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Yorkshire Dales - The author’s take
Going Slow in the Yorkshire Dales
North Yorkshire is England’s largest county, and an astonishingly diverse region. A Slow appraisal of a place shouldn’t skim, but needs to look at the detail, so inevitably some very deserving places didn’t make it in.
What makes the Yorkshire Dales so special? Why is it visited so much and written about so often? The answers to these questions lie not just in the obvious observations of space, natural beauty and breathtaking landscape; it involves the culture of the place as well – the people. Dales folk are often old-fashioned but proud of it, they see it as an attribute, not a fault. While many places are rediscovering the values of the traditional, real and genuine, and renewing connections with their history and landscape, many parts of the Dales never lost them in the first place. So-called progress has brought us cheap, mass-produced goods sold in supermarkets the size of villages and even bigger shopping malls. Thankfully, a backlash is taking place, and rural North Yorkshire is at the forefront of the push to preserve those things that make places different, interesting and … well, real. Folk are fighting hard to keep their village shops open, promote locally produced, high-quality food and drink, and encourage their own artists and artisans. These are the special people – the brewers, potters, shop-keepers, cheese-makers, farmers, wood-carvers, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers – that have managed to capture a little of the essence of their corner of this singular county, and enable you to feel it, smell it, taste it or even take a little of it away with you.
On the face of it, a Lancastrian ‘townie’ writing about rural Yorkshire is an unusual phenomenon, but the truth is that I have spent more of my life in this adopted county than in the one of my birth. My first experience of Yorkshire, a seaside holiday to Whitby in the late 1960s, was a shocking one; for a ten-year-old boy used to the Gulf Stream waters of Wales, swimming in the North Sea came as a very rude awakening. Fast forward three or four years and I am back over the border again, this time on the other side of the county in Dentdale, where we teenagers enjoyed many residential stays in the school’s country cottage.
With hindsight, those first exposures to real country life – windswept hills, clean rivers and undisturbed wildlife – were life-changing experiences, for which I am eternally grateful. Following that initial love affair with the Yorkshire Dales, I have revisited every Easter since, accompanied by a handful of like-minded school friends, and during that time we reckon to have visited just about every hill-top and decent pub available. That, coupled with my 25 years living and working in the North York Moors, led me to believe that I knew pretty much all there was to know about North Yorkshire. How wrong I was.
The very welcome opportunity to write a guide on the Yorkshire Dales has allowed me to see familiar places in a new light, and discover corners that for years I had unwittingly missed. It also gave me the incentive to go and do some of those things that I’d always promised myself, like kayaking under the bird cliffs at Flamborough or walking a long-distance trail like the Yorkshire Wolds Way. Best of all, it’s rekindled my desire to go out exploring again, and see what else I might have missed in this wonderfully varied county.