Journey to the source
Saturday 31 July 1999
Wensleydale, known to many as James Herriott country, is one of the most beautiful valleys in Yorkshire. Its rugged limestone escarpments and moorlands look down onto gentle grassy slopes, streaked by dry-stone walls and clusters of pretty stone buildings.
But beside TV vets, one of the area's greatest celebrities is its distinctively pale Wensleydale cheese - soft and flaky in texture, creamy in taste and the favourite snack of Wallace (of Wallace & Gromit fame). The cheese was originally produced from ewe's milk by the Cistercian monks at nearby Jervaulx Abbey and it is one of the oldest in England.
These days, the cheese is made from cow's milk but it remains one of the classics. It's rarely still manufactured for sale in farmhouses but, if you want to see it being made, the first Wensleydale cheese factory - built in Hawes in 1897 - is still going strong, on a new site.
The Visitor Centre, at Wensleydale Creamery (Gayle Lane, Hawes, North Yorkshire DL8 3RN, 01969 667664), costs pounds 2 for adults, pounds 1.50 for children or pounds 6.50 for a family ticket and, if you visit the Dales Countryside Museum (01969 667450) while you're in Hawes, you get half-price admission to the Visitor Centre. There's also a museum, a restaurant and, of course, a specialist cheese shop (for mail order, visit the website at: www.wensleydale.co.uk).
All the cheeses sold here are produced from milk supplied by 48 local farmers, and current bestsellers include exotic flavours such as Wensleydale and Cranberry. If you're after something more traditional, a 500g cheese costs pounds 3.50.
If you are more likely to be passing Fortnum & Mason (181 Piccadilly, London, W1A 1ER, 0171-734 8040) than driving through the Dales, be prepared to pay a bit more. The 500g "Mrs Stirke's King Richard" cheeses sold here are made in the traditional way near Bedale and cost pounds 6.20 each.
Otherwise, if you buy a return train ticket (pounds 68, 0345 484950) from London to Garsdale (then get a bus for the six miles to Hawes), not only can you travel on the scenic Settle to Carlisle railway, but you could also buy 25 cheeses and then sell them back home at London prices and use the profit to pay for your fare.
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