Yorkshire Dales, England
Information on the location:
The Yorkshire Dales is in the northern part of England. The area is known for small towns, stone fences, castles, and lots of sheep. There are small, narrow, winding roads, but not a lot of people. It has rolling green hills, and not a lot of trees. It’s very beautiful, and remains one of my favorite places to visit.
Booking the Flight:
I come from the United States. If you are flying from here, I’ve never had any trouble with American Airlines. I usually fly into and out of the Philly airport. It’s smaller than New York, but is still a sizable airport. They have lots of food options while you wait. The flights to Europe are overnight flights. I leave myself a few hours layover in between, so that I don’t risk missing the evening flight over. If the airline fare is less than 1200 ‘round trip, then I recommend buying it. It changes year to year, but it’s rarely that cheap. Sometimes you can find it as cheap as 500 dollars, but that’s a steal! When heading specifically to the northern part of England, fly into the Manchester airport.
Tips on the flight:
The flight from Philly to Manchester is about 6 hours. It usually departs around 8 or 9pm. After takeoff they’ll serve dinner—I always decline dinner in favor of trying to sleep. It will be very hard to get some sleep on the plane, but a few things can help. The first thing is to make sure you’re not too hot or too cold. I always bring a spare jacket in case I need to cover up with it. On the overnight flights they also provide a pillow and a blanket. Adjust your situation until you are feeling just right. Some people will bring ear buds to block out noise, and maybe even a face mask to cover the eyes and make it nice and dark. The next problem is trying to rest your head. This is much trickier. The pillow they provide can help a little, but not as much. If you are against a window, the pillow can help lean up against that side of the plane. The best solution I’ve found is something similar to the TRTL travel pillow you can find on amazon. It compacts down to be pretty small. When open, you wrap it around your neck. There’s a rigid section that keeps your chin supported. I can sleep a little bit with that on. It’s still very restless sleep, and by the time the plane lands in England the next morning, you will feel exhausted. Make sure you have a pen. In years past they have asked us to fill out a customs card. If you don’t fill it out on the plane, no worries—they have more and extra pens before you get into the line to clear customs. Read the customs card and fill the form out correctly. It’s specific on how to do so.
Once in Manchester:
The planes usually arrive around 7:30 or 8am. Your body will feel like it is 3am (if you live on the east coast). In addition to not sleeping well the night before, this first day will be tough. You will very likely be exhausted. You’ll head to pick up your bags first, and then you’ll head to customs. You’ll hand them the card they had you fill out on the plane (this has been changing in various places—it may change here too. Just follow the instructions). When you go up to the customs agent, they’ll usually have a brief conversation—they’ll ask where you’re going, how long you’re in, where you’re from, etc. They’ll be gaging whether or not you seem like you’re lying. Just answer honestly and to the best of your ability. After you’re cleared by the agent, proceed on your way, and to an ATM. I recommend pulling out a couple hundred dollars/about one hundred and fifty pounds (depending on the exchange rate). Most places will take card, so save your cash for the places that don’t. Some won’t. After you’ve gotten some pounds, head on out of the airport.
There are rental car companies within walking distance of the airport. Make sure you do that before your flight. Once you leave the airport, just head to the rental car area. You may have to take a shuttle, and/or ask for directions. We usually go with Hertz. A word of warning: one year we had some friends traveling with us. They had booked their rental car through one of the agencies like enterprise or expedia. I don’t remember which one they used. The rental car company did not honor their booking. They told our friends that they never offer fares that cheap, and to request a refund from the intermediary they had purchased it through. They had to pay the rental car company what they were asking. It was more expensive. So be careful if you are booking through one of those sites. It’s beneficial to both groups to honor those prices, so I’m not sure what dispute the car company had with the servicer. If you book with one of those services, though, you are not guaranteed to be booked with the airline/car rental/etc.
The first thing I will recommend before you leave the parking lot of the rental car place is to check your car for any damage. Indicate it on the slip before you leave. The next thing that is going to be of vital importance to getting around is a GPS. Make sure you’ve updated the map for Europe. My friend always drives, and he never pays the fee to update the map. But they’ve changed the roads around Manchester, so it’s always a battle trying to find the interstate. It takes us a lot longer than it should. Also be aware—in England they love their roundabouts. I find them to be very confusing. There’s sometimes 6 or 7 potential exits off a roundabout, and trying to fight your way through the traffic is confusing and hectic. If you have a GPS, it’ll tell you which exit to take. So you’ll have to count as you turn (example: turn left on the rotary, 3rd exit). The steering wheel on the cars is on the right side, and they drive on the left. In the small rounds of the Yorkshire Dales it’s easier to do that than in the city where there’s more traffic. Gas is very expensive. They have a much higher gas tax there than here. Usually, filling a small to mid sized car, takes about 80 dollars. Once on the interstate, the left lane is the slow lane while the right lane is the passing lane. So while here, you stay out of the left lane except when passing, there it’s reversed. Be careful about your speed—rarely will an officer chase you down, but they will take a photo of your license plate and send it to whoever owns the car. If you get a ticket, the rental car company will charge you an extra fee. Once you’re in the Dales, it’ll be easier. The roads are very narrow up there, though. Their two way roads are a one way road in the States. Be prepared to pull off to the side of the road to yield to oncoming traffic. There’s stone fences that are all along the sides of the roads, but every so often there’s a spot to squeeze your car into to allow another car to pass. That does mean occasionally you’ll have to backup to get to it. If you get behind a farmer’s truck that’s easier—everyone yields to them. It’ll take about three or four hours to drive up to the Dales from Manchester.
Recommended First Stop:
On your drive up, I highly recommend stopping by Skipton first—it’s called the gateway to the Dales. There’s a Tesco in Skipton so you can get any groceries you’ll need before you head up into the Dales. It’s much harder to find one beyond that point. Hawes is a bigger town in the Dales, and will have one. But most of the smaller ones do not. While there, I also recommend checking it out. I love Skipton. Skipton Castle is my favorite castle of every one that I’ve seen so far. It’s courtyard, in the middle of the castle, is like something out of a medieval fairy tale with a giant tree surrounded by stone. I love it so much. Most of the castles have a free to enter, and Skipton is no different. It’s just a few pounds. About every other day they have market day in Skipton. I love visiting on market day. They’ll have vendors lining the streets selling food, apparel, and a lot of unique handmade items.
Recommended Places to Stay:
We often look for self-catering cottages or castles to rent instead of hotels or pubs. The cottages can be stunning. The place I loved the most was called Crooked Acres. It was more remote than some of the other places we’ve stayed, but it was right next to Bolton Castle. I love castles, so this was a big bonus. It also had an amazing outdoors patio with a view that would take anyone’s breath away. It’s only about a mile or two walk to the nearest pub to grab something to eat or drink. There’s a great hike that takes you from the cottage to Robin Hoods falls. Those are the falls they used in the filming of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, where Robin and Little John were fighting with staves. I think it’s a five mile hike? I don’t quite remember. We stopped at a pub on the way there and back, but it took a few hours.
Another place I’d recommend was a cottage in Bainbridge. I believe it was called The Old Hall. I’m having trouble finding it now, so they might have moved. There are other spots in Bainbridge that might be worth checking out. Bainbridge is connected to other places in the Dales by bus. So if you prefer not driving, you can catch a bus if you stay somewhere here. It’s a little bigger than the area where the Crooked Acres is, so it’s more connected to things. There’s a pub in the town. There’s a great hike that takes you from Bainbridge, all the way around the largest lake in the Dales, and back. This was a long hike, with not much except fields around you. We brought our lunch with us that day, and ate on the go. It took from morning until dusk to finish. It was maybe 10 miles or more. It was a great hike to go on!
The Green Dragon is my favorite pub. There’s not much in the way of food there, which is a bit of a detractor, but the history is amazing. It’s the oldest pub I’ve been in. It was built in the 1200s. They’ve added on a lot since it was first built, but the bar is nestled in the oldest section, and you can see it. There’s a bit of a slant to some of it, which just adds to its charm. For a couple of pounds you can take a two mile hike behind the pub to see Robin Hoods Falls. This is where they filmed Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves scene where Maid Marion walks down on Robin taking a bath, and Bull tells her to cover her eyes. It’s one of the tallest falls in the Dales, and just cool to see. Tan Hill Inn is also cool to see—it’s the highest pub in all of England. It’s up on the moors.
How to Order: The pubs that serve food generally have similar things. I love the chips they serve, and will often crave them when I’m back home in the States. They’re just plain fried potato wedges with no seasonings, but so good. Especially with vinegar. I had a friend who had partridge at one of the pubs there once, and her first three bites had buckshot in it. Sometimes you have to be careful to not crack your teeth in those scenarios. Lamb is very common to find in the pubs up there, and is very good, especially when paired with mint. When you go to eat at a pub, traditionally you go up to the bar to order. Check your table for a number first—you’ll need that when you tell them where you’re sitting. You order, pay for it, and then wait at the table. The food will come out when it’s done, not for the entire table at once. You can go up and order more, or order dessert. It’s very informal. What’s nice about this is because you’ve paid first, when you’re done, you get up and leave. It’s polite to stack any glasses back at the bar, but they’ll pick up the other dishes. Don’t leave a tip unless you’ve had full table service. If you go up to the bar to order, you won’t tip. A lot of pubs are pet friendly, so you’ll see cats or dogs (mostly dogs) hanging around—sometimes sheep or lambs. It’s not uncommon. Occasionally you’ll find one that bans pets, but for the most part they’re allowed in most of the pubs.
Top Five Castles/Abbeys to See:
There’s so many! I’ll go over my top five recommendations for castles and abbeys to visit. Most of the abbeys are ruins now because Henry VIII changed England from Catholicism to the Church of England in the 1500s. Many of the existing abbeys were destroyed as a result.
- Skipton Castle: My favorite castle. There is a fee to enter. You’ll pass by the outer castle walls, where you pay the fee. Once you enter the outer walls, the castle is right in front of you. You’ll have to go up some steps to enter it. Once you go inside, turn right, and there will be a long corridor that takes you to the courtyard. The courtyard is my favorite part of Skipton Castle. It is completely stone except one tree towering in the middle. There are doors exiting this courtyard everywhere, taking you to a ton of different places. It’s so pretty.
- Bolton Abbey: We took a train to get here. Once you get off the train, you have quite a hike to get to the ruins of the abbey. It’s a pretty hike! The abbey has some incredible remnants left, and the blend of both the old stone and nature reclaiming the area is very striking. There’s a place to eat up the hill from the abbey, and there are hiking trails that take you deeper into the area. After exploring the abbey we never had time to follow another trail before we needed to head back and catch the train.
- Bolton Castle: This is not near Bolton Abbey. There is a fee to enter. This is the castle where Queen Elizabeth held Mary Queen of Scots for a time. As I mentioned earlier, you can rent a cottage right next to Bolton Castle. Part of the castle is more destroyed than other parts. So you can see areas of the castle that are set up like they would have been, and other areas are ruins. It’s an interesting contrast. What’s convenient about staying next to the castle, is on certain days in the morning they will do hawk or falcon demonstrations, where they will talk about their hawk and owl. Owls are not smart birds as it turns out—most of their brain is reserved for their eyesight. Falcons, on the other hand, are incredibly intelligent. They have a bell tied to their falcon’s foot, and when they walk him he’ll fly along from tree to tree. When he wants to hunt, he’ll grab the bell with his foot so he can be quiet. Once he catches something he’ll release the bell again and resume flying as nosily as before. They’ll also do longbow demonstrations, where they’ll let you shoot a longbow in the castle at a target. We were the only people there that morning, so they let us have a couple of chances at it. It’s a cool place to see!
- Easby Abbey: To get here, you have to walk from the town of Richmond in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s just over a mile away. The ruins are very cool. The site was rather expansive. It’s more run down than Bolton Abbey. There’s tons of little nooks and crannies to check out and explore. We were there for probably an hour or more just exploring. I really liked this place. Richmond has a castle as well, which is cool to see, but it’s not in my top five. If you’re in Richmond to see Easby Abbey, I recommend checking out Richmond Castle while there. It’s more finished over by the great hall than by the entrance, and has a little garden out the back.
- Middleham Castle: It’s also mostly ruin. Like Bolton Abbey, there’s an interesting mix of old architecture and nature reclaiming the area that I find fascinating. There are several areas to climb up. The stairs in all of the castles are narrow, so mind your footing! The stone has worn down in interesting ways in some areas. There is a fee to enter, but, like the others, it’s worth seeing. There weren’t as many people here as there are in some of the others. Easby and Middleham were the quietest two spots. It’s beautiful.
Top 5 Hikes:
There are so many places to hike, and incredible things to see along the way. I love getting lost in nature, but also appreciate finding ruins to explore. You can hike just about anywhere here, so I’ll do my best to narrow it down to my top five!
- Bainbridge Around the Lake: This hike is 8.3 miles. I take tons of photographs, so this took us about 8 hours to do. This is convenient to do if you are staying in Bainbridge, which we were the time I hiked this. You start in Bainbridge and follow the road for only a small while before turning on a gravel road that’s easy to see/find. This was the old Roman road, officially called Cam High Road. You’ll follow this road for a while before you turn off and follow the path up the hill. As you’re walking, you’ll only hear sheep around you. It’s incredibly peaceful. Once you get up the hill, you’ll be able to see the lake and some of the other small towns around. You’ll head down into one of the small towns, which consists of three-ish buildings, and continue on the walking path. There is a small gate with some old church ruins to check out once you’re on the other side of the lake. If you google “Bainbridge uk around the lake and back” you can find information about this hike. www.walkingenglishman.com/dales37 will take you to a site that shows you a map of the route. I haven’t looked at the pdf version of their map, but you’ll want a more specific map to follow than the one that’s on the front page.
- Muker to Keld, up Kidson Hill, and Back: This is another circular hike. Start in the town of Muker, and turn left out of the town to follow the river Swale. You’ll follow the river until you get to an old abandoned mining town. There are several abandoned stone houses to explore. There will be sheep and cows around, per usual. After exploring the old mining town, follow the path up the hill. This won’t be a hard climb yet. You’ll keep on that path until you get to Keld—which is a small town with only a few buildings. Once you get to Keld, turn left on the road, and follow that for a second, and then veer off the left on the old Roman road, which will be gravel. Once you turn on the Roman road, you’ll turn on the grassy path up the hill. This is a steep climb. I was both freezing cold and terribly hot. You’ll want layers. I was rolling my sleeves up to help, but was really cold until I realized I could pull my hood of my hoodie over my head. I’m a slow learner. That immediately helped take off the freezing cold wind that was biting my head, and equalize my temperature. I can’t express how incredible the view from the top of this hill is. It is gorgeous. I use the photograph taken at the top of this hill for the banner image at the top of Walking in Nature. It took us four hours to do this hike. Again, this was in part because I was slowing us down taking photographs, we took some time to explore the abandoned buildings in the mining town, and once we started the steep climb one of my friends and I kept stopping every ten steps to catch our breaths. Google will help you find a map to follow. Sometimes it’s hard to find the exact same hike, but there are similar ones if you can’t find this exact one to do.
- Kettlewell to Grassington: I loved this hike. You hike from the town of Kettlewell to the town of Grassington. It’s a 7 mile hike. It took us up a steep hill soon after leaving Kettlewell that gives incredible views of the Dales around us. The views were stunning. Once you climb the hill, the rest of the walk is relatively easy. It follows a path called the Dales Way for a portion of it, which is well marked and well traveled. It should only be three or so hours—but again, being the photographer that I am, it was more like six. If you google Kettlewell to Grassington you can find maps for this route as well.
- Bolton Castle to Aysgarth Falls: This hike is 6.5 miles or so. It should take about 3 hours if you’re not like me and photographing everything you see. It’s another circular hike, so you’ll come right back to where you started. Aysgarth falls was made famous by the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and is where Robin and Little John fight with staves when they first meet. The bonus here is you can also see Bolton Castle. You can start at either Bolton Castle, which is how I did it (since we were staying right next to it), or you can park at Aysgarth and start there. You can find the route on Google—just google Bolton castle to Aysgarth Falls, and it’ll come right up. We stopped at a pub along the way and had lunch, before continuing on to the falls. The falls are beautiful. It’s definitely worth the trek.
- Leyburn Shawl: It starts in Leyburn. If you Google Leyburn Shawl, there will be multiple hiking options. This hike has amazing views of Penhill, which is the tallest hill in the Dales. It takes you through some forested areas before opening back up to the incredible views. It’s about a 5 mile hike. When you’re heading down the hill through the pastures, it’s incredibly pretty. The version we did took us down by a big farm with equipment and farm fields before we circled back around. The views are amazing.
Other Things to Do:
- Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes. If you love cheese, this place is great. They have a section where you can sample all sorts of cheeses with all kinds of different ingredients. They’ll add spices like chives and things, and/ or fruit into the cheese. You can sample them all, and if you want to buy one, they’re packaged right behind their samples. I love cheese, so this place is a great place for me!
- Masham Sheep Festival. If you go in September, make sure to go to the Masham Sheep Festival. It’s incredible. Farmers will bring their prized sheep, all different types, to be judged for best sheep. They have a sheep shearing demonstration which is amazing! I’ve seen it twice, and it was very funny both times. The guy who does it is great. He explains all the different types of sheep that you’ll find in the Dales, and he’ll shear one. And then he’ll have them dance. There’s also a sheep race, which is also pretty amusing. They’ll have four sheep with different colored ribbons. You can bet a pound for which one you think will win, and then a guy will run down the track with food in front of the sheep, who are chasing after the food. And they’ll do a sheepdog demonstration, that will end with one of the sheepdogs herding geese into the middle of town. There is local handmade items for sale all over the place. It’s a charming festival.
- Sheepdog Demonstrations. If you have a chance to see any other sheepdog demonstrations I highly recommend doing so. I was lucky enough to see a demonstration from Richard Fawcett, who is one of the top sheepdog demonstrators in England. He was debating about going back into the competition because his dog, Lola, was so good. Glenn was also good, and he thought he might also be able to place. He showed us what they have to do to win those competitions, and talked about how the dog has to have the right temperament in order to control the sheep. It was incredible.
- Brymor Ice cream. They used to own cows on their farm. They would milk the cows, and use that milk to make the ice cream. They no longer own their cows, but they sold them to a farmer down the street. They still use the fresh milk to make the ice cream. That ice cream is incredible. It is the best ice cream I think I’ve ever had. I was able to go there both before and after they had their cows, and the ice cream still tastes just as amazing. We usually do this after we’ve gone to the Masham Sheep Festival. Brymor isn’t far from there.
- The Buttertubs. You can see the buttertubs on the hills between the Dales. It’s said that back when farmers would go on foot to the market, and that on hot days they would lower the butter into the deep limestone potholes to keep it cool while they rested.
Bonus Item To Do:
Hadrian’s Wall. This is a two-ish hour drive north of the Yorkshire Dales. There are roman forts you can check out, with the wall there. It’s incredible. The history is amazing. After we went to the information center and ruins of a roman fort, we went to sycamore gap. Sycamore Gap has the tree and section of the wall they used in the filming of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. There’s a pub nearby we stopped to eat lunch in before we went to the car park near Sycamore Gap. There are three hills you have to climb to get there, each with stone steps. You basically follow the wall the entire way. Half way up the first hill, the steps turn inward, and are nestled into a cliff. They are about knee height, and you can only fit your toes on them. It was quite terrifying. I affectionally referred to these steps as the Vertical Steps of Death. The way back down was far more problematic and terrifying than the climb up. I would do it again though. It was a nice little walk, and had the bonus of not only walking beside history with the wall, but being able to see the tree used in the movie. I would highly recommend! After that, we went to Carlisle castle, which was not as impressive as some of the others I’ve seen, but still worth a look if you’re nearby. You’re so far north at that point, we actually decided to go to Scotland for dinner before we drove back to our cottage.
I would highly recommend the Yorkshire Dales if you love hiking, and being outdoors. It’s a beautiful place.