Yorkshire is the biggest county in Britain. It stretches across the north of England, from the North Sea coast in the east to the counties of Cumbria, Lancashire and Greater Manchester in the west. Among its big cities are York in the centre, Hull in the east, Sheffield in the south and Leeds and Bradford to the west. But it is the rugged rural landscapes of Yorkshire that really define its character, as well as that of its inhabitants.
Rural Yorkshire can be roughly divided into six zones: in the northeast, the North York Moors have high moorland and remote valleys that stretch to the North Sea cliffs on the coast. South from there is the gentle countryside of the Yorkshire Wolds. Go west to the central Vale of York, where there are immense flatlands with ancient castles and fertile farmland. Head northwest and experience the limestone formations, glacial valleys and waterfalls of the Yorkshire Dales. South of the Dales is an area of the Pennine hills known as Brontë Country, with its riverside meadows, ancient woodland and derelict buildings left over from the textile industry.
The Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Anne and Emily, are among a number of literary figures associated with the county. West Yorkshire was also where 20th-century poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath made their home, while Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W. H. Auden was born in York. The county has an artistic heritage, too: the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the Dales features the work of landscape-inspired sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, among other famous invited artists.
To find out more about rural Yorkshire, Speak Up contacted Tracy Milnes of Bonner and Hindley, a marketing and PR company dedicated to tourism, heritage and cultural activities across the county. Milnes says that Yorkshire folk are very proud of their homeland and tend to orientate any conversation around it. She began by talking about Yorkshire’s industrial past from the late 18th century on.
Tracy Milnes (English accent): East Yorkshire would have been associated with the fishing industry and some chemical industries; South Yorkshire you would put with heavy industry: coal mining, steelworks; West Yorkshire: Bradford, Halifax, Leeds — connected to the canal network — would be very much textiles, both in terms of trade and production.
NORTH YORK MOORS
By the 1980s, two centuries of Yorkshire industry had ended, and unemployment was high. Since then, however, the county has bounced back. Big industries today include the digital and games industry, financial services, retail, and sustainable technologies. What’s more, rural tourism is booming in Yorkshire, with quaint villages such as Grassington, Hutton-le-Hole and Osmotherley a delight to visit. Milnes gave us a few tips on what to do in the North York Moors.
Tracy Milnes: North Yorkshire is a very traditional holiday destination. It’s such a huge varied landscape. It’s very green, very lush, [with] big crags out that way. Picturesque stone cottage-type villages, lots of lovely country pubs, country restaurants, fantastic walks like the Nidderdale Way, beautiful scenery.
BIRDS AND BEACHES
North Yorkshire’s coastline features famous towns such as Whitby, the setting for Bram Stoker’s horror novel Dracula. Now, birders and surfers head to the county’s cliffs and beaches.
Tracy Milnes: Staithes has a beautiful cliff where you get lots of nesting birds in the summer during the breeding season. Spurn Point and Flamborough Head [are] recognised for their bird sanctuaries and their bird populations; you get lots of puffins on Bempton Cliffs. And then there’s very traditional seaside towns: Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington… Scarborough has got the lovely outdoor theatre, they do lots of summer concerts. You’ve got Saltburn-by-the-Sea… Sandsend is great for surfing [or] you’ve got the big kites so you can go sand surfing on the beach.
The Dales in the west has its own charming villages such as West Burton and Muker. There are also some dramatic waterfalls, including the Cautley Spout that tumbles 650 feet [200m]down a cliff face. South of the Dales is an area known as Brontë Country, so called as it is where the famous literary sisters lived and wrote their novels in the early 19th century. There, the landscape changes dramatically.
Tracy Milnes: Brontë Country is very heathery, very dark and brooding. Howarth, the village where the Brontë parsonage is, is well worth a look: beautiful tiny streets that overlook one another. The moors are on the doorstep. You can also go on the Keighley Railway, which is an old fashioned steam train, [though] you do have to book well in advance.
The train serves major Yorkshire cities, but to get into the countryside you really need a car, says Milnes. For the very fit, cycling is a big deal in Yorkshire. Inspired by the Tour de France’s one-offvisit to the Dales in 2014, Yorkshire has introduced a number of cycling routes, as Milnes explains.
Tracy Milnes: Part of the Tour de France was here in 2014 and then for five years after that we also did a Tour de Yorkshire. There are some great cycling routes, you could hire a bike and have some real adventures ‘on saddleback’. [There’s] some big steep climbs, but the views are quite spectacular!