My Yorkshire: Paralympian Hannah Cockroft

Yorkshire Paralympian Hannah Cockroft. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire.
Yorkshire Paralympian Hannah Cockroft. Anthony Devlin/PA Wire.
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Paralympian Hannah Cockroft, 23, from Halifax, is the world champion wheelchair racer holding the records for the 100 metres, 200m and 800 metres. She will be competing in this year’s Paralympics in Rio.

What is your first Yorkshire memory? We used to live right next to some huge hills and when it snowed my brother, Joshua, would put me on a sledge and drag me up the country roads. As soon as he’d get to the top of the hills, he’d throw me down. One year I hit the wall at the bottom and that scared me a lot. I always remember having lots of space, having fun and feeling safe.

Whitby is one of Hannah Cockroft's favourite spots in Yorkshire.

Whitby is one of Hannah Cockroft's favourite spots in Yorkshire.

What is your favourite part of the county and why? Whitby. I love it. Whitby’s beautiful, visually amazing and full of history. I love the pie and mash shop, the Humble Pie, where the food is the best you’ll ever eat. I like having fish and chips, too, and ice cream. There’s so much to see. You sit on the pier and see the abbey and the whale bones. You can explore and enjoy the shops and I just love how diverse Whitby is. It would be nice if it were a bit more wheelchair friendly, but the new side of Whitby is easy to get around.

Do you have a favourite view in Yorkshire? We live in the hills above Halifax and if you drive along Roils Head Road, you can look across the valley and see for miles. You are looking towards Hebden Bridge. It takes my breath away, particularly on a sunny day when the heather’s out. I’m lucky to live up here and when it’s Bonfire Night, you can see them for miles around, so we never have to buy any fireworks! The view is brilliant.

What is your idea of a perfect day out or weekend out in Yorkshire? Probably going to Whitby. The best weekend would be when the Goths are there. It’s fantastic and the costumes are great. Whitby becomes a Gothic haven. I also love the bookshops and the little trinket shops, and when you look at the number of people going up to the abbey from the bottom, it’s an amazing view.

Which Yorkshire sportsman or woman, past or present, would you like to take out for lunch? I think Nicola Adams, the boxer. She’s so friendly and so much fun. We’d talk about her success in sport and how she got there. Nicola has built herself up from nowhere and she’s a real Yorkshire lass, so we’d have a lot in common.

Hannah Cockroft admires fellow medal winner Nicola Adams.

Hannah Cockroft admires fellow medal winner Nicola Adams.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take out to dinner? Dame Judi Dench. She’s one of the biggest names ever. I love all her movies and I think she would be good fun. She’d be honest, down to earth. Dame Judi is very special and would have some incredible stories to tell.

If you had to name your hidden Yorkshire gem, what would it be? The Yorkshire Wildlife Park. It’s fantastic. They’ve got polar bears, giraffes and wallabies. You could be anywhere in the world, but you’re in Doncaster. I love it and it was a wonderful experience feeding the giraffes. They slobber all over you. You get so near to the animals and when I saw a leopard, it was sat next to the glass and it was great being so close to it.The staff are passionate, it’s wheelchair friendly and the animals look genuinely happy.

What do you think it is that gives Yorkshire its unique identity? I travel a lot, but Yorkshire is so different to anywhere in the world. The people are so friendly, they look you in the eye and are helpful. People here inter-react. I lived in Coventry for two years, everyone, it seemed, was walking around looking at the floor, looking miserable. People here are supportive and the space and the views we have in Yorkshire are outstanding.

Do you follow sport in the county and, if so, what? The family like rugby league and support Halifax and enjoy watching Leeds Rhinos. I like athletics, but I loved the Tour de France when it came through here and also the Tour de Yorkshire. It was incredible and I felt a bit jealous because I’d love so many people to watch me train every day.

Do you have a favourite restaurant or pub? My favourite is the Wentbridge House Hotel near Pontefract. The food is amazing, they use Yorkshire produce, it’s in a beautiful location and the views are superb. In the winter, they have open fires, so you can sit by a warm fire and have a drink.

Who is the Yorkshire person you admire the most? Aside from my parents and I don’t think it would be a sportsperson, I would say Sir Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire. In the past few years, he has been sensational in the way he has turned around tourism in Yorkshire. I know him quite well and he’s made people fall in love with Yorkshire. Sir Gary gives everything to the job and what a brilliant job he did in bringing the Tour de France to Yorkshire.

How do you think Yorkshire has changed for the better or the worse since you have known it? Wheelchair access has got a lot better, so it makes things easier for me to get around. But where I live in the hills above Halifax, I don’t think it has changed much. Having said that, things got a lot worse because of the winter floods. They were devastating and heartbreaking.I love the Picture House in Hebden Bridge and it was completely gutted. I’ve never seen anything like that. Every time I come home, I’m happy because it has not changed. The views are beautiful and we are not building on the green land.

If a stranger came to Yorkshire and had time to visit one place only, where would it be? I’d take them for a drive between Mount Tabor, where I live, and Haworth. You won’t see another car on the country lane, and when you get to Haworth, you walk up the High Street and it would sell Yorkshire to them because of the history, and around you, you have all those beautiful views and valleys.