Moors of­fer a step back in time

Ge­off Power vis­its the North York­shire land­scape that in­spired the Bronte sis­ters and Bram Stoker, and vis­its the me­dieval town of York, a haven for any­one with a sweet tooth

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Travel -

The mist that ex­haled slowly from the re­mote Up­per Heights fanned across the gully that sep­a­rated Stan­bury and Howarth Moors.

We leaned into the wind as the path twisted up­hill to­wards a dis­tant black­ened ruin. We had to pinch our­selves; it was early Jan­uary and, in­cred­i­bly, we were alone on this fa­mous stretch of land.

For it was here that the Brontë sis­ters carved tragic in­ci­dent and char­ac­ter out of a bar­ren and beau­ti­ful land­scape – un­changed for thou­sands of years. In the 1840s, Char­lotte, Emily and Anne hitched up their dresses and strolled across this des­o­late moor­land and, in the process, gath­ered ideas for their much-loved nov­els and po­etry.

Our hearts skipped a beat at the sight of that dis­tant ruin, its lo­ca­tion ac­cen­tu­ated by a pair of trees sit­u­ated be­hind the roof­less farm­house, thought to be the in­spi­ra­tion for Emily Bronte’s gothic mas­ter­piece, Wuther­ing Heights.

We spent hours walk­ing around the old farm, Top Withens, and the Brontë Wa­ter­fall fur­ther down the trail, and dur­ing that time we only en­coun­tered three other walk­ers.

If we were for­tu­nate on the moors, we were less for­tu­nate at the Par­son­age, in nearby Ha­worth, where the sis­ters had lived with their fa­ther, Pa­trick, and brother, Bran­well. The Brontë Par­son­age Mu­seum closes for the month of Jan­uary which meant there were fewer vis­i­tors in town (and on the moors), the main street of which is a steep, pretty, cob­ble­stoned throw­back to an­other era.

York­shire, the largest county in Eng­land, is not short of lit­er­ary land­marks: in Thirsk, there is the home/mu­seum of James Her­riot, writer of the semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal All Crea­tures Great and Small; in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Drac­ula, the vam­pire’s ship washes up on the windswept North Sea coast

of Whitby; and Cas­tle Howard was the ma­jes­tic set­ting for the cel­e­brated tele­vi­sion adap­ta­tion of Eve­lyn Waugh’s Brideshead Re­vis­ited.

Luck­ily, the house and grounds of Cas­tle Howard are open to the public, and fans of the ac­claimed TV se­ries can im­merse them­selves in the cul­tured home and sur­round­ings of ‘Charles’ and ‘Se­bas­tian’, or sim­ply en­joy the grandeur and tran­quil­lity of the 18th cen­tury demesne.

The cas­tle is just a half hour’s drive from York city, a walled me­dieval won­der full of in­trigue it­self. Wan­der­ing through York’s web of nar­row streets and al­ley­ways may be a lit­tle dis­ori­en­tat­ing – avoid fur­ther con­fu­sion by re­mem­ber­ing ‘gate’ means street and ‘bar’ means gate.

His­tor­i­cally, and vis­ually, its most prom­i­nent land­mark is York Min­ster, the largest me­dieval cathe­dral in north­ern Europe and one of the world’s most im­pres­sive gothic build­ings. The seat of the Arch­bishop of York, it is sec­ond in im­por­tance only to Can­ter­bury.

In more re­cent cen­turies, York has also be­come known as a rail­way hub and as a cel­e­brated con­fec­tionary cen­tre – stroll along The Sham­bles, where build­ings ei­ther side lean in on each other, and count the num­ber of home­grown choco­latiers.

Its rail­way mu­seum is a mar­vel­lous at­trac­tion. And no, you don’t need to be a trainspot­ter; revel in the steam and diesel en­gines on dis­play and the var­i­ous rail­way para­pher­na­lia. Or step aboard the Mal­lard, the world’s fastest steam lo­co­mo­tive, and pe­ruse the lav­ish car­riages used by Queen Vic­to­ria. There is even a steam engine out back you can board, or stand on the plat­form and en­joy the evoca­tive ‘chuff chuff’ sound it makes as it sets off.

One of the plea­sures of hol­i­day­ing in Eng­land is the qual­ity of its pub ac­com­mo­da­tion and food; it could be ar­gued that own­ers of our own tra­di­tional Ir­ish pubs could learn from their English coun­ter­parts in the ways of main­tain­ing an old hostelry and keep­ing it rel­e­vant in to­day’s mar­ket­place.

Each of the pubs we stayed in was 18th cen­tury, but the ac­com­mo­da­tion was com­fort­able and the food at all times was var­ied and in­no­va­tive. An­other fea­ture about the inns in North York­shire is that most of them are ‘dog friendly’. In York we were for­tu­nate enough to stay in one of the city’s ‘haunted’ pubs. (Be­ing the Christ­mas/New Year sea­son, though, the res­i­dent ghost was away on hol­i­days!) While, for some, the English moors may have darker as­so­ci­a­tions (Ian Brady and Myra Hind­ley buried four of their vic­tims in Sad­dle­worth Moor, near Manch­ester); for most peo­ple, they are a won­der­ful amenity, pro­vid­ing am­ple hik­ing, cy­cling and horserid­ing.

The North York Moors Na­tional Park has a right-of-way net­work that stretches to al­most 2,300km. Pop­u­lar trails there in­clude the Cleve­land Way, a 177km route that in­cludes a sec­tion along the coast, and the shorter Lyke Wake Walk, which fol­lows a route through the heart of the moors. Al­ter­na­tively, you can just re­lax in a ru­ral cot­tage or inn, nes­tled in one of the many post­card-pretty towns.

North York­shire is an idyl­lic es­cape from the ur­ban whirl, with its op­u­lent coun­try es­tates, won­der­ful old vil­lages, and large ex­panses of un­spoilt coun­try­side. If you only have a few days, you might have to choose be­tween the North York Moors, in the north-east, or the York­shire Dales, in the north­west. How to get there:

Ryanair flies into Leeds Brad­ford Air­port. There is a good public trans­port net­work in North York­shire: for fur­ther ad­vice, see www.york­shire­travel.net. Other­wise, the North York Moors or York­shire Dales are within easy reach via an air­port car rental. What to do and see:

York – York Min­ster cathe­dral, yes, but do make sure to see the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum on the other side of the river (en­try is free; do­na­tions grate­fully re­ceived). Find time also to walk along the fine public foot­paths of the River Ouse, which runs north­south through the city.

North York Moors – it’s a hiker’s par­adise. Each sea­son brings its own splen­dour and colour. Es­cape into an un­spoilt land­scape.

Ha­worth (Brontë coun­try), is a vil­lage lo­cated in West York­shire. From there, you are within easy reach of the York­shire Dales. Where to stay:

York – The Golden Fleece, one of the city’s old­est pubs, is be­side one of York’s most iconic streets, The Sham­bles. (For details, see: www.the­gold­en­fleecey­ork.co.uk) North York Moors, Lock­ton – a quaint vil­lage (an apt but muchused de­scrip­tion of any vil­lage in North York­shire) is lo­cated just south of the North York Moors Na­tional Park. We stayed in aB& B, Ar­gyll Cot­tage, run by Chris and Tim (for details: www.lock­tonbe­dand­break­fast.co.uk; or email: chris­tine.edge­combe@gmail.com) North York Moors, Os­moth­er­ley – an­other lovely vil­lage, this one nes­tled in the Ham­ble­ton Hills on the west­ern fringe of the North Moors Na­tional Park. Stay at the very wel­com­ing and com­fort­able Golden Lion Inn. (For book­ing details: www.gold­en­lionos­moth­er­ley.co.uk). Where to eat:

In York Skosh is a must. The name ‘Skosh’ comes from a Ja­panese word ‘suskoshi’ mean­ing ‘a small amount’ (or so our wait­ress said). You will be served tapa-sized of­fer­ings that are exquisitely cooked and pre­sented. The res­tau­rant opened last sum­mer but has quickly be­come one of the ‘in’ places in a less touristy part of town. (For book­ings, email info@skoshy­ork.co.uk; or see www.skoshy­ork.co.uk) Man­nion & Co is an­other pop­u­lar spot, a good place for lunch, with com­fort­able seat­ing, friendly ser­vice and lo­cally-sourced food. It’s at 1 Blake St, al­though you may see the queue out­side first be­fore you see the sign (Ph: +44 1904 631030; or www.man­nio­nandco.co.uk) On

the North York Moors the Fox & Rab­bit Inn is lo­cated six kilo­me­tres from Pick­er­ing, one of the gate­way towns to the North York Moors. It serves good food.

The Golden Lion, Os­moth­er­ley has good ser­vice, qual­ity food and it’s open to all walk­ers and their dogs (www.gold­en­lionos­moth­er­ley.co.uk). In West York­shire The Black Bull, Ha­worth (119 Main Street; ph: +44 1535 642249) is the hostelry where Bran­well Brontë is thought to have spent most of his spare time (while his sis­ters were busy writ­ing). It’s a stone’s throw from the Brontë Par­son­age Mu­seum.

Dawn mist over the North York Moors Na­tional Park in au­tumn, when the heather is in full bloom near the vil­lage of Goath­land.

High Street in Ha­worth show­ing the cob­bled street and shops that were lo­cal for the Bronte fam­ily of lit­er­ary fame.

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