Discovering Buckden and beyond

About Yorkshire and the Dales

When newly qualified Glasgow vet Alf White arrived in Thirsk in the 1930s, he admitted he had previously thought Yorkshire was “as stodgy as its pudding”. But he fell in love with the Dales and Moors and made them his home and workplace for the rest of his life. His many books, written under the pen name James Herriot, convey the magic he found here in Yorkshire.

...Stand-alone...

Yorkshire flag

Yorkshire is, of course, a region of England, but only just. If any part of the country were to declare independence, it would probably be Yorkshire. Yorkshire people are known for being independent-minded, for being self-reliant, hard working and thrifty, for speaking their mind and minding their own business, and for being proud.

And there is much to be proud of. At a time of accelerating change, Yorkshire has retained much of its character, tradition and sense of timelessness. Not to mention some of the finest scenery in the country. Yorkshire's landscapes range from the wild and austere to the soft and cosy, but always they are distinctive and beautiful; its stone buildings in many places relate directly to the underlying geology and harmonise with their natural surroundings; its rich culture and history was until recently underscored by the 1000-year-old division of the county into three Ridings; its 'rivalry' with neighbouring Lancashire is more than 500 years old, dating back to the Wars of the Roses; it still retains something of the ancient dialect that developed before the Norman conquest; and some say it even has its own national newspaper in the Yorkshire Post!

...Vikings...

The Yorkshire Ridings were set up when the Vikings ruled Yorkshire in the 10th century. From 1888 they were administered through their own separate county councils. The East Riding took in Hull, the Vale of Pickering, the Yorkshire Wolds and the Holderness coast. The North Riding stretched from the North York Moors, through Middlesbrough, across the Vale of York to the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales, and up into Teesdale. The West Riding was gigantic, beginning at Sheffield in the south and ending at Sedbergh in the north-west. On the way it took in the main industrial towns and cities as well as the broad landscapes of the southern and western parts of the Dales. It was a veritable empire and even included Saddleworth Moor on the western edge of the Pennines above Rochdale. The Yorkshire Ridings lasted 1000 years. In 1974 they were demolished to make way for the new counties of West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Humberside and Cleveland. Parts of Yorkshire were lost to neighbouring counties. History and identity were all swept away in the name of administrative convenience. Yorkshire pride was dented and in 1996, after a prolonged outcry, the East Riding was re-instigated and parts of Cleveland were given ‘honorary’ Yorkshire status.

...Yorkshire dialect...

Closely related to the old Riding divisions, Yorkshire dialect reflects centuries of history too. Far more than just a Yorkshire accent and with its own words and to some extent grammar, dialect largely took shape when Angles from northern Germany and then Vikings from Denmark and Norway settled in the area. Some words, including a counting system once used by shepherds, date back to Celtic times, perhaps around 500BC. Distinctive branches of dialect developed in the three Ridings, with the North and East Ridings taking in more Scandinavian words than the West Riding. Today proper dialect, as opposed to a modern Yorkshire accent or fake versions adopted in comedy sketches, is slipping gently out of use, despite the efforts of enthusiasts like the Yorkshire Dialect Society.

If you would like to find out more about Yorkshire dialect, download the information leaflet at the foot of this page. You can also open up a sample West Winds menu written in dialect. Did you know, for example, that Yorksher moggie is nothing to do with cats but means ginger parkin, and that Yorksher crud chissocks is Yorkshire curd tart?

...Woollen industry...

Historically Yorkshire is perhaps most significant for being the centre of the woollen industry that spearheaded the Industrial Revolution from the late 18th century. The prosperity of the big West Riding towns was built on the back of textiles and Leeds was perhaps the focal point of it all. In 1838 there were 106 woollen mills in the town (it was just a town then), employing 10,000 people. Other industries were developing rapidly too, including iron and steel, engineering and later clothing and armaments. For most of the 19th century, across Leeds and indeed much of the urban part of West Riding, chimneys belched smoke and soot from coal-fired machinery, truly the “dark satanic mills” referred to by William Blake in the famous hymn Jerusalem. Leeds became known as the 'city where everything is made' but today most of the heavy industry and manufacturing have gone, victims of a drawn-out and painful industrial decline. Leeds is now very different. Most of the old mills and many of the terraces of back-to-backs that housed their workers have disappeared, new tower blocks reach into the sky and jobs now are more likely to be in financial or internet services, or in call centres.

...Gloriously rural...

During the Industrial Revolution, the North Riding, the East Riding and even a large part of the West Riding stayed gloriously rural. Today they still do. The Yorkshire Dales in particular is a quiet, peaceful and beautiful expanse of countryside that straddles the mid-Pennines. The Dales is one of Britain’s 14 National Parks, where special efforts are made to protect the environment for future generations to enjoy. The National Park stretches from near Skipton in the south to the iconic Tan Hill Inn in the north, from Middleham in the east to Sedbergh in the west. Its key features are around 20 dales, each with its own special character. Between them stretch broad expanses of moorland, as remote as anywhere in England.

...Limestone scenery...

Swaledale ewe

Limestone is one of the reasons why the Dales area was made a National Park. Certainly limestone scenery is at its most spectacular here. Scars, rocky gorges, limestone pavements and upland pastures pock-marked with depressions known as shakeholes can be seen around Wharfedale, Malhamdale and Ingleborough. Limestone’s biggest secret, however, lies underground. Streams soak into the ground and waterfalls plunge down vertical shafts to join some of the most extensive cave systems in the country.

First and foremost though the Yorkshire Dales is farming country and if there was a spiritual home of sheep farming, it would surely be here in the Pennine uplands. The Swaledale breed – now dominant across northern England – originated here in the Dales. The valley bottoms are brought to life by flower-rich hay meadows each summer and everywhere endless dry-stone walls criss-cross the landscape, effortlessly climbing steep fells and plunging deep into gills. Most characteristic perhaps are the countless stone barns, scattered along the valley floors, used originally to store hay and over-winter cattle.

...Romantic...

Farming has produced tight knit communities with the village pub often the focal point. In winter the fires are burning, the beer is flowing and locals still play dominoes far into the night. In fact, the villages are perhaps the best loved feature of the Yorkshire Dales. Descending from a walk on the moors at the end of a damp autumn day, there are few sights more welcoming or romantic than a knot of stone rooftops opening out beneath you, a curl of smoke rising from each chimney and lights burning from kitchen and parlour windows.

The domestic architecture of the Dales is more or less unique to the area. Built in a no-nonsense style in local stone, many houses date back to the 17th century, as you can see for yourself from the datestones above the front doors. The limestone, sandstone and gritstone used in building closely reflect the locally available stone. In particular, the roofs are made from sandstone, split into thin ‘slates’. At one time many of the cottages, including in Buckden, would have been home to lead miners but the fellside mines are today empty, the seams of lead ore long worked out. Now the legacy of disused shafts, levels, spoil heaps and ruined smelt mills adds a touch of melancholy to the landscape.

Despite the passing of industries like lead mining and changes in agriculture, the Yorkshire Dales seems one of those places where the clock stopped a long time ago. The timelessness of Yorkshire is perhaps felt most keenly here, among the soaring fells and stone-built villages. To many people, that is the charm of the Dales.

Related downloads

Map of the Yorkshire Ridings
Speaking in Dialect: A Crash Course in Yorkshire Dialect
An Ancient Tongue: A Factsheet on Yorkshire Dialect

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