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Yorkshire Dales - When and where to visit
The places listed below make ideal bases for exploring the Yorkshire Dales.
There’s lots going on in the capital of upper Wensleydale itself but it’s also at a handy crossroads with easy access to Swaledale, Garsdale and Ribblesdale.
Rail links to Skipton and Lancaster and a gentle bike ride to the busier Ingleton. As for walking – you’ve got a show cave, a Three Peak and classic limestone pavements, all a short stroll away.
It calls itself the Gateway to the Dales, which aptly describes its good bus and train links to Three Peaks Country, Craven and Wharfedale. Don’t just travel from here though – Skipton itself has lots to offer with canals, a steam railway and one of the best castles in the country.
This historic home of Quakerism and modern Book Town sits comfortably at the foot of the Howgill Fells and within sight of the Three Peaks.
If it’s rural isolation you want then upper Swaledale is the place. Empty fells all around but a surprising range of accommodation available.
Stay put in town for fascinating history and culture or hop on a bus for the rural delights up Swaledale or over into Wensleydale.
The beer capital of North Yorkshire (sorry, Tadcaster) and another classic Dales market town. Local riverside and woodland walks a speciality.
The rural delights of upper Nidderdale are just a walk or bike ride away, while a short bus trip can take you to the bright lights of Harrogate and historic Knaresborough.
This little place epitomises what a Dales town is all about – a market square, old limestone pubs, waterfalls and a lead mining history. It’s all celebrated annually in June during a two-week music and arts festival.
Below is a brief overview and suggestions of how to reach the Yorkshire Dales from other parts of the country.
Most people get here and travel around within the area by car. However, a growing number of visitors to the Dales are doing it without their cars. Car-free travel is at the root of the Slow mindset. And, planned well and done properly, can be a really liberating experience. The national park authority are very supportive of this idea – not surprisingly, they want more people in the park but fewer cars, so they have a whole section of their website devoted to encouraging this.
As you would expect from a mountainous region, railways tend to skirt the edges, getting you to outlying towns and villages like Skipton, Settle, Clapham, Richmond, Northallerton, Harrogate and Knaresborough, but not into the interior. The one glorious exception is the Settle to Carlisle line, which ploughs straight through the middle of the Dales, giving access to Horton in Ribblesdale, Dentdale and Garsdale/ Wensleydale heads.
A couple of short, private railways add to the picture, but because they are not fully linked to the National Rail system, they are not of huge use to car-free travellers. To be fair though, the operators of the Embsay line are working hard to join it up to Skipton, as are the Wensleydale Railway Association to Northallerton.
We could moan at length about the inadequacies of our National Rail system (and I often do) but one aspect they need hearty congratulations for is the free transport of bikes rule. This facility opens up so many doors for cyclists, who either don’t own a car or are tired of doing circular routes back to the hire shop. Using the train to gain altitude and save your legs is a good ploy; you could for instance, take your bike on the train to Ribblehead and freewheel back to Settle or Clapham via Ingleton. Likewise, Dent Station gives a nice quiet run down to Sedbergh and Oxenhome Station beyond. Garsdale Station allows a similar downhill trip to Kirby Stephen.
Without a bike in tow you also have the bus network at your disposal (some buses advertise bike transport but as there is a limit of three per bus you can’t rely on it). Peripheral towns usually have very good bus links to the outside, especially if they have no railway station.
All the other smaller places up the Dales are served by the Dales Explorer Bus (www.dalesbus.org). Almost every hamlet gets a visit at some time, even if it is just once a week in summer, like poor old Scar House in Nidderdale. Many routes operate weekdays, and all year round, but quite a few extra leisure services are put on for the summer months (Easter to October). And these are usually only Sundays and bank holidays. All the details, including maps and timetables, are available to download from the website, or as a free booklet from www.wymetro.com.
Other entertaining summer additions are the two brilliant vintage tour buses. The Wensleydale bus (127) runs on Tuesdays from Ripon,right up the dale to Garsdale Station (after a two hour break in Hawes). Also on Tuesdays, the 569 Cumbria Classic coach runs from Hawes to Kirby Stephen. Various fare concessions are out there, and probably the best on offer is the Dales Rover Ticket, giving you unlimited bus journeys for the day within the Dales, and deals from many local businesses like cafés, pubs, B&Bs and attractions. If they display a ‘Dales Bus Discount Scheme’ sticker you will get some freebee or other, even if it’s only a cup of tea.
Unless you count the rowing boats on the River Nidd at Knaresborough, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Skipton is the one and only boating venue in the Dales, but it does offer a variety of options. You can join half-hour or one-hour trips in and around town, or hire a boat for a day, weekend or entire week. Westwards is the more rural and unspoilt direction to sail from Skipton, but even this choice turns away from the Dales and into the lowlands, on its journey towards Lancashire; a tour of farm country – nice and certainly Slow, if tame.