Yorkshire Dales England Holidays

Inspirational cottage holidays in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales

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A short break in the east Yorkshire Dales in January 2009

Various things took us up to the Yorkshire Dales at the end of January including an Ebay purchase from Newcastle. We chose to stay in north Yorkshire because we had never ever been to the Dales before.

We drove to the Midlands firstly to collect my sister-in-law who wanted to tag along for this weekend trip. On Friday the drive from the Midlands to the Yorkshire Dales took us about 2 hours along the A1. The plan was to stop at Knaresborough and Harrogate for a look round before heading on up to the Dales and the self-catering accommodation we had booked for our stay.

Knaresborough viaduct, YorkshireKnaresborough was a pleasant surprise. We had no knowledge of the town whatsoever, didn’t even know about the river running through the town.  It’s a pleasant spot for a Sunday afternoon day out. Although we visited in January when it was fairly cold, we were fortunate enough to have blue skies.

The viaduct over the river and the weir make an attractive picture. We have read since that it’s one of the most photographed scenes in Britain. Apparently there are boats on the river in the summer. I could imagine hiring a boat for a spot of rowing and a picnic on a sunny day and taking tea in one of the many tea shops nearby.

The ruins of the castle stand high over the river. Stone steps lead from the road by the river up through steep gardens to the castle. There are benches to sit and relax once you get to the top and an excellent vantage point for taking photographs of the town and river below.

An old-fashioned railway station with painted fences is interesting as are the old weavers' houses and signs of the past. We didn’t have time on this occasion to investigate the house in the rock or Old Mother Shipton’s Cave and various other attractions but would gladly return another day to find out more.

PumpRoom and Spa in HarrogateThe former spa town of Harrogate is much larger than Knaresborough. It possesses some very handsome and imposing buildings. I must admit to a slight disappointment to find that the former pump rooms and spa have been converted to Turkish baths and a Chinese restaurant. Other beautiful buildings now house up-market shops, especially in the Montpelier Quarter. There are elegant antique shops, the famous Betty’s tea rooms (which we did not sample on this occasion) and tasteful cafés. There are plenty of architectural features and building adornments to appreciate. We also liked the green spaces and well-maintained parks that still looked attractive in the depths of winter.

I would recommend Harrogate for shopping. There is a good selection of shops in a relatively small area. 

We aimed to arrive at our self-catering accommodation before night fell and were very fortunate to do so. The sheer remoteness of the Yorkshire Dales shocked us. Narrow roads seemed to lead to the edge of the world and give the impression that cars would fall over the edge if we weren’t careful. We had to stop to ask for directions. One farmer gave us very precise directions which included terms such as ‘turn left after the next cattle grid’. All very exciting stuff for city dwellers. We followed mile upon wall of stone walls, some of which showed gaps where either weather or machinery had caused a sudden collapse. Up and down dale, down narrow lanes with dangerously close walls, we searched for our place to stay.  After a few wrong turns, all within a few hundred yards of the place, we found our 'holiday home'  for the next 3 nights.

The next day’s destination had been decided in advance. This was the day we had arranged to collect our Ebay bargains from a village near Newcastle. The distance from our part of the Yorkshire Dales to Newcastle was about 60 miles – at most a 2 hour drive.  The route took us to Ripon then on to the A1. A fairly easy and straightforward drive. Ebay bargains collected we decided to stop at Durham en-route and have a look around.  We had spotted a Park and Ride facility for Durham on our way north, and not knowing the size of the city or traffic on a Saturday, decided to stop at the Park and Ride (Belmont) and take the bus. This proved to be an easy and informative experience. Fellow passengers were most friendly, gave us a map of the town and told us what was worth seeing, where we should catch the return bus and more. The warmth and friendliness of the locals was much appreciated.

We decided to visit the cathedral and castle in the City. We got off the bus and crossed the bridge of the River Wear, from which are good views of the castle and cathedral on the hill above. The crowds and hustle bustle of the city were amazing. So many people shopping and going somewhere. Of course this is a university town, its population swollen by hundreds of students.  This was reflected in the selection of shops. There are book shops, an Oxfam designer outlet, shoe shops selling multicoloured boots, pubs and ethnic shops.

Durham Castle from the BridgeDurham Castle, impressive as the buildings may be, now houses students as a halls of residence. The cathedral across the other side of the green dates back to the 11th century. It’s staffed by several informative guides, one of whom explained the origins of the Miner’s Memorial which appears to feature little of relevance to miner’s themselves apart from a safety lamp. It’s a concoction of cherubs from an old organ, a fireplace surround from one of the hotels and a carving of bunches of grapes from another source. Only the plinth and wording was originally created for the memorial. There is a book beside the memorial with lists of miners who died in accidents over the years. It was interesting to discover that the reason some of those who died were over 65 is because retired miners volunteered to assist with emergency teams who went in after pit disasters and sometimes fell prey to the same disasters in their attempt to rescue victims.

An unexpected pleasure was to find an orchestra and choir rehearsing for a performance in the cathedral that very evening. Other things of interest are the art work including a Pieta carved from a tree trunk, various paintings and embroideries, and the shrine to St. Cuthbert.
Entry to the cathedral is free (Jan 2009).

There are tea rooms beside the green outside the cathedral as well as the cathedral’s own shop and café.

Durham Market SquareWe had a quick look around the streets below the cathedral hill; the market square with its statues of Neptune  and a green figure on a horse resembling a Hussar. The hussar is apparently the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry who looks most out of place in north Yorkshire. There were a few market stalls, entrance to an indoor market and childrens’ amusements in the square itself.

The need to return to our accommodation before nightfall again encouraged us to curtail our trip to Durham and set off for home. With every intention to visit the local pub that evening we stopped for some food for our evening meal at Sainsbury’s Supermarket in Ripon. After a meal of steak and salad, strawberries and raspberries, with a glass or two of wine, the distant lights of the pub were not as attractive, so we watched a DVD instead. Really we should have made the effort to discover the pub.

Sunday was our last day in the Yorkshire Dales. This was our opportunity to discover the real ales. Now, I hasten to admit that we’re not walkers as such. The occasional stroll whilst sightseeing is our limit but we do really like scenery out of a car window. On the agenda for Sunday were a trip to Pateley Bridge and Grassington, neither very far away. The first section of our journey took us up high over the dales, a stretch of heather and wilderness that the road seemed to run through in a straight line and make us feel as though we were on the top of the world. A few tight bends and passing cars on narrow roads instilled a sense of respect for the road. This isn’t the place to take anything for granted. Sharp bends and small hump backed bridges keep one alert. We did stop for photographs, how could one not. The dales possess a stark beauty, even in winter. A bird of prey eating a smaller bird stopped us in out tracks at one point. Even the sheep looked dramatic silhouetted against a brooding sky.

We parked in the ‘Pay and Display’ car park in the village of Pately Bridge. The high street has a good range of local shops. We unashamedly admit to making purchases in the ‘Oldest Sweet Shop’ with its jars of old-fashioned sweets. We walked over the bridge and marvelled at the volume of water in the river Nidd which apparently disappears at points down pot holes. The minute shops in the stone buildings offer a variety of pleasant surprises. It’s just as well that most were closed on a Sunday. There’s a good choice of pubs and tea shops for Sunday lunch. The Crown pub in the High street had a carvery on offer so we ate lunch there and can recommend it – the food was  freshly cooked in batches and excellent. We had to wait a few minutes for the next batch of freshly baked Yorkshire puddings. The white cabbage was cooked with chestnuts and bacon, the red cabbage a delicious concoction with vinegar and brown sugar. There was an excellent selection of various other vegetables – all equally delicious. Unfortunately we didn’t have room for a pudding.

One other feature of the pub was a large collection of mugs and tankards suspended from the ceiling.

Grassington cobbled areaFed and satisfied we returned to our car for the next leg of the journey to Grassington. We had heard of Grassington as a dales village but again confess ignorance. It was another quite superficial visit to the centre of town which resulted in the purchase of a carved wooden toadstools and a witch ornament from the arts and crafts shop in the town. This shop is a little gem. I would return to Grassington just to make additional purchases. There was a lady and her dog (one of the town's characters I was told) chatting away to the man looking after the shop. This shop is full of fascinating objects, carved wooden bowls and in my opinion represents very good value.

We walked down the cobbled street past old stone cottages, peering in at windows and remarking on the fascinating objects and window displays. One cottage in particular had an inspiring  Christmas themed window display. There were plenty of places to eat or stop for a drink. An old pump in a small walled area of garden is in the centre and attracts some attention, especially from children who try to pump water. It’s worth a look and walk round as a change from the real star of this part of the Yorkshire Dales which is the countryside itself.

The National parks centre with tourist information is located in one of the car parks to the north of the town.

This is my account of a very short taster weekend of the Yorkshire Dales. We were extremely fortunate with the weather considering this was the end of January. It remained dry and for the most part bright during the day. We didn’t manage to do everything we had planned to. The ‘Crackpots Mosaic walk’ runs for 12 km along the back of the accommodation we stayed in at Dallowgill, but we didn’t have enough time or energy for that, or for the visit to the local pub.

Verdict: a thoroughly enjoyable stay in the Yorkshire Dales with lots to see and do. A weekend is simply not enough.We will be back. Summer next time to see the dales blooming with heather and wild flowers.

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