|THE DALES OF YORKSHIRE: ALL CREATURES GREAT AND SMALL AND THAT'S NOT ALL!
My heart pounds with anticipation. I am returning to my roots. Forty-five years ago I drove my 1937 Morris 8 Tourer convertible through this area - my back yard! Roof down. Windscreen folded flat. Cheese-cutter cap held firm with flying goggles, I was king of the road! (Oddly the same model was chosen for James Herriot in the TV series "All creatures Great and Small").
I have finally navigated my way through the labyrinth that is medieval Skipton's one-way street system. Brightly coloured canal boats sit serenely under bridges once built for packhorses. The market, a thrice-weekly event since King John granted a charter back in 1204, blocks the main street.
Skipton is billed as "Gateway to The Dales." When I find the decidedly minor B6265, my skateboard sized Fiat 500 absorbs a selfish chunk of the narrow road.
Heading for Grassington, I breathe a sigh of relief. In 1954 The Yorkshire Dales National Park was established. It encompasses 1769 Sq Kilometres of unique countryside. Astonishingly little has changed.
Sheep dot the rocky hillsides. Perfect dry stonewalls divide lush valleys into a maze of tiny pastures. Farmhouses built from locally quarried sandstone are nestled into folds of gently undulating countryside. Suddenly I am back at the wheel of my old roadster!
A "Dale" is the Viking word for valley. There are more than 20 Dales. Many are named after the river that divides them - Wharfedale, Nidderdale, Swaledale. Each differs in character and atmosphere. Erosion of glacial ice some 300 million years ago turned limestone, shale and sandstone into an area rich with caves, waterfalls, fertile valleys and barren moorland straddling The Pennine Mountains.
The narrow lanes of Grassington are lined with pubs. Hikers and bikers fill the roadside tables knocking back well-deserved pints of Wonky Donkey, Old Peculiar and Crackshot. Traffic has stopped, allowing pony-trekkers to pass.
It takes me a while to reach Hawes. I find myself constantly nosing down country lanes. Some are just wide enough for a well-equipped 10 speed. I am drawn by irresistible signs to places like Crackpot, Yockenthwaite and Low Row - Always fearful of coming head-to-head with another tourist or a hurrying "James Herriot" with an expectant ewe to tend.
The sun is like will-o'-the-wisp. One minute it breaks through grey clouds to magically focus on golden stubble of a freshly harvested field. I park my car, switch camera lenses, and poof! The clouds have won the race!!
Dalesfolk are a hardy lot. Spinning and knitting once went hand in hand with sheep farming. Eighteenth century soldiers sported woollen stockings crafted by the ladies of Dent while their counterparts in Sedbergh knitted blue caps for Britain's convicts!
New technology brought river power to drive textile mills. The Foster Deck "breast" mill (fed from the side!) was driven by a 34-foot water wheel until it's closure in 1966. The wheel survives. The mill is a row of cottages.
Stone quarries offset the financial foibles of sheep farming. Lead mining built the pretty villages of Muker, Thwaite and Reeth. Today it's all tearooms and trekkers that keep the roses blooming in immaculate stone cottage gardens, but the magic is surprisingly unchanged.
I finally reach Hawes, home of Wensleydale cheese, W.R Outhwaite & son Ropemakers, great pubs and pretty bridges. A grand base for exploring the area. Big box stores and hotel chains are actively discouraged (banned?) in The Dales. Small boutique hotels and B&B's are the places to make friends and gain local knowledge.
Stuart is a fireman but with only 53 calls in the past year, including freeing a dog that "got it's bum stuck in a stone stile," he still finds time to produce huge Yorkshire breakfasts for the guests at Ebor House B&B.
Every morning I devise a list of Yorkshire words to translate and hand it to Janie, Stuart's wife. "That'll get him," she giggles - heading for the kitchen! I discover that "Sand Tarn" on "Wildboar Fell" is in fact a lake on a remote moor? Hardraw Force is Britain's highest unbroken waterfall and can only be reached through the saloon bar at The Green Dragon pub in Hardraw - after a two-pound donation!
I spend 3 magical days following my nose and my heart. I drive through a water splash. I visit The Buttertubs. I become addicted to graveyards, mill wheels and stone stiles built for walkers. I watch Morris dancers in Grinton, their hats filled with late spring flowers, strutting their stuff oblivious to the rain. I observe sly farmers buying and selling sheep at Hawes market.
My real love is reserved for the people I left behind when my family moved away. Yorkshire folk are famous for being open, forthright and funny. I left with a full heart, a jaw weak from laughter and a determination to return to the place of my childhood very soon!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I continued on through the old spa town of Harrogate, to Knaresborough where a row on the river Nidd and a visit to Mother Shipton's cave are mandatory. There is lots to see in historic York which dates back to Roman times. The Minster is one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe. The Railway Museum is outstanding.
Spoil yourself with a holiday in Yorkshire. You'll love it!
IF YOU GO:
Copyright © 2010 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.