The Yorkshire Dales Tour

The Yorkshire Dales Tour

The Yorkshire Dales is a dramatically awe-inspiring part of England, featuring rugged hills, meandering rivers, old stone villages, caves and castles. This remarkable land has been an influence on writers and poets such as James Herriot and the Bronte sisters and a tour of this part of the world will also bring closer to you the themes and inspirations of these famous authors.

Heading from the south of England up to Yorkshire involves a direct drive up the M1 motorway to Junction 42 then heading west on the M62 towards the Pennine Hills to Junction 29 to take the A629 road northwards to the town of Halifax. You are now in the West Riding of Yorkshire, the county is England's largest and is divided into three historic areas, west, East and North, the name Riding comes from a Norse word for one third. This particular part of the region is famous for its steep valleys and former cotton mills.

Halifax is a classic example of a former mill town but its recent transformation has made it a must-see on any Yorkshire tour. Park at the large railway station car park and take the short walk over to the magnificent Piece Hall. It is the sole survivor of the once common wool markets where cloth was sold in "pieces". This great public square and the cloth sellers buildings that surround it were built around 1779 and its £19 million pound restoration in 2017 has seen it turned into a superb collection of boutique shops, cafes and art galleries. A mention must be made of the Calderdale Industrial Museum which you will pass between the car park and Piece Hall with its collection of historic textile machinery. Halifax is certainly a pleasant way to kick-start your tour of Yorkshire.

From Halifax take the A646 towards Hebden Bridge sharing the valley with the River Calder and the Rochdale Canal. You will drive into the town centre with its lively collection of cafes, art galleries and bookshops. Many local folk have made their homes on bright painted canal boats and it has become a popular retreat for many wanting to opt out of mainstream life. The older, original, settlement of Hebden Bridge is up a steep hill above the town. This is Heptonstall. Drive up and park in the Towngate car park and walk over to the ruined church of St Thomas the Martyr. Built around 1260, it was destroyed in a gale in 1847. Its replacement church stands alongside it. In the churchyard lies the grave of American writer Sylvia Plath, her husband Ted Hughes,  the former Poet Laureate, was from this area.

Head back down the hill into Hebden Bridge and follow the small lane known as Midgehole Road. This takes you to a car park where you can follow a trail to Hardcastle Crags, a spectacular rocky outcrop of limestone. The route will take you by way of Gibson Mill, a 19th century former cotton mill which now has a cafe with seating by the old mill pond.

Back in town take the A6033 eastwards to Oxenhope, here the railway station has been restored as part of the Keighley and Worth Valley railway which runs steam trains along the 6 mile line. Another stop on this railway route is Haworth where the engine sheds lie below the steep cobblestone street that takes you up to the famous Brontë Parsonage, former home of the writers Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë. You can park in the Brontë Village car park up Weavers Hill or the Central car park if you take the B6142 to the top of the hill. The Parsonage is a little larger today than during the 19th century when the writers lived here but it now holds a museum and artifacts and personal items from the lives of the Brontë sisters. The town is certainly worth a look around, the stone cottages seems to cascade down the steep cobbled street and hill, there are a number of pubs and tea rooms and the old Apothecary shop which seems frozen in time.

Heading north of the village the B6142 soon becomes an unclassified road, no designated number, but still wide enough for large vehicles. You will travel over the moors at this point, passing on your left Ponden Reservoir and Watersheddles Reservoir before dropping down into Laneshawbridge. Just before you reach the junction with the A6068 take the earlier lefthand turn along Carriers Row which becomes Keighley Road, follow it towards Wycoller by turning left and left again at the next junctions.  You are now in the neighbouring county of Lancashire and Wycoller village car park is situated just over half a mile (1km) out of the village and a short walk will take you to the centre of this delightful little collection of cottages. The key attractions are firstly the ruins of Wycoller Hall built in 1596 and abandoned in 1818, walk among the ruins and learn of its ghostly legends, the house was said to be the basis for Ferndean in Charlotte Brontë's novel "Jane Eyre". Secondly, the delightful old stone bridges that cross the Wycoller Beck, the little stream that runs through the village. One stone bridge, Clam Bridge, is said to be about 6,000 years old.

Leave Wycoller the way you came in but as you drive along the Keighley Road northwards keep in a northerly direction and the road changes its name to Lane Top which will take you down into Colne. From here head north on the A56 towards Skipton, after a few miles bear right at the roundabout that puts you on the A59. As you approach Broughton you will be turning left for Gargrave. As you enter Broughton on the A59 there will be a sign pointing right to All Saints Church and Broughton Hall then a few metres further on the left turn for Gargrave. Follow this road, known here as Church Street to the pretty riverside town of Gargrave. You will cross the River Aire and immediately turn left on the A65 in the direction of Hellifield and Long Preston, eventually continuing to Ingleton.

Ingleton is an attractive village clinging to the hillsides around the River Greta lying in the shadows of the long closed railway line that arches over the town on a stone viaduct. The town car park is by the Community Centre but there is a larger car park just north of the town at Ingleton Falls. As this is the main attraction for visitors to Ingleton this parking area fills up very quickly on high days and holidays.

The stunning falls are Ingleton's main draw and there is a charge to enter the nature trails and footpaths leading up to them. Allow about 3 hours to follow the routes and admire the series of waterfalls, woodlands and cliffs.

Leave Ingleton on the B6255 over the tops towards Hawes. Just after you exit the town you begin to climb, passing a huge quarry on your left and just on your right is White Scar Cave. Pull into the car park here, the cafe has great views of the surrounding area. The cave is also open to the public being the longest show cave in the country. An hour long tour will take you to such rock formations as the Witch's Finger, the Devil's tongue and the Battlefield Cavern.

Continuing on the B6255 look out for the distinctive mountains of Ingleborough to your right and Whernside to your left. Then appearing ahead of you is the impressive 24 arch Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle to Carlisle railway, still carrying trains today just as it was when it was completed in 1875. It is worth a stop here, The Station Inn is a remote public house right by one of the arches but also if you go under the viaduct and turn right you can visit Ribblehead station with its cafe and exhibition room. The station itself was closed in 1970 and reopened in 1986, for a while it also served as a meteorological station. It is hard to believe that there was once a shanty town here of 2,000 people engaged in the building of this railway viaduct and the nearby Blea Moor tunnel some 150 years ago.

There are optional walks to the centre of the viaduct and the parking area for that is just a few metres further on along the B6255, you can then continue on Blea Moor Road over the moor itself and down into the valley of the River Ure to the market town of Hawes. Just before you arrive at the market square take a right down Gayle Lane to the Wensleydale Cheese Company with its dairy, exhibition and tastings. Locally made yet world famous, this delicious cheese takes its name from the valley you'll be driving through next.

The other attraction in Hawes is at the old railway station where plenty of parking is available. The station has been restored, complete with steam locomotive and carriages but the tracks either side have long since gone so the train won't be going anywhere. Adjacent to the station is the fascinating Dales Country Museum where you can learn all about the history of the area.

Leave Hawes on the A684 through beautiful Wensleydale towards Aysgarth. This is James Heriot country, the veterinary surgeon turned author, famous for 'All Creatures Great And Small'. Once you have driven through the Aysgarth town itself you will pass the Aysgarth Falls Hotel, be ready to turn left here for Aysgarth Falls. The brown tourist sign will put you on the correct route as well as a road sign for Carperby and Redmire which points the same way. A short drive will take you up to the parking area where you can take a short walk to the falls. Return to the A684 and turn left, eastwards, for half a mile then right on Ellers Lane, you are now on the B6160 to Kettlewell heading from Wensleydale into Wharfedale following the River Wharfe.

Kettlewell will be familiar to fans of the film Calendar Girls which starred Helen Mirren and Julie Walters. It became the fictional village of Knapely where the local Women's Institute posed nude for a calendar to raise awareness and money for cancer research. It was based on a true story although it happened in the neighbouring village of Rylstone. Nevertheless, Kettlewell is a beautiful place to stop and stroll around if you can manage to squeeze the vehicle into what limited parking the village provides.

The B6160 will continue south out of the village and eventually you will cross the River Skirfare, a tributary of the River Wharfe. Immediately turn right following signs for Arncliffe. After about 3 miles (5km) drive through the little stone hamlet of Arncliffe and climb over the tops towards Malham, passing Malham Tarn and Malham Moor before winding your way along a twisting road bordered by high dry stone walls to the village of Malham below. There is parking available in the village and on busy days an overflow car park in a nearby farmer's field. This is because the popular attraction here is Malham Cove, made more of a tourist draw since its use in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows. A short walk will take you to the 260ft (80m) high cliffs. An inspiration, it is said, for Helm's Deep in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It is a remarkably beautiful setting and a steep and extensive set of stone steps will take you to the top of the cliffs to see the half a million year old limestone pavement with its clints and grykes weathered through ice and rain over millenia. Harry and Hermoine were up here as well in the Deathly Hallows!!

The drive south from Malham follows the River Aire valley through the villages of Kirkby Mallam and Aireton down to a T-junction as you cross the Otterburn Beck. Here you will turn left following signs for Skipton and Gargrave. Eventually you will join the A65 to Skipton, continuing along the Aire Valley into this bustling market town. Two large supermarkets standing side by side and the railway station provide plenty of parking. You can then wander up to the town square. Market days are Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, but Stanforth Butchers shop sells its world famous pork pies everyday but Sunday.

At the top of the market square is Skipton Castle dating from the 11th century and the Craven Museum and Art Gallery which serves as the town museum.

Leaving Skipton eastwards you will take the A59 then join the B6160 towards Bolton Abbey. You'll be sharing the valley with yet another steam heritage railway so look out for the trains. Bolton Abbey as the name suggests started life as a religious institution but now gives its name to the village. The ruins of Bolton Priory stand nearby, a 12th century Augustinian Monastery dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s. It is now part of the Duke of Devonshire's estate and amongst the beautiful grounds there are 80 miles of scenic footpaths and walks.

Return back to the A59 and continue east towards Harrogate, the impressive and charming spa town where the first mineral springs were discovered back in 1571. By the 17th century these sulphur-rich springs had become very popular and health spas grew up within the town. Classical style buildings in the local stone are a dominant feature here, such as the elegant Royal Pump Room built in 1842, a social centre where locals and visitors alike could meet and drink the waters. The Pump Room is now a museum illustrating the history of the spa and revealing the routines and daily events of guests that came here. A must-see highlight is Betty's tea rooms in Parliament Street which has been in business for just over a hundred years. Fancy cakes, dainty sandwiches and good old Yorkshire tea. Don't miss the "fat rascal" fruit scones, zesty, rich and oozing with butter. Afternoon tea at Betty's is very popular so if the queue outside is a bit too long, order a "fat rascal" online and have it delivered back home. Fans of Agatha Christie may want to pop over to the Old Swan Hotel in Swan Road, this unmistakably large hotel is where the novelist was discovered after her eleven day disappearance in December 1926.

Moving further east on the A59 the final stop will be Knaresborough situated on a deep gorge created by the River Nidd. The houses of the town cling to the steep banks on either side with the railway viaduct of 1851, decorated and crenellated, providing a central river crossing. There is a market square with an early 12th century ruined castle surrounded by gardens that provide an excellent view over the river, the steep valley and the viaduct. Park in York Place car park which is the largest parking area or the smaller more centrally located Chapel Street car park and take a delightful stroll from the castle ruins, down the steep river banks, over to Mother Shipton's cave.

Follow the river and cross it at the Ugly Ducking Tea Room. Just at the other side is Mother Shipton's Cave with its black and white clad facade, along with delightful gardens and a petrifying well. These 'magical' places are natural springs where objects could be left over a period of time and would later resemble stone themselves. The high mineral content in the water allows this effect to manifest itself, however, in the old days it was considered to be the work of witchcraft. Although most of us won't have time to come back to the well weeks later to admire the results of this, historically speaking, the illusion of this has attracted visitors for centuries and the well is said to be the oldest fee paying attraction in England, first charging visitors back in 1630. Mother Shipton, herself, was a famous 15th century soothsayer and prophetess predicting the Spanish Armada and the Great Fire of London, or so it is believed. The cave where she was born in 1488 is also within the gardens. The water flows down into the well, all-year round at the same speed, drought or flood, and hanging from the dripping water, in various stages of 'petrification' are teddy bears, hats, dolls, kettles and all manner of objects slowly turning to the appearance of stone.

From Knaresborough continue east on the A59 to Junction 47 on the A1(M) to head southwards back down towards London.