I recently saw an article in a national British newspaper which proclaimed that Yorkshire has just been voted Britain’s best holiday destination and that it also calls itself God’s Own Country. Now for the last 6 years, I have lived in India and spent a lot of time in the southern state of Kerala, which also claims the nomenclature ‘God’s Own Country’. Can Yorkshire really live up to the title claimed by the far more exotic Kerala?
Let’s face it, Kerala, gives us Malabar fish curry flavoured with ginger and chillies, coriander and turmeric, served on a banana leaf. Yorkshire gives us fish and chips flavoured with vinegar, served out of a polystyrene carton. Kerala gives us elephant festivals in which over 100 caparisoned elephants take part and spectacular snake boat racing every August. Yorkshire gives us greyhound racing and summer fetes selling home-made jam. Kerala gives us Kathakali dance performances which last all night. Yorkshire gives us Morris dancing which mercifully only last 30 minutes. Kerala has been voted one of the top 10 destinations in the world, Yorkshire, the No 1 destination, in the UK. Keralans are renowned for their warm smiles, heartfelt hospitality and genuine interest in visitors to their state. Yorkshire folk are renowned for their no nonsense, straight-talking, gruff attitude and are more likely to give at most a curt nod and a ‘na’then’ before moving off, chuntering and shaking their heads at the tourist invasion.
I have recently returned to live in Yorkshire after having spent six years living in India and have had various people visit me since my return. An American friend who lives for the great outdoors, ‘posh’ friends from London who need their fine dining and shops to rival the Capital, friends from Austria who, being stuck in a little valley for most of the year, are starved for culture and friends with restless kids who need tiring out. Yet, no matter who has visited or what their requirements, in every instance we quickly realised there was more, actually far more, on offer than time available.
For a few enjoyable (and possibly expensive) days out on the retail therapy trail there is great variety from shopping malls such as Meadowhall in Sheffield and the White Rose, to Leeds City Centre which offers slightly more character and style with its revamped Victorian arcades and Harvey Nichols, and the rather more charming North Yorkshire town of Harrogate, to the historic market towns of Thirsk, Pickering and Ripon to name but a few. York combines shopping with history with its Minster, medieval City walls and the Jorvik Centre and for me, not being a great shopper, what I love is that it seems, to me at least, that no matter which town or city you happen to be visiting, the countryside, and I mean proper countryside, is never more than ten minutes’ drive away.
For the great outdoors, well where do you start? Not much can compare to the Yorkshire Dales with their rolling hills interspersedwith flowing streams and dry stone walls and traditional pubs with warming fireplaces, where walkers enter with red, wind-blasted faces, eyes sparkling, ready for a refreshing drink and warm up by the open fire place.
Kerala may have its golden beaches along the Malabar Coast, yet the ‘great outdoors guy’ was thrilled with the opportunities offered by the heritage east coast of Yorkshire, comprising rugged cliffs dotted with small, picturesque fishing villages which runs the length of the North York Moors National Park, as far as the old smuggling village of Saltburn. That was however, until he discovered the Yorkshire 3 peaks challenge of Pen-y-ghent, Great Whernside and Ingleborough. Off he charged and completed it in less than the statutory 12 hours. I took my camera and made the most of the stunning photo opportunities, enjoyed tea and home-made cakes in a local café, and picked him up at the end. I looked the better of the two of us and like I had actually enjoyed my day and, though he did claim the same, looking at him panting, staggering and limping along, you wouldn’t have thought so.
Then there is the more bleak and rugged, yet stark beauty of the Yorkshire Moors. As children , we were lucky enough to have friends with houses in Goathland and Whitby. Mainly using Goathland (before its Heartbeat fame) as our base, we would tear out of the house and head up to the tarn with the dogs and spend the morning skimming stones, newting and making up wild adventures before coppering up and heading down to the traditional old sweet shop. There we had to choose between the jars jammed with Yorkshire Mixture, Space Dust, cherry lips and flying saucers, not forgetting cola bottles, sherbet lemons and midget gems.
Then, if we could drag our parents out of the Mallyan Spout Hotel bar for long enough we would head into Whitby for a spot of crabbing followed by a bag of chips for lunch. The older brothers would drag us up the 199 steps to the Abbey, telling us tales of Dracula and vampires and then scare us silly, jumping out from behind its ruined walls. We would make up stories and plays with pirates and adventures on the high seas, taking inspiration from the Captain Cook museum. It was a fabulous way to spend a childhood and I have been delighted to discover on revisiting recently that, actually, very little has changed. Of course, the freedom that the kids experience is slightly more controlled than in our day, but the crabbing, newting, running riot over the moors and tales of Dracula, as well as the impressive Whitby Abbey, all still remain. Though nowadays there is the added fame of the Goathland train station being the Hogsmead Station featured in the first Harry Potter movie and it is the kids who now drag us out of the Mallyan Spout bar!
The variety of scenery, walks and activities available in Yorkshire, including the new Hepworth Art Gallery in Wakefield, museums such as the Royal Armouries in Leeds, the Air Museum at Elvington and various stately homes could keep you entertained for months, without having to venture to the same place twice. Having driven past it more times than I can count, I also recently visited the Yorkshire Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield and was amazed at how fascinating it was (honestly!) though translators may be required for those not from the county of the White Rose.
I was also surprised to discover that although India has 28 UNESCO World Heritage sites, Kerala has none, yet Yorkshire has two; Saltaire and Fountains Abbey at Ripon. These, in addition to some of the other Abbeys destroyed by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries including Rievaulx, Jervaux, Kirkstall and Whitby Abbeys and Bolton Priory, offer fabulous opportunities for photographers, whether amateur or professional.
One place I have yet to visit, which I understand is spectacular, is Wensleydale. For the past twenty years, no matter which country I have been in, I have introduced friends and colleagues, sometimes with force, to the Yorkshire delicacy of Christmas cake served with Wensleydale cheese. This is as natural a combination to Yorkshire folk as curry and rice is to Keralans. Most have balked, some have sworn, but all eventually relented at my insistence that never did a finer combination meet the palate. Might I say that many have then, albeit grudgingly, agreed and a few have even delighted at such a combination and I now receive requests to send cakes with cheese far across the globe at Christmas time. Which, brings us nicely onto the matter of cuisine.
Now, I am spoilt, having enjoyed home-cooked cuisine during my 6 years in India and, being an Indophile at heart, nothing can compare with that. Though if your penchant is for a curry rather than fish and chips, then I do believe that is it a fact that now there are more people employed in curry houses in the UK than in its shipping industry. Yet, southern friends take note, gastro pubs abound ‘up north’ and even in Yorkshire, we have fine award winning restaurants and are gaining quite discerning tastes, though just to annoy the chefs, we may still refer to the expertly cooked boeuf bourguignon as a “ cracking bit of beef stew”. However, one can still encounter the north/south divide. My southern friends recently asked the landlord of my local pub if smoked salmon was available (it wasn’t on the menu), for their 2 year old daughter. The look on his face was the picture of incredulity and I had to kick him rather hard in his shin to prevent him from a scathing response. He semi-politely replied, whilst hopping and glaring at me, that it was pie night, not fish night and would smoked haddock do? Interestingly there is as much of a north/south divide in India as there is in England with the Keralan’s eating everything with rice and the northerners with chapattis, though that does lose a little in translation.
Ahh, yes, life back in Yorkshire it certainly has fun, variety and charm……….For me, as the winter approaches, there is nothing better than saddling up, on a chilled yet crystal-clear autumn morning¸ and cantering out across the dew-soaked fields. Then, warming up frozen fingers and toes in front of an open fire whilst enjoying a lunch of Yorkshire boiled ham sandwiches and home-made chutneys whilst catching up on the village gossip with life-long friends. Of course, all of the above sounds very romantic and idealised and yes, I have to say, if I had to be dragged back from India to any county in England then I am delighted that I hail from Yorkshire. But can it live up to the name given to its more exotic counterpart? Well, yes, for different reasons granted, but I have to say it can….. Though, as we head out of one of the wettest summers on record and into what will undoubtedly be a chilly winter, after four months of the rain and sleet smarting against my face as I walk the dogs across the fields, ask me again. Kerala will always win in terms of weather and I may well be tempted to book a flight out to Cochin to avoid the February storms. But, there again, for a professional traveller, Yorkshire has one more major attraction that simply can’t be overlooked, Leeds/Bradford Airport.