My Yorkshire: Mike Harding

Mike Harding was born at Crumpsall, Manchester, in 1943 and played in skiffle and rock bands during the 1960s before going out on the folk club circuit while studying to be a teacher.

After turning full-time entertainer, he moved to the Yorkshire Dales, where he has spent most of his adult life.

Mike now presents Radio 2's weekly folk music programme from his home near Settle, and is a vice-president of the Yorkshire Dales Society as well as author of numerous books.

What's your first memory of being outdoors in Yorkshire?

When we were 14, me and my mate Dave cycled all the way from Manchester to Ribblesdale in one day and stayed at Stainforth Youth Hostel. Next day we climbed Penyghent then came down and dived 15 feet into a black pool at Stainforth Force. I still shudder when I think of that. Our diet was terrible, something called Sunny Spread, which was basically sugar, water and thickener, plus skinless sausages with Mother's Pride bread. But it was when I fell in love with the Dales. Twenty-odd years later, when I was looking for a house there and thinking about bashing two railway cottages into one at Selside, the memories suddenly came flooding back.

What's your favourite part of Yorkshire and why?

It has to be Ribblesdale. I put down roots here in 1971 and know it very well now, yet I'm learning new things every day. It's got wonderful limestone walking, the Settle-Carlisle railway with the great viaduct up at Ribblehead, and Settle's a brilliant market town.

What's your idea of a perfect weekend or day out in Yorkshire?

There's two. On a lovely sunny day it's just getting up, making some sandwiches, putting my boots on and going up Langcliffe Scar in shorts and a T-shirt. That is sheer heaven to me, particularly when there's no-one else around. Another day would be fishing alone – the Ribble's right on my doorstep. I'll be down

below Langcliffe Locks at a few of the pools there, catching some brown trout for my tea.

Do you have a favourite walk or view?

I think climbing Penyghent from Stainforth, up Long Lane. It's such a classic walk. Ingleborough – my other favourite of the Three Peaks – I usually like to do from Clapham, it's a super route. And the view from there over Morecambe Bay and all round the

Dales is just fantastic.

Which Yorkshire sportsman or woman would you like to take for lunch?

Oliver Edwards. He's probably the greatest fly fisherman that Yorkshire's produced. He's an incredible fly tie-er, a real craftsman and a very intelligent man. I've got all of his videos and I'm going on one of his fly-tying courses.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star would you like to take for lunch?

Alan Bennett. I think he's very witty but also he wouldn't dominate the conversation. Just great company. I've known him quite a few years. He's a walker too and a bit of an explorer. Like me he's fascinated by things like Celtic crosses.

If you had to name your Yorkshire hidden gem, what would it be?

The little church at Hubberholme, the one with the Mouseman Thompson pews and JB Priestley's ashes buried in the churchyard. It's gorgeous. I'd also say the Royal Spice curry house in Settle, where they take the brown trout I've just caught and tandoori it in the Bangladeshi style.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

I think it's to do with being far enough away from London not to take much notice of it, as Lancashire is too. We tend to look down on London and rightly so. Also, the Yorkshire landscape – the hills and moors – have bred people that have always been independent. The Viking roots are important too.

What about Yorkshire's cultural life?

I'm a massive fan of the theatre company Northern Broadsides. Everything they do epitomises Yorkshire, in a no-frills and no-nonsense way. To see them doing A Midsummer Night's Dream at Skipton Cattle Market was fantastic.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub?

Obviously the Royal Spice in Settle. There are three other great eating places there – The Little House, Ravenous and Thirteen. Pubs are the Helwith Bridge – great! – as well as the Falcon at Arncliffe, the Buck at Malham and the Crown at Horton. Also, we've had some great music nights at the Hill Inn, Chapel-le-Dale. I must also mention Annie's Caf at Clapham, without doubt one of the best in the Dales.

How do you think Yorkshire has changed in the time you've known it?

Thankfully, the Dales landscape has changed very little, but don't get me started on places like Leeds. It's got the same problem as Manchester, just another out-of-control development eyesore. Leeds has completely lost its character because of the property boom there. I'm disgusted. It's also sad to see the depths to which Bradford has sunk. It's a fantastic city, Bradford, one of my happiest stamping grounds when I was in the folk clubs, and it pains me to see a great Victorian city become a complete mess. Councils don't see cities as places for people any more, they see them as places for developers.

Who is the Yorkshire man/woman you most admire?

It's got to be Alan Bennett, as a writer. He's terrific. He's intellectual but he's never lost the ability to depict life, with his finger very much on the pulse of Yorkshire. Politically, too, he's very astute. His analysis of things like the Iraq War should be compulsory reading for every politician.

How has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Without the Dales I wouldn't have been a walker and so wouldn't have travelled in and written about the Himalayas, for example. And without the Yorkshire folk clubs I'd never have done stand-up comedy. It was Yorkshire that very much gave me a living in the early days, working all the folk clubs from Barnsley, Wath-on-Dearne, right through to Hull then north to places like Pickering. I think Yorkshire is more in tune with folk than other parts of the country.

Name your favourite Yorkshire book/ author/ artist/ CD/ performer.

Book, Leo Walmsley's Foreigners, about a little boy growing up in Robin Hood's Bay, starting with not wanting to go to school because a bully's going to bash him. It's a wonderful book about childhood.

Author, Tony Harrison's a great poet. Also Philip Larkin. Okay, I know he's not from Yorkshire but from the Midlands, but he wrote all his stuff in Hull and and I think there's a Hull stamp on his poetry, not to mention a good dose of north-eastern drizzle.

Artist, David Hockney. Across the whole range of things he's a very impressive artist and also a stunning photographer. I mustn't forget the guy whose work I collect, Piers Browne from Wensleydale. Amazing etcher and printer – wonderful stuff!

CD, anything by the Watersons. They're still on the go, and great national heroes in my opinion. Performer, the late Jake Thackray. The trouble with England is it doesn't pay attention to people like Jake and the Watersons. We mop up American rubbish like brain-dead sponges, watching old episodes of Friends, but there's more comedy and more humanity in one Jake Thackray song than the entire series of Friends lumped together. I also listen to Chris Rea. He's from Teesside, but it used to be in Yorkshire.