” What will my ventures entail, as I begin on this unknown trail, even through the rain and clouds, nature’s beauty still shines proud. The vivid greens and ice-cold streams is what true beauty means.” (The Yorkshire Dales by Gemma Alexander)
My obsession with TV programs like All Creatures Great and Small, Escape to the Country, Heartbeat, and Antiques Road Show reached a crescendo during the pandemic when I plotted my escape to this green and pleasant land……. England. In previous years I had ” dropped in” on Yorkshire to catch up with a dear friend Julia – you’ll know her from the wonderful herbal medicine and wellness articles she has contributed to Viva70 over the years. My previous visits were short, but my interest in Yorkshire grew and I swore to return. And here I am for a whole week nesting in a little stone cottage in Skipton, in a row of terraces snuggling up against each other, five minutes walk to the centre of this market town. Church bells ring as I sit here in my little red kitchen writing this article. The evenings are longer now, and the birds in the little courtyard garden are busy practising their song.
Two doors away is a tiny shop with a bright blue door and a woman who smiles, even though she opens the shop at 6am when the newspapers arrive. The shop is like a small cupboard. It sells milk, papers, a few groceries and sweets that attract schoolkids from the neighbouring grammar school and who swarm through the little blue door at 4pm, when classes are done. It’s my “local” for a daily chat as I collect the paper and a reminder of a smaller village existence, where friendly banter about the weather creates a warm connection with a stranger.
This little cottage has been my base for the daily adventures Julia has elegantly orchestrated, to show me the Yorkshire Dales, a world she has lived in for the last 20 years. Without her meticulous planning and her generosity of time and spirit, I would never have seen the beauty of the moors and dales. I wouldn’t have eaten cheese scones and sipped coffee in a sweet little cottage nursery on the outskirts of Grassington where “All Creatures Great and Small” was shot. I wouldn’t have met Sir Rodney, president of the Manor House in Ilkley. I wouldn’t have been awe-struck by the vast open space and big moody skies of the Yorkshire Dales. I wouldn’t have taken 400 photographs. I wouldn’t have marvelled at the bedchamber of Mary Queen of Scots at Bolton Castle and the extraordinary clipped maze and gardens there. And neither would I have seen the opening day of the David Hockney exhibition of 220 images, spanning 90 metres of digital art showing seasons changing in Normandy.
It feels like the wonderful experiences of this week need to settle and find a comfortable chair in my mind, make a strong cup of Yorkshire tea and simply make sense of all the beautiful things I have seen this week, wrapped in the thoughtful and rich conversations Julia and I have had. There was so much to see and assimilate….but some memories have a quality beyond the visual. Some memories evoke all the senses and rise to the top of a cluttered mind. So what are those thoughts and experiences of Yorkshire that will forever remain memorable?
No TV program can prepare you for the beauty of the Yorkshire countryside, especially in spring. Australians are attuned to vast open spaces. I never thought I would have a similar experience here in the Yorkshire Dales. Six miles from a town of 15,000 people and you are in wild, open farmland, natural rock sculptures crafted by wind and rain and miles of zig zag drystone walls. Small streams rush by while ducks and wild birds splash in the cold mountain water….. the ice-bathing heroes of the natural world!
The air smells of the peaty, moist earth tones that open the lungs and bring energy and life to a weary soul. Earnest hikers, wrapped tight against the drizzle and clutching their walking sticks look at the winding road ahead, then at the clouds. to judge the intensity of the rain that waits for them on their walk. Farmers go about their work unsmiling at their narrow roads littered with tourists. This is their world. They suffer the hard winters, isolation and vagaries of a farming existence. We are the interlopers who come, snap photos, walk a little and we are gone.
Images are snap frozen in my mind. The vivid green of the grass stretches into the bare hillsides of the mountain peaks where no trees exist. The sound of sheep bleating in conversation on the hillside. Mile upon mile of stone walls that some human hands built. And towering, craggy rock formations where the wind whistles and whines..these are among my forever memories of Yorkshire.
The picture book Yorkshire villages, the grand mansions, converted woollen mills and grand public buildings all deserve their own space and many articles will follow. The art, gardens, churches and way of life glimpsed through a tourist lens, I will return to in my mind in the wintery months ahead, back in Melbourne. They are sure to to return as future stories.
Each day Julia, drew back the curtain on yet another wonderful experience of life in Yorkshire. Each day we explored for at least 5 or 6 hours, another part of this extraordinary place….each one unique and special. We talked, rarely in silence, for 5 – 6 hours each day! We drank fine coffee in an area of the UK known for a Yorkshire brew and ate delicious lunches. Conversations shared. Stories told and dreams imagined. Yorkshire has been another remarkable chapter in this traveller’s tale.
Words and most of the images by Nora Vitins. Photo of Julia and Nora by the lady in the nursery/ cafe in Grassington!