Sophie Forgan

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Sophie Forgan is chairman of the Trustees of the Captain Cook Museum in Whitby. She taught at Teesside University and is married to Charles. They have three children.

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Playing on the beach at Sandsend as a child, at about the age of five or six. I was born just outside Whitby and my father was in the Navy, hence a lot of moving around. Charles and I came back to live permanently in Yorkshire in 1978.

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

It has to be the North York Moors in all seasons and all weathers. My favourite time is spring when the curlews are first calling, and in August when the hills are purple with heather.

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

Walking with the Shambles, a restorative pub along the way, and back home for an evening wander round the garden. The Shambles are a pretty shambolic set of walkers and we have often “lost” members, taken wrong turnings, ended up in the wrong pub, or gone on completely the wrong route. But it is all very good-hearted and very informal and we love it.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

Along Sutton Bank which looks over Gormire Lake. It’s always stunning. I don’t tend to go up there frequently, the reason being that whenever I do, everything always comes as a huge surprise, as if you’d never ever encountered it before. From Sutton Bank, you can see for mile after mile.

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

George Cayley (1773-1857), the aeronaut. He was a pioneer of gliders and flying machines. By the time he had made a flyable glider he was 80 years old (1853), and the story goes that it was his coachman who piloted the machine. The reluctant coachman pointed out to Mr Cayley that he was hired for driving coaches ‘and not for going up in them flying machines’, and he had a fair point. Cayley was born in Scarborough, studied in York and settled in the family home at Brompton Hall where he developed his fascination for everything to do with flight. He was a true pioneer and I think that he deserves better recognition.

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

May I please have a soirée? I’d invite Charles Laughton, Ian Carmichael, Alan Bennett, Dame Judi Dench, and how about a different bit of spice with James Mason. I’ve admired Mr Bennett for a long time, and I actually met Ian Carmichael quite a few times – he lived not far from us. What a gentleman, patient, kind, generous and very quiet.

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

The interior of St Mary’s Church, Whitby. If you haven’t visited, what a treat lays in store for you. From the outside, it’s a bit strange, a whole jumbled range of architectural styles and constructs, but inside there are box pews, a three-decker pulpit (very rare), galleries and a vast stove in the middle – people huddle around it. We hold our Captain Cook memorial service there in October every year.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

A grittiness and deliberation, a feeling that people will tough it out if they have to. Yorkshire people have a strong sense of place and link to the landscape, whether in town or country. There’s also the richness of the language and an understated and very deadpan sense of humour.

Do you follow sport in the county?

If we’re out and about on a lovely summer’s day and Charles and I happen to pass a village cricket match, we’ll stop and relax and watch for a while. And that’s about it as far as following sport goes.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

The Golden Lion, Osmotherley, is a firm favourite. Good food, none of it pretentious, well run, very friendly, and one couldn’t ask for more. The Golden Lion also has the advantage of being at the start of the Lyke Wake Walk.

Do you have a favourite food shop?

Radfords, the excellent butcher’s in Sleights, near Whitby. They offer superb meat and excellent cheeses, too. We also love the farmers’ markets when we find them. Charles and I also like Lewis and Cooper’s in Northallerton.

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

Food has improved out of all recognition, both in quality and variety. Transport is faster on the main lines, but we have lost so many useful branch lines. Thank heavens that there’s an increasing richness of cultural life in our many and varied festivals, events, theatre, and music.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

I’d like to say Cook because he sailed to what was then the ends of the earth and because he didn’t allow his head to be turned by fame. The ultimate professional, highly skilled, innovative, courageous and caring of his men. Otherwise, the admirable William Wilberforce, who roused the conscience of a nation.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

Immeasurably, yes. The buildings and archives of Yorkshire’s numerous literary and philosophical societies and museums provided the material for my research and led to ‘academic tourism’ in different parts of the world. The Captain Cook Museum appointment has taken me back to the 18th century, which is endlessly fascinating.

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

I have been an admirer of the writer, Winifred Holtby (1898-1935), long before South Riding was televised. A wonderful book, which draws together the idealism, hopes and realities of local politics in a Yorkshire town in the 1930s. She also wrote very good poetry.

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

York. Where else? It is the very heart, and heartbeat, of Yorkshire. When I taught at Teesside University, I used to take students there to show them York Minster. They’d slowly come to realise that it is a glorious blend of all styles and periods of architecture and how significant and special it was. I never cease to have the utmost admiration for the medieval builders who constructed it. Simply wondrous.