|Although many visitors to England never manage to get past London, there is a lot more to England that this single, great city. Indeed, London is such a world all its own that it is almost possible to say that one hasn’t really been in England until they get outside of London. The English countryside in particular is renowned among those who know it for its lovely qualities, and an excellent example of this is the Yorkshire Dales of Northern England.
“Dales” are river valleys, and the Yorkshire Dales are a collection of dales, each unique in its own way. Most are named for the local watercourse, with the exception being Wensleydale. This area is a good example of the charms of the Yorkshire Dales. While not as famous as Cheddar, Wensleydale is home to a cheese that is renowned among cheese lovers, and the lovely countryside is home to good dairy country. Furthering the culinary experience of Wensleydale, the Black Sheep Brewery is a maker of great English ale and beer. The area is also historic: Bolton Castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for a time, is in Wensleydale. The area was also home to Sir James Metcalfe, a captain who served with Henry V and fought at Agincourt.
Yorkshire Dales National Park comprises 683 square miles in the western reaches of North Yorkshire. It is a country of rolling hillside pasturages punctuated by old stone walls and heather moorland, and divided by deep valleys with small, calm rivers. The picturesque scenery has been at the center of television and film production for years. Two of the UK’s more popular television series, “Heartbeat” and “The Last of the Summer Wine” are filmed in the Yorkshire Dales. It was also the site of much of the location shooting for Kevin Costner’s “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”
This combination of natural beauty and open countryside makes the Dales a great place to plan a cross-country walk. The towns of the Dales and North Yorkshire are close enough together that a route can be improvised and trekked without camping gear: each day can be started and stopped at a small, cozy village inn. The planned Yorkshire Wolds route, some79 miles long, also winds its way through the Dales. Most of these paths are also suitable for mountain biking.
The same limestone that makes the pasture grass of the Yorkshire Dales ideal for grazing also makes it the natural site for caving, and the Dales are one of the most important caving areas in the UK. This includes the Ease Gill System, which at 60 miles of passages is the longest cave system in Britain. This extensive cave system has nine separate entrances, and while it is the longest system it is not even considered to be the best the Dales have to offer to spelunkers.
There are also a handful of attractive waterfalls in the area, a common enough occurrence wherever rivers and limestone geology come together. Cautley Spout is England’s highest waterfall at 650 feet. Hardraw Force is perhaps more scenic, even though its waterfall is only 100 feet high. Finally there are the picnic-perfect Aysgarth Falls and Kisdon Force.
The Dales are also home to many of Northern England’s most interesting historic sites. As previously mentioned, the region is home to Bolton Castle. It was built in the 14th Century by the le Scrope family, and descendants of the same family continue to own the castle today. For six months, it served as the prison for Mary Stuart, better known as Mary Queen of Scots. She was later moved further south to safeguard against a Scottish rescue. The castle is a Grade 1 Listed Building among England’s monuments, and like so many other places in the Dales, has served as a film set. The 1952 version of “Ivanhoe” was filmed there, as were some scenes from “Elizabeth” and “All Things Great and Small.”
The Yorkshire Dales offer a range of accommodations. There are farmhouses, country cottages, village inns, regular hotels, hostels, RV parks and campsites.
A person who thinks of an ideal holiday as being centred on a long walk or bike ride in a scene of lovely green, heather, and placid watercourses, dotted with ancient stone walls and houses, and then having a lunch of good farm bread, locally made cheese, and good ale shouldn’t stick strictly to London or even start there. That holiday would be better off if it were firmly anchored in Northern England; in the Yorkshire Dales.