Driving the Yorkshire Dales and Bronte Country
Great Britain has many fantastic scenic drives within its shores, but few can rival the scenery of the Yorkshire Dales, and many visitors to the region combine a Tour of the rolling hills of the Dales with a visit to Howarth, home of the Bronte sisters. The nightlife of Leeds and history of York are also within easy reach of the Dales, meaning you can get to see much of the region in a long weekend.
Leeds and Bradford are the major Cities in the region. Bradford boasts the acclaimed National Media museum (formerly the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television) and a chance to sample a curry in one of its hundreds of Asian restaurants. Bradford’s big sister Leeds has a large variety of shops,restaurants and bars and is often voted the UK’s top City for nightlife.
If you want to by-pass the Cities though, the obvious point of entry for many overseas visitors- Leeds/Bradford airport is ideally situated. To the North of the City, its on the doorstep of the Dales. You can collect a rental car here (Hertz, Europcar, and Avis have branches at the airport) and within a couple of miles of quiet roads pick up the A65, the main route into the Dales, through the old spa town of Ilkley with its famous moors and ‘Cow and Calf’ rocks.
For visitors on a literary pilgrimage, turn off the A65 just after Ilkley and head over the moors to Howarth. This village of stone cottages is where the Bronte family lived at the parsonage (now the famous Bronte Parsonage Museum), and where they wrote most of their famous works such as Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. There are many locations associated with the sisters, such as Top Withens, often quoted as the inspiration for Wuthering Heights and Ponden Hall (Thrushcross Grange in the same book). There’s also the old apothecary , where Branwell is thought to have purchased the Laudanum to which he was addicted. Away from Howarth, visitors with their own vehicle can head to the Bronte Birthplace in Thornton on the outskirts of Bradford (where Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne were born while their father was parson at Thornton church).
From Howarth, follow the road to Keighley and signs for Skipton, a small town seen as the gateway to the Dales by many people. From here you can choose which direction to head in. The A65 road continues past Settle and on towards the Lake District.
My suggestion is to turn off the A65 at Settle and follow the B6479 to Horton in Ribblesdale. This small village, with a couple of traditional pubs and a campsite is popular with hikers tackling the famous Three Peaks walk. This is an endurance challenge of 26 miles distance, including 5,000-foot of ascent and descent of the mountains of Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough all to be completed in under 12 hours . The walk is often completed for charity and as Horton is the nearest village to Pen-y-ghent, many walkers choose to stay there at the end of the walk. The pubs are often therefore full of limping, bedraggled hikers- I suggest you reserve room before arriving if you plan to stay.
From Horton in Ribblesdale head North, stopping to marvel at a feat of engineering – The Ribblehead Viaduct. The viaduct is 440 yards (400 m) long, and 104 feet (32 m) above the valley floor at its highest point and carries trains on the Settle to Carlisle route. It was constructed between 1870 and 1874 by 1000 Navvies who lived in bleak shanty towns on the moors , the remains of which can be seen if you look carefully. There were smallpox epidemics and 1000 deaths from construction related incidents meaning that the church graveyard at Chapel-le-Dale had to be extended.
At Ribblehead take the B6255 (an old Roman Road) North across the moors towards Hawes.Hawes is another pleasant small Dales town with a famous creamery selling delicious local cheeses.You now have a choice depending on how long your trip is. You can take the A684 road East towards Leyburn, stopping the spectacular Aysgarth falls en-route. Alternatively, take the small un-named road North over the ‘tops’ towards Thwaite and Muker in Swaledale. Here you pick up the B6270 road which leads through the tiny, stone cottage hamlets of Gunnerside, Low Row, Feetham, Healaugh before arriving in Reeth, a pleasant village built around a green with three nice traditional pubs.
From Reeth head South to Leyburn where you join the A684 as mentioned above. Leyburn is the largest town in the area, but my preference is to head South to Middleham, another small town/village with a number of horse racing stables. Early on a morning, the town wakes to the sound of hooves on cobblestones as the jockeys take the horses out on the gallops. If you want to visit York, head down through Masham and Ripon and pick up the A1 South, which will cross the A59 into the medieval City. York is famous for its Minster and ‘shambles’ streets and the River Ouse which flows through the Centre.
If you’re intent on staying in the countryside, from Middleham, you can take a cross country route on winding roads through Coverdale. Head for the villages of Melmerby, Carlton, Gammersgill and Horsehouse and continue on until you reach Kettlewell. You’re now in Wharfedale, one of the most popular dales, with bed and breakfast options in villages such as Grassington and Burnsall. You’re also only around 45 minutes drive from Leeds/Bradford airport.
The above circuit could easily be done in a long weekend of 3 or 4 days. There are ample opportunities for walking in all the areas mentioned above. Larger villages such as Reeth and Grassington will have outdoor shops selling walking maps, and bed and breakfast establishments may be able to help, but I’d advise getting some maps or guide books first if you really want to do some walking.
Roads, even minor roads, are generally in good condition but may be very narrow and will be enclosed by dry-stone walls. This can make it very difficult to see vehicles approaching on bends and hills, of which there are many, You should therefore drive cautiously and be prepared to pull over to let other vehicles pass.
For a clip of driving in the Yorkshire Dales- see the DriverAbroad.com YouTube channel
Some useful websites