Lead mining, and to a lesser extent coal, once employed thousands in the dale. With the closure of mines in the late 19th century the population drastically declined.
Upper Swaledale is where the famous Swaledale Sheep are bred. This tough breed is able to withstand the weather at these high altitudes. As modern farming practices were introduced this led to a decline in the number workers in this industry.
The moors are maintained for grouse shooting employing game-keepers, beaters and others.
Many are drawn to the Dales for their beauty. Keld lies where two important long-distance footpaths, the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast Paths cross. Some visitors will fish in the Swale and a few intrepid kayakers shoot the rapids. Tourism supports hotels, B&Bs, campsites, restaurants and cafes.
With the end of mining and fewer people employed in sheep-farming the population in the dale declined. This is offset today to some extent by retired people coming into the dale together with some craft workers and others who can work from computers in their homes. The overall effect has been the closure, not only of chapels and churches, but schools, pubs, shops and post-offices as well.
The B6270 passes through Swaledale and on to Kirkby Stephen skirting Keld as it goes. The drive time from Richmond is about 45 minutes. A bus from Richmond runs to Keld three times a day.
The name Keld comes from the Norse meaning a spring. It consists of a close-knit cluster of houses, a farm, chapel, village hall and several other buildings (visit Keld Resource Centre) above the River Swale where it runs through a gorge. The buildings are of stone quarried locally and the whole village viewed from adjacent high ground is seen to nestle into its surroundings. On the wall of the chapel is a sundial. Wainwright refers to the sundial but adds ‘in Keld time is measured in centuries.’ The United Reformed Church owns the chapel, adjoining manse, a tiny old school building and an institute. The buildings other than the chapel had fallen into disrepair. The Keld Resource Centre, an independent charity, is developing these buildings for the benefit of the public. The Manse is now a well-appointed holiday let, and the ground floor of the Institute a Heritage Centre with displays of local interest. In addition an area adjacent to the churchyard is now a Well-Being Garden.
Keld lies within the highest concentration of waterfalls in the whole of England, there being 9 significant falls within a mile. The Swale rushes through a deep gorge towards the village of Muker. Surrounding Keld are pasture and hay fields capped by open moorland. The whole area is well supplied with footpaths.