there are slopes on Everest not as steep as the ground it is being built on”.

Plus the Kearton brothers, Richard and Cherry, who were born in Thwaite and educated in Muker but became the world’s pioneering wildlife photographers.

“With no zoom lenses available, the pair came up with inspired ways of getting close to their quarry,” says Joe, using an extraordinary illustration of Cherry standing on his brother’s shoulders to operate his camera, on the spindliest stilts, which is focused on a bird’s nest.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Cherry Kearton standing on the shoulders of his brother, Richard, to take a photo of a bird's nest

Referring to an ingenious hide the brothers made in 1901, Joe says: “They got a taxidermist to make a full-sized hollow ox which they crawled inside. One guess where the hole of the camera lens was made. No, you’re wrong – it was the animal’s head!”

The brothers’ story – Cherry bumped into Theodore Roosevelt on a big game trip in Kenya and the US president assisted him financially in setting up a studio in London to produce the first wildlife films – is told in the Keld Resource Centre.

Although much of the beauty of Swaledale is to be found in its verdant riverside pastures and its bleak, rolling moors, the ruins of its past industry add atmosphere to the countryside scenes. Indeed, there has been much going on under the ground in the dale, and so leadmining is a rich seam running through the book.

Darlington and Stockton Times: All pictures of Swaledale are taken from Joe Willis's new book, Swaledale: An insider's guide

We learn that in Arkengarthdale, the Romans used slaves to dig for lead, and that because the leadminers’ walks to their lodging houses were so long, they used the time productively knitting stockings on the go out of Swaledale sheep wool.

Joe touches on the Waterblast Vein Incident from the 18th Century when miners dynamited their way into an underground reservoir. It flooded their tunnels, drowning 24 of them – 18 from the hamlet of Booze alone – and two pit ponies.

“They had a penchant for using dynamite recklessly, with stories of the porch at the Red Lion in Langthwaite being blown off on more than one occasion,” says Joe.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The remains of a Swaledale leadmine, by John Embleton

Then he speaks to Peter Roe, a fabled figure in the dale who seems to have spent as much of his life in the caves and potholes as he has on the surface.

While stressing the dangers of wandering underground without an experienced guide, Peter, a volunteer with the Swaledale Mountain Rescue Team, says: “The larger mines could have over ten miles of passages underground. Deep in the mines, artefacts from the old miners can be found: clog prints in the mud, picks, shovels, discarded drill bits and a Victorian copy of the Darlington & Stockton Times.”

This new book, Swaledale: An insider’s guide, will be just as well read in the dale today as the D&S Times always has been. Published by Richmond Information Centre, it is available for £5.99 from Castle Hill Books, The Station, Mocha, Brooke’s Garage, King Street Gifts, The Cheese Press and Altberg in Richmond, plus the post offices in Richmond and Reeth, and the visitor centre, gift shop and bike centre in Reeth, and Swaledale Woollens in Muker and Keld Resource Centre.