James Brown

Creator of Loaded magazine and former GQ editor, James Brown has previously been seen hunting sea captains on Long Island and watching whales in isolated Iceland.

Twitter: @jamesjamesbrown
Website: sabotagetimes.com

Published

October 30, 2015

In an age when paper maps are disappearing fast and exploring is mainly done on keyboards, all great holidays now start with a Google search of places to stay and end with a Right Move search for places to go back and buy.

Most of the latter are just escapist dreams, a modern day postcard to your-self. That rustic farmhouse on the Riviera? Forget about it, it will cost millions. But occasionally, you go to places where you think the price and access to the location really are ‘doable’.  The Yorkshire Dales and Moors for instance. Right now, I’m online looking at stone cottages in the same Wensleydale fields and lanes I was driving through 48 hours ago. If you’ve only ever heard of Wensleydale because of the cheese now’s the time to put down your crackers, put on your outdoors gear and go and see it for yourself.

I live in London, where you can crunch your way across smashed car window glass of a morning and there are a hundred different species of litter, so you can probably see the attraction the Yorkshire Dales holds. The small towns may not have twelve different late-night takeaways, or night clubs or shops but, you know, that’s not necessarily a problem.

As a kid my family would drive out of Leeds and up to places like Malham Tarn, Gordale Scar, Hawes and Buckden staying in tiny cottages and old stone pubs. I’ve memories of flooded fields, snowy banks, giant hills scattered with sheep, and wide, fast flowing, shallow rivers you can cross via wobbling stepping stones. Nothing much has changed in 40 years apart from the amount of men in Lycra on racing bikes.

Nothing much has changed in 40 years apart from the amount of men in Lycra on racing bikes.

For the last couple of years I’ve been spending my holidays driving  across the North of England, from the Lake District on the west, through the Dales and Yorkshire Moors, to the holiday town of Filey on the North Yorks coast on the East. It’s a drive that takes you out of the 21st Century and lets you know how long the landscape has remained magnificently un-touched. There are no tower-blocks or neon, just the monumental cliffs and hills  and valleys the ice-age left behind. The undulating A684 that takes you from Sedburgh to Hawes provides endless views of absolute natural beauty.

Hawes: A traditional market town since 1307 – Neil Turner

The Dales and Moors aren’t exactly a secret, but are perhaps over-looked by some because they’re on our doorstep. Just as the British flock to the Grand Canyon to see the great rifts or Lapland to see Santa, so the rest of the world flocks to see our lush green valleys. Anyone who needs tranquillity and inspiration should simply go and stand on the Simonstone side of Wensleydale and look across towards the little town of Hawes.

The Yorkshire Dales also have magnificent flag wavers, as well as natural assets. The Welcome To Yorkshire group pulled off a major coup in managing to host a leg of the Tour De France. The race itself climbed the hill that passes Simonstone Hall, where I have just spent the weekend. Its manicured lawns sit on a ledge of greenery, which isn’t so much breath-taking as it is life giving.  The hall, which is where Jeremy Clarkson lost his temper and subsequently his BBC job, is a great stop off if you want both a decent bed and decent food on your travels.

There are no tower-blocks or neon, just the monumental cliffs and hills  and valleys the ice-age left behind.

Throughout Wensleydale, it doesn’t matter whether you stay at a modest B&B or an impressive stone country house hotel because both are surrounded by what the locals call God’s Own Country. Whether you’re driving, walking or paragliding from the huge craggy mountain tops, it’s all just there in front of you; fields, woods, hills, rivers – a sea of greens divided by aged, moss-topped dry-stone walls. Tucked away amidst wooded walks there are also record setting waterfalls like Hardraw Force, Aysgarth Falls or Janet’s Foss, where more than one of Robin Hood’s many adventures have been filmed.

The villages and towns are full of tea shops, walker’s pubs, old fashioned sweet shops and fish and chips. Whether it’s a cheese sandwich and a cup of tea, a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding lunch or just a bag of Midget Gems, you won’t have to drive more than a few miles before you see a sign offering up one or the other. It’s simple, attractive advertising that works.  Just outside of Thirsk, I almost skidded to a halt when I saw a bold blackboard by the side of the road proudly declaring ‘Chips. £1.’

Hardraw Force falls and inquisitive locals near Buckden – Rob Glover and ARG

A THIRSK FOR ADVENTURE

It was reading James Herriot’s All Things Bright And Beautiful (the follow up to All Creatures Great and Small) that prompted me to make a swift return to the market town of Thirsk, which Herriot called Darrowby. As a kid, I’d watched the feature films and BBC series of his life as a Yorkshire country vet, but I didn’t know he’d carried on his trade under his real name, Alf Wight, during his enormous world-wide publishing and screen success. His writing captures the landscapes and the people perfectly and his books are as good as any travel guides available. Tellingly, the books became best sellers in America before they did here.

Thirsk is a brisk town with a combination of small shops and chain retailers. There’s a tiny traditional cinema and the acclaimed Herriot Museum. Central to it all is The White Horse Café fish and chips, that are worth taking a detour off the A1 for.  It’s the sort of food you wouldn’t feel bad about going back for seconds for.

I have friends who live outside Thirsk, near the powerfully steep-incline road at  Sutton Bank, and I’m happy to arrive there at any time of the year. Look south from the top of Sutton Bank, between the Flying Club and the White Horse and you see England as it once was. Fields and woods and tiny tracks as far as the eye can see. Stand there and tell me you can’t imagine traveling by horse and living in a forest.

Rievaulx Abbey – Archangel12

Beyond Sutton Bank we find Rievaulx Abbey, settled in meadows surrounded by cliffs and woods. The monks who had their own produce, water, meadows and foundry exported their goods across Yorkshire and out across Europe, and the descendants of those distant trading partners now roam the remains.

On our simple sunny Saturday morning we hear and see Japanese, Americans, Germans and Eastern Europeans walking respectfully around the monument in stone. Guarded by tall trees shedding yellowing leaves, Rievaulx is the perfect Autumnal place to end our journey; quiet, calm and hidden. Where the majority of the Dales are bold, this ancient abbey has a stoic stillness to it. A great place to rest between the heat of summer and the harshness of winter.

Featured image: Malham Tarn – David Merrett

LIKED THAT? TRY THESE…

The Photographer TravelsA talented young traveller takes to the winding Yorkshire roads to see what his lens can find.

Britain’s Best Fish and ChipsWhere does your favourite chippy plaice in our experts guide to the UK’s finest fish emporiums?

Reflections on AlgonquinJames Brown delights in getting off the grid in Canada