This post shares a different kind of adventure from some of my travels in SE Asia. As you might have read in a couple of previous blog posts, I think the UK’s a wonderful place to take a holiday or a break, just as much as some more ‘exotic’ places.
This adventure was spending a couple of days with my Mum in the Yorkshire Dales. Why there, you ask?
Because my Mum likes cheese.
Ok, let’s be honest, I like it too, even if I’m only allowed to eat it every now and then, but she likes Wensleydale in particular. So when I suggested we take a day or two to ourselves somewhere on my most recent visit to the UK (given that on my last visit she spent most of it ferrying me round to storage companies and estate agents), the Yorkshire Dales, and more specifically, the area around the cheese-producing Wensleydale, was where she chose.
As you’ll know from previous posts, I’m close to my family, my mum and my sister especially, with my Mum visiting Thailand last year and even writing a guest post on this blog about her experiences. My family all have a good sense of humour, which is one of my most highly desired qualities in the people I spend time with – my sister and I can spend ages laughing hysterically at something other people people would just be bemused by.
And we definitely have a family trait of making adventures out of whatever particular activity we’re up to…
Views and a bicycling obsession
On our travels to and from the Dales, we saw lots of traditional (and modern) caravans on their way to the Appleby Horse Fair. My own education about what on earth that was was sadly lacking, having never heard of it before. I now know it’s an historic horse trading fair and clan gathering for the travellers of the UK (attracting about 70,000), which dates back to 1685. The weird thing was that one of my friends mentioned it in an unrelated context just days after I came back. Funny world.
One of the things we quickly noticed once we actually hit the Yorkshire Dales was the current fascination with the Tour de France. In July the first stage of the tour will be held in that area, and in fact, Mum and I ended up driving a fair chunk of the route while we were visiting. And the area isn’t missing out on making the most of the opportunity – there is merchandise EVERYWHERE. From mugs to t-shirts, tiny knitted jerseys to tea pots, postcards to signs made of sweets, memorabilia (can it be memorabilia if it’s sold before it’s happened?!) was to be found everywhere we went. Each shop or place had put their own spin on it (haha!).
That wasn’t the only thing to look at though. I really enjoyed being back in deepest English countryside, with fields, valleys and views of green and brown. And lots of sheep and cows. I find nature soothing, and being outside without it being as humid as it is in Thailand was lovely. It wasn’t hot exactly, but warm enough not to wear a coat, and to spend a good amount of time outside, with carefully timed visits to tea rooms for the few rain showers that happened on the trip.
I was barely allowed to put my case in the room at the guest house before mum had whisked me off into the countryside for a walk. I wasn’t exactly keen, but, already planning out a scone or two, thought it was probably a good idea. Our walk took us up and down gentle hills and to Aysgarth Falls, a beautiful place where I found the rushing water soothing and relaxing. We saw some beautiful views of the ‘Wensley Dale’ and it definitely plunged me into an English landscape quite unlike anything I ever see in Thailand.
On the walk back, we decided to go by the footpaths and not the road, which was brave considering we had no real idea where we were going. But we were thrilled (and surprised) by the footpath finally taking us back through a gate exactly opposite the hotel – which we celebrated by a drink outside (wine for mum, a lime and soda for me!).
The highlights of Leyburn
We spent some time in the pretty market/tourist local town of Leyburn, where we did manage to have scones as well as mooching around the town itself, which was most definitely set up to cater to the hoards of tourists who come through both for the countryside itself, and for the Tour de France in July. We chatted with strangers and made friends with a 93 year old man in a tea shop who was enjoying a ‘Fat Rascal Scone’. Yes, we enjoyed one too…
We were inspired to follow some signs to the ‘Leyburn Shawl’ (actually a piece of land where Mary Queen of Scots was rumoured to have dropped her shawl many centuries ago when she fled), and ended up on a flat part of a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside, surrounded by sheep who ignored our enthusiasm at the amazing views all around us.
Also in Leyburn we were seduced into the ‘trip advisor fourth most popular tourist attraction’ (in Leyburn); the Chocolate Factory, and the Teapottery (ranking unknown). These weren’t quite what we were expecting, at least, we were in and out in a relatively short time. But we were impressed with the huge variety of products each created (all relating to chocolate or teapots as appropriate), and also by their commerciality in spotting an opportunity to bring people into their factories in order to cut out the middleman and sell direct to the customer, while positioning themselves as desirable places to visit. I was especially taken by the chocolate shoes.
We did buy chocolate as presents, but only for those who wouldn’t enjoy cheese. Neither of us was convinced that anyone would welcome a Tour de France teapot. Forgive us, beloved friends and family, if we were wrong. Here are some photos of unusual teapots as a mea culpa.
A touch of glamour (ahem)
One thing we found amusing were the endless signs telling us what moderately famous person had in some way graced a particular pub/restaurant/cafe (the naming of the Leyburn shawl is a good example of this). Our own guest house/pub proudly announced that it had hosted James Herriot’s honeymoon for example (and had a copy of the letter that Herriot had sent his parents mentioning the fact in a glass case), and Aygrath falls told us that several famous painters had been inspired there. We kept looking out for a sign that a 19th century Z-list celebrity had used the boot scraper of an establishment, with a little bit of the mud that had come off proudly displayed alongside the sign. And just because we didn’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
(Our pub/guest house, The Wheatsheaf was excellent – comfortable beds, welcoming people, amazing views and good food – so we do recommend it if you head that way!)
But of course the big highlight of the trip was our visit to Wensleydale cheese producing factory. Mum was brimming with excitement when we arrived, the first visitors of the day, presenting ourselves before they even officially opened but being let through by a kind (and possibly slightly perplexed) sales assistant.
We got to see the cheese making process, and learnt a little about the history of the cheese – dating back hundreds of years to the 13th century, and made first by Cistercian monks, and then by farmers’ wives with recipes handed down in families for centuries. For the last 100 years the Wensleydale Creamery we visited has been making the cheese, having gone through several difficult periods, and being bought out in a management buy-out in 1992 when the Creamery was in danger of closing. After that it’s gone from strength to strength, especially with the inclusion of the cheese in the Wallace and Gromit films, which (apparently) increased sales by 23% after it was released!
Of course we got to taste several kinds of the cheese in the dairy, and had lunch in the restaurant there with cheese in all three courses (we shared a rarebit to start, I had a Wensleydale and potato pie as a main, and we shared a cheesecake for pudding – which we actually had for supper in the evening as we were so stuffed!). Needless to say, I felt a bit poorly in the afternoon, reacting to all that cheese, but it was worth it!
Reflections on fields and sky
Overall we had a lovely little break, and it reminded me how much I love the countryside, and being surrounded by nature, earth and open sky. And now I remind you in turn – make sure you have some kind of ‘nature’ in your life…
(Thanks to mum for being part of yet another blog post, and for sharing some of her photos)