Our second day starts early on a crisp spring morning. As the sun begins to break through the clouds we see anglers set to work at Kilnsey Trout Farm under the shadow of the Crag, a huge limestone cliff face that rises up over the Wharfedale Valley. Day one of Le Tour paid a memorable visit to Kilnsey and, not surprisingly, the village was widely regarded as one of the best places to watch the action.
The road winds through a procession of beautiful chocolate box villages as the sun continues to rise over the valley. We drive through the idyllic village of Kettlewell – home to a summer scarecrow festival and the distinctive Swaledale Sheep – and see small patches of snow glowing brightly on the hills beyond Starbotton. We continue on through West Witton and the village of Wensley in Richmondshire. We want to stop in each one and we soon realise that the hardest part of our journey is going to decide what not to see. There’s no shortage of beautiful sights in “God’s Own Country”!
One place that makes it to the top of our list is Bolton Castle. We see it rise majestically as we make our way through the valley towards Leyburn. Bolton’s amazingly well preserved walls stand out against the lush, verdant valley and make us feel as though we’ve turned back the clocks to when Mary, Queen of Scots sought refuge in the castle with 50 knights, servants and ladies in waiting (which, despite the castle’s stature, could not cope with the size of her retinue!). We file it for later as we approach Leyburn, home to another Yorkshire Cottages shop.
The town of Leyburn offers a surprisingly large marketplace. It’s not even market day and yet the square is already teeming with visitors and bustling with life. The shop is on the far end of the square and where we receive a host of recommendations and welcome insight from Charles, Anne and Jessica. The team confirm our findings that the region is packed with things to see and do and that just taking a drive is one of the most enjoyable ways to get a feel for the area. We formulate a route and pepper it with places to stop.
Stepping out into the mid-morning light we walk through the marketplace and out to the town’s Shawl, a 2 mile long limestone escarpment with breath-taking views of Penhill over the Wharfedale valley. Local rumour suggests the name came from Queen Mary dropping her shawl when unsuccessfully flitting from Bolton Castle – though other options include Viking settlements or ‘wood hill’, so the choice may be yours! Either way, it’s a lovely way to appreciate the tranquillity of your surroundings and only a minute from the teeming town centre.
We drive over the hills to Muker. An almost ceaseless climb affords us incredible views of the hills and valleys. We see soldiers from the base at Catterick training in the distance under blue skies and light clouds. Eventually the road crests and levels out, winding its way down towards Fremington and Reeth in the distance. It’s a strikingly beautiful scene, yet the kind of thing that won’t make its way into many lists of attractions and activities. We’re now convinced that the journey through the Yorkshire Dales is easily as satisfying as the many welcome destinations you will arrive at.
Our only sorrowful sight of the day is found in the lovely village of Muker. We park alongside the gently flowing Straw Beck, admiring the dry stone walls and large barns that make up this glorious part of Swaledale. The village is a popular with walkers and offers numerous scenic routes that wind through the surrounding meadows. Our hearts fall and stomachs rumble when we find the famous teashop is closed mid-week in the early part of spring. We make a promise to return though, as it looks too good to pass up!
The next part of our journey takes us up and over Buttertubs. The iconic pass provided some of the most memorable moments of Le Tour. Few could forget the scenes as hundreds brightly coloured cyclists slowly wound their way up to the heavens through a sea of support from thousands of assembled well-wishers. Though it’s certainly a little quieter when we visit, the scenes of awe are still present as we feel humbled by the almost awe-inspiring majesty of our surroundings. A small wooden bench sits nearby, allowing viewers a more comfortable perch from which to stare at cloud shadows slowly drifting over green dales. It’s a delightful juxtaposition and seems a very fitting and wholly ‘Yorkshire’ response in a lovely way.
The journey down sets the pulse racing as I glance down from the passenger window at the deep potholes that lie a few feet to the left and hundreds of feet down. (Incidentally, the name allegedly came from farmers storing their wares in the ground on their way to market. Unfortunately, the charming name does little to steady my nerves!). I look away and see the slow approach to Hawes, home of the only place that produces Wensleydale cheese and, perhaps more importantly at that time in the afternoon, lunch! (Did I mention we were hungry?).
Originally crafted by Cistercian monks in the 12th Century, the art of crafting Wensleydale Cheese was refined and perfected by farmers’ wives until the late 19th Century, when the first creamery allowed production on a large scale. Nowadays Yorkshire Wensleydale has Protected Geographical Indication status, which means no one outside of the region can make it. We learn all this during a quick peek around the Creamery. We also learn that the Calvert restaurant is well worth visiting!
We’re not sure if it’s the food or the Creamery that attracts so many people but both seem to be a doing a roaring trade. We eat lunch under a portrait of local hero Kit Calvert, a man who began his working life at 12 and some twenty years later rescued the dairy from the vagaries of the Industrial Depression. As we finish our meal with a selection of award winning cheeses, and gaze out of the large windows at the rolling green hills, we realise that this experience is probably the best distillation of the Wensleydale region one could wish for – not to mention one of the highlights of our time in the Yorkshire Dales so far.
We stop briefly at Outwhaites, the Hawes Rope Factory, then continue on to Aysgarth Falls before post-lunch sleepiness sets in. Small shards of sunlight beam down on the rippling surface of the water, and the gentle churn as it spills down the upper falls is almost enough to lull us to sleep in the warm glow of the early afternoon. We walk alongside the glistening water and are reminded of the falls’ appearance in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. We decide the waters look far too cold to recreate Kevin Costner’s memorable fall and decide instead to venture forth to Bolton Castle.
In a day marked by wonderful sights, Bolton Castle still manages to impress. Its large ramparts stand defiantly against the open fields and dales that surround it. The untimely effect we witnessed earlier is only heightened once we stand against it and marvel at the beauty that surrounds us. In any other region this would undoubtedly be a crowning achievement, something on the front page of every visitor guide. In the Dales it’s just another amazing sight that drew us in from a distance. We wonder what else we might have missed; what other incredible sights are waiting for us around the next corner. Though we’re short on energy the thought of what the next day might hold fires us up. We’re starting to think that the Yorkshire Dales might truly be spoiling us…
On the journey back we stop off at Billy Bob’s Ice Cream Parlour. If you’re looking for more traditional Yorkshire Dales experiences then you should probably continue along the A59 towards Bolton Abbey. If, however, you want to enjoy delicious milkshakes and fries in an amazing recreation of 1950s Americana (the only thing missing was the Happy Days theme tune!) whilst your kids let off steam in play-barns then it’s a must. For us it was a chance to reflect on another amazing day in the Dales, and though all the chrome and neon didn’t exactly scream ‘Yorkshire Dales’ our time so far had led us to expect the unexpected.
Roll on Day 3!