Tour of the unknown
The Forest of Bowland, Gordale Scar, the Lakes and Hadrian’s Wall – a tour of the northern counties offers some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain, says Christopher Hirst
The ignorance of southerners about the glorious countryside of the north of England never ceases to amaze me. Sadly, this also applies to certain northerners. Writing about David Hockney’s epic depiction of the Yorkshire Wolds currently filling the Royal Academy, professional Yorkshireman Roy Hattersley took the artist to task.
‘Perhaps the East Riding country roads do not bend and curve quite as dramatically as Hockney suggests,’ Lord Hattersley tutted. ‘The East Riding is flat and fertile arable land.’
Anyone who sets foot or bicycle in the Yorkshire Wolds, a 40-mile-long triangle of chalk uplands, will find that it is anything but flat. It rises and falls in glorious, empty escarpments punctuated with narrow valleys. The Hockney show, which shows this undulating terrain with great accuracy, is likely to put the Wolds on the tourist map.
However, the expansive landscape is big enough to take them. It is a perfect starting point for a tour of the unknown north. Only a few miles from the northern tip of the Wolds is the more populous Ryedale, where the gentler agricultural landscape occasionally gives way to dramatic scenery. West of Scarborough, a precipitous road swoops down through the hidden valley of Troutsdale to Dalby Forest, with 40 miles of woodland tracks.
A break in the tree cover provides a surprising view: the Fylingdales Early Warning Station (its weird sawn-off
pyramids remain unacknowledged by Ordnance Survey) on the North York Moors, whose austere beauty is embellished by a pyschedelic purple when the heather blooms in late summer.
Some 40 miles to the north, you can find an equally incongruous, though less eerie spectacle. On the outskirts of the town of Barnard Castle, there is a vast chateau better suited to the Loire than County Durham. Built by Victorian entrepreneur John Bowes and his Parisian wife Joséphine, the Bowes Museum collection ranges from
Canaletto to Courbet, but the favourite item for most visitors is an 18th century musical automaton in the form of a life-size mechanical swan that preens its back and snatches up a fish from a silvery shoal (in operation every afternoon at 2pm).
A touch on the accelerator whizzes the visitor up into Northumberland. For my money, it’s the most beautiful and untouched corner anywhere in England. These are hard words for a Yorkshireman to say, but a decade ago I spent a few days walking the glorious moors around the village of Bellingham where the North Tyne is given a vigorous workout by numerous waterfalls. Rarely a week passes without me wanting to return, though next time I’ll take in Kielder Forest – or at least part of it. Encompassing 250 square miles, Kielder is the largest working forest in England while Kielder Reservoir is the largest man-made lake in northern Europe.
Heading westwards, the ‘Military Road’, more mundanely known as the B6318, runs pretty much the entire length of the surviving Hadrian’s Wall. A spot with the intriguing name of Once Brewed (if it inspires a thirst, the Twice Brewed Inn is nearby) is well-placed for exploring this World Heritage Site. In the Vindolanda Museum, you can see the famous invitation written on a wooden postcard by a Roman lady called Claudia to a female friend: ‘For the celebration of my birthday, I give you a warm invitation to make sure you come to us’.
A brisk hike southwest takes you to the 20 major lakes that make up the Lake District. Though they can scarcely be described as undiscovered, many retain a beautiful isolation, such as the pellucid Ennerdale Water in the northwest. The Victorian aesthete John Ruskin, who said he fell in love with the lakes at the age of five, picked the southerly Coniston Water as his home. With views across the lake to the 2,600ft Old Man Of Coniston, his carefully preserved house Brantwood, offers visitors a variety of walks, including the Ruskin-designed Zig- Zaggy, which, despite the jolly name, was inspired by Dante’s description of Purgatory.
From here, we can head southeast on the narrow, lonely roads that penetrate
the barren Forest Of Bowland, so hilly that it was known as ‘the Switzerland Of England’. Further east, we are back in North Yorkshire. Elbowed on either side by the peaks of Pen-yghent (an ancient name possibly meaning
Head Of The Winds) and Rye Loaf Hill, we’ll reach Gordale Scar near Malham. Painted between 1811- 15, James Ward’s celebrated vision of this feature has been described as grandiose and exaggerated, but I think it’s pretty much spot-on.
Well you wouldn’t expect a Yorkshireman to say, ‘It’s a bit smaller than that, actually.’
Five tasty restaurants in the north
Butcher’s Arms, 38 Towngate, Hepworth, Holmfirth, Huddersfield HD9 1TE: 01484-682361 Robust, tasty dishes utilising locally sourced ingredients.
Heathcote’s Brasserie, 23 Winckley Square, Preston, Lancashire PR1 3JJ: 01772-252732 Paul Heathcote’s brasserie draws on two decades of success.
L’Enclume, Cavendish Street, Cartmel, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria LA11 6PZ: 015395-36362 Inventive, high-precision cooking has won L’Enclume a Michelin star.
McCoys at the Cleveland Tontine, Staddlebridge, Northallerton, North Yorkshire DL6 3JB: 01609-882671 The Parisian bistro of your dreams in the unlikely setting of an 18thcentury inn on a dual carriageway.
White Swan, Pickering, North Yorkshire YO18 7AA: 01751-472288 Deeply satisfying dishes served in the most comfortable dining room in the north of England.
Five great views of the north
From Sutton Bank (2009) by Norman Ackroyd
This view over the Vale Of York forms a dramatic subject for Ackroyd’s etching.
Gordale Scar (1811-15) by James Ward
Inspired by a Wordsworth poem, this 14ft masterpiece is one of the most dramatic of all British landscapes.
Leeds Bridge (1880) by Atkinson Grimshaw
Loved by the public but scorned by the art establishment, Grimshaw’s portrayal of his native city finds beauty in industry.
The Road Across The Wolds (1997) by David Hockney
Hockney’s first Yorkshire work was inspired by his daily route from Bridlington to Wetherby when visiting a dying friend.
Tynemouth Sands (1882) by Winslow Homer
One of the finest painters of the northeast was Winslow Homer, who spent 1881-82 in the fishing port of Cullercoats.
Five romantic northern hotels by Sophie Butler
Holbeck Ghyll Arts and Crafts-style hotel with views over the lake, a Michelin-starred restaurant and health spa. Doubles from £216 B&B. Windermere, Cumbria LA23 1LU: 01539-432375, www.holbeckghyll.com
Hotel du Vin 42 chic bedrooms in the converted Tyne Tees shipping headquarters with quayside views and bistro. Doubles from £120 B&B. Newcastle-upon-Tyne NE1 2BE: 0191-229 2200, www.hotelduvin.com
Middlethorpe Hall Set in elegant grounds, with a top-notch restaurant. Four-poster rooms (numbers 1 and 9 have the best garden views). Doubles from £199 B&B. York YO23 2GB: 01904-641241, www.middlethorpe.com
The Inn At Whitewell Superbly located, with cosy bedrooms, some with open fires, antique furniture and Victorian-style baths. Doubles from £120 B&B. Lancashire BB7 3AT: 01200-448222, www.innatwhitewell.com
The Rose And Crown 12 individually decorated bedrooms, with an intimate, candlelit brasserie. Doubles from £150 B&B. Romaldkirk, County Durham DL12 9EB: 01833- 650213, www.rose-and-crown.co.uk
Daily tip from the lady archive
“HEAVEN forbid that we should go back to the days when beauty was under suspicion and plain girls were assumed to have angelic natures.”The Lady. With Prejudice. 28th April 1938