An icy wind snapped at our heels as we made our way around the weird but wonderful gritstone formations of Brimham Rocks under a sharp blue sky. Many of them looked like caricatures of dogs and some of the rocks even have names, but we were having fun making up our own. Drunk eagle wearing an American steam train was possibly the most inventive of these.
It was two years ago we had been nervously trying to pull out onto the bustling A3 near Guildford in our new to us campervan. Some fourteen thousand miles and many adventures later we were in Yorkshire. We’d definately taken the scenic route. As is fairly usual we didn’t have much in the way of a plan, other than to celebrate another year of van based tea drinking.
We’d followed the weather forecast in this direction looking for some sunshine or at the very least some dry weather. It was pretty grim at home. While the frigid wind would continue to torment us for much of the following week, the sunshine played by it’s own rules and came and went as it pleased.
It’s a short walk from a lonely car park above the small town of Pately Bridge, passing the ghostly remnants of an ancient lime kiln, up to Yorkshire’s largest piece of public artwork, Coldstones Cut. It’s a strange place, with views over the local quarry and the surrounding countryside. Quarrying was once a major part of the industrial landscape here and the Coldstones quarry workings are still immense. We made our way up the spiraling path to the top of the sculpture and looked down upon the Tonka like trucks to-ing and fro-ing below like a hyperactive child’s toys.
The wind had chilled us through, it was time for a cup of tea and maybe a slice of cake. Pately Bridge was closest and was just as we imagined a Yorkshire town would be, with stone built buildings, steep and narrow roads and a river running through the middle of it. And most importantly, tea shops. We picked one by the river and started to think about where we might head next.
Each night we’d go looking for somewhere to camp. Most nights we’d use small farm sites. Tonight we’d found a slightly larger campsite, but who’s website had made no mention of the military helicopters that would spend the night buzzing us, or at least, that’s how it sounded from inside the van. The other issue that we faced was that our diesel heater decided it had had enough and filled the van with smoke rather than lovely warm air. We spent the evening wrapped up in our sleeping bags, waiting for the anti campervan missiles to find their target.
We’d thought about heading for the coastal town of Whitby but the recommendation of the medieval market town of Richmond changed our minds. The sun was shining and warming our bones a little so it seemed a shame to waste it travelling. Mrs TomTom said Whitby was an hour and a half away, but Mrs TomTom has never really taken to the idea that Betty Bus does not travel at the same pace as everyone else, especially so when faced with corners or a hill to climb. And there were are many corners and many hills around the north Yorkshire moors.
Richmond sounded idyllic, Whitby could wait until later.
With the castle ruins perched on top of the hill overlooking the maze of steep, narrow and winding lanes that lead down from the market square to the river Nidd and the waterfalls, Richmond definitely has that oh-so-quaint factor. It’s hard to imagine that once the lower part of the town had for a time been home to a giant gas works, Richmond being the first town in Europe to have gas lighting along it’s streets. The gas works had been built on the site of the old water mills that had served the castle. The town certainly looks better for loss of the gas works. We picked up some supplies from one of the independent grocers that still trade in the town. It had certainly been a good recommendation to visit the town.
We headed east across the moors, it was time to make for Whitby. It was a pleasant surprise to find all the car park ticket machines disabled for the winter, although there were many “no camping” signs about. The Abbey dominates the skyline. This gothic ruin must have been quite spectacular before it was all but destroyed during the last war. Down in the centre of Whitby is the harbour and a maze of narrow streets, it’s a place that has attracted writers and artists for many years. You certainly get a feel for how Bram Stoker once took inspiration from the town and Abbey for his legendary novel ‘Dracula’.
The town is also blessed with large sandy beaches when the tide is out and a breakwater that doubles as a pedestrian pier that arches out into the sea. Fish and chips on the pier is a must do really but there are so many fish and chip shops that it is hard to choose. We took the advice of a random stranger, a man with an accent so thick that Rosana couldn’t understand a word he said. His advice was spot on and we gorged on delicious fish lunches under the watchful eyes of the local seagulls.
Along the coast is Robin Hood’s Bay, the end, or maybe the beginning, of Wainwright’s coast to coast walk. It’s another smorgasbord of steep, narrow and winding streets leading down to the shore with rockpools to search through while Oystercatchers fly overhead, all under the backdrop of the jagged red cliffs. We wandered the beach while above us geese flew south, seeking warmer winter homes.
We headed back inland to taking the most indirect route imaginable. As we zig zagged across the moors we found ourselves faced with Betty Bus’s biggest test yet.
Mrs TomTom said to turn right. The road sign said 33%. We couldn’t see the top. It was narrow, it was wet and there was no real run up. There was no going back (it upsets Mrs TomTom) so we engaged 1st gear and went for it. The needle on the temperature gauge climbed degree by degree as we gained altitude, metre by metre, hoping nothing was coming the other way, hoping our soft winter tyres would maintain traction, hoping all of Betty’s 78 horse power would keep galloping forward. As the engine temperature stabilised the summit came into view and as we rolled over the top we gave the old girl a good pat on the dashboard – by this point she was far too dirty to hug.
Our destination was Knaresborough, another old market town. Here the river Nidd has carved a deep gorge in the rocks and a viaduct was built to allow the railways to cross the valley. The first viaduct collapsed into the river before the first train had even crossed it, the result of poor workmanship. The viaduct was rebuilt is the centrepiece of a pretty town, with yet more narrow streets winding up the side of the valley to a ruined castle and multitude of cafes. It’s odd though, watching modern trains make the crossing. It’s easy to imagine how magnificent it looked during the age of steam.