Ey up! Five fantastic places to visit in Yorkshire this summer
Many of us will be enjoying our hols closer to home this summer. I won't be able to, but for those who do have the luxury of being able to visit the most beautiful place on earth, also known as Yorkshire, I'm sharing five fantastic places that you shouldn't miss. You can also link to this useful Yorkshire glossary that I've put together so you can understand what on earth we're saying when you get there.
Yorkshire is where I was born, where I grew up, where I went on rainy caravan holidays perked up by the fact that I could bottle-feed newborn lambs. It's where I had my first job, working on a dairy farm, up before dawn to bottle the milk that would be sent around the villages on the back of the milkman's truck. It's where we'd go for "runs out in the car" on weekends to the Yorkshire Moors, to the East Coast seaside towns, to the impossibly posh Harrogate where we might be lucky enough to go to Betty's Tea Room for tea and cake. As a teenager I thought Yorkshire was the most boring place possible in which to grow up, and was desperate to go to university as far away as I could. And then, at the age of 22, I left to work overseas and have never moved back since. But when I go home now, I realise what generations of Yorkshire folk before me have always known - that this is God's Own Country, that it really is the most beautiful place on earth, that the people are the best people you could ever hope to meet, and that if you don't like it, you can lump it.
How do you know if someone's from Yorkshire? They'll tell you. We're proud people, and rightly so. Our local newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, declares itself "Yorkshire's National Newspaper" on the masthead. In our hearts and minds Yorkshire is at least as significant as the country as a whole, if not more so. Yorkshire has given birth to some of the world's great artists. Henry Moore and David Hockney are native sons. Barbara Hepworth, one of the greatest 20th century sculptors, went to my school. David Bowie's dad was born in Tadcaster, so we'll claim him as one of ours. Dame Judi Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sean Bean, Michael Palin, The Chuckle Brothers, all from Yorkshire. Joe Cocker, Def Leppard, The Kaiser Chiefs, Ed Sheeran, Jarvis Cocker, Mel B, they're all from round our way. Writers from the Brontë Sisters to Barbara Taylor Bradford have all penned tomes here. We also lay claim to Olympians, politicians, business leaders and the inventors of both the mousetrap and cat's eyes, as well as Amy Johnson, the pioneering aviator who was the first woman to fly solo from London to Australia in 1930. FIFA recognised Yorkshire as being the birthplace of club football (Sheffield FC, if you're wondering, is the oldest existing club still playing football in the world - it might be based in Derbyshire now, but we don't talk about that), and Rugby League was established in 1895 in the George Hotel in Huddersfield. One of the world's longest-running comedy shows, Last of the Summer Wine, charting the adventures and mishaps of three elderly men, was filmed in my home village, Holmfirth (pronounced with a silent "l"). Yes, we're an illustrious bunch, and fiercely proud. So I'm going to share some of that "national" pride with you here, with five places not to miss in Yorkshire this summer.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
I may be biased, but I don't believe there's a better outdoor art museum anywhere in the world than the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It's where we used to go on school trips, dog walks, and winter wanderings in our wellies on cold, clear days. I can't possibly go home now without making a pilgrimage. It's set in rolling parkland just off Bretton roundabout, which will mean nothing to the vast majority of people, but is a huge landmark for us and is easily accessible from the M1. Opened in 1977, it was the first open-air gallery of its type in the country, and sits on 500 acres of parkland centred around the 18th century Bretton Hall. Bring sturdy shoes - and a dog if you have one - and wander at will through this gallery without walls. The grounds are dotted with fluffy sheep who graze nonchalantly in the shadow of exquisite Henry Moore bronzes (another reason to wear sturdy shoes - you will invariably step in sheep droppings, part and parcel of country life). 10-metre tall Damien Hirst sculptures sit alongside ancient trees, with The Virgin Mother and Charity being particularly striking. Hirst himself, who grew up in Leeds, said that the sculptures were "just made for that setting", and it's true that The Virgin Mother in particular, with its cross section of a woman's body exposing her internal organs and unborn child, couldn't possibly be as dramatic in an urban setting as it is set in these meandering hills.
You can walk along the edge of the lake to discover Jaume Plensa's Wilsis, one of his famous "flattened head" sculptures. Don't miss Ai Wei Wei's Iron Tree, located just next to the beautiful 18th century chapel that in 2018 was filled with one of Chiharu Shiota's intricate thread installations. But just as spectacular as the art is the landscape itself, and you're free to walk all of it, whether it's the gentle slopes of the pastures with their big shady horse chestnut trees, the woodland paths soft underfoot with moldering leaves, or along the banks of the lake to see the ducks and swans splashing about, looking pretty pleased with themselves for having chosen this spectacular spot as home.
Salty sea air, seagulls that pinch your chips, sticks of coloured rock, the whale's jaw bone, penny machines in the arcades, all of these are what made Whitby special for me as a child. But Whitby has far more claims to fame than that. In Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula's first steps on the shores of the British Isles are in Whitby, with the vampire taking the form of a large dog after being shipwrecked and running up the town's famous 199 steps to Whitby Abbey. The Dracula connection is why you'll also bump into a proliferation of goths here, wearing the kind of clothing that I had a sometime leaning towards in my grunge-kid days. Whitby is also where Captain James Cook became a trainee with a local fishing firm and is where two of the ships he used on his voyages of discovery, the Resolution and the Endeavour, were built. His statue still surveys the seas today, located up on West Cliff with his gaze turned oceanward, and you can learn more about the man and his travels at the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, located in the house in which he lodged as an apprentice. Whitby is about feeling the North Sea air whip your hair into your face, it's about long walks down the blustery pier, paddling in the sea until your feet almost freeze (yes, even in August - it's nippy up here). It's about good old seaside fun, playing the coin-drop games at the amusement arcades, crazy golf at the clifftop Whitby Pitch and Putt, walking by the colourful West Bay beach huts, stopping at The Magpie Café for fish and chips, which was always considered ridiculously extravagant and overly posh when I was little - why pay through the nose when you can get your fish and chips wrapped in paper and walk along the harbour? Nowadays the psychotic seagulls are the answer to that question - they dive-bomb at will, wantonly stealing your haddock with complete disregard for human safety. Suddenly The Magpie doesn't look so extravagant after all.
Take a walk over the swing bridge that swings open to let boats into the harbour, and head in the direction of those famous 199 steps. The narrow streets are lined with shops selling Whitby jet, a black semi-precious stone popular with the visiting goths, and there are plenty of cafés and pubs to stop into if you're in need of refreshment, such as The Blitz, a 1940s-themed café serving tea and cakes on mismatched antique crockery harking back to the wartime years. Before tackling the steps up to the Abbey, stop at J's Ice Cream Parlour for a couple of scoops of Whitby rock and Turkish delight ice cream to fortify you for your climb. At the top lies St Mary's Churchyard which some believe houses Dracula's remains (it doesn't - he was a work of fiction), home to the graves of fisherman and sailors, many of whom were lost at sea, their tombstones standing as a sign of remembrance even though their bones lie at the bottom of the ocean. The ruins of Whitby Abbey are atmospheric, windswept wonders originally dating back to the 7th century, although the ruins you can see today are of a Benedictine monastery in English Gothic style that was suppressed by King Henry VIII in 1539. There's nothing like a walk up here on a windy day, which is practically every day of the year, so wrap up warm even in summer, and enjoy the cold, clean air.
Robin Hood's Bay
Just down the coast from Whitby, the wonderfully named Robin Hood's Bay is a lovely little fishing village cascading down steep cliffs. It was also the setting for a valiant rescue mission when a sailing ship named the Vister ran aground in stormy weather off the bay in January 1881. A team of 200 men and 18 horses pulled a lifeboat six miles from Whitby through the violent storm, clearing their way through snowdrifts, breaking down walls, scrambling through gardens, until they were able to launch it just two hours after departing. Miraculously, the crew was saved. The story is commemorated on a plaque above the village, and as you climb down (and back up) the incredibly steep slope to the bay, you realise just what a feat this must have been. I went to Robin Hood's Bay on a trip from my junior school with a teacher who revealed to us something truly magical - fossils. This is part of the Dinosaur Coast, and you can find fossils right on the beach. If you're lucky you might even find an ammonite. You can gently break the lumps of slate on the beach and watch them split into strata containing fossils of ferns, but stay away from the cliffs - what makes these lumps of slate so breakable also means that the cliffs have a habit of crumbling too. Robin Hood's Bay has a history of smuggling, with secret underground tunnels said to be carved through the cliffs. It's a cute little village with colourful houses, and geraniums and petunias burst out of pots and hanging baskets along the narrow lanes. There's no beach here - for those head to Whitby, Filey and Scarborough - but there are plenty of rock pools to explore, and you're likely to find crabs, limpets and little fish. I remember the first time I found a starfish in one of these Yorkshire coast rockpools - it was like discovering an exotic treasure.
Saltaire is a joy, designed as a mini utopia away from the dark satanic mills of central Bradford in the industrial age. A model village set around Sir Titus Salt's textile mill, Saltaire, combining the industrialist's surname and the name of the River Aire, was built in 1851 to provide his mill workers with a better standard of life, and today is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Every family was guaranteed a house with sanitation and gas supply, and other facilities in the village included public gardens, allotments for the families to grow their own fruit and vegetables, wash houses, a library, school, church and concert hall. Conspicuously missing was a pub. Salt hoped that by offering plenty of other diversions he would be able to discourage the workers from walking to the nearest inn for a pint and spending all of their hard-earned wages on alcohol, something he had witnessed in other Northern industrial towns. The mill itself is an example of great Italianate architecture, and a walk through the village reveals some spectacular architectural gems. It's one of the loveliest days out you can have in the West Riding.
Salt's Mill today is home to a café, furniture store, antiques shops, and the David Hockney gallery, with the Bradford-born artist's The Arrival of Spring series of artworks, created entirely on iPad, bringing bursts of colour to the grey walls of this industrial space. The Mill also houses a fantastic bookshop that takes over an entire floor, full of light and flowers, and with the original pipes and columns painted in cheery colours. After enjoying the art and picking up a book or two, take a stroll down to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, a key element of the mill's success as it connected Saltaire to the Liverpool docks where the cargos of alpaca wool that Sir Titus used in his pioneering textiles were brought to shore. You can treat yourself to an ice cream from the canal barge diner, or continue on to the banks of the Aire and The Boathouse Inn for a pint of locally brewed Saltaire Blonde. I'm sure Sir Titus would forgive us this indiscretion.
And finally we come to it, Holmfirth. The village where I spent my formative years, where I drank pints of Landlord as a teenager in The Nook, where Last of the Summer Wine was filmed. It's where coach-loads of blue-rinse tourists would converge every weekend in the 1980s on "Summer Wine Tours" to see filming locations including Sid's Café and Nora Batty's steps, now the fetchingly named Wrinkled Stocking Tea Room. But if you've never seen the show don't let that put you off. The broader Holme Valley is an area of exceptional natural beauty. Come in spring and you'll see woodland glades filled with bluebells and daffodils, and fields filled with bouncy, springy lambs. In summer you can find glorious long days when there's still light in the sky until close to 11pm, although you get your fair share of wet, grey days too. Winter can be crisp and clear or downright miserable, and when it snows it's beautiful (although the steep lanes are a pain to navigate - we don't do winter tyres in England). But for a real treat, come in September when the moors will be carpeted with purple heather. Little Holmfirth's fortunes could have been very different had the the First World War not intervened. Local painter James Bamforth was a pioneer of the early film industry, making silent monochrome films as far back as the late 1890s, more than a decade earlier than the first Hollywood studio was established. At its peak, the studio was producing a film a week, including a slapstick series about a character named Winky, but the war intervened and production stopped, with Hollywood becoming the capital of the movie industry as we know it today. The name Holmfirth means "sparse wood belonging to the Holme", so perhaps we could even have had our own Holmywood sign up on t'moors. The Bamforths subsequently moved on to the production of saucy postcards, with busty ladies and double entendres aplenty that always made us giggle when we went to the now sadly defunct postcard museum. Holmfirth was back in the spotlight in 2014 as part of the route of the Tour de France, with Holme Moss, our highest peak with a lofty altitude of 524 metres, being renamed the Col de Moss as one of the toughest ascents of the entire route.
Fame aside, Holmfirth remains true to itself. It's a no-nonsense little working town that just happens to be blessed with one of the most beautiful locations in the county. It's great walking country, and there's a lovely pub, The Fleece, just before you start the main ascent up Holme Moss. Highly recommended for a pie and a pint, and one of the places I used to frequent when I was far too young, drinking cider and playing darts. We now have our own winery, Holmfirth Vineyard, and you'll find tapas and mezze as well as fish and chips and good pub grub around the area. But it's the people who make Holmfirth all the more special. Wherever you go you'll get a friendly welcome with a helping of deadpan humour, a joke and a wink, and usually an anecdote or two. If you can understand what we're saying, that is.