Most traditional Yorkshire driving routes are near the big cities of York, Leeds and Sheffield. Some go straight there to see museums, cathedrals and castles. Some people tour the popular, picturesque villages, like Haworth, where the Brontë sisters spent much of their lives. Some travelers set out to create their own itineraries - gastronomic, historical, cultural. Some explore the Viking heritage, others taste the English chocolate, produced mostly in Yorkshire, others trek the national parks and discover perhaps the most beautiful part of this extraordinary county.
Travelling around Britain is most pleasant in summer or early autumn. The explanation for this (at least for me) is quite simple - July +10 degrees, rain and wind feel much more pleasant than, for example, November. Also, there's always a chance of sunshine in the sky by lunchtime, even if meteorologists haven't warned about it. But as we set off on our Yorkshire road trip, we grabbed all the waterproof gear we had at home just in case: umbrellas, raincoats, hats and rubber boots with warm fleece socks.
We leave London in the morning for a busy day ahead. The first stop on the journey is the small town of Wakefield, 180 miles from the capital. Three and a half hours to get there passes quickly - while reading the curious signs (if you go right, you'll find one castle, if you turn left, you'll get to another one).
To be honest, Wakefield is not the most interesting or beautiful town in Britain. It was once an active producer of wool and cattle, but after coal deposits were discovered in the vicinity, most of Wakefield's residents went to work in the mines. In a very short time they became major "employers" and operated until 1982.
There are few surviving attractions in Wakefield. However, it is worth stopping by to visit the Barbara Hepworth Gallery, built in 2011 on the banks of the Calder River. The minimalist building is striking in its scale: it was designed by British architect David Chipperfield, who won the prestigious RIBA Competitions. According to official figures, it cost the local council £35 million to build the gallery, and within five weeks of opening it had been visited by a hundred thousand people. The gallery was built in Wakefield not accidentally: it was here that one of the most famous British women sculptors of the XX century was born. In her youth Barbara entered the Yorkshire School of Art in Leeds and then studied at the Royal College of Art in London. Full of air and light, the gallery houses artworks created by her: drawings, paintings, abstract sculptures in stone and wood. Some were donated by collectors, while others came from members of the Hepworth family. You can also see the artist's reconstructed studio - the original was in the town of St. Ives, where a memorial museum is now open.
The second point on the map is the town of Knaresborough, which is remarkable for its age: it is said to be over a thousand years old. On the way there, the industrial landscape gradually gives way to picturesque villages with antique shops as we move from West Yorkshire to North Yorkshire.
Nurseborough is a fabulous place. And it's not just the beauty, though almost any other Yorkshire town would envy it. The place boasts a grand viaduct over the River Nidd that was built in 1851, and the best view is from the Norman manor house. Today the only parts of the castle that have survived are the tower, which once served as a prison, and the secret passage. The viaduct, on the other hand, is fully operational - if you're lucky, you can see a train passing through it.
The spans of the bridge are quite high above the water, and in good weather it's particularly pleasant to take a boat ride under them, which you can rent on the promenade. If you walk along it, however, you'll come across a number of old houses with commemorative plaques - one, for example, featured in a Turner painting, and another was where Oliver Cromwell stayed for the night.
We spend the evening and night in the spa town of Harrogate, renowned in the area for its healing waters, one of the most prestigious places to live in England. The architecture here is a little like that of another British spa town, Bath, and it's a striking difference from the architecture of the surrounding towns.
Harrogate is also home to Britain's oldest Turkish baths, which have recently been restored and are now open again. If you're planning to go inside, book your tickets in advance.
Harrogate has lots of little restaurants, a cosy antiques market in the mews, and pubs that play the blues in the evenings. You could go to one of them or, if you don't find a table available, pop into the good old Ivy for dinner.
We have a busy day ahead: after a short stroll around the Montpellier Quarter, breakfast and a visit to the Harrogate Antiques Market, take the scenic B6161 road to the UNESCO World Heritage Saltaire factory village, then on to the Yorkshire Valleys National Park.
Part of the must-do in Harrogate is Swiss rösti (aka the familiar draniki) for breakfast at the Bettys Café, located on Parliament Street, the city's main street. The first store of the chain opened right here in 1919 and in due course its popularity grew so much that cafes appeared in York, Ilkley and other cities. Bettys, by the way, like most Yorkshire restaurants, serves strong local tea. They make sure to bring one decanter of hot water (apparently for those who had plenty of brew) and another with milk. Those who drink tea without milk are looked upon by Yorkshiremen with a certain amount of scepticism and mistrust. One lady who worked in the village bakery was even a little offended when I asked her not to add milk to her tea.
The next stop is the town of Saltaire. It was founded in 1851 by the English wool magnate Titus Salt, who moved all his production (five separate mills) from Bradford and established a large textile factory there. Salt built a fine, even by today's standards, village for the workers: with plumbed stone houses, a park, hospital, school, library and an impressive town hall. Such a standard of living was quite rare in the middle of the 19th century.
Interestingly, the factory itself became a masterpiece of industrial art. More than a thousand machines were installed there, and about three thousand people worked behind them. In 1986, the factory closed, but it was purchased by a local entrepreneur, who breathed new life into it and opened offices, a fabulous bookstore, cafes, restaurants, and a contemporary art center - a gallery with the largest collection of works by British artist David Hockney. As you might guess, Hockney was also born in Yorkshire. His family lived in the nearby industrial town of Bradford, the 'wool capital of the world', where Salt's mills used to be located. The gallery, established on the site of the former factory, now displays dozens of the artist's contemporary works, most of which were inspired by Yorkshire landscapes, as well as earlier sketches and drawings. Posters of Hockney's paintings and books on art are also for sale here.
A walk through the factory grounds is a journey through time that is a thrill. Afterwards, you can pop into a small bakery to grab a snack for the road. And there's more adventure ahead as we head into the Yorkshire Valleys National Park.
Much of Yorkshire Dales National Park is in the northern part of the county. Consisting mainly of endless rows of valleys, rivers, rolling hills and heathland, it's an ideal place to rejuvenate. The park is also home to several visitor centres, dozens of cosy villages and small stone-built towns, with their own ancient churches and dilapidated castles, where some 20,000 people live permanently.
The Yorkshire Valleys has some must-see sites - key points between which you can build your itinerary. On the first day we visit two of them - the Malham Cove Nature Amphitheatre, where scenes from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 were filmed, and Malham Tarn Glacial Lake - and then we head off to rest after a long drive.
The infrastructure in the park is excellent, so there are plenty of places to eat and sleep, including campsites, hotels, holiday lodges and traditional pubs that offer rooms for guests. We chose the latter option and, hoping for luck, booked a room at The White Lion Inn pub in the central part of the park. As it turned out later, the place had been bought out last year by a young couple: they had completely refurbished the building and rooms, and invited a talented chef to the kitchen. At first I was a bit worried (admittedly, it was the first time I'd ever slept in a pub) that it would be cold, dark and not very cosy inside. But it turned out to be the opposite: the dinner was excellent, and we slept soundly and sweetly after our walk in the fresh air.
Today we will cross two national parks to see the sea, taste fresh crabs and listen to the legend of Robin Hood. Let's hit the road.
We woke up early in the morning, ate a hearty English breakfast, and went for a walk through the picturesque surroundings. Just across the road from the pub runs a shallow river, beyond which begins one of the hiking trails - such trails run the length and breadth of the entire national park. Along the narrow road, in the company of frightened sheep, it was decided to climb to the very top of the hill, which offers a great view. There's nobody around!
On the third day of the trip, we still had a couple of places left on our list in the Yorkshire Valleys Park that we wanted to visit. The first was the spectacular series of Aysgarth waterfalls, surrounded by dense woodland. The second was the Wensleydale Cheese Factory in Hawes, which has an interesting history.
The recipe for traditional Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese was devised in the 12th century by French Cistercian monks who came to England as part of William the Conqueror's entourage. Four centuries later, when parishes began to close, the monks shared the secret of making cheese with the locals, and gradually it became a hallmark of the region. Up to the Second World War, Wensleydale was one of the most popular cheeses in the country until it was overtaken by the more practical Cheddar. So in the late 1990s Dairy Crest, the company that owned the cheese factory, decided to shut it down. For the town of Howes, the closure of the cheese factory could have been a disaster, but employees were thankfully able to save the production. Then they were supported by the animator Nick Park - the creator of the cartoon film Wallace and Gromit, the main character was crazy about Wensleydale cheese. So the cheese factory began a new life. You can now visit to see how the famous cheese is made and have a tasting in the local café, with lush, fragrant cakes and strong Yorkshire tea.
Yorkshire is not only the most English, it's also the largest of the island's counties. As well as vast valleys it has the scenic east coast, all the way up through the North York Moors National Park. Watching the scenery change along the way is a fascinating change from yesterday's scenery of cliffs, pine forests and rolling hills to today's view of the country's largest natural heather plantations, with the sea just beyond.
The national park makes Yorkshire's big port towns look rather drab and sad. There aren't many interesting tourist attractions, and even the popular Whitby seemed too noisy and cramped. The Abbey is worth the drive, but rather than spending time on average fish and chips, there are charming villages along the coast like Staithes and Robin Hood's Bay. We chose the latter.
Robin Hood Bay sits amid tall black cliffs, the descent to which leads through a maze of narrow streets and tiled cottages. There are still legends about the role Robin Hood played in the history of the place and why the village is named after him. According to one, the noble robber defended the boats of local fishermen and the entire north-east coast from the raids of French pirates. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the loot to the people who named the land after him.
This little shop is easy to pass by, but I highly recommend stopping there for a few minutes to buy fresh crabs, lobster sandwiches, and then eating them below by the old lifeguard station.
If the station is open, you can look inside and learn more about the history of this charming village. If it's closed, climb up the stairs to the right of the entrance for perhaps one of the most beautiful panoramas of the entire trip.
On the last day of the trip, we decided to visit two of the places most tourists to Yorkshire visit. The first, Howard Castle, is a fifteen-minute drive from the town of Molton.
Howard Castle, the ancestral home of an aristocratic Yorkshire family, is considered one of the finest baroque palaces in Britain. Built in the late 17th century, not all of its splendour has survived to this day. In 1940, a major fire ravaged the house. Fortunately, a collection of paintings, including works by Michelangelo and Gainsborough, and amazing frescoes by the Venetian artist Antonio Pellegrini were able to recover. Now these pieces of art, as well as the blooming rose gardens, arboretum, dense forests, fountains and much more can be seen by all.
After a visit to Howards Castle, we head to the county capital, the city of York. This is the last stop on our journey. Walking in the shadow of the majestic cathedral, glimpsing the age-old Shambles Street, or on the doorstep of Guy Fawkes House, where the pub of the same name now stands, you feel like you're in a medieval film.
There's a lot to write about this city, covering everything from the railway museum to the Michelin-starred Roots restaurant. But it is better to come and see these places with your own eyes. And before you set off, read Alexei Zimin's text about the history of York - no one can tell you more about the city than he can.
The last stop of the grand adventure is medieval Shables Street and the large market, where you can buy interesting souvenirs as well as a snack before the long drive to London.