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The view from the Creamery in Hawes - photos by Charlotte Turner
The view from the Creamery in Hawes - photos by
Charlotte Turner

The Yorkshire Dales: Camping in Wallace and Gromit Country


By Charlotte Turner

Long before two little plasticine characters made their international debut in Nick Park's "Wallace and Gromit" movies, the English have typically regarded the Yorkshire Dales as one of Britain’s premier tourist attractions.

The English have a tendency to ignore their own back doorstep when it comes to travel and adventure, and it was a desire to rectify this that inspired me to buy a budget tent pack from my local camping store, cross my fingers for good British weather and bravely venture north of the M25 [London's orbital motorway].

A Strange Phenomenon

This may not sound like much, but for Londoners like myself, there is a strange phenomenon where the world seems to stop once you hit the London orbital. It’s true. As soon as we witness the signs directing us, rather ominously, to The North, we break out in a cold sweat and feel an overwhelming compulsion to find the nearest roundabout.

Northerners, however, can retaliate by feeling a somewhat smug sense of pride that their half of the country boasts a lot more countryside than the rather built-up South-East corner, and is traditionally seem as the more picturesque half of the British Isles.

The Best Way to Explore

Hawes, described as, ‘the heart of the Yorkshire Dales,’ offers everything the avid hiker could wish for. We arrived at a campsite just outside the village, late morning, on a slightly chilly August day, and it was this campsite that confirmed my belief in camping as the best way to explore the British Isles.

The village of Hawes
The village of Hawes

In one of the more touristy parts of England, I had expected to pay over the odds for camping, (and quite frankly, I resented the thought of paying much for three square metres of grass.) Bainbridge Ings campsite charged only £9.50 for two people, with a small tent and a car in peak season, and the campsite was one of the best that I had seen.

Pitches were marked out and allocated on arrival by the management, as opposed to other campsites that I had visited were the policy is to find a space and pitch your tent. This policy is all very well, but in high season, it is quite likely that you will go out for the day and find another person’s guy ropes almost tangled up with yours and your tents almost touching.

The campsite provided a small shop on site selling, among others things, locally-produced milk, (for the obligatory English cup of tea as soon as the tent is pitched,) and charged mobile phones for a nominal donation to charity.

Easy to Wander

The site was surrounded by the area’s traditional dry-stone wall and was right on the edge of the area’s best walking routes. The area is amazingly easy to wander in without the aid of a map if you have a vaguely passable sense of direction, but if you don’t, like me, or if you prefer to have a bit more structure in your life, the tourist information centre sells maps detailing a selection of routes from local starting points.

An example of the local dry-stone  walls
An example of the local dry-stone walls

These route descriptions also include regular landmarks such as roads, stiles, or buildings and an approximate distance alongside a detailed map of the local area with each route clearly marked in red.

Walling Demonstration

There are also numerous opportunities to see examples of local culture and history demonstrated. For the full range of events taking place across the Dales, pick up a free copy of The Visitor 2006 from a tourist information point, or if you are less bothered about seeing a specific event, do as we did and just keep your eyes open in the shop windows where advertisements are displayed as you wander around the village.

In this way, we got to hear about a dry-stone walling demonstration taking place by one of the park rangers -- the Dales is a National Park -- taking place at the Dales Countryside Museum in the centre of Hawes.

The ropemaking factory
The ropemaking factory

I have to admit that I mainly went along to this as an unwilling accomplice at first, but surprised myself enormously by actually finding it hugely interesting. It fitted in well with the relaxed, welcoming style of the Dales by being a free session, taking place over two hours, where you could wander in and out as you pleased.

The park ranger started off by explaining some of the problems facing the walls today and how he would go about repairing them. He then proceeded to demonstrate how the stones should be laid by ‘pinning’ the larger stones into a fixed position by using smaller, flatter stones.

Now, all this may not sound that exciting at first, as it hadn’t to me, but the fact that there are over 20,000 kilometres of dry-stone wall in West Yorkshire alone means that dry-stone walls are one of the defining characteristics of the Dales.

As I was taking the time to visit and enjoy the Dales, I felt it was not only important to appreciate how the area’s unique design came about, but to also understand how the walls played a fundamental role in the area’s way of life.

The view from Hawes
The view from Hawes

Another local craft from the area to which admittance was free was the rope-making factory, where it was possible to see the entire process from loading the individual threads into the machines to buying the finished product in the form of dog leads or horse bridles in the attached shop.

That Famous Cheese

An absolute must for any cheese -- or, indeed, "Wallace and Gromit" fan -- is a visit to the Wensleydale Creamery. [In the movies, Wallace is a big fan of Wensleydale cheese.] The Creamery offers a chance to watch the cheese actually being made, and to explore the history of cheesemaking in the museum.

If you are passionate about seeing the cheese actually made, it is advisable to check with them first as they do not make cheese every day and offer a discounted admission if this is the case.

Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit with a model of Gromit - photo courtesy of Wikkipedia
Nick Park, creator of "Wallace and
Gromit" with a model of Wallace -
photo courtesy of Wikkipedia

After all that hill-walking, a trip to the Creamery restaurant is definitely deserved, and the menu here is a dream come true for any cheese fan. The food ranged from snacks such as Wensleydale on toast and jacket potatoes with Wensleydale, to full on meals such as ‘The Ultimate, 5 Wensleydale Cheese Ploughmans Lunch’ that I had.

The cheeses were all advertised as being vegetarian, and there were even several options on the menu for the non-cheeseeaters out there, although I am not entirely sure such people would choose this restaurant for lunch. I am a vegetarian and I wouldn’t choose a carvery personally.

With all these attractions to visit as well as some of the most beautiful countryside in the British Isles, even the sporadic wet weather we faced whilst trying to barbeque our vegetarian sausages at dinner time failed to spoil the Yorkshire Dales.

Despite the slightly touristy feel of the village, this was a very cheap place to stay as a camper, with local shops providing a wonderful range of local produce to either sample at a local café or pub, or take back to the tent and cook over a campfire. And even with the big screen success of "Wallace and Gromit," the area didn’t seem to have changed at all since I last visited it fifteen year ago as a child, with the possible exception of now being able to buy a piece of cheese with their picture on it.   

Charlotte Turner

Charlotte (Turner) Baird is a part-time travel writer and primary school teacher from London. She has previously taught in China and travelled throughout Asia. 

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