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Lancashire-born Jane McGowan puts aside regional rivalry and explores the Yorkshire Dales on this seven-site tour
Knaresborough Viaduct. Photo by member Robin Williams
Yorkshire is certainly the county of the moment. Popular television shows such as The Yorkshire Vet, Our Yorkshire Farm and The Yorkshire Auction House have attracted viewers to a region that locals (to the annoyance of my fellow Lancastrians) have long proclaimed as ‘God’s own country’.
Deciding it was time to find out what all the fuss was about, I pointed my bonnet in the direction of just one section of the county – the Yorkshire Dales National Park, an area containing (or within reach of) numerous Club sites and a cluster of exquisite Certificated Locations (CLs).
First stop: Knaresborough Club Campsite. Although actually located on the outskirts of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it provides easy access to the Dales and is the perfect starting point from which to explore the county.
Conveniently located close to the A59, one big attraction at this tree-lined site is The Wanderer restaurant, which provides a range of eat-in or takeaway meals. It also has a well-equipped play park and an on-site, gated dog walk. You can walk directly into the market town of Knaresborough (it takes around 40 minutes; or buses run from near the site entrance) where you will find attractions such as Mother Shipton’s Cave and The Petrifying Well (within which everyday objects ‘turn to stone’ within a few months).
Be sure too, to visit Knaresborough Castle, but perhaps the standout feature of the town is Knaresborough Viaduct, which carries the Harrogate passenger rail line over the River Nidd. The bridge, which stretches 260ft and towers 80ft above the waters, opened in 1851 (the original structure had collapsed into the river three years earlier). There are marvellous views to be had from the castle ruins or you could take a riverside walk directly underneath this magnificent structure.
Fountains Abbey. Photo by member Eric Ness
Other tourist spots within easy reach of Knaresborough include Brimham Rocks and Fountains Abbey. The former makes for a fabulous fresh-air adventure as visitors are permitted to scramble around curious stone formations that were formed around 320 million years ago. Home to fascinating structures such as ‘Druid’s Writing Desk’ and ‘Eagle’ scattered over 50 acres, the Site of Special Scientific Interest is managed by the National Trust. It’s great for families – but do keep a close eye on children as there are sudden drops and steep slopes across the site. For the same reason dogs should be kept on a lead at all times.
Fountains Abbey (one of the best-preserved Cistercian abbeys in England) and neighbouring Studley Royal Water Garden are also must-sees. Again, both are managed by the National Trust. If you’re not a member or want to keep costs down, there are some lovely free walks to enjoy within the adjacent deer park. Look out for St Mary’s Church, which was built in the High Victorian Gothic Revival style. Commissioned by the first Marquess of Ripon following the death of his brother-in-law, Frederick Vyner (who was murdered by bandits in Greece in 1870), it has a stunning interior boasting a fine collection of stained-glass windows, carvings and a magnificent organ. In fact, we learned during our visit that volunteers play the instrument regularly during the closed season, in part to deter any four-legged visitors from making their homes in the pipes!
From Fountains Abbey it is a short hop to Firtree CL, which offers five level pitches amid acres of rolling countryside. The views really are spectacular and if you are looking for total tranquillity then you are in the right place. You can head out from the site for miles along way-marked routes that zig-zag this undulating landscape.
Easily accessible from both Knaresborough and Firtree CL is the popular town of Harrogate. The architecture of the centre nods to a spa-rich past, and you can still experience the original Turkish Baths, which stand in the impressive Royal Baths building in the heart of the town.
During high season, the centre can become very busy – so the multi-award-winning Valley Gardens offer respite from the crowds. Situated opposite the Royal Pump Room Museum, in what is termed Low Harrogate, the English Heritage site offers 17 acres of formal gardens, alongside woodland, an adventure playground and paddling pool.
If you’re still looking for a quieter slice of Yorkshire life, the little market town of Pateley Bridge is well worth your time. Situated on the River Nidd, it offers a happy mix of cafes, independent shops and craft businesses. I can highly recommend the dog-friendly Pancake House, where the deliciousness of the food is matched only by the warmth of the welcome.
Pateley Bridge is also under 25 minutes’ drive from Bolton Abbey Estate Club Campsite, the next stop on this tour. Set on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the site is billed as one of the ‘prettiest on the network’; pitches are located within a tree-lined glade and are often visited by an array of local wildlife.
While the ruined Augustinian remains of Bolton Priory are very well known, the Bolton Abbey estate is also home to more than 80 miles of public footpaths that take in the beauty of this unspoilt landscape, many of them accessible from the campsite.
Make sure you visit the village of Bolton Abbey itself. Here you will find pretty spots to picnic and places to sample a traditional cream tea – and local speciality, Brack, a tasty tea loaf that is just the thing after a bracing walk. Outdoor fun really is the name of the game in this part of the world, whether you are into rambling, mountain biking or fishing.
About 20 minutes’ drive north-west from the Bolton Abbey site is Wharfedale Club Campsite. Shaded by mature trees, this site is bisected by a dry stone wall, a characteristic feature of the wider landscape. Playing host to 116 touring outfits, the site has recently undergone renovation to add more hardstanding pitches.
Wharfedale is ideal for a visit to Linton Falls, where you can walk along the River Wharfe and admire the weirs and waterfalls before taking a stroll around the picture-postcard village of Grassington. There are two car parks offering access to the falls (the one at the Yorkshire Dales Visitor Centre is situated closer to the village). Grassington’s cobbled market square is lined with independent shops selling an array of artisan produce and, should you be looking for refreshments, there are at least five quaint cafes in the locality, as well as five pubs.
But for fans of Channel 5’s updated version of nostalgic drama All Creatures Great and Small, Grassington will be recognisable as ‘Darrowby’ – the village home of James Herriot, Helen, Siegfried, Tristan et al. Many of the businesses have their shop fronts changed during filming, The Devonshire pub notably being transforming into the oft-visited Drovers Arms.
Lovers of the show and books or the iconic landscape it showcases can cover all – or stretches of – the Herriot Way, a 52-mile trail that takes in Wensleydale and the picturesque Swaledale. And should you wish to get even closer to the ‘main man’, The World of James Herriot in Thirsk (Club members get two-for-one entry via the Great Savings Guide) offers a fascinating insight into the life of James Alfred Wight – the real-life vet behind the stories.
Based at Wight’s original practice, visitors can explore authentic consulting rooms, memorabilia from the television shows and films and an exhibition dedicated to the history of veterinary medicine. Younger guests will enjoy the interactive quizzes and games.
Richmond Hargill House. Photo by member Ian Slater
Next stop: Hawes Club Campsite in the heart of Wensleydale. (The area is, of course, renowned for its cheese, a favourite of another Yorkshire legend – Wallace, of Wallace & Gromit fame – which helps add to its tourist appeal).
Just a 10-minute walk away from the site, Hawes itself is one of England’s highest towns at 850ft above sea level. A market was first recorded in town as long ago as 1307 – and one still takes place every Tuesday.
Again, walks and water abound in this area – it is well worth checking out Semerwater, a glacial remnant lake, where you can fish, canoe or simply watch the wildlife as you wander around its perimeter. There is a spacious car park and it is only 12 minutes’ drive from the Hawes site.
Heading east from Semerwater is the second suggested CL on this Yorkshire itinerary – Unthank Farm in Constable Burton near Leyburn. Boasting truly wonderful views, this is a great place for soaking up the atmosphere of Wensleydale. It is also handily placed to break up the journey to our final stop – Richmond Hargill House Club Campsite.
Although situated just off the A1, this compact site is another one offering far reaching views. Although we are still in Herriot territory, another famous English son – the 19th-century watercolour master, J M W Turner – is celebrated in these parts. Be sure to visit two beautiful waterfalls that feature in his works – Hardraw Force and West Burton Falls. Welcome to Yorkshire has produced ‘Turner Trails’ walking routes taking in these natural spectacles – visit yorkshire.com/turner-trails to find out more and learn about the stories behind the masterpieces. The falls are also within easy reach of both Hawes and Wharfedale Club campsites, as well as Unthank Farm CL.
Even more fabulous views are on offer from the battlements at Richmond Castle – a Norman fortress designed to keep troublesome northerners in their place. If you’re into your castles, Richmond is a good base for excursions to Barnard Castle (over the border in County Durham) and Middleham Castle, childhood home of Yorkshire’s final king, Richard III, before his defeat by Henry Tudor and his Lancastrian forces at Bosworth Field.
So, as a proud Lancastrian, that seems a good place to say goodbye to this once foresworn enemy territory. I must say that the beauty of North Yorkshire and the warm welcome of its residents means that this Lancashire lass will be more than happy to cross the great Pennine divide in the future.