DESTINATION – YORKSHIRE
Renowned for its desolate, beautiful moors, Viking legacy and friendly, down-to-earth people, Yorkshire is one of the UK’s most charismatic counties, home to the well-preserved medieval city of York, the thoroughly modern metropolis of Leeds along with charming towns and villages like Haworth and Harrogate, where grand Victorian architecture meets steep, cobbled streets. With a population of more than 5.4 million, it’s the UK’s largest county too, with more residents than New Zealand, Norway or the Republic of Ireland.
My Yorkshire adventure begins in Leeds (I’m here with Jetsetter photographer Fatima) where we pull up a chair for green salads, bruschetta and sweet pancakes with topped ice cream at Owt at the Corn Exchange, a dome-shaped Victorian beauty housing independent boutiques and cafes before heading over to nearby Kirkgate market. The largest covered market in Europe – there are more than 800 stalls – a distinctly local F&B experience awaits at the Yorkshire Wrap Company, where menu items including slow roast pork and slow roast beef are served in a Yorkshire pudding wrap. After an afternoon exploring Leeds City Centre (the civic quarter houses several impressive Victorian buildings including the Neo-Classical town hall), we head over to the Cultural Quarter. Home to the Northern Ballet,
Leeds Playhouse and BBC Look North, it’s also host to some lovely restaurants including Kendell’s, where we dine with my oldest childhood friend and Yorkshire lass Emma. It’s an inviting bistro that oozes Parisian charm, from the candles flickering on the table to the blackboards trumpeting the specials. We eat Gratinee Lyonaisse, a fragrant French onion soup topped with Gruyere, followed by a celeriac wellington, beef bourguignon and a whole seabass draped in herbs as Emma enthuses over Harrogate and York.
OLD SCHOOL CHARM
In the 17th and 18th century, the upper classes would take to the waters if they were under the weather. The most famous example in the north was Harrogate, and you can find out more about its restorative waters at the Royal Pump Room Museum, where attendees would sip glasses of the water or immerse themselves in hot sulphur baths to treat rheumatism and eczema. While the old spas are now long gone, you can pop into Harrogate’s Turkish Baths for therapies including hot stone massages and, of course, a hammam. We soak up Harrogate’s vibe instead, where upscale shops – think L’Occitane, Jo Malone and Russell & Bromley – are juxtaposed against independent boutiques like India Mahon Jewellery and Sophie Likes, where zodiac prints, fairy lights and planters await. As evening falls, we turn down Prospect Place, a lively street lined with bars, for a Nicholson’s pale ale and spot of Saturday night people watching at The Alexandra pub, formerly a 19th century inn and now a popular weekend hangout.
Even more captivating than Harrogate is Haworth, whose steep cobbled throughfare lined with tea rooms, gift shops and pubs is a big tourist draw. I love the Cabinet of Curiosities store, which is housed in a lovingly restored Victorian druggists and apothecary selling home-made soap, candles and bath preparations. A few minutes’ walk away from Haworth‘s Main Street is the Brontë Parsonage, where I’m overcome with emotion at the sight of the dining room, the spot where Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights and Anne’s Agnes Grey were penned. There’s an unexpected intimacy here, the yellowed manuscripts and letters inscribed with tiny, neat writing, spectacles placed on top; a tea cosy, plates and a half-burned candle; and a sofa adjacent to the table where this trio of genius sisters would have perhaps sewed and daydreamed in-between penning these classic novels. At the gift shop, I buy a copy of Wuthering Heights to re-read – all purchased books can be stamped “Purchased at the Brontë Parsonage museum” – which as a book geek I find rather thrilling.
I stick my head out of the window and am delighted by the loco’s frequent toot-toots.
The friendly guide in the museum recommends going to Cobbles and Clay for a coffee and cake but we’re all out of time – save for a quick cocoa fix at …And Chocolate for salted toffee and coconut oil truffles – and head to the Fleece Inn at the bottom of the street for a traditional Sunday lunch. Naturally it’s headlined by the most heavenly Yorkshire pudding: light and crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside. I team it with a Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, an iconic Yorkshire pale ale, before wandering down the last of the cobbles to the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, a five-mile preserved standard gauge line most famous for its appearance in the UK film The Railway Children. En route to Keighley from Howarth, I stick my head out of the window and am delighted by the frequent toot-toots of the steam loco and its cool, dark vintage carriages. Back at Keighley station, I watch the enthusiastic band of volunteers who keep this railway going hand-shovel coal into the firebox and gaze at the billows of white smoke the engine produces before the train pulls away to make its last trip of the day back to Haworth.
Flanked by old barrels of gunpowder, there’s a love seat in the bar where guests can sit, after donning a cloak and hat, to play Guy Fawkes awhile.
A visit to Yorkshire just wouldn’t be so without stopping off in the cathedral city of York to explore its stunning minster and well-preserved city walls – the most complete defences in England – now well-trodden by tourists rather than marauding soldiers. More charming than Bath, Oxford or Cambridge to this Brit’s mind, every corner seems to offer up another beautiful building: even Starbucks on Coney Street looks inviting in York. Up we walk from the station, over the bridge and the redundant boats on the River Ouse, to York Minster, this gothic masterpiece magnificent in the mid-morning sunlight against a backdrop of cobalt blue sky.
The Chapter House, an octagonal space featuring wall-to-wall Minton tiling and a remarkable vaulted ceiling, is my favourite spot, and I lean against the cool walls and admire the swirling geometric patterns of medieval leaves and branches.
From the minster, we amble over to York’s Chocolate Story to uncover the stories of Rowntree’s (it launched the Kit Kat in 1935), Terry’s (of Chocolate Orange fame) and Craven (renowned for its humbugs) via some digital photo frames, where York’s chocolate overlords come to life and interact with one another. At the Kit Kat exhibition, we discover that Japan has more than 200 varieties – cough medicine flavour anyone? – and is the number 1 market globally for this four-fingered chocolate wafer bar. In Japanese, kitto katsu means good luck and they are often given away to wish people well on exams and the like. The tour includes the opp to have a bash at making white chocolate lollipops, to which we add chocolate chips, sprinkles and wafers. Lollipops stashed for later, we sample freshly made truffles in the next room, all made without palm oil, the guide tells us proudly.
We stop for lunch at a Yorkshire institution, Bettys tea rooms (there’s six cafes and shops scattered all over Yorkshire) and the York venue is all art deco, inspired by the interior of the Queen Mary Ocean liner. Wait staff decked out smartly in black and white uniforms graciously take our order of Earl Grey before returning to the table with sandwiches and dainties. It’s a Summer themed menu (it changes with the seasons), with coconut and lime Battenberg and some divine sultana scones among the standouts of this heavenly tier of goodies.
Feeling rather light-headed after a glass of lunchtime Champagne, we pass the queue (there’s always a queue for Bettys) somewhat smugly before wandering round York’s city streets. More than 20 years have passed since I last sauntered down the Shambles, York’s well-preserved medieval shopping street with buildings dating from 1350, and it’s still as crowded, and still as charming. With wands displayed in the window, The Shop That Must Not Be Named specialises in Harry Potter merchandise, and witches and wizards are urged to park their brooms before stepping inside to shop for items including levitating golden snitches and replicas of Dumbeldore’s Cup. Elsewhere, fudge, ice cream and chocolate shops all vie for attention but can’t win me over after the sweet treats at Bettys.
Originally built in 71AD, substantial parts of York’s city walls remain, and you can stroll along the 3.4km-long surviving masonry, which is punctuated by four grand medieval fortified gateways called bars. At Boothman Bar, I put my camera through the 19th century slit windows and steal a photo of Petergate, one of York’s most picturesque (and relatively car-free) streets. We descend the walls to stop for a pint at the beer garden at the Lamb & Lion Inn, where the minster can be spotted through the trees and a knight’s suit of armour, complete with axe and shield, solemnly stands guard. Then it’s time to visit the Jorvik museum, where life-size dioramas and lifelike mannequins capture the nuances of Viking life. In the digital age, it still feels thoroughly impressive, and the visit is coolly bookmarked by a smiling Viking on the admissions door with a plaited, flame-red beard and a musician quietly strumming a lyre against a backdrop of Viking weapons, clothing and pottery discovered at this very spot during the Coppergate excavations in 1976.
GUNPOWDER AND GHOSTS
It’s time for dinner and we are booked in at the Guy Fawkes Inn, a medieval inn where the roman catholic restorationist who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament was born in 1570. These days it’s a 13-room boutique hotel with an AA rosette kitchen, where the Guy Fawkes steak pie has garnered quite the reputation. Flanked by old barrels of gunpowder, there’s a love seat in the bar where guests can sit, after donning a cloak and hat, to play Guy Fawkes awhile, perhaps pondering what might have happened if he hadn’t been discovered, which ultimately led to a fatal fall from the scaffold where he should have been hung, drawn and quartered in 1606.
As the skies darken over the medieval skyline, we gather at the top of the Shambles for the Ghost Hunt of York – the International Ghost Research Foundation has declared York as the most haunted city in Europe after all. Our guide Andy Dextrous, sombrely dressed in a black frock coat and top hat, leads us round some of York’s oldest streets, pausing outside haunted buildings to recount some of York’s ghostly sightings, including a girl at a window on College Street, whose parents abandoned her after discovering she had the black death. The emphasis is very much on fun rather than spine-tingling terror, though, and Dextrous is big on audience participation during the 1.5-hour long tour, so sneak in at the back if you don’t want to be singled out. Towards the end of the tour, we witness a group of male choir singers warbling sweetly into the night, assuredly romantic in the York moonlight, and a sweet distraction from such sinister stories.
It’s our last day in Yorkshire, and we leave Leeds station, our base these past three days, for Wakefield, hopping into a cab to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where there are around 100 sculptures and installations displayed in a gallery of glorious Yorkshire countryside. Young children excitedly cluster around bronze sculptures of Henry Moore (you are allowed to touch, but not climb on them) while sheep shade from the August sun under the same bronzes. Walking down the hill and heading left, we find Damien Hirst’s Virgin Mother, a 10m tall statue with a cross section revealing the foetus inside the womb, while to the right is Ai Weiwei’s zodiac heads, an interpretation of the 12 bronze heads that once adorned Yuanming Yuan, the Imperial summer palace retreat in Beijing, until it was ransacked in 1860 during the second Opium war.
Travelling through such a big county with only four days at your disposal means you’re bound to miss plenty, alas, but Fatima made it to Knaresborough and Bolton Abbey, the former celebrated for its viaduct, the latter a ruin of an 12th century Augustinian monastery and immortalised by the famous watercolourist J.M.W. Turner.
Which Yorkshire towns are underrated? For Yorkshireman and author John Hockney, brother of David Hockney, it’s Hebden Bridge. “It’s still maintained as it was with eight-storey terrace houses clinging to the hillside before crossing the moors,” he says. And how do you get off the beaten track in Yorkshire? You can still walk the byways and moorland paths of Yorkshire thanks to the Magna Carta, Hockney adds. “Ordinance Survey maps guide would-be walkers across the meadows and Moors, Dales or Wolds, so they can explore the wonders of pathways and villages trodden under foot for hundreds of years.
What makes Yorkshire so special to you?
People say love and often genuinely mean it, where else in the world do you hear that in every sentence. Even the hardiest men use it liberally.
Where are your favourite places to visit and why?
I enjoy the solitude of The Bradford Industrial Museum. Machines made 200 years ago are still going strong and are actually beautiful works of art in themselves.
What are your favourite Yorkshire words and saying?
There’s nowt so queer as folk! This seems to sum up people’s unexpected attitudes in a nutshell. Also, if it’s not summat it’s summat else! (such is life).
What constitutes the perfect Yorkshire pudding?
Crispy and large as possible cooked in goose fat.
Do you have any favourite hotels or restaurants?
The Chevin Restaurant near Otley and the Cow and Calf Hotel in Ilkley.
Which towns are underrated in Yorkshire?
Has to be Bradford. With stunning Victorian architecture found everywhere, it’s often claimed to be the world’s biggest stone-built city.
How do you get off the beaten track in Yorkshire?
Very easily, a ten-minute drive in any direction from most cities usually does it. A bike ride from Hawes to Buckden is the best tonic ever.
Describe Yorkshire in three words
God’s Own County.