The Complete Guide To The Yorkshire Dales

The waterfalls, valleys and abbeys of North Yorkshire are one of Britain's most beautiful sights. Rhiannon Batten explores


IS IT ALL CRICKET AND FETES?

IS IT ALL CRICKET AND FETES?

No. The Yorkshire Dales comprise some of Britain's most dramatic countryside. Imagine a cloud-dappled dip between two hills, a field system bounded by dry stone walls - there to keep in, among other things, flocks of shaggy Swaledale sheep - and old stone barns. In between are pockets of woodland, waterfalls, ancient abbeys and pretty villages. In the summer, you will see wild flower meadows and bruise-hued moorland. Place names like Hubberholme, Buttertubs and Appletreewick lend the Dales a cutesy feel but, in parts, the landscape has a real sense of wilderness.

WHERE EXACTLY ARE THE DALES?

In North Yorkshire, rippling out between the M6 in the west, the A1 in the east, Kirkby Stephen in the north and Skipton in the south. Much of the area lies within the 1,800 sq km Yorkshire Dales National Park, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with many special events.

Most of the Dales take their name from the rivers running through them. The main ones are big, broad Wensleydale and Wharfedale; thin, winding Swaledale; rugged Ribblesdale and Malhamdale; and, outside the park boundaries, bucolic Nidderdale. The main National Park visitor centre is at Hawes (01969 667 450; www.yorkshiredales.org.uk), open 10am-5pm daily, but there are others at Grassington, Reeth, Aysgarth and Malham.

HAVEN'T I SEEN THEM SOMEWHERE BEFORE?

The Dales have often been used as film and TV locations, but two screen appearances have been particularly memorable. The first was in the 1970s TV series, All Creatures Great and Small. In the show, the pretty Wensleydale village of Askrigg stood in for the fictional Darrowby, the creation of the vet and author James Alfred Wight (aka James Herriot). Skeldale House on Askrigg's main street featured as the vet's surgery, and you can see a replica in the Richmondshire Museum in Richmond (01748 825611) open 10.30am-4.30pm daily April-October; admission £1.50. The World of James Herriot (01845 524234; www.worldofjamesherriot.org) is based in Wight's original surgery just outside the Dales in Thirsk; it opens 10am-6pm daily from April to October; admission is £4.85 for adults, £3 for children.

The Dales came into focus again in the film Calendar Girls, based on the story of a group of Women's Institute members who raised money for leukaemia research by posing naked - apart from some craftily placed buns - for a calendar. The real-life counterparts of Helen Mirren and Julie Walters came from Rylstone, just outside Skipton, but much of the story was filmed a few miles north in and around the Dales village of Kettlewell.

WHERE SHOULD I START?

By walking. There are plenty of good options for day or half-day walks. For a gentle stroll along the river, the Nidd and the Swale offer spectacular scenery with easy access. Up in Swaledale itself and at nearby Arkengarthdale there are good rambles to be had among the remains of what was once a huge lead-mining industry. The hills here are still peppered with mine shafts and, in early summer, they are surrounded by spectacular wild flowers.

Malhamdale is another obvious destination, with day walks from Malham including the geological spectacles of Malham Cove, the deep valley of Gordale Scar and Malham Tarn - a glacial lake that apparently inspired Charles Kingsley to write The Water Babies. Presumably, Bill Bryson was impressed, too; he lived nearby while writing Notes From A Small Island.

If you're looking for something more than an afternoon's ramble, several long-distance paths pass through the Dales, including the 135km Dales Way from Ilkley to Bowness on Windermere, the 434km Pennine Way from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland, and the 305km Coast to Coast walk from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay. You can get details of these, and on guided or non-guided shorter walks, from National Park visitor centres or from the Yorkshire Tourist Board (01904 707070; www.ytb.org.uk). Ask for the free England North Country Walking and Cycling map, which includes details of unguided walks and companies offering guided tours.

I WANT TO BE UP HIGH

Buckden Pike in Wharfedale is well worth the climb for the views from its 702m summit. Equally impressive are Brimham Rocks - huge pebbles perched precariously on Brimham Moor, on the outskirts of Nidderdale, and Kilnsey Crag, an overhanging rock face that's a favourite with climbers.

Serious walkers should head for Ribblesdale, home to the area's three most famous peaks - Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside - and see if they can meet the local challenge to conquer all three in a day. If that sounds too energetic, you can see some of the same countryside from the comfort of the Settle-Carlisle Railway as it crosses the 24 arches of the Ribblehead viaduct. Day returns cost £16.80 for adults, £8.40 for children aged five to 15 (0870 602 3322; www.settle-carlisle.co.uk).

Other sky-scraping features to aim for include Buttertubs, a group of sink holes in Upper Swaledale. The strange name comes from a local legend that people travelling past on the way back from selling butter in Hawes would lower what they hadn't sold into the holes to keep it cool until the following week. This is better territory for driving than walking, though.

WHERE CAN I SEE SOME DALES HISTORY?

The Romans, Danes and Normans all left their mark on the area, as did the Cistercian monks who set up the scenic Dales abbeys. Many of the latter fell into ruin after the dissolution of the abbeys by Henry VIII, but they still make atmospheric places to visit. Two of the best are Jervaulx and grander Fountains, a World Heritage Site. Jervaulx Abbey (01677 460391) is open 10am-5pm daily; admission is £2 for adults, £1.50 for children. Fountains Abbey (01765 608888; www.fountainsabbey.org.uk) opens 10am-6pm daily; admission is £5.50 for adults, £3 for children and free to National Trust and English Heritage members.

If you prefer castles to cloisters, the medieval Bolton Castle (01969 623981; www.boltoncastle.co.uk) and garden in Wensleydale boast connections with Richard II and Mary Queen of Scots. It opens 10am-5pm daily; admission is £5 for adults, £3.50 for children. Then there is 12th-century Middleham Castle (01969 623899; www.english-heritage.org.uk), the one-time northern home of Richard III. It opens 10am-6pm daily; admission is £3 for adults, £1.50 for children.

Richmond Castle (01748 822493; www.english-heritage.org.uk), built by William the Conqueror, is set in one of the region's prettiest towns. The castle opens 10am-6pm daily; admission is £3.50 for adults, £1.80 for children. Richmond is also known for its still-functioning Georgian theatre on Victoria Road (01748 823710; www.georgiantheatreroyal.co.uk). Tours run roughly on the hour from 10am-3.30pm, Monday to Friday.

WHAT IF I'VE GOT CHILDREN IN TOW?

For a good, straightforward family walk, the well-kept grounds around Bolton Abbey (01756 718009; www.boltonabbey.com) in Wharfedale boast several easily accessible paths. When anyone starts to get tired, there are rides on the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway (01756 710614; www.embsayboltonabbeyrailway.org.uk) to boost flagging spirits. Bolton Abbey is open 9am until dusk; admission is £4 per car. Rides on the railway take about 15 minutes and cost £6 for adults, £3 for children. It's worth checking the website before you go because there are also often themed events for youngsters.

Another fun train journey is the recently re-opened Wensleydale Railway, which runs 45-minute trips from Leeming Bar to Leyburn. Return tickets start at £8.10 for adults, £4.50 for children (08454 505474; www.wensleydalerailway.com).

WHERE CAN WE GET CLOSE TO THE ANIMALS?

At Hazel Brow, an organic farm in Low Row (01748 886224; www.hazelbrow.co.uk). Children can gather eggs, follow a nature trail, watch cows being milked and bottle-feed orphan lambs in spring, and in summer pet puppies, pigs and kittens. It opens 11am to 6pm daily except Mondays and Fridays; admission is £4 for adults, £3.50 for children.

For older children, riding and pony-trekking centres in the area include Kilnsey Trekking and Riding Centre (01756 752861; www.kilnseyriding.com) and the Yorkshire Dales Trekking Centre in Malham (01729 830352; www.ydtc.net).

There are attractions below ground too. In Nidderdale, Stump Cross Caverns (01756 752780; www.stumpcrosscaverns.co.uk) comprise a 500,000-year-old cave full of stalactites and stalagmites. It was discovered in 1858 by lead miners looking for new seams. It opens 10am-6pm daily; admission is £4.95 for adults, £2.75 for children. Across in Ribblesdale is the impressive Ingleborough Cave (01524 251242; www.ingleboroughcave.co.uk), surrounded by grand limestone pavements. It opens 10am-5pm daily; tours cost £5 for adults, £2.50 for children.

WHAT ABOUT WATERFALLS?

If you feel energetic, try following the Ingleton Waterfalls Walk (01524 241930; www.ingletonwaterfallswalk.co.uk), a 9km trail that passes a series of spectacular waterfalls. The route is open from 9am until dusk and entrance costs £6 per car, or £3 per adult and £1 per child. Another impressive waterfall with easy access is Aysgarth Falls in Wensleydale. The Strid, located just beyond Bolton Abbey, is powerful, but don't get too close - it is notoriously dangerous. Hardraw sells itself as the highest single drop in the country. To reach it, you have to pay a £1 toll at the Green Dragon Inn near Hawes.

AND MUSEUMS?

One Dales tradition is cheese-making, although the best-known attraction on the theme, the Wallace and Gromit-branded Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes, is now a modern enterprise. The creamery was saved from closure by the well-loved Dalesman Kit Calvert in the 1930s. It now boasts a museum, viewing gallery, restaurant and shop on site. It opens 9am-5.30pm daily, although cheese production takes place mainly from Monday to Friday. Entrance costs £2 for adults, £1.50 for children.

Also in Hawes is the interactive Dales Countryside Museum (01969 667494; www.destinationdales.org), housed in the town's old railway station. It is managed by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and has displays on aspects of the Dales life and landscape. It opens 10am-5pm daily; admission is £3, free for children under 16.

You can find out more about the history of the area at the Swaledale Folk Museum in Reeth (01748 884373; www.yorkshirenet.co.uk/visit/swlfolkm), which opens 10.30am-5pm daily; admission is £1.25 for adults, 50p for children.

IT'S THIRSTY WORK, SIGHTSEEING

Help is at hand, since two of the country's best-known breweries are in the Yorkshire Dales. The oldest is Theakston (01765 684333; www.theakstons.co.uk), the makers of Old Peculiar, which is based in Masham. The brewery is open 10.30am-4.30pm daily; tours are hourly and cost £4.50 for adults, £2 for children over 10. The Black Sheep Brewery (01765 680100; www.blacksheepbrewery.com) is also in Masham, and as the name suggests, it was set up by a member of the Theakston family 12 years ago. Tours are run here on a similar basis, although hours vary so it's worth calling ahead.

Thirsty teetotallers should head for the Brymor ice-cream parlour (01677 460377; www.abmoore.co.uk) near Jervaulx Abbey. The ice cream is made using milk from the family's Guernsey cows, and the 35 flavours include rhubarb crumble. The parlour is open 10am-6pm daily.

HOW DO I GET THERE?

I travelled with GNER (08457 225 225; www.gner.co.uk) to York and took a connecting train to Harrogate. Skipton, Darlington, Northallerton, Leeds and Lancaster are also good gateway stations. Schedules and prices are available from National Rail Enquiries (08457 48 49 50; www.nationalrail.co.uk). National Express (08705 808080; www.nationalexpress.com) runs coach services to these destinations. The nearest airports are Newcastle, Teesside, Manchester and Leeds-Bradford.

Some useful bus routes run through the Dales; call Traveline (0870 608 2608; www.dalesbus.org) for details. For exploring deep in the Dales it's useful to have a car - or a bike. For information about cycling, go to www.traveldales.org.uk/cycling.cfm

WHERE CAN I STAY?

The Dales has contemporary, luxury hotels such as the Austwick Traddock (01524 251224; www.austwicktraddock.co.uk), north of Settle, where doubles cost £110 per night including breakfast, and Swinton Park (01765 680900; www.swintonpark.com), outside Masham - doubles start at £120 per night, including breakfast. The CB Inn (01748 884567; www.cbinn.co.uk) is a cosy gastropub with rooms in Arkengarthdale, where doubles cost from £70 per night including breakfast. There are dozens of B&Bs, such as Helm in Wensleydale (01969 650443; www.helmyorkshire.com) where doubles cost from £85 per night.

For longer stays you could find a traditional stone cottage. Useful websites include www.askrigg-cottages.co.uk, www.dalesholcot.com and www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk. The latter has cottages and apartments within the Fountains Abbey estate. Then there are bunk barns such as the one in Malham (01729 830320; www.malhamdale.com) and youth hostels in Malham, Stainforth, Bishopdale, Kettlewell, Keld, Ingleton, Dentdale, Hawes, Kirby Stephen and Grinton (0870 770 8868; www.yha.org.uk).

For more ideas, pick up an accommodation guide from any of the tourist information centres in the region, including the one at Richmond (01748 825994; www.yorkshiredales.org).

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