Surrounded by dramatic, rolling hills of lush green farmland, and boasting an equally colorful history, the county of Yorkshire is home to some of England’s most breath-taking countryside and bygone treasures.
As Yorkshire also happens to be home to little old me, growing up I never fully appreciated neither its beauty nor character. Yorkshire wasn’t exciting, Yorkshire was home. It’s where I grew up. It’s where I spent the first 20 years of my life. Yorkshire had become a backdrop that I never fully paid attention to, and, ashamedly, took completely for granted.
My Study Abroad experience, however, changed all that. Studying Abroad didn’t just fuel my desire to travel or my (borderline-obsessive) love for all things Canadian, it fuelled my desire to explore, and the more time I spent exploring every nook and cranny of my host city, the more I realised you needn’t be thousands of miles from home to whet your appetite for adventure. Perhaps the best thing about exploring? You can do it absolutely anywhere. Indeed, some of the greatest adventures can take place in your own backyard. Not long into my exchange, I realised I knew my host city, which at this point had been ‘home’ for merely a matter of months, far better than the place I had spent 99% of my life. If exploring a new part of the globe had felt so exciting and fulfilling, who’s to say I couldn’t replicate these feelings by approaching my hometown in the same way? Exploring is rewarding and enjoyable wherever you are; a place need not be foreign to be worth exploring.
Consequently, I decided to take some time off between graduating University and moving to Canada. I took some ‘me’ time, and vowed to spend that summer ticking as many things off my Yorkshire bucket list as possible! Having taken this beautiful part of the world for granted for so long, and with no certain idea of when I would find myself back here, I aimed to treat my hometown as if it were my host city. In doing so, I embarked upon some of my most memorable adventures, even though I only travelled mere miles from my own front door. The experiences enabled me to see my home county in a completely new light: I was suddenly looking at the Dales in the same way I had been looking at the Rockies, with awe, appreciation and enthusiasm.
The following is my short but sweet guide to some of the brightest, most-hidden gems of Yorkshire; the largest county in the UK, widely considered to be home to the greenest parts of England, the source of numerous forms of English culture, and a destination that should be on everyone’s travel bucket list.
Explore the market town of Otley: fantastic food, stunning scenery & a whole lotta history
Let’s start with the villages. Yorkshire is chock full of classically adorable British market towns (think Hot Fuzz, only without the ridiculous murder plotline and runaway swan). Dating back hundreds of years, these rustic towns maintain their olden-style charm and ambience, and are therefore brimming with character, none more so than the historic market town of Otley. Officially dating back to the year 972, and listed in the Doomsday Book, Otley is said to have been settled since the Bronze Age, and played backdrop to a pivotal scene in the first English Civil War. Indeed, Oliver Cromwell and his men drank dry one of the towns’ oldest pubs (The Black Bull Inn- still running today) the night before the battle of Marston Moor, the biggest battle of the first Civil War; a historical titbit which brings me nicely to one of Otley’s next key features, its pubs.
Not only is Otley rich in both history and scenery (home to the gorgeous Otley Chevin), Otley also boasts more pubs per square mile than anywhere else in the UK, and therefore possibly the world, as let’s face it, nobody loves pubs like the Brits! Aside from the ale, which is of course plentiful, English pubs lay claim to some of the most delicious comfort food in existence. After all, with all those grey rainy days, we need it! So where better to indulge your taste buds in our culinary delights than Otley? With so many pubs to choose from, you’ll be spoilt for choice, meaning you’ll just have to sample a few to find the best of the best… it’s a hard life! Just a hint, you can’t go wrong ordering a Steak and Ale pie: traditional pub grub that you simply can’t replicate at home, there’s nothing quite like it!
Best outdoor activity: Burn off some calories and catch some stellar views while you’re at it with a hike up Otley Chevin. It’s no mountain, but boy is it steep! Try going up on a clear day when you can catch views as far as Arthur’s Seat.
Best place to eat: If you’d like a side of history with your bangers & mash, The Black Bull Inn located in Market square is perfect. The low roof, winding corridors, and plaque dedicated to Cromwell just outside the entrance give this Tardis-like Stuart pub an ambience like no other.
Best event: Unsurprisingly, being the market town that it is, one of Otley’s best features is its weekly Market. Every Saturday, the usually empty town square turns into a bustling hub of activity. Full of sweet treats and British classics such as broken biscuits, as well as fresh local produce from an array of ethnicities, Otley market is a treasure trove of goodies.
Spend a leisurely day in Ilkley, finishing (or starting!) with Betty’s
The civil parish of Ilkley is perhaps the most idyllic English town you could imagine. Here, the countryside is plentiful, the lifestyle is relaxed, the flowers grow in abundance, and the air is fresh (and smelling slightly of scones). If you fancy a taste of rural Yorkshire without heading deep into the dales, Ilkley offers the perfect mix of country charm and convenient location, with direct trains to close cities Leeds and York and a direct bus to the University of Leeds.
Similarly to Otley, Ilkley’s main attractions are undoubtedly its breath-taking scenery and mouth-watering cuisine. From the dramatic, ruggedly beautiful Ilkley Moor, which according to legend was once roamed by giants, to the relaxed River Wharfe, which runs lazily through the Northern area of Middleton and provides the perfect swimming spot on a rare hot British summers day, Ilkley offers an abundance of protected and maintained nature, perfect for walking and exploring.
And it just so happens that, in true British fashion, whenever you head out for a walk in Ilkley you’re never far from a rest-stop. Indeed, if Otley holds the epitome of the traditional British pub, then Ilkley is most definitely where you’ll find the classic British tearoom, namely in the form of Bettys.
A national treasure since 1919, Bettys is the personification of British high tea: regal, classy, yet relaxed and contented. Bettys’ magic stems from its ability to feel simultaneously like tea & cake at your Grandma’s house and the finest of dining experiences. With only six locations, Bettys have strongly refused to open any stores outside of Yorkshire, maintaining that the only way to uphold their companies’ sterling reputation for consistent quality is to stay as small as possible, making Bettys a distinctly Yorkshire experience.
Best outdoor activity: Climb the Cow and Calf Rocks atop Ilkley Moor for spectacular panoramic views of the town and surrounding Yorkshire countryside in all its glory.
Best place to eat: Whether you’re craving a full English fry-up, to indulge your sweet tooth, or simply the best cuppa around, Bettys is the place to be. However, if you’re wanting something a little lighter on your wallet, Christchurch Church on The Grove (directly opposite Bettys) is Ilkleys’ best kept secret; serving fresh-baked scones at a wallet-friendly price, and with all proceeds going to charity.
Experience Medieval England first-hand at Skipton Castle
Considered the ‘gateway to the Dales’, the historic market town of Skipton could easily make this list of its own accord: filled with cobbled streets, cosy tearooms, historic churches, and an abundance of bunting strung between charming terraced houses (which always feels cute, never tacky), the town itself is a delight to visit. However, what truly makes Skipton stand out is it’s place as home to one of the most complete and well maintained medieval castles in the UK.
Whether you’re a medieval history buff, or simply a massive Game of Thrones fan, Skipton Castle is well worth a visit, and makes for a thrilling day out. Over nine hundred years old and built originally as a Norman baron, the Castle too played a key role in the English Civil War, acting at one point as the North’s only Royalist stronghold. Today, the courtyard, chapel, kitchen, great hall, bedchambers, and even dungeon (to name but a few) are still intact, and open to the public to explore, which makes for a fascinating experience. Acting as a time machine, Skipton Castle transports you back to medieval England as you can’t help but let your imagination run away with you, wondering about the thousands of lives which were lived and lost, and the events which occurred, on the very ground your feet are standing on.
As for the Game of Thrones fans out there, the castle is most definitely something straight out of Winterfell. Indeed, you practically half-expect to see Ned Stark pacing around, handing out direwolves (he is from Yorkshire after all!). Plus, at the super reasonable price of £7.50 a ticket ($10.60 USD), with direct buses from downtown Leeds, Skipton Castle is very easy on your wallet, ideal for students in Yorkshire who fancy some exploring on a budget. Bring your own picnic to eat in the Castle grounds, and follow up your trip with a walk around the remains of the Castle moat for the perfect, inexpensive day out.
See how the other half live at Castle Howard
Okay, so now that you’ve ticked a real-life medieval castle off your bucket list, how about an authentic English palace? Built in 1799 (although construction began a hundred years earlier), Castle Howard is one of England’s largest stately homes (or country houses), and has been owned by the Howard family for 300 years. Today, both Castle Howard’s grounds and a large section of the inside are open to the public to explore. With gardens so extensive they used to feature their own railway station, you can very easily spend a whole day losing yourself in the grounds alone, which also feature numerous temples, woods, a mausoleum, fountains and several statues dedicated to the Greek Gods and Goddesses.
Castle Howard is particularly intriguing as so much of its architecture, especially the Temple of the Four Winds, features such a strong European influence, whilst the repeated emphasis on paying homage to the Greek Gods/Goddesses, particularly in 18th Century England, is absolutely fascinating, giving the palatial grounds an air of mystique and enchantment. Indeed, wandering the grounds and stumbling upon so many treasures from a bygone time, and wondering what significance they had all those years ago, adds an exciting, captivating element to this particular day-trip.
Top tip: As you’ll be spending lots of time outdoors, you’re best visiting on a hot summers day when you can incorporate a spot of sunbathing into your exploring.
Price: £9.95 per adult (about 14 bucks American) – You’ll have to shell out an additional 7 quid to explore the house itself too, but take it from me, the grounds themselves are more than enough for a full day trip. Besides, with the stunning surrounding scenery, you really won’t want to stay indoors!
‘Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy, I’m in Haworth!’
Medieval castles and war stories aside, Yorkshire is also home to some pretty epic literary history, namely the Bronte sisters: all of whom spent their lives in the bucolic village of Haworth. As with many historic Yorkshire villages, Haworth itself possesses several significant attractions (most notably its authentic steam railway), and is, of course, enveloped by the charming Yorkshire countryside. However, it is undeniably the Brontes whom are the cherry on top of this particular cake.
Famous for such classics as ‘Wuthering Heights’ and ‘Jane Eyre’, the Brontes undoubtedly made a substantial contribution to British literature. Not only did all three of the sisters spend the majority of their lives in Haworth, they also used the surrounding rugged Yorkshire moorland as a source of inspiration for, and the setting of, most (if not all) of their books.
The Bronte Parsonage Museum, situated centrally in Haworth, is now a major tourist attraction. Occupied by the Brontes in the 19th century, the museum is truly unique in that, rather than simply pay homage to the sisters, the building itself is the actual house in which the sisters were raised, and went on to live out the majority of their adult lives. Items of their furniture, including the table at which they collectively wrote their work, clothing they wore, and even handwritten letters that discussed both their personal and creative situations are all on display at the parsonage.
So much more than a museum, the parsonage offers a real insight into the sisters’ day-to-day existance whilst illustrating the full story of both their profound work and the tragedy they faced. All bookworms, even those unfamiliar with the sisters’ work, can appreciate the authenticity of the Bronte Parsonage along with their amazing tale of life as female writers in olden day England.
Price: £6.50 for a student ticket (around 9 bucks American)
Where to eat: After all that reading at the Parsonage, you’re sure to have worked up quite the appetite. If its pub grub you’re after, the Black Bull (located at the top of the high street) offers all the classics at reasonable prices, and is said to have been frequented by Branwell Bronte himself (so you know it’s good!).
For your mandatory tea and scone fix, I highly recommend the delightful Cobbles and Clay, who serve up fresh, generous portions of all your favourite baked treats in the most cheerfully decorated café (which also happens to twin as a pottery shop where you can create your own tea set!).
Meet Batman and Darth Vadar in the heart of the Dales
What guide to Yorkshire would this be if I didn’t dive deep into the heart of the Dales? Whilst the Dales are home to numerous scenic villages, each with their own unique village events, Kettlewell takes the prize for its annual Scarecrow Festival. Every August, hundreds of scarecrows descend on the rural village, most of which are created by the residents themselves (many even placed in their own front yards). For a few quid, visitors receive a treasure trail of clues leading from one scarecrow to the next until they have completed the trail. The catch? Each scarecrow is dressed as a famous character, from historical figures to pop cultural icons, both real and fictional: you name it, they’ve done it! Not only will you get to explore the delightful village of Kettlewell, you’ll also get to have a gander and a giggle at the array of scarecrows on display, some of which are cute, some of which are witty, and some of which are just downright bizarre (and all of which change each year)!
Once again, a very wallet-friendly and super accessible event, look out for the Dales bus, which runs directly from Leeds to Kettlewell, and make sure to purchase your own mini-scarecrow as you leave (again, for just a couple of quid). All in all, Kettlewell’s Scarecrow Festival makes for an entertaining, unique day out, ideal for families and friends of all ages.
So, what did I hope to achieve from writing this article? A few things. Firstly, to illustrate just how much fun there is to be had in treating your hometown like a faraway land. Exploring your own backyard may seem boring, but don’t knock it till’ you’ve tried it. If you couldn’t already tell (which I’m sure you could), tourist-ing in my hometown felt great! Just as exciting as abroad, but with a new feeling mixed in: pride. Pride that this awesome place just happens to be where I’m from!
I also hoped to enlighten you to the delights of Yorkshire. We may not be London, but we have so much of our own history, culture and countryside. So anybody currently or planning on visiting the UK, consider heading North and checking out the good ol’ Shire; from our charming, tell-it-like-it-is locals to our wide range of activities to do, sights to see, and foods to eat, there’s so much waiting to be discovered in God’s Own Country.
by Rachel Ullah – University of Calgary – Canada