In the last edition of this website I advised readers to “Keep Calm and Travel North.” The hope was that Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and Teesside, a part of the United Kingdom often overlooked by the great majority of visitors, would get some attention. Having lived here for the last 10 years, I can honestly say it certainly deserves it.
In the same patriotic spirit, I would like to now suggest more exploration — this time to the region immediately south of our last discussion: Yorkshire. Some would say that this region is THE English county and I would be hard pressed to disagree.
Yorkshire was, and is, so large that it was historically subdivided into three areas, called “Ridings.” In recent times, however, due to various political and administrative changes, it comprises four parts. The most recent addition is South Yorkshire, centered on the post industrial city of Sheffield. Collectively these four areas, with the Pennines as their left flank, make up a huge swathe of Northern England and mark the dividing line between this “White Rose county” and its historic rival Lancashire whose rose is red.
Yorkshire folk are famous for their opinion about the superiority of everything Yorkshire over everything from, well, just about anywhere else. Recently they’ve been delighted to be supported in this view by some tourism “big hitters.” The area has been declared the “Best in Europe” — beating Berlin, London and Madrid at the World Travel Awards. Moreover, Lonely Planet names it in the Top 3 places in the world to visit in 2014, surpassed only by Sikkim in India and The Kimberley in Australia. Their writers single out “rugged moorlands, heritage homes and cosy pubs” for particular praise.
But to continue our journey from the last issue, let’s first head south through North Yorkshire. The coastal route skirts the grandeur of the North York Moors, and leads us to Robin Hood’s Bay, the village itself being accessed by a very steep road. Due to the high taxes being charged on tea, gin, rum, brandy and tobacco in the 1700‘s, smuggling was endemic in the area. The village’s remote location and proximity to the continent across the North Sea was also part of its attraction for miscreants . These days, however, the spectacular scenery and the local arts and crafts are what attract most visitors.
Further down the coast, you can enjoy the Victorian splendor of Yorkshire’s largest seaside resort, Scarborough. The coastline here is divided into two parts by a rocky promontory which splits the shoreline into North and South Bay. The town itself boasts two parks, one of which has a huge lake hosting mock naval battles each summer, and the other which has an open air theatre. Culture plays a large part in Scarborough’s economic resilience, with many artists and galleries. The playwright Alan Ayckbourn has produced 75 plays in Scarborough and it is where most of his new plays have premiered before their successful West End runs.
The North York Moors themselves are a National Park — bleak and forbidding in winter, but a joy in summer (unless you get stuck behind a succession of caravans on the moorland single lane roads). For those who would like the train to take the strain, the heritage North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs regular steam engine services through the heart of the heather moorland.
Helmsley is a focal point for visitors, being a market town with many attractive features on the southern boundary of the moor. A focal point of a different kind is high on Blakey Ridge by Kirbymoorside where The Lion Inn, a comfortable pub with meals and a fine selection of real ales, offers breathtaking views over Rosedale and Farndale from its height of 1325 feet.
Well worth a visit, or indeed a revisit, to the south of the Moors nestling in the Howardian Hills, is one of Britain’s finest “stately homes,” Castle Howard. Built to a design by John Vanbrugh between 1699 and 1712 for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle, it has been home to the Howard family for more than 300 years. Visitors flock to see the house and gardens which contain an arboretum, the Temple of the Four Winds, a mausoleum and the stunning Atlas fountain. Castle Howard is, of course, also the sumptuous setting for the television and film recreations of Evelyn Waugh’s novel Brideshead Revisited, as well as more recent productions, including the BBC’s Death Comes to Pemberley.
To the west of the North York Moors runs one of the area’s major roads, the A19, linking Teesside with the A1. Along this route are many typical North Yorkshire market towns, such as Stokesley, Northallerton, Ripon and Thirsk; the last being celebrated as the home town of the author James Herriot. He renamed it Darrowby for All the Creatures Great and Small. Along with Pickering and Malton (to the south of the Moors) all these towns are great stopping off points to sample the wares from an array of local shopkeepers. Another area highlight worth visiting is Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site owned by the National Trust. It is a ruined Cistercian monastery dating from 1132. (You may have seen it featured in such movies as The History Boys or on TV’s Treasure Hunt.)
Reaching the A1, if you travel north, you arrive at the less rugged but rural and agricultural Yorkshire Dales National Park, which starts from Cumbria in the North West. Wensleydale and Swaledale cheeses are still rightly renowned, and Richmond boasts an impressive Norman castle and Georgian architecture, complete with a cobbled market square. The fast flowing River Swale provides a scenic backdrop to regular festivals, antique fairs and arts and crafts events.
To the south and east, the city of York itself beckons. Technically separate from North Yorkshire, though contained within it, Jorvik, as it was known to the Vikings, has been around since the Romans founded this walled city in 71AD. It grew rich as a centre of the wool trade, and in Victorian times as a hub of the burgeoning railway industry — the National Railway Museum is sited there. Other major tourist attractions include the bustling medieval streets around “The Shambles,” which originally housed butchers’ stalls, York Minster, and the Jorvik Centre, which celebrates the archaeological heritage of this historic city. In common with many other Yorkshire towns, York also has a thriving racecourse!
In the part of North Yorkshire closest to the old West Riding, several additional places deserve a visit.
Harrogate grew to fame in Georgian times as the local spa waters, containing iron, sulphur and salt, were thought to have health giving properties. It became known as “The English Spa” and wealthy patrons established the town as a destination for what we would now call “health tourism.” Modern day visitors can enjoy refurbished facilities in a state of the art Turkish and Spa Bath complete with Moorish designs. It is just round the corner from the original Pump Rooms. Harrogate is famous for its huge open common land which surrounds the town centre, known as “The Stray,” and is a thriving exhibition and conference centre with many fine restaurants and upmarket shops and galleries.
Occupying an imposing position on a prominent town centre corner, it wouldn’t be right to ignore another Yorkshire landmark, Betty’s. A combination of Swiss and Yorkshire creativity, service, and quality, Betty’s Tearooms have outlets in York, Northallerton, and Ilkley, but their headquarters are in Harrogate. You won’t find any of these wonderful places (celebrating their centenary this decade) outside the county and it is seldom that you won’t find a queue to get in. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, their scrumptious delights are now available to an audience outside “God’s own county.”
Just down the road from Harrogate, the pretty market and spa town of Knaresborough, on the River Nidd, has another claim to fame. Mother Shipton’s Cave was the alleged birthplace of Ursula Southall, a soothsayer and prophetess in 1488. The site is also known for its “dropping well,” the water slowly petrifying any object placed in its path. Mother Shipton’s Cave claims to be England’s oldest visitor attraction, and many famous people (including Agatha Christie) have had items belonging to them petrified.
Also in this immediate area, the village of Ripley has been the home of the Ingilby family for 26 generations. Ripley Castle is now the heart of a thriving village, with gardens, tearooms, deer park and facilities for young and old. Since legislation changed in the 1990’s and allowed marriages to be conducted in “suitable locations” other than places of worship or registry offices, the 700 year old venue has become a popular and scenic setting for weddings as well as other celebrations of all kinds. Like the grander Castle Howard, it shows how the entrepreneurial spirit of the upper classes can allow stately homes to survive and prosper in a more egalitarian age.
Continuing southbound the A1 meets the M62, which is a major motorway crossing the entire breadth of England, from Liverpool in the West, to Kingston upon Hull in the East. Turning left at the intersection, under the shadow of the huge Ferrybridge power station, we enter The East Riding.
In some ways the poorer cousin of its neighbors to the north and west, a large amount of East Yorkshire is agricultural and coastal. Pretty market towns such as Beverley and Cottingham have now come largely under the aegis of Hull, which has grown from a small wool exporting and fishing port on the Humber Estuary to a university town of over a quarter of a million residents. But in the countryside around Driffield and Market Weighton you’ll find some family houses to match any in the country and quaint villages nestled around the local duckpond with unusual names such as Wetwang (derived from the Viking word for “meeting place”).
As you approach Hull from the west, you pass the awe-inspiring Humber Bridge, one of many attempts by administrators and politicians to link the north bank of the Humber Estuary with its southern neighbor, North Lincolnshire.
Hull is unusual in having the only cream-colored telephone boxes in Britain (the physical embodiment of what was a council owned telephone company until privatization) and, in the George Hotel, what is reported to be the world’s smallest window. Hull Fair is a huge and much anticipated annual event each October. The town is also famous for being the birthplace of MP William Wilberforce, the campaigner against slavery in the 1700s. Also worth noting: It fervently supported the landing of William of Orange in the UK in 1688. A gilded statue of “King Billy” stands at the entrance to the Market Place. And Hull’s inhabitants are celebrating their selection as the UK City of Culture 2017, a worthy accolade for this undeservedly underrated place.
Continue through Hull to the coast, and you’ll reach the towns of Bridlington, Hornsea, and Withernsea. This part of the world is known collectively as Holderness, and is subject to severe coastal erosion. Bridlington suffers a slight inferiority complex from comparison with Scarborough, its larger neighbor up the coast, but does have at least one recent claim to fame. David Hinde, Bridlington’s Town Crier, possesses the World’s Loudest Town Crier voice, measured at nearly 115 decibels!
Hornsea, a quite genteel settlement situated in the middle of the Holderness coast has a large inland lake, the Mere, and was formerly best known for Hornsea Pottery. This firm flourished in the latter part of the 20th Century, but is now sadly just a memory — at one time the pottery and its accompanying theme park employed 700 people.
Withernsea has already occupied pride of place in a past edition of “Orange and Magenta” being the birthplace of movie star Kay Kendall and her beautiful sister Kim, profiled in “From the Lighthouse” in Edition Three. Kim has been instrumental in helping maintain the town’s splendid lighthouse – now a museum – in memory of her sister. The view from the top is truly magnificent, and well worth the many stairs you have to climb, but the unusual fact about this lighthouse is that it is in the middle of town, away from the beach. With the aforementioned coastal erosion, this is probably just as well! You won’t be kept awake at night these days by the 17 mile sweep of the light, because it was decommissioned on July 1st 1976.
Returning to the M62 westbound, you will find yourself heading towards the Pennines, and the historic West Riding of Yorkshire. This has four major centers of population, by far the biggest being the city of Leeds. Leeds initially grew prosperous due to the woolen trade, the abundant water from the rivers leading to the establishment of mills, but these days the city is a vibrant media, legal and financial centre. The Royal Armories Museum is in an ultra modern building, specially commissioned to house the national collection when it was moved north from the Tower of London. You can see the first known moving pictures in the world (taken in the city in 1888) at the Armley Mills Industrial Museum, in what was formerly the biggest woolen mill in the world. Leeds is home to Opera North in The Grand Theatre, and the famous City Varieties Music Hall hosted the BBC TV series The Good Old Days for many years.
Nestling in the foothills of the Pennines, Bradford was this writer’s home on three separate occasions during his radio career. The city centre still has examples of its Victorian grandeur, not least the glorious Italianate City Hall, and the Alhambra Theatre. After the decline of the woolen trade, upon which its fortunes were built, Bradford has become a tourist destination, and was UNESCO’s first City of Film. The National Media Museum in the city centre, and the Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Lister Park are just two attractions. Bradford is also most suitable as a starting point for visitors to see many other historic locations in the West Riding.
Bradford has attracted large amounts of immigration throughout its history. In the 1800s Irish immigrants came to work in the woolen mills. German merchants were instrumental in the rise of textile exports from Bradford. The area of their warehouses became known as “Little Germany.” These days, because of its large ethnic minority population of Bangladeshi, Pakistani and Indian origin, the city is a true delight for curry devotees.
One of the world’s first “workers’ villages” was built outside Bradford, at Saltaire, named after its founder Titus Salt, a mill owner dismayed by the squalid working and living conditions in Bradford. This former mill on the River Aire is now a World Heritage Site, home to the “1853 Gallery” devoted to Bradford native David Hockney. The village contained a beautiful Italianate church, and an institute, complete with stone lions guarding the entrance, but no pub — Titus Salt did not want to encourage the demon drink. Until the 1980s there was no place to get a drink in the village, other than The Boathouse on the river which had been converted to a restaurant. When the first wine bar opened in the village itself, it was called “Don’t Tell Titus…”
Two other areas close to Bradford are worth visiting.
Ilkley is a delightful spa town at the northern end of the eponymous Moor. Picturesque in summer, the moor is as bleak as one would expect in winter, and Yorkshire’s unofficial anthem, “On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at” celebrates the climate.
There are two reasons to visit the Pennine village of Haworth – the heritage railway, and the Bronte Parsonage Museum, dedicated to the Bronte Sisters, and their brother Branwell. The village plays host to an annual Community Arts Festival, and the local Haworth Band continues their Yorkshire tradition of brass band musicianship, which they started at the time of the Crimean War.
Moving further along the M62 in the South Pennines, Halifax was for many years the headquarters of the Building Society which bore its name, and was Britain’s largest mutual lender. It is now a bank. The other modern industry associated with the town is toffee making. John Mackintosh and his wife started making the confectionery in 1890. Mackintosh then expanded to include chocolates and candies — the well known Quality Street was one of their “brands.” The name Mackintosh was subsumed in a merger with the York based Rowntree firm in 1969, and the company is now part of the massive Nestle group. The pride of Halifax is the magnificent Piece Hall, opened in 1779 where 315 merchants traded pieces of cloth. It now hosts many arts, crafts and independent shops. And cat’s eyes (the pieces of reflective glass set in rubber mountings in the middle of road carriageways) were invented by Percy Shaw of Halifax in 1933 and are now found all over the world.
Huddersfield is the birthplace of Rugby League, the gritty Northern version of Rugby — professional as opposed to the (formerly) amateur Rugby Union. The meeting at the town’s George Hotel in 1895 is commemorated by a plaque on the wall. These days the visitor to Huddersfield will probably most appreciate the Victorian architecture, having the third highest number of listed buildings of any town in the UK. Of particular note are the Railway Station, once described as “a stately home with trains in it” and the Town Hall.
Finally in our tour of West Yorkshire, hidden in the folds of the Pennines is a small town of around 2000 people now made world famous by a television series about old age pensioners and their exploits. “Last of the Summer Wine” has done for Holmfirth what “Doc Martin” has done for Port Isaac in Cornwall. The beautiful countryside around the town has resulted in millions of visitors over the years. Previously Holmfirth was best known for another British institution: the saucy seaside postcard! Printed by the Holmfirth firm of Bamforth & Company in New Mill Road, the printing works have now been converted into residential flats, but the postcards have been relaunched to titillate another generation of smut seekers.