The North of England: Where the British Go on Holiday

The North of England: Where The British Go on Holiday

By Max Hartshorne, GoNOMAD Editor

England’s North Awaits Us

The author with son Sam at the summit of Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales - photos by Max Hartshorne
The author with son Sam at the summit of Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales – photos by Max Hartshorne

I’m off. Not ready, nervous about what I’m forgetting, but I’m off. I head to Boston to pick up my traveling companion, Samuel Abbott Hartshorne, who will join me this week for a trip to the North of England. As much as I have traveled, I was embarrassed to say that I’ve never been to England. Well, here we go!

Our trip will take us first to the UK’s third largest city, Manchester. Then we’ll motor a few hours north near the Yorkshire Dales to Bowness-on-Windemere. We will be taking a cooking lesson, and doing a lot of walking here. As many of you I’m sure have thought, yes, it IS raining in Manchester now, and about 45 degrees. But we have our hoods and plenty of layers, so we should be ok.

Later this week we will go out in canoes, take mountain bike rides, and drive to the lovely Yorkshire Village of Malham. Later we’ll see Skipton (I love these names!) and the attractions at the Salford Quays. Then we’ll wrap up with a tour of Old Trafford, home of the most famous team in the world, Manchester United.

Follow us and we’ll introduce you to plenty of fascinating folks and show you where we went. It’s time again to fly, and now, I can’t wait!

Bowness: A Cute Little Tourist Town

Rain streaked the windows of our Airbus A330, rain pattered down, a sign of the weather on the ground in Manchester England where we landed this morning. We spent a fair amount of time in the non-EU citizens line where a man with a ponytail was being quizzed by immigration officials as we all waited and waited. He was sat down on a bench like a naughty schoolboy, we were glad we got through with just a lot of questions about where we were staying in the North of England.

Yes, everyone who told us it was cold and wet here was right. Our driver told us it had been raining and even snowed a bit over the weekend. “What advice would you give us, Americans who’ve never driven here before?”

Lake Windemere, England's largest lake, at Bowness.
Lake Windemere, England’s largest lake, at Bowness.

“Well, I wouldn’t be too keen on it, [driving in the US]” he said. “But on the roundabouts, just keep to the left.”

We motored up the M6 Motorway, battling jetlag and some confusion over the route. But with some help we found our destination — Laurel Cottage in the town of Bowness-on-Windemere, the England’s largest lake.

The winding roads looked out over well tended stone-fenced fields, dotted with sheep. It was green and lovely, and the rain stopped, but it was still chilly. I thanked my stars that I was smart enough to pack these silk longjohns, which always successfully keep the cold at bay.

Bowness’ streets were packed with families on holiday, men with dogs, and many children licking ice cream cones or sitting in cozy pubs sipping tea.

We walked down by the lake, where swans approached elderly citizens who threw them crusts of white bread, and white pigeons sat calmly on a fence just inches away from the people.

Big lake cruise boats took people out on the windy, wavy lake, and at another dock little covered motorboats were available to rent. We hope to get out on one of these little boats before we leave this village.

Rolling Hills, Distant Snowy Mountains

This part of England is stunning, with rolling hills, distant snowy mountains, and cute villages. The roads are narrow and more than once we stopped and watched in awe as a giant coach or a construction truck squeezed by a car with inches to spare.

Bundled up against the rain and cold at Lake Coniston, England's North Country.
Bundled up against the rain and cold at Lake Coniston, England’s North Country.

Johan told us that the stone fences are made of the remainders of the slate that was used to make roofing tiles…the waste became the miles of mortarless walls that line the roads and separate the fields. If you have to avoid a truck, at least these walls will break open.

Sam and I were like two Michelin Men, bundled up against the cold, but we still managed to tip over and get our shoes soaked.

We had a mountain bike ride left before we were done today.

So What If It’s Raining?

Today we did the press trip Triathlon, starting out with a hike up a small mountain, then boarding canoes and paddling across Coniston Lake, and finally riding mountain bikes through the woods and up a steep hill.

We did all of this as intermittent showers drenched us, and after tipping a canoe near shore we had very wet feet and pants mid-way through. At one point we had hail pounding down on our waterproof pants and jackets, and it made me love these Britishers who don’t ever let weather stop their fun.

Though tiring, it was a good way to get a taste of the typical Lakes Region holiday, and I got a chance to ask Johan, our guide, about life here in the very middle of Great Britain. He said that some of his guests from the US wouldn’t do any of these activities in the rain, preferring to sit by a fire for an entire day.

“They said it was raining. I said so what?” he explained. He also said that Americans seem to drink a whole lot more water than they really need to. This was after we craved water and got hot chocolate instead.

Johan Hoving in front of Coniston's former copper mill, atop a hill we climbed on mountain bikes. He said some US guests are weather wimps. Not us!
Johan Hoving in front of Coniston’s former copper mill, atop a hill we climbed on mountain bikes. He said some US guests are weather wimps. Not us!

As we climbed up the mountain path, crashing through the brown fallen weeds, he said that in this part of England, tourism and farming are the only really substantial businesses.

Once there was a copper mine above the village of Coniston. Utility officials here have installed a hydro-electric system to generate power using the water from the stream that runs green from passing through the copper.

Johan said municipal councils in Britain lost billions last month when the three banks in Iceland went bust. Many had invested reserve funds into these banks, that paid high interest. Today, even charities lost millions of pounds and the two governments are threatening each other with lawsuits over the issue.

The flow of tourism dollars into Britain’s North country hasn’t slowed down, since people still want to take a holiday and it’s cheaper to come here than to fly to Spain or France.

Johan and his wife Emma sold their van a few months ago and now use regular cars and trailers, and lease vans when they have to. Their business, riverdeepmountainhigh, is thriving and he proudly said he owns 50% of his house. The bank owns the other half.

The Baker and the Student at Lucy Cooks

Chef Nick Martin shows Sam how it’s done during our class at Lucy Cooks, a school where every day students can learn how to cook, bake and generally find their way around a kitchen. Martin’s cooked with the best, I asked him about some of the famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay. Is he as over the top mean as he appears on TV?

Chef Nick Martin shows Sam how it's done during our class at Lucy Cooks.
Chef Nick Martin shows Sam how it’s done during our class at Lucy Cooks.

“Worse! he said, “he has these blue eyes, and they just penetrate you, and everyone looks away, and he just keeps on staring.”

He gave us some tips, like including the basil stems when you make pesto, since they have the same taste as the leaves and there’s no reason to throw them out.

He also said that using fresh yeast, that comes in a package almost like butter, but is much softer, is way better than using the stuff that comes in granules.

Today we made pesto bread, olive bread, beer and cheese bread and foccaccia….and it really isn’t that hard, we found out, but the results are delicious. This is one time where I think I really will apply what we learned…watch out Cindy, my olive bread will take the place of Bakery Normand!

But Martin warned about bread… once you start it, you can’t stop. That makes me think twice before I begin baking for the GoNOMAD Cafe back home.

An Evening of British Telly

Last night we watched an evening of British telly. One program was called ‘Eggheads’ and pitted a panel of gameshow winners against a weekly collection of challengers. Each week another 1000 pounds are added to the prize money….there was already 14,000 in the kitty, showing that challengers have had a hard time beating these panelists, true ‘eggheads’ that they are. As usual, the challengers lost, the Eggheads triumphed, for a fourteenth week in a row.

A screenshot from 'Eggheads' - photo courtesy of
A screenshot from ‘Eggheads’ – photo courtesy of

Then a reality show. “Embarrassing Teenage Bodies Week,” where medical experts travel to a rock concert and solicit teens to come forward to show them what parts of their bodies they are shy about. Ugly tummy fat, pussy tongue piercings, odd blotches, come on down!

Then the ITV news focused on the biggest story in England. Jonathan Ross earned 18 million pounds a year with his on-air partner Russell Brand on BBC 2 radio. Ross was suspended for 12 weeks without pay, and Brand resigned today, as a result of prank phone calls to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs, who was mocked in a September broadcast.

The BBC’s top official also resigned, after more than 27,000 people phoned in to complain about Radio 2’s tacky stunt. This story has dominated the airwaves, similar to what happened to Imus two years ago.

This story goes on and on, and the Britons we met today said that part of the anger comes from people living with difficult times, and the two become a lightning rod for their anger. He was the highest paid presenter at the BBC, now he’s been scorned and humiliated.

England Feels Like a Long Lost Cousin

I’m sitting in the dim light of the Lister Arms pub, in Malham, Yorkshire Dales, after a 6-mile hike over hills, dales, stone walls and muddy fields that left Sam and me exhausted but happy.

Our guide, Mark Reid, literally wrote the books about walking here, he specializes in pub-to-pub guides that take people to the very heart of this lovely section of Northern England.

With his pointer Elvis champing at the leash, we walked to an amazing geologic edifice called the Malham Cove, which looks like Niagara Falls might look if there was no longer any water flowing over it.

A huge rock face, hundreds of feet up, hundreds of feet wide, out in the open fields, and after we clambored to the top, we bopped around on ancient weather and glacier-worn stones that were round on top and looked like they once had water running over them. And they did!

A pint of Manchester's finest
A pint of Manchester’s finest

There was an army of photographers way up there near the edge, all setting up tripods to shoot either the incredible 40-mile view, or the falcons which nest on the cliffs.

We learned about the eighth century walls, distinctive from the ones that are straighter and built in the middle ages; these are falling down rock piles, and almost zig zag. All over these fields, so many people have tred, so many different histories before us amidst the green grass and the grazing sheep.

I first wanted to come here two years ago when I saw photos that our friends Robbie and Cathie showed us from a trip to Bingley, about 15 miles from where we are tonight. This place is just as wonderful and gorgeous as their photos, and after all of my traveling, visiting England feels like seeing a long-lost cousin. So familiar, so friendly, and such a welcoming place!

Visiting the Pubs of Manchester

We tried hard to see a musician I’ve enjoyed who is from Manchester, but we did not succeed. We saw a poster for Mr. Scruff, who plays underground house style music. We followed the advice on his website and made our way to his cafe, called “The Cup,” a few blocks over from the hotel. They were closed, but a man there told us how to get to the club, called The Music Box, and said the show started at 10 pm.

We had some Chinese food and then stopped by a few pubs. At each stop we sampled Manchester’s fine cask conditioned ales, smooth and creamy with a nice head of very small bubbles and deep flavor.

One secret we learned from Mark Reid is that these are all relatively low alcohol brews. Timothy Taylors, a favorite, has just 4.1 percent, some have about 3.8. That’s a far cry from the 6+ proofs of most beers for sale in the US.

This also explains why so many Brits get into trouble when they go on holiday in Spain… They are used to being able to slog down five or six of these low-alc brews and then are hit by the 6 percenters and get way, way too drunk.

Many of the streets we walked down were empty, as if we were in the wrong part of town. Others were full of revelers, many gaggles of women out on the town celebrating ‘hen’ or female stag parties.

We passed a group of men who were with women with striking blond hair and even more striking short white skirts.

After we visited a pub full of celebrating karaokers, warbling into mikes, we found a less crowded pub, which like the other featured bright overhead lights. Ugh, hate that.

But we hoped that we could find this Music Box, and walked miles and miles in vain. No, it wasn’t going to happen. I’ll just have to settle for my fav Mr. Scruff on CD or on Pandora.

Manchester Mulls a Congestion Tax

We’re up at 6:45 am this morning, after a night of hearing about how enthusiastic these Brits are to see Obama win the prize. In the Independent, a headline dramatically intoned “Is this troubled nation ready for change?”

Troubled? Huh? I thought I’d reserve this moniker for Congo or Mozambique. Indeed, there is not a pundit here who isn’t weighing in on how important our election is to everyone here in Britain.

Today will be a long day, composed of mostly waiting and some flying too. We’re waiting for coffee and continental here in the Mal Maison, a chic British chain that features dark lobbies and an overall coolness reminiscent of Virgin’s marketing.

One idea that’s coming up for vote here is a congestion tax. This is what they’ve done in London, charging motorists for entering the city center during rush hour. Posters on the tramway say that “9 out of 10 people won’t pay the tax” because they’ll travel off-peak or because for other reason they’ll be exempt. I asked one bloke at the Crown and Anchor pub what he thought about it. “I don’t have a car, so I don’t really care,” he said.

I am sure there is an opposition of car commuters who’ll fight this upcoming vote, but this group hasn’t been able to put up posters every ten feet on the subway, so we never heard from them.


The following two tabs change content below.
If you like the articles we publish, maybe you can be one of our writers too! Make travel plans, then write a story for us! Click here to read our writer's guidelines.