Going Slow in the Yorkshire Dales

North Yorkshire is England’s largest county, and an astonishingly diverse region. The area of the Pennines traditionally known as the Yorkshire Dales covers the western half of the county, with all but one of its valleys sitting predominantly in the national park of the same name. Nidderdale was left out in the cold on the park’s inception, but has since been rightly granted its own status as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). 

In 2016, the Yorkshire Dales National Park was extended along its western boundary, increasing its area by 24%. In the process, a large chunk of Cumbria (and even a bit of Lancashire) has managed to stow away on board.

The Oldest Sweet Shop in England Pateley Bridge Yorkshire Dales by Nidderdale Chamber of Trade/Kirsty ShepherdThe Oldest Sweet Shop in England in Pateley Bridge is a perfect example of the Yorkshire way of preserving traditional livelihoods © Nidderdale Chamber of Trade/Kirsty Shepherd

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.

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.

I hope you are inspired to live the Yorkshire Dales – to come and meet these people, spend some Slow time where they live and get to know it as they do. Climb a few hills, stroll through the woods and meditate in a ruined abbey, eat a pork pie by the river from the village butchers and finish the day in an old stone pub, with a glass of your favourite tipple and a crackling fire to toast your feet on – I can think of worse ways of passing time.

The authors story

River Wharfe Wharfedale Yorkshire Dales by Andrew Locking/www.andrewwalks.co.ukThe banks of the River Wharfe provide a wonderful watery landscape © Andrew Locking/www.andrewswalks.co.uk

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 a few years and I am back in Dentdale, where we teenagers enjoyed 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. That initial love affair with the Yorkshire Dales has been consummated every Easter since, for 40 years, accompanied by a handful of like-minded school friends, and during that time we reckon to have visited just about every hilltop and decent pub available. That, coupled with my 30 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 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 watch an early-morning black grouse lek, or brave the descent of Gaping Gill cavern. 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.

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