My Yorkshire: Alan Titchmarsh

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Alan Titchmarsh is the author of over 40 gardening books, three best-selling autobiographies and a number of novels. He has presented the annual coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show for over a quarter of a century, has a weekly Radio 2 show and a seasonal daily chat show on ITV

What's your first Yorkshire memory?

That would be being down in my grandfather's allotment in Ilkley (he grew just about everything, and I'm supposing that my love of gardening comes from him), on the banks of the River Wharfe, or maybe somewhere on the same river with my mum, trying to catch tiddlers in the water. Mum had worked at Lister's Mill in Addingham from the age of 14 until she'd married dad, and then she devoted herself to her family. Being a full-time mum back then was no easy task, because in homes like ours everything had to be done by hand. People then didn't complain, and nowt went to waste.

What's your favourite part of the county – and why?

Wharfedale, and in particular the river itself. I love walking along there and taking it all in. It is a place of contrasts for me, because you have the vastness of the moors behind and the woods alongside, and then you have the water itself, which is never the same for two second running. Blink and you'll see something different, shapes, eddies, colours – and the elusive fish. But there's constancy to it – the river keeps on flowing, it was there centuries ago and it will be there in centuries to come.

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

It would be a day in and around Ilkley, no question about that. A walk around the town, up to the moors behind, and then back down for tea at the local branch of Betty's, and after that a browse at the Grove Bookstore, to see what they've got in that is new. For me, a good tea and a browse and I'm on cloud nine. Then I'd make sure that we'd booked tickets for the Ilkley Playhouse, where they always put on a good show, and after that, off to the Devonshire Arms in Bolton Abbey.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

The Cow and Calf Rocks, which I used to climb to as a child, and where I still go when I want peace and tranquillity.

I love sitting on top of the Cow herself, and surveying all around me – on a good day, you can just see for miles, and lose track of all time. You get a sense of perspective, not only on the country around you, but for life itself.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch?

I am the most unsporting man ever, but if I'm pressed to answer this one, I'll go for Harvey Smith and Freddie Trueman, because I'd just wind them up and let them go, and sit listening to their stories forever. Great raconteurs both. Mind you, with my own reputation for nattering on, and with those two, I wonder if any of us could get a word in edgewise?

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, or past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

Sorry to be predictable, but I've chosen the incomparable Dame Judi Dench – but I have a reason. I've always admired the lady, but I was really honoured a couple of years back to be asked by BBC Radio 4 to be the host on their With Great Pleasure programme, where they ask you to choose your favourite bits of poetry and prose. When they asked "And who would you like to read it for you?" and I heard myself saying "Dame Judi, and Geoffrey Palmer", never expecting that they'd say yes. But they did, and we met up in front of the audience, and we had a terrific time. Mind you, I was thinking "Pinch yourself, Titchmarsh, pinch yourself, this just a dream".

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

That section of The Strid, at Bolton Abbey, where the river really starts to race for a while. Its sinister, and romantic, slightly menacing and yet beautiful.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

Where do I start? It's always been home to me, and I get up at least three or four times a year, just to re-charge my batteries, and every time I return I'm struck by the dry wit of the people ("Yer'alreet, Alan?"), the resilience, the patience, the resourcefulness. Then there's the ruggedness of the terrain, which you can contrast with some of the 'chocolate box' postcard villages. We have a magnificent stretch of coast that runs from cliffs to shingle, and some cities that we can be proud of. Where else do you find all of that?

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what?

No, sorry – although I am always delighted if Yorkshire do well in the cricket season. I am one of the ones, it has to be said, who lamented the fact that they changed the rules so that any old Tom Dick or Harry could play for the county, instead of only true-born Yorkshiremen. I'm not a Luddite, but I am a great believer in tradition.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

I'm going to go for The Bistro at the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Abbey, because they source all the local food where they can, where the staff are always friendly, and the atmosphere is second to none. Didn't the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire have a hand in designing the interiors? It's welcoming, comfy and unpretentious.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

It used to be Circles in Ilkley for their pork pies when I was a lad, and now no trip back is complete without a visit to Lishmore's for their pies and sausages. My mouth waters when I think of them!

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you've known it?

As I said, I enjoy it so much more when I return. The people haven't changed at all, but some of my childhood memories have gone – the railway at Ilkley, with its steam trains and that huge iron bridge. They disappeared when I was in my teens, in the sixties. Spotting steam trains used to be such a sensible hobby – getting the numbers of electrics and diesels…what's the point? I regret the passing of so many small shops and business, and the take-over by the corporate stores and chains, but that has happened everywhere, it's not a Yorkshire phenomenon.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

Mr Alan Bennett, whom I am proud to say I know pretty well. He's charming, courteous, hugely talented, and just a very, very nice man. And he's never lost his sense of belonging or identity. Fame has not altered him one iota, and he is fiercely loyal to his roots. A one-off original.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Good grief! It runs through me like the lettering through a stick of Scarborough rock. I'm sorry to do that old clich, but you can take a Yorkshireman out of Yorkshire, but you can never get the Yorkshire out of the Yorkshireman. I do – honestly – try not to be a "professional Yorkshireman" (and I hope that I'm not) but I am intensely proud of being one, and count myself lucky to have been born in Ilkley. I remember going off to college all those years ago, and a fellow student said to me "Why on earth are you always banging on about Yorkshire and the place where you were born? I 'm from Essex, and I don't go on like you do!", and I replied without thinking "Well, why would you?" That just about sums it up!

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

Alan B again, and any of his Talking Heads series, his book Writing Home, and in particular his play The Madness of King George, which I was privileged to see on its first night, and which is a masterpiece.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

I'd drive them up to Upper Wharfedale, I'd drop them off and tell them to follow their noses and to walk and walk and walk... I honestly think that they be enchanted, and hooked, and that they'd return time and time again. If they were lucky enough to be there in autumn, well, the colours are spectacular.

Alan Tichmarsh's latest book When I Was A Nipper is published by BBC Books at 20.00.

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