With its mountains, windswept moorlands, and a glorious coastline, Yorkshire is undoubtly one of the finest of English counties. Green valleys shelter the crumbling ruins of the abbeys; old cities boast stout castles and sublime cathedrals; and the region’s turbulent and often bloody history has left a wealth of monuments in its wake. As you travel further north, the countryside changes from the large industrial towns in the south to the cultivated plains around York, thence up to the high moorlands and wild unspoiled countryside in the most northerly parts of the country. The heart of the northeastern part of the region is the broad lowland corridor which carries the main rail and road routes from London to the Scottish border.
York is the great city of this lowland country. First came the Romans, who noter the value of the Pennines to the west as a natural defensive rampart, and used them accordingly; the Normans later made York the capital of the north. The Pennines, incidently, together with the north Yorkshire Moors, form one of the largest tracts of unspoiled countryside in England.
Destinations in Yorkshire: The huge expanses of the North Yorkshire Moors, stretches with little but grass, heather and peat, look much as they did thousands of years ago. Grouse and curlew are the main inhabitants, and you can walk for a whole day without meeting another human being. But in the northeast of the county, there’s a whole series of castles and great houses, which demonstrate increasing fortification the nearer they are to the Scottish border. In contrast, the southern part of Yorkshire and Humberside reflects the more recent history of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.
Cities of Steel and Wool: Sheffield has developed in the shape of a natural amphitheatre on the southern Pennine slopes. The town is famous the world round for manufacturing cutting tools of all kinds and stainless steel items. The most famopus building in town is the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul (Church Street). On Orchard Square and Tudor Square, you will find rows of shops, restaurants museums and theaters. Opposite the cathedral stands Cutler’s Hall, home of the guild of cutlers. The guild’s collection of silver is displayed here. The fine City Museum contains a large collection of knives, the Mappin Art Gallery (with English artworks from the 18th and 19th centuries) and the Rushin Gallery, with an exhibition of that writer’s belongings.
The M1 from London finishes at Leeds. The city is notable for the classical revival Town Hall and, next door, the City Art Gallery, one wing of which is devoted entirely to sculptures by Henry Moore.
East of Leeds is Temple Newsam, a fine Jacobean house, birthplace of Lord Darnley, husband of Mary Queen of Scots. Harewood House, north of Leeds, has been the seat of the Earls of Harewood for more than 200 years. It has a fine collection of furnished rooms decorated by Robert Adam, with furniture by Thomas Chippendale; while the grounds,
which include a famous bird garden, were designed by the ubiquitous Lancelot Brown.
West of Leeds lies Bradford, once the hub of the wool worsted trade. In the mainly 14th-century cathedral there is a stained-glass window by William Morris. The National Museum of Photography, Film and Television houses everything from a camera obscura to satellites as well as a giant IMAX cinema screen.
From Bradford it is easy to reach the virtually unspoiled town of Halifax to the southwest. “From Hull, Hell and Halifax, good Lord deliver us”: this old catch-phrase is a gruesome reminder of public executions which took place on market days until 1650 on Gibbet Street (the gibbet was a kind of gallows for hangings). Halifax is one of the more interesting industrial towns of West Yorkshire, thanks in part to Eureka, a deservedly popular museum for children, and the restored 18th-century Piece Hall, with its markets, colonnaded galleries and industrial museum.
Moors and Dales: The A646 climbs up the Calder Valley, beside the river and the superb Rochdale Canal, towards Hebden Bridge. This stone-built mill town is well-known for its corduroy and one of the good places to purchase the material
The A6033 north to Keighley leads past the village of Haworth, famous for its literary associations with the Bronte family. The three sisters Anne, Charlotte and Emily wrote some great novels; Jane Eyre was one of Charlotte’s masterpieces. The Bronte Parsonage Museum, with displays of family memorabilia, occupies the family’s former home. Emily Bronte’s beloved moors lie all around, and in wild weather her story of Wutheriug Heights comes vividly to life.
Near Keighley is a delightful 17th-century merchant’s house, East Riddlesden Hall. It houses a fine collection of Yorkshire oak furniture, early embroidery and ghosts. Heading back to Leeds, the A650, running down the valley of Airedale, is parallel to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. This waterway boasts a dramatic staircase lock, the Bingley Five-Rise, at Bingley.
For those with time to spare, the route to York by way of Leeds can be exchanged for a more interesting tour. The A629 heads up Airedale to Skipton, known as “The Gateway to the Dales.” The great castle of the Cliffords stands behind the church. Parts of the original Norman castle remain, including a banqueting hall 50 feet (15 m) long and a huge kitchen complete with roasting and baking hearths.
Scenery buffs should follow the B6265 as it winds up past the dale village of Hetton into Grassington, with its steep cobblestone streets, and thence up into the northern dales.
East of Skipton, the A59 leads to the 12th-century priory ruins of Bolton Abbey, standing amid meadows, woods and waterfalls. The nave, repaired and lengthened, is now the parish church. Stepping stones lead across the river Wharfe, and it is pleasant to stretch your legs beside its beautiful waters.
The A59 leads on through the spa town of Harrogate, known for its floral parks, dignified Victorian buildings and fine shops, and then on to Knaresborough. Here the Georgian houses line narrow streets and alleys which lead down to the river Nidd. Mother Shipton’s Cave, where a famous soothsayer and prophetess was reputedly born in the 15th century, is open to the public.
If you don’t want to go on to York, detour on the B6165 to Ripley. The castle there has been the home of the Ingilby family since 1345. It is set in a 19th-century village and is a delightful stop on a summer’s day. A few miles north are the truly magnificent ruins of Fountains Abbey, situated in the impressive grounds of Studely Royal Park. Benedictine monks came to this remote spot in 1132 and founded the abbey. South of Ripon is one of Yorkshire’s renowned Adam houses, the 18th-century Newby Hall, set in gardens that are full of rare and beautiful plants. Like most houses decorated by Robert Adam, the hall’s interior and contents are superb.
The town of Ripon received its charter from Alfred the Great in 886. The cathedral’s Saxon crypt holds many treasures. The building is also notable for its juxtaposition of Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular styles.
East of the A1, near the town of Boroughbridge, are the remains of the extensive Roman settlement Isurium.
The old Roman road of Dere Street, now the B6265, runs south to join the A59 eastward to York. A short diversion to the north brings you to Benningborough Hall. A showpiece of National Trust restoration, it is an early Georgian red-brick house built beside the river It houses more than 100 paintings on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in London.