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Best of Yorkshire – Highlights of God’s Own County

Yorkshire, or God’s Own County as locals like to call it, has long played the muse for writers, painters and film-location scouts, as well as being an industrial powerhouse that helped shape modern Britain. Dramatic topography, stunning heritage sites, urban regeneration areas and world-renowned walking trails are only some of the things that make this one of Britain’s most appealing destinations today.

Don’t be surprised though if it’s the clink of pint glasses in a country pub and broad-accented, straight-talking locals that make the biggest impressions.

The Great Outdoors

Yorkshire has some of the most evocative landscapes in England. It was out on the wiley, windy moors that Heathcliff and Cathy of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights roamed. It was the dales’ limestone scars that supposedly gave Tolkien (a professor at the University of Leeds in the 1920s) inspiration for the fortress of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings. And it was the waterfalls of Aysgarth and Thornton Force that brought Turner and his paints here in the 19th century.

There are three popular ways to immerse yourself in all this countryside: on foot, on two wheels, and from the comfort of a vintage steam train. Historic village coaching inns cater for hikers on the long-distance Pennine Way and Coast to Coast trails, and cyclists inspired by the region’s challenging ascents and annual Tour de Yorkshire, which launched after the Tour de Francestory Galore

York’s lineage as the Roman city of Eboracum and later Viking settlement of Jorvik makes it one of Europe’s most interesting cities for history-lovers and archaeology buffs, yet it’s York’s surviving medieval remains that usually ensnare visitors. Many don’t make it beyond the minster and city walls, which is a shame given that the surrounding area contains some of the UK’s most impressive attractions. The spa town of Harrogate, for example, still has its original Victorian Turkish Baths and they’re in perfect working order. Take the 30-minute train from York and book in for a steam and scrub amid the surreal mock-Moorish splendour.

Elsewhere, castles, country estates and abandoned abbey ruins lurk down every country lane. Castle Howard is one of England’s finest examples of baroque and Palladian design. It was the first domestic building in the country to have a domed roof – put there by Nicholas Hawksmoor, one of the architects who worked on St Paul’s Cathedral in London, after which it was modelled. The giant ruins of Fountains Abbey and whimsical Studley Royal gardens are equally astounding. On the coast, Whitby is famed for its haunting abbey and literary cachet as the landing point for Dracula –bemused officials at St Mary’s Churchencounter so many fans on a fruitless hunt for the vampire’s grave that they’ve had to put up a notice explaining that it doesn’t exist.

From Industrial to Chic

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Yorkshire was the hammering heart of England’s industrial revolution. Coal soot blackened the stone facades of its urban manufacturing districts as mills, forges and belching factories churned through metals, wool, corn, flour and malts. These days those same districts are in the throes of regeneration with independent businesses clamouring to rent space in now-fashionable industrial spaces. In West Yorkshire’s offbeat arty community of Hebden Bridge The town’s old red-brick mill has become a hive of vintage stores and small-scale designers. In Leeds’ Holbeck area there’s Northern Monk, a craft brewery and taproom wedged into a 19th-century flax mill. Visit Hull, from where whaling fleets once sailed, and you’ll find the marina area has been reborn as a restaurant and bar enclave since its year as UK Capital of Culture in 2017.