You need to keep your eyes peeled to catch a glimpse of the signs bearing the red rose of the House of Lancaster on the winding road from the Lake District to the Yorkshire Dales.
Blink and you could miss them. Yet plans to annex a small finger of Lancashire at Leck Fell, which has poked provocatively into the throat of the neighbouring "White Rose county" since the time of Roger of Poitou is threatening to rekindle passions many believed had been settled once and for all at the Battle of Bosworth Field.
In the coming weeks, proposals for a radical extension to the Yorkshire Dales National Park will land on the desk of the Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman. Under the scheme, which is backed by Natural England – the Government's independent adviser on the environment – and the park authority, the national park is to increase in size by nearly a quarter courtesy of a cross-border raid into Cumbria and – for the first time – Lancashire. While the new areas will remain administratively within the boundaries of their existing authorities, the extension is proving controversial. Ms Spelman, who was born in Hertfordshire, will have 28 days to hear objections before deciding whether to give the go-ahead.
Opposition to both the north and westward extensions is expected from North Yorkshire and Cumbria county councils, triggering a public inquiry and turning what many consider to be unfinished business left over from the creation of the park in 1954.
Ironically, Lancashire County Council is not expected to oppose the co-option of just under than nine square miles of its territory, much of which is farmed by the county's Lord Lieutenant, Lord Shuttleworth, and is also home to one of the most extensive limestone caving systems in Europe. Yet the blurring of boundaries is proving contentious. Chris Dawson, a retired handicraft teacher who founded the Friends of Real Lancashire in a bid to "promote the true identity" of the Red Rose county, has been lobbying vigorously against the proposals. "It is totally wrong. If they are going to change it they need to change its name. It cannot stay as the Yorkshire Dales," he said.
One suggestion has been to create a separate Westmoreland and Lancashire ational park. Another is to call the extended area simply The Dales in recognition of the 28 per cent which will reside in Cumbria and the 1 per cent in Lancashire. Such an idea has been met with consternation in Yorkshire, where the eponymous Dales brand helps to pull in an estimated 8.5 million visitors to the county each year and generates £576m for the economy. But Mr Dawson believes there is more at stake than money. "It is not only historical but the area in question is still an administrative part of Lancashire and is a real part of the county," he said. "There is a difference between the Yorkshire and Lancashire folk. It is a difficult thing to put your finger on but the basic thing is we are all keen on preserving our traditional counties. We have a common interest in that."
Lancashire suffered more than most in the 1974 reorganisation of local government. Manchester and surrounding former mill towns such as Bolton, Rochdale and Oldham were "lost" to Greater Manchester. Merseyside gobbled up Liverpool, St Helens and Southport, while Cumbria subsumed Furness and took over historic parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire.
High up at Leck Fell Farm, dubbed the loneliest and most remote in Lancashire, Allan Middleton has more practical reasons for opposing the park extension. His family are émigrés from Yorkshire but he has farmed here all his life. On a clear day, the view extends as far as the Cumbrian fells and the gas rigs twinkling in the Irish Sea off Morecambe Bay. He has yet to be convinced by the arguments. "What does the landscape need protecting from? Why does it look so beautiful? It is because people like me and generations of farmers before me have kept it like this," said Mr Middleton. "If it was a national park there would have been no hedges built or dry-stone walls, no mining. They just want you to live in a museum."
He describes the park authority as an "irrelevance" and fears it could burden his business with extra regulation. Among the concerns shared by other farmers are fears about rising house prices, erosion and tougher planning rules. The expansion of the Yorkshire Dales is being mirrored across the M6 in the Lake District, which is stretching out eastwards across Borrowdale to create a continuous national park stretching from Ravenglass to Richmond.
The combined areas of the two parks will be increased by 310 sq miles and is being hailed as the most significant development since the creation of the South Downs National Park in 2009.
David Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said the extension plans which follow a lengthy consultation were "bigger than politics" and urged dissenting voices to look to the legacy they could leave for future generations. He added: "Only a politician would see the world in terms of political or administrative boundaries that don't exist on the ground or in people's minds. These proposals are not about changing the county boundaries. It is about recognising the beauty of an incredible landscape."
Meanwhile, down at Cowan Bridge, a village on the A65 whose claim to fame is as the home of the typhus-ridden school where the Yorkshire-born Brontë sisters were educated, there was acceptance of the plan. Robert Butterworth, a retired Lancastrian seafarer, said he had little problem with the idea. "I have one or two Yorkshire friends and we do enjoy taking the piss out of each other," he admitted. "But the animosity between Yorkshire and Lancashire died a long time ago. Your place of birth is something you have no control over."
Local rivalry: The history
*The idea that the rivalry stems from the Wars of the Roses between 1455 and 1485 is a misconception. In fact, the conflict was known at the time as the "war of the cousins" and soldiers fought under the livery of their chosen side: a red dragon or a white boar. The House of Lancaster recruited in the north, including Yorkshire, and the House of York gathered troops from the south, Ireland and Wales.
*In Shakespeare's Henry VI Part I, supporters from the warring sides pick red or white roses from the Temple Garden to show their allegiances. Sir Walter Scott popularised the term "the war of the roses" in the 1800s.
*Any country cricket match between Lancashire and Yorkshire is referred to as a Roses match. The clubs still use the red and white roses as their emblems. The term is also use to describe football emnity between Leeds United and Manchester United.
*Both counties claim victory in the battle of the bands, with Yorkshire groups Pulp and Arctic Monkeys, and Lancastrians Oasis and the Smiths just some of the many successful British music acts that have emerged from the two areas.
*The world black pudding throwing competition is held in Ramsbottom, Lancashire. The aim is to knock as many Yorkshire puddings as possible off a 30ft plinth.
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