I was born in Yorkshire, in the town of Wakefield. Its a town that wikipedia states was significant in the middle ages for its wool trade. I left when I was young.
In fact, I left the entire county of Yorkshire when I was very young, but family remained and I’ve revisited throughout my adult life, though somewhat infrequently. My last few visits have been used as purposeful attempts to explore the county, one of England’s most historic, and the largest of them all. One such expedition was to see the famous Yorkshire Dales.
The Dales National Park is easy to spot on a map, it’s a huge national park (though the term national park is defined as something slightly different to that seen in the states, you’ll find towns in here, no tacky gift shops and plenty of farms, in fact you may not realize when you’ve entered the park at all). It’s actually made from many small Dales. A Dale is a V or U shaped valley, and the term Dale comes from an Old English term ‘dael’ which means valley. Each area of the park is named by the local river and then the term ‘dale’ afterward, for example Wharfedale and Nidderdale. Formed during the last ice age from glacial retreat the landscape is mostly made of beautiful flowing heather moorland, permeated by stone walls and country pubs. Its everything I love about England, the quintessential country scene with rolling hills and village halls, people say hello on the street and it seems like every other person is a farmer. Visiting the Dales is like taking trip to the England you see in movies or read about in classic literature.
I drove my rental to my starting point, Skipton; one of the larger towns in the Dales boundary. Skipton is in a district of Yorkshire called Craven. In Anglo-Saxon times Craven was a kingdom in itself, inhabited by the Ancient Britons. The areas name comes from the Welsh ‘Craf’ which means ‘garlic’ and wild garlic still grows in the region today. I know the town because my Grandmother lived there throughout my childhood, so visiting it as an adult was oddly warming. Its main highlights include the part-medieval church of Holy Trinity and of course Skipton Castle. The castle was built in 1090 by Robert de Romille and has been preserved for over 900 years. It was a stronghold for the Royalists during the English Civil War. Its open to the general public and worth a peek.
About half an hour south of Skipton is the town of Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters. Haworth is one of the biggest draws for literary minded people visiting the region. The three sisters wrote a selection of novels which still today stand out as some of the most adored and acclaimed novels ever written. Wuthering Heights might be the best depiction of the moors ever to be penned, it certainly captures the feel and mood of the countryside. The town is full of tea rooms and souvenir shops, but it’s the Bronte museum which draws the crowds.
I drove from Skipton to the town of Settle. I’d heard there was a beautiful waterfall hidden away somewhere near the town. One of the photography blogs I’d read mentioned it, but the falls are such a well kept secret that even this brief mention didn’t give away it’s exact location. Half of the fun here is in the finding, but if you do you’ll be rewarded by a private viewing of a waterfall which makes you feel like you’re in middle earth.
After enjoying the falls for a while, I headed to the town of Malham, a lovely little place full of picture postcard streets and old country pubs. I stopped in for lunch and found my way into the first old looking pub I saw and ordered the roast beef and Yorkshire puddings.
“I’m sorry mate, the gas jus wen out” said the barman, looking apologetic but not overly upset.
“Is everything off?”
“Oh no, i’m sure we can knock something up… I can do you a little ham and eggs on the electric cooker.”
“I’ll take it.”
“I can do y’a coffee n’all if you wan” he offered. I nodded and sat near the fire feeling more like I was in my grandma’s living room than a pub. Of course, that’s the essence of being out here, every walk feels like time travel and every pub like you’re grandma’s house. The food was plentiful, delicious and filled me with the energy I needed for my afternoon walk.
Malham Cove is pretty famous, well, in geological circles it is, which are the smaller of the circle types. Its highlight is on the cliff top, where a rare limestone pavement exists due to the criss crossing of streams eroding the weaker rock. The whole cove is beautiful and the walk to and from the cove is picturesque. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll have the added bonus of stepping into a scene from the Deathly Hallows, filmed here a few years back. The waters which created the cove also created Malham Tarn, a glacial lake, which has the record for being the highest lake in England. Its essentially a huge nature reserve, and you’ll no doubt bump into deer as you wander its paths.
After a pretty pleasant stroll, I drove myself north west to an area known as Ingleborough. The sloping hills here are beautiful to look at, but it’s whats beneath them that attracts people from far afield. Gaping Gill is a huge cave system, around the size of yorkminster. It was (until 1999) the deepest known cave system in the UK. It does still have the record for longest unbroken waterfall in the UK.
After checking out the 98-metre (322 ft) deep pothole I headed north to the heart of the Dales. The town of Hawes has a list of must do’s. I began by checking out the Dales Countryside Museum, a nice little showcase of the areas social and geological history. It’s a nice way to get acquainted with the landscape and having already been to the Tarn and Cove, I now got to see how they formed. Entry is just four pounds and it’s money well spent.
Another highlight (especially for any Wallace and Gromit fans) is the Wensleydale Creamery, which is devoted to the production of the animated TV characters favourite crumbly white cheese. The creamery is both informative and delicious (tasters are plentiful and the shop at the end is mouthwatering).
The final thing I wanted to see here was Halaber Force, the highest unbroken (above ground) waterfall in Britain. It’s an awfully small waterfall when compared to its bigger international cousins, but in this quaint village, it stands tall and proud.
I next wanted to make my way up north to see why the National Park had been expanded so extensively this year. The park increased in area by over 20%, incorporating an additional 188 square miles of countryside and a few notable towns, including the wonderful Orton. This picturesque country village contains a pub, café, village shop and Kennedy’s Chocolate Factory, which I didn’t get chance to see, but sounded delicious from what I read. I was however able to enjoy the monthly Farmers Market. Held on the second Saturday of each month it brings together 35 local producers and creates the most wonderful and delicious market I’ve ever seen. I ate an overwhelming amount of food and sampled some delightful ales at the village pub. This place is truly a postcard village.
I spent the remaining couple of days driving back from west to east, stopping along the way to do what most people come out here to do, walk. The rolling hills of the Dales are both relaxing and energizing at the same time, the fields are so green they often look fake, with pheasants and sheep roaming wherever you look. The air is fresh, and the occasional whiff of manure reminds you that you are strolling between real working farms.
I came out of the park feeling refreshed and my love for the British Countryside reaffirmed after a few years away. The national park is evolving, but in a positive way, countryside is being protected, more and more of it, but at the same time it is utilizing modern technology to bring in clean energy. The villages are quaint enough to shop and bimble around, but not infected with tacky cheap keepsakes and pointless touristy nonsense. Its people are the most down to earth as you’ll ever meet and the most welcoming too. When you visit, you feel like you’ve seen something real, no show has been put on for you here. Whether you are a Brit looking to see a gem in your own backyard or you’re flying in and looking for the real England, this should be up at the top of your list.