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God’s Own Country: An Introduction To Yorkshire

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

Yorkshire is a charming but often misunderstood collection of cliches. It is home to one of England’s more colourful spoken dialects — peppered with words derived from Old Norse, a vast collection of bucolic countrysides that, in England, are second in beauty only to the Lake District, and a distinctive collection of cities, towns and villages — some suffering a post-industrial melancholia, and others standing grand, relishing their newfound knack for tourism. Cities such as Leeds have flourished, while Sheffield with its vibrant arts and alternative scenes crowns the otherwise stark, industrial landscapes of South Yorkshire magnificently. But Yorkshire is perhaps at its best in the Brontë sisters’ moors (the pair lived and created their works in Haworth) — the devastatingly pretty stretches of countryside that rise in lush greens and fall dramatically into wooded valleys, occasionally crashing with vertical, Puffin-dotted drops into idyllic beaches, far from the radar of many travellers.

The Yorkshire Dales, Peak District & The Yorkshire Moors

Yorkshire’s many bucolic hills rise and fall in stunning patchworks of farmlands, hazy moors, flower-scented meadows, dark caves and trickling streams that lend a pleasing pastoral soundtrack to remote cobbled villages set around the staple players of a post office that doubles as a village store, a pub with rooms available (or not) and a graveyard-wrapped church. The Dales and the Peak District stretch across numerous counties — from Derbyshire and Cheshire through to Yorkshire. Begin in the Peaks and the Dales (easily visited from Sheffield) with a visit to attractive Broadfield, stroll around the Dale Dike reservoir, journey to Ribblehead Viaduct and the stunning ruins of Bolton Priory and consider crossing the county border into Derbyshire to hike across the glorious, view-laden Great Ridge between Edale and Castleton.

The Yorkshire Moors are arguably best for wildlife lovers: with deer, adder, goats, foxes, and pine martens along with white-beaked dolphins, minke whales and seals. Walkers should seek out one of Yorkshire’s many abbey ruins, the most alluring of which is surely the ruinous beauty of Rievaulx Abbey, and admire the stately homes and elegant gardens of Duncombe Park and vast Castle Howard. Literary lovers can retrace the steps of the Brontë sisters by way of a stroll from Haworth along a path that takes in a church with their family vault, the Brontë waterfalls and Top Withens — a ruined farmhouse with staggering views of the countryside said to be the setting for Wuthering Heights.

Yorkshire Dales

The Yorkshire Coast

Yorkshire’s coast doesn’t have the appeal or in-built marketing of the Jurassic coast, nor the quality of beaches of the south, but for every tacky, bunting-strewn seaside town like Bridlington or Scarborough, there are numerous quaint villages, idyllic bays and fascinating historic landmarks to explore. Start in the cobbled old town of Whitby — inspiration to Bram Stoker’s Dracula — and climb the 199 steps to the iconic clifftop ruins of wind-swept Whitby Abbey — the haunting hollow and cracked crown atop Whitby town.

Afterwards, choose a small village like Robin Hood’s Bay for a relaxing stroll. Or, if the season’s right, head south to the fishing village of Filey for a traditional Fish & Chips lunch and a walk along the Filey Brig (from the Old Norse word for bridge: bryggja) that reaches out far into the sea and is a favourite haunt of the local seals. Afterwards, head to the rugged cliffs of Flamborough Head — a breeding ground for Puffins and home to a rocky cove at the bottom of a creaky wooden staircase that’s often empty leaving its numerous caves and rocky beach free for a little solo exploration. 

Bridlington - Yorkshire Coast

The (Unofficial) Capital: York

The highlight of any visit to York will always be the wonderful Shambles. A tiny cobbled street that inspired J.K Rowling’s vision for Harry Potter’s now iconic Diagon Alley, where the roofs of 500-year-old timber-framed houses lean inwards as though protecting those who stumble along its medieval corridor from the rain — an unfortunate and all too frequent co-star in York.

Begin with a walk along the fascinating Roman walls, a stroll up to the ruined Norman Keep at the castle, and a slow meander along the idyllic banks of the Ouse River. And save an afternoon to visit the vast York Minster to see its incredible stained-glass windows, elegant vaulted ceilings and an astronomical clock that depicts the motion of the sun and stars around the city. For those with an interest in architectural quirks or the downright wacky, there are a series of grotesques that, along with the usual cast of characters, features plague doctors, nose-picking monks, and bare-bottomed gents bent over and leering out from between their legs. And the best views of York’s medieval rooftops are had at the apex of the central tower of the cathedral, after a hike up its 275 steps. 

York

Extend Your Trip

Of the cities, Sheffield and Leeds offer the modern edge — with vibrant dining scenes in both — but with more of an independent feel in Sheffield — the Steel City, and a lot more to do in revitalised Leeds: a once dishevelled mill town that has metamorphosed into a thriving modern city. The countryside is stuffed with attractive villages — Middleham in the Dales, the heart-wrenching Thornton-le-Dale in the Moors, and idyllic Knaresborough with its incredible Victorian viaduct that reaches over the river, eventually leading to Harrogate — a fashionable spa town dotted with tea rooms and elegant architecture — including the Royal Hall theatre, Britain’s only surviving Kursaal.

Sheffield

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