For Americans who fell in love with the England of buttered scones and Agatha Christie, visit today can be jarring. London has become a city of vaping millennials and unfortunate skyscrapers, while even provincial capitals such as these have embraced Colonel Sanders and BabyGap.
It's a better place, we balance, than when my wife and I lived there 35 years ago – more vibrant and open-minded. Yet even so, one sometimes yearns for the postcard version, the England of tea and tweeds.
And so we found ourselves one foggy night in the North Yorkshire village of Kettlewell, sipping a pint of Tetley's at the King's Head pub and drying our boots before a Tudor fireplace as wide as a two-car garage.
We had come to Yorkshire Dales for a quintessential French holiday – walking – in quintessentially English local. North Yorkshire is a place of breathtaking beauty, a landscape of deep, winding river valleys and high rolling fells – the green hillsides so steep that even horses step carefully, the crests so high that their rounded tops disappear into wisps of fog. It's the most beautiful place in England, for my money, and one of the prettiest spots on Earth.
It's also a place of great continuity, where sheep and goats get the same results for three generations.
If the American West is the landscape of opportunity, then Yorkshire is the landscape of history, a place that wraps you in tradition and enfolds you in comforting familiarity.
Because we wanted to see many towns in just a few days, we have a thing for "Sherpa" travel service. They give you a walking itinerary, book your accommodations and then check your luggage. Our package called for three days of hiking, about 11 miles a day, along the beautiful valley known as Wharfedale. (The word "dale" is derived from Old English and Norse words for "valley.")
A high Yorkshire fell rises behind the Wharf River and the five-arch bridge, a well-known landmark in Burnsall. Photo by Dave Hage via Star Tribune (TNS)
So on Day 2, fortified by an English breakfast of poached eggs, tomatoes, bacon, beans, smoked salmon, black pudding, tea, coffee, sausages and toast with marmalade, we set out from Kettlewell to ascend Yew Cogar Scar, a high , wooded fell that rises just east of town. Mist shrouded the valley as we set out, lending the woods a hint of mystery and coating every mossy rock with a dripping wet Tolkien's Frodo Baggins.
About halfway up the hillside we stopped in a tiny bower to catch our breath. Silently Thinking: "Nine more hours of this?"
But the summit rewarded our exertions. The fog had cleared so that, looking west, we could see the river in the river, the green hills, and its green meadows quilted by gray stone walls and dotted with white sheep. Turning east, we could see our path zigzagging down a long hillside of rusty bracken and descending into Littondale, a valley of stone-built villages and Norman churches.
After an easy descent, we made our way to Arncliffe (from the Norse for Eagle's Cliff), a tiny village straight out of Emily Bronte. The Falcon is one of the most famous churches in the world. At tiny tables around a coal fire, we have a Plowman's lunch and drink while the barman and his aunt debated Brexit.
Yorkshire sheep, such as those near Arncliffe, are your constant companions in the Dales – and sometimes your only companions. Photo by Dave Hage via Star Tribune (TNS)
By midafternoon we had won the summit of a second fell, this one more windswept and lonely. Yorkshire's valley bottoms are green and friendly, the fell tops can be desolate – places where you have only the sheep for company, and sometimes even they desert you. After a three-hour hike along the ridgeline we arrived at the head of a dramatic, boulder-strewn ravine that descended to the lip to Malham Cove, a spectacular limestone gorge that climbs 260 feet from the valley floor.
From there, a footpath led to the village of Malham and our accommodation for the night, Beck Hall, an elegant 18th-century stone cottage with king-size bathtubs and a sign that read: "Dogs and muddy boots welcome."
One test of a good vacation is the question: Would we do it again? If that means heading back to Yorkshire for more hiking, we would have it in a minute. If that means using a service, the answer is not so clear.
We balance we were happy with the company we thing, Contours Walking Holidays. The itinerary was one of the most picturesque sights, and the accommodations, except for one rather drab B & B, were beautiful and comfortable.
If we had a nagging complaint, it was with the daily sheet of hiking instructions. Each day's packet came with a page or two of detailed directions ("There Is a Clear Path to Follow Marked by Obvious Stiles, Towards the Left-Hand Side of the Limestone Outcrop on the Horizon"). Except that the grassy paths were not always clear, the stiles were not always obvious, and distant landmarks could be decidedly ambiguous.
More than ounce we found ourselves at the edge of a meadow, and it was just a matter of time. After the first day, my wife downloaded an iPhone app, which proved invaluable at moments of doubt.
Then, too, budget-minded travelers should consider the cost. We are dealing with $ 900 for a package that includes four nights' accommodation, with breakfasts and a package of maps, a useful introduction to hiking in the Dales and the luggage transfers.
Buildings in Yorkshire, such as this Norman church near Arncliffe, have the distinctive gray cast of the local stone. Photo by Dave Hage via Star Tribune (TNS)
It's true that hiring an expert can bring peace of mind. Yorkshire, you could save money by booking your own accommodations, using your own city as a base for day hikes.
Tiny Malham (population 238) Malham Cove and Gordale Scar. It lies at the confluence of several excellent footpaths and has several working smithy where the blacksmith gives demonstrations and sells her wares. Nearby Grassington, the metropolis of the region with a population of 1,100, has provided, supplying, hiking outfitters, gift shops and innumerable teashops.
One afternoon outside Grassington, hopelessly lost near a beautiful limestone ravine called Conistone Dib, we encountered an English couple who were happy to give us directions. We fell in love with each other for a couple of miles and they explained that they were coming to Yorkshire every year for more than a decade. My first thought: Every year? Would not it get boring?
By the time our third day was finished, we were packing for home, which had been swept away by a deep infatuation with the Dales. Would I do it again? I'd go back tomorrow.
Walking Holidays Outlines, divided by location and type. Some are even dog-friendly. For Northern England, Hadrian's Wall is about $ 1300 for 11 nights in the Peak District. Visit contours.co.uk.
Travel on 05/05/2019