Last week I was blissfully lost to the world, in God’s own country: Yorkshire. My parents own a holiday cottage in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and I’ve been going up since I was 6, so it’s both holiday destination and second home. It is gorgeous up there. I mean GEORGEOUS. No matter how many times I go, there’s always that one point where you reach the top of a hill and see all the beautiful hills and valleys laid out in front of you, and it still takes my breath away.
Confession: I didn’t take my bicycle with me. For whatever reason I just felt like I needed a week off from cycling, probably I overdid it a bit in July, and I wanted to give my knee a chance to fix itself. I had a pretty lazy week, mainly either reading or watching the Olympics. Given all the wind and drizzle we had I don’t think I’d have ridden it much anyway. We did have a day out walking along Aysgarth Falls, a famous set of waterfalls that I haven’t seen for several years.
We were in a village called Gayle, just outside the town of Hawes, in the middle of Wensleydale and a five minute walk from the creamery where Wensleydale cheese (my favourite) is made. Having been coming here for so long I’m starting to get rather old-mannish about the place, repeatedly starting conversations with “I remember when…” Well I remember when the creamery was down for closure, before Wallace and Grommit popularised Wensleydale cheese and made it economically viable again. It’s going great guns now, with a visitor centre that’s always full.
Hawes is so much busier than it used to be, and full of tourists. There’s also rather a lot more cyclists than there used to be, a legacy of Yorkshire hosting the opening of the Tour de France a couple of years ago. There’s still loads of little ‘legacies’ to be seen, like the spotted bicycle ornament above. The Tour came through Aysgarth and Bainbridge, along roads I very know well, then turned right at Hawes and up past Simonstone Hall (scene of the punch that got Jeremy Clarkson sacked) and on to the Buttertubs Pass into Swaledale. I looked up the stage on YouTube and it really showed Yorkshire as I know it, but with every town and village turning out to watch. As one Frenchman said “Yorksheer eez gorgeous! I lurve ze bunting!”
If the tour went potty for Yorkshire, the feeling was mutual. Now there’s an annual Tour de Yorkshire and one year I’ll hopefully get to be there for it. We drove up the Buttertubs Pass and down the other side, and boy do I have a new-found respect for professional cyclists! My car’s got about 70 horsepower but it still took some pretty skilful driving to keep it in the revs. I’d like to imagine cycling it one day (I’d be nowhere near up to it at the moment) and the view from the top is really spectacular. Any cyclists who like a challenging climb and a good view as a reward should definitely put it down on the to-do list.
There’s now a cycle hire/shop/cafe place at what used to be Hawes railway station, literally right next to a bridge over which the Tour passed, so obviously I had a little look. The coffee is for my money the best in Wensleydale, and of course I enjoyed looking at the bikes hanging from the ceiling. Not my sort of bikes (modern hybrids, mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes) but it’s good to know it’s there and doing decent business.
The station itself probably hasn’t been in use for 50 years or so, and the steam enthusiast-run line has so far only been restored as far as Redmire, but they have got a rather forlorn old tank engine in situ with a couple of carriages. There’s an ambition to restore the line all the way to Garsdale, on the Settle-Carlisle line. It’d be quite something to get a steam train right through the middle of the dales!
There’s no getting away from bicycles for me, our next door neighbour in Gayle wheeled out this beautiful Dawes, and rather to my frustration left it out in the rain overnight. One great thing in the Dales is just how relaxed it is, that you can leave a bike out like this and never for a moment worry about it being nicked.
On our way back down south we popped in to Carnforth railway station, where one of the best British films, Brief Encounter, was filmed. It’s a black and white weepy love story made in 1945, and it’s the story of two married people meeting by chance in the station refreshment room, falling in love and having a brief affair before realising it’s doomed and that their marriages are too important. The Rachmaninov soundtrack fits it perfectly and it really is an astonishingly well made film. The station’s had a bit of a revamp since I last went, with a visitor centre giving some railway history, and of course there were bicycles…
That’s a red BSA in front and a Raleigh behind. After tea and scones in the refreshment room we popped in to Morecambe Bay (my fiancée wanted to see the sea) and had an ice cream before heading home. What a wonderful week away!