Richard Croasdale strolls through Yorkshire's ancient and unique landscapes
Saturday 08 May 2021
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As much as we love the beer, one of the most compelling arguments for visiting Yorkshire is to walk its ancient and unique landscapes, though to be honest the brewing tradition and the land that inspires it are quite inseparable. I personally can’t imagine walking in the Dales without a pint of cask ale at the end, any more than I can separate my favourite Yorkshire breweries from the land and culture that nurtured them. To understand and appreciate one is to love both.
Which is a slightly long-winded way of saying we’re kicking off our Yorkshire tour a day early, to ensure we get some Covid-kosher time in one of my favourite places on Earth. We’re joined for the adventure by Jo Theakston of Black Sheep - a rural Yorkshire brewery through-and-through - Chris Powell of Welcome to Yorkshire, and Clare Grimshaw of Yorkshire-founded outdoor brand Craghoppers. None of them took much persuasion to tag along.
We meet in the historic Market Square in Masham, and set off deeper into the Swinton Estate, which covers much of the countryside visible from here.
Our first stop is the dramatic Druid’s Temple - a ring of standing stones in the forest, complete with an ominously person-sized altar and a long table in a cave to the rear. The fact that it’s a Victorian folly, rather than an actual pagan religious site, doesn’t actually make it less impressive. It’s a powerfully windy day, and skirting the edge of the moorland you feel very exposed, but down here in the wooded divot of the folly, it drops to a whisper through the pine trunks.
A gentle climb takes us on a path through more woodland, into a clearing with a spectacular view out and down onto Leighton reservoir. Even on an overcast day, it’s a lovely sight west along the reservoir deeper into the Dales, and that’s the direction we head, following the course of a dry stone wall toward a rocky ridge jutting into the valley.
These are clearly well-trodden routes, but the Dales and the wider Yorkshire countryside are full of more adventurous paths to explore, full of interest and surprise.
Chris, himself a keen walker, has been instrumental in orchestrating Welcome to Yorkshire’s ‘Walkshire’ campaign, which has enjoyed runaway success, as more people across the UK have sought great experiences without traveling abroad. Much of the campaign has centred around communicating how much Yorkshire has to offer, not just to seasoned walkers, but to people interested in combining beautiful landscapes and rich history with craft food, drink and wider culture.
“Yorkshire’s by far the largest county in the UK, with a population about the same size as Scotland’s, and there’s just so much to do here. Walking has always been a central part of our culture, so we’ve been working to promote it as a great way to discover what’s on our doorsteps, and I mean people within the county, as well as coming from elsewhere in the UK.
“The great thing about walking is it’s accessible to everyone. This past year we’ve been publishing a walk a day through the website and social media. That’s not just walks like this in the Dales and North York Moors, but urban walks, industrial heritage walks and walks people can basically do from their doorstep.”
As we walk into stonier higher ground, the grass gives way to tufts of heather, and the full view beyond the rocky ridge reveals itself, with the undulating landscape spread out like a quilt before us. The noise of our approach sends several nearby grouse into a low-flying retreat, cackling their displeasure and disturbing yet more wildlife as they go. Signs by most gates entreat dog walkers to keep their four-legged friends on a short lead, which seems like a sensible idea.
Jo grew up here, it’s where his family is, and he clearly knows this part of the Dales like the back of his hand (including some hinted-at teenage hijinks back at the Druid’s Temple). He’s obviously proud to have played a part in bringing back Yorkshire-style ales - in particular Black Sheep’s Best Bitter – not just for the cask lovers who never went away, but for a new generation of modern craft adherents.
“When our beers came out in the early ‘90s, I think it was quite a shock to people, even locally. It was a bit like ‘my God, is this what cask beer’s meant to taste like? It’s never been soft, flowery, perfumey - it’s dry, bitter, freshly crisp. And I think it’s part of a wider trend over the past few years, seeing people rediscover and appreciate what’s right on their doorstep, those businesses that are in their local communities that it’s important to support and sustain.”
As if on cue, a couple with two beautiful fox red labradors comes around the corner out of the woods and onto our path. It’s Jo’s mum and dad, Susan and Paul Theakston, the founder of Black Sheep. The dogs bound over to greet Jo, and remain inexhaustibly excited for the whole 10 minutes we’re stood there.
Yorkshire may indeed be the UK’s largest county, but - even in the towns - you feel like you’re part of something small and special. The fact that we can be out on a desolate, windswept hill and just happen to bump into one of the most important figures in the birth of UK craft beer out on a hike seems perfectly normal. Normal for Yorkshire.
WALK THIS WAY
Here are some of our favourite Yorkshire walks and hikes, courtesy of Welcome to Yorkshire.
The River Wharfe is a waterway of dramatic contrasts and beauty, rising high up in the hills that separate Dentdale from Wharfedale as a busy little stream, burbling over a series of flat limestone ledges. It’s considered an area of peace and tranquility and a good spot to sit and connect with nature. Try the River Wharfe and Bolton Priory walk which takes in the inspiring Bolton Abbey ruins and Stridd Wood. Taking a walk along a river with its natural sounds of running water and wildlife is possibly the calmest soundtrack there is.
Bolton Abbey to Simon’s Seat
Enjoy a beautiful, varied walk from Bolton Abbey, up through the Valley of Desolation on to Simon’s Seat. Walk through heather moorland, woodland trails and past waterfalls and rushing becks, culminating in spectacular views from the walk’s summit. Expect a challenging 3-mile hike up to the summit, making the most of a well-signposted path that rises slowly before reaching a peak of 485m. Then the return walk follows the same trail back down to the Bolton Abbey Estate.
Five Weirs Walk - Sheffield City Centre to Meadowhall
Following national cycle route 6 this is a lovely walk through the city following the River Don to Meadowhall. It starts at Lady’s bridge so plenty of time to buy a coffee for the stroll and watch the world go by as you discover Sheffield’s Industrial heritage to the sound of the slow paced waterway. An easy, accessible walk for all ages. Don’t forget to stock up for the packed lunch on the return leg at Meadowhall.
For more great walking route suggestions visit www.yorkshire.com/walkshire/
THE RIGHT KIT FOR THE JOB
Clothing for the weekend’s various adventures was kindly provided by Craghoppers, founded in Yorkshire in 1965. As a keen walker, camper and general indoorsaphobe, I’ve always loved Craghoppers’ stuff; if anything, the quality has improved in recent years, with high-tech new fabrics, an excellent line in footwear and a more modern cut to its technical walking trousers.
We were pretty much head-to-toe for the weekend, but the highlight was definitely the outstanding Salado mid boot; lightweight and comfortable on the sole, with just the right amount of ankle support. As well as the Yorkshire Dales, I’ve tested this boot off-trail in the snowy Pentland Hills and it was excellent over a long distance and even terrain, shrugging off cold and muddy bog water with ease.
Its new range of bags is also a great surprise - we picked up a 16L Kiwi Classic Rolltop courier-style backpack, which has a kind of retro Scandi aesthetic while still being ruggedly built and practical. There’s quick access to the main body of the bag (often a bugbear with roll-top styles) and a well-padded pocket large enough for a MacBook.
I confess I packed a ‘proper shirt’ from home too, just in case I needed to go anywhere that outdoorwear might not be appropriate. Taking it out of my bag later, to go to Salt Beer Factory, I realise that this too is made by Craghoppers. I’m just missing the tattoo at this point.
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