The unmistakable Y factor: 40 reasons Yorkshire is so special

Viaducts provide birds with high-rise nesting sites in spring. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Viaducts provide birds with high-rise nesting sites in spring. Picture: Tony Johnson.
  • The first Yorkshire Day was celebrated in 1975 and so to mark the anniversary, Stephen McClarence gives a rundown of the top 40 reasons why this county is so special.
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On the 40th anniversary of the first Yorkshire Day – when all true Yorkshire men (and occasionally women) wear black puddings in their buttonholes and stuff whippets down their trousers – here’s a Yorkshire Top 40, a round-up of places and experiences that make the county special.

But first a few affectionate words about Colin Holt, the man who created Yorkshire Day, and about the extremely rain-drenched one I spent with him back in 2002.

Anthony Caro's Double Tent at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Anthony Caro's Double Tent at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

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Colin, who died nine years ago, was a founder member and later chairman of the Yorkshire Ridings Society, which came up with the idea of a day to celebrate all things Yorkshire. They little suspected how it would catch on. I first met him back in the mid 1970s when he and his wife Hilary lived in a cottage at Fenwick, near Doncaster, and he was the society’s publicity officer.

Always an original thinker, he made the job more interesting by not having a working telephone. When BT addressed the Holts’ bills to “Fenwick, South Yorkshire”, Colin and Hilary were having none of it. The YRS was, after all, campaigning for the reinstatement of the three old Ridings (abolished in 1974), so the couple refused to pay up unless the phone bills were addressed to “Fenwick, West Riding”.

After much toing-and-froing, BT cut them off and the phone sat on their sideboard, accumulating years of dust. It was a publicity masterstroke: a potent symbol of bureaucracy vs proud Yorkshire truculence.

Salts Mill dominates the skyline at Saltaire, West Yorkshire. Built by Sir Titus Salt the mill and surrounsing village achieved World Heritage status. Picture: Andy Manning

Salts Mill dominates the skyline at Saltaire, West Yorkshire. Built by Sir Titus Salt the mill and surrounsing village achieved World Heritage status. Picture: Andy Manning

The issue was eventually resolved and I next met up with the Holts in York on Yorkshire Day 1978, for the first reading of the YRS’s Declaration of Integrity. Put simply, it says you’re a chuff if you don’t believe in the Ridings.

The idea – and Colin embodied it like no-one else – is to champion independence of mind rather than colourless corporate conformity. It’s about celebrating individual, local and regional character rather than metropolitan blandness. But mostly it’s about not being a chuff. We marched round the walls of York and the Declaration was read out, as it still is, at each of the city’s bars or gates. Tourists were bemused.

We kept in touch over the years and, shortly before Yorkshire Day 2002, Colin rang (he now had a mobile phone) and promised me “a day of incident and character” if I joined him and Hilary on a jaunt across Yorkshire. We first retraced our steps around York’s walls. The Declaration was read out in modern English, Latin, Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse. Colin did a live phone interview for BBC local radio. This was thought to be the first time Old Norse had been heard on local radio for 1,200 years.

At this point the Yorkshire Monsoon swept in and we set off for Whitby. The moors were shrouded in fog; the heather looked grey. “Magnificent views,” said Colin. “On the right day.” Whitby was being lashed by tempests. The blue dye from the YRS flag stained Colin’s hands and cuffs. After a pleasant tea in Sleights Village Hall, we set off back. In words that have stayed with me ever since, he summed up the day: “Duty has been done, but pleasure has been restricted.”

Buttertubs Pass between Hawes and Swaledale, one of the famous photographed landmarks of the Yorkshire Grand Depart, Tour de France.

Buttertubs Pass between Hawes and Swaledale, one of the famous photographed landmarks of the Yorkshire Grand Depart, Tour de France.

He was nonetheless beaming.

So... the Top 40. It’s a personal, partial, shamelessly biased gazetteer of 40 Yorkshire treasures – places and experiences that add delight to journeys around the county. Not all the 40 are beautiful, they’re in no particular order, and they exclude obvious Yorkshire treasures like York Minster, Castle Howard, Ilkley Moor and Sir Gary Verity.

• 1 We have to start with a walk round York’s city walls, a chance to see the city from a constantly changing perspective, wave to office workers and end up, satisfyingly, back where we started. Perhaps after calling at…

• 2 The Bar Convent cafe for coffee, lunch or tea: a delightful place in Blossom Street, near Micklegate. Its chapel’s relics include the shrivelled hand of 16th century St Margaret Clitherow, whose shrine is a rare point of calm and repose amid the hustle and bustle of The Shambles.

As the tide slowly turns a small flock of wader birds move in on the mudflats at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, close to Spurn Point.

As the tide slowly turns a small flock of wader birds move in on the mudflats at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire, close to Spurn Point.

• 3 More faith-inspired calm in Pickering at the secluded Quaker Garden in Castlegate, just up from the bustling main street, with a meditative labyrinth cut into the lawn.

• 4 And more coffee, lunch or tea at Bothams cafe in Whitby: glorious toasted apricot and orange tea bread served by waitresses in black uniforms and white pinnies.

• 5 Both towns have memorably unusual museums. Pickering’s Beck Isle Museum is a fascinating treasure trove of local life, while…

• 6 Whitby Museum and Art Gallery vibrates with maritime history, case after case of sailors’ souvenirs from far-flung voyages.

• 7 Getting to Whitby is part of the experience – particularly on the admirable Coastliner bus services that sweep out of Leeds and York to Yorkshire resorts. The first distant glimpse of Whitby Abbey from the top deck is breathtaking.

• 8 As is the first glimpse of Beverley Minster from the train from Hull. The Minster’s towers loom over what is arguably Yorkshire’s prettiest town – which also has St Mary’s, every bit as fine as the Minster.

• 9 For churches, though, York is obviously supreme, with All Saints’ in North Street offering the surreal Pricke of Conscience window, showing the end of the world, with starring roles for sea monsters and assorted devils.

• 10 And a third and very different first glimpse – of Elland from the road curving in from nearby Huddersfield. This is urban Yorkshire at its most panoramic, but unfortunately it is no longer dominated by the Gannex mill whose raincoats were so memorably worn by…

• 11 Harold Wilson, whose statue, striding cannily out, stuffing his pipe in his pocket, anchors the square outside Huddersfield station, one of the grandest stately homes of the railway age.

• 12 Along the main street, Huddersfield Town Hall arguably stages the quintessential Yorkshire musical experience – Huddersfield Choral Society singing Messiah. If Handel had scored it for brass band rather than orchestra, Black Dyke or Grimethorpe Colliery would have done him proud.

• 13 Another statue of a great pipe-smoking Yorkshireman... JB Priestley, coat tails flying, in front of the National Media Museum in the very centre of Bradford. A Priestley quotation on the plinth sums up the joy of release from industrial town to country and the larks, the curlews and the harebells…

• 14 Which you can also experience in the suburbs of Sheffield, where Whiteley Woods offers celandines, wild garlic, bluebells, herons, kingfishers, woodpeckers, and a rurality hard to credit a couple of miles from the centre of a major city.

• 15 While you’re in Sheffield, walk the cheering route from the railway station, with its fine steel and water sculpture, up the hill, past an Andrew Motion poem of welcome on the side of a building, to…

• 16 The Winter Gardens. Have a coffee at Zooby’s and watch the parade of down-to-earth folk in this city of once-radical sceptics who are, as someone put it, “congenitally ‘not struck’”.

• 17 Oh yes, one more writer – not from Yorkshire but defining a particular corner of it for generations of outsiders... Philip Larkin, whose statue darts across the enigmatically named Paragon station in Hull, the city (with its delightful Ferens Art Gallery) where the acclaimed poet made his home.

• 18 Hull is best approached on a train along the north bank of the Humber, with the river shimmering silver in a morning mist and the Humber Bridge spanning it with matchless grace. The journey helped define Larkin’s sense of the area’s remoteness.

• 19 That remoteness becomes positively “other” in parts of Holderness, the haunting Yorkshire Outback of low land, dykes and drains, with the tide slushing and slurping at lonely Stone Creek.

• 20 East Yorkshire finally peters out at Spurn Point, that ever-narrower finger of land stretching out to scratch Lincolnshire: just inspirational sea and sky and foghorns.

• 21 The coast around here is under constant attack by the sea, giving it an elemental, temporary feel. Erosion pushes relentlessly, and fascinatingly, inland around Skipsea, south of…

• 22 Bridlington, home to one of Yorkshire’s most treasurable shops – Ernest Whiteleys the drapers, little changed since Edwardian days and catering for ladies, particularly mature ones.

• 23 Similarly, the dwindling number of traditional gents outfitters like Simpsons of Skipton and Clarksons of York offer well-cut clothes for the traditional gent.

• 24 And a traditional word for Elijah’s, the long-established Hawes grocers – selling fine food without any airs and graces.

• 25 It’s handy for Buttertubs Pass, hero-cum-villain of last year’s Tour de France. Winter snowstorms roll in menacingly over the distant hills.

• 26 Back in Brid, Bempton Cliffs, with their RSPB nature reserve wheeling with gannets and puffins, is as exhilarating a place as any on the Yorkshire coast.

• 27 No resort, however, matches Scarborough, particularly the view over both bays from the top of Castle Road, and the elegant Esplanade, a place to promenade with lordly pleasure.

• 28 Here, the Scarborough Spa Orchestra, last of the seaside orchestras, plays effortlessly tuneful music to settle back in a deckchair and listen to and think about lunch.

• 29 And, later in the afternoon, a Knickerbocker Glory at the Harbour Bar, in the South Bay, whose sunshine-bright yellows encapsulate the Fifties seaside.

• 30 Boomeranging back from Brid, the Yorkshire Wolds have a quiet rolling beauty celebrated by David Hockney whose work is in turn celebrated at…

• 31 Salts Mill, the focal point of Saltaire, the model village whose atmosphere of Victorian sobriety lingers so strongly, particularly when the street lamps are aglow on foggy autumn evenings.

• 32 Some of the same atmosphere haunts Undercliffe Cemetery, Bradford’s great hilltop necropolis, where sturdy industrial lives are remembered, or forgotten, in acres of equally sturdy stone.

• 33 What else? Well, for all Yorkshire’s plush stately homes, few houses have as potent a presence as Brodsworth Hall, near Doncaster, an “alternative” stately home abandoned to shabby gentility until taken up by English Heritage.

• 34 For the most civilised, unpressured “cultural” experience, the spacious Yorkshire Sculpture Park, home of Moores and Hepworths, is a perfect synthesis of art and landscape.

• 35 More ruggedly, the Peak District National Park edges into Yorkshire, with the moors beyond High Bradfield, near Sheffield, stretching away with an uncompromising bleakness perhaps matched only by…

• 36 The moors at Haworth, which make the village well worth an overnight stay rather than a quick Brontë-bagging day trip.

• 37 More uplifting bleakness on stretches of the Settle-Carlisle line, particularly around Dent (walk cross-country from Garsdale, the next stop). It’s a much-loved line, though…

• 38 The Esk Valley Line from Middlesbrough to Whitby runs it close. Fine landscape at every turn, farmers and schoolkids.

• 39 Of course, the very best lines for Yorkshire folk are the two running north from King’s Cross and the incomparable St Pancras. The way back home.

• 40 And finally, the view from Chuffkettle Crags, near Sithey (just up from Eyupdale), will stir the soul of anyone from Yorkshire. Particularly today.