For those who love London, and may have gone over for the Olympics, consider heading north for a change of scenery. There, in Yorkshire and the neighboring county of Derbyshire, you can savor an idyll of natural beauty, grand houses, lively market towns, honest food, snug inns, and warm hospitality, plus reminders of the industrial past. Everything the travel brochures promise and so rarely deliver. You’ll need a car, so book a bargain through Auto-Europe.com, or fly direct to Manchester.
From there, I would propose a scenic loop of a few hundred miles that will take you four full days or ten at a leisurely pace. Britain has suffered record downpours this year but they usually alternate with bright intervals and this is romantic landscape—think Wuthering Heights—that looks well even in a storm. A good first stop is Buxton, a spa town created by the Duke of Devonshire in the late 18th century as the northern alternative to Bath. Classical stone terraces climb hilly streets, the vast dome of the Duke’s riding school has now become a part of the local university, and the octagon and palm house face onto a graceful promenade and park. The impeccably restored Edwardian Opera House is active year-round, hosting a festival of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and other musical treats in summer. From here you can drive west into the rugged Peak District National Park or east to three of the most compelling stately homes in Britain.
First up is Haddon Hall, a house that was long preserved by neglect and retains an authentic flavor of the Middle Ages. Don’t miss the spectacular topiary and walled garden, and the vast kitchen full of copper pans. Chatsworth House, the principal seat of the Devonshires, is a palatial in its scale and its dazzling state rooms, but you might prefer to skip the guided tours and wander around the splendid gardens, set off by a huge rolling estate. A personal favorite is Hardwick Hall, which epitomizes the showy, spiky Elizabethan style, with a long gallery for indoor exercise and the owner’s initials—ES—crowning the roofline. It was a mega-mansion of its time, “more glass than wall” and few places so perfectly reflect the spirit of their builder. All three of these houses have moved with times, offering surprisingly good food in converted stables or servants’ halls, and compelling insights into life downstairs.
The dark, satanic mills that scarred the landscape in the 19th century are mostly shuttered, and former industrial cities are trying to reinvent themselves. A once-great steel mill near Sheffield has been transformed into Magna, an interactive, experiential museum of the Industrial Revolution. The textile city of Wakefield has converted many of its red brick warehouses to new uses and added the Hepworth Gallery, an exemplary showcase of sculpture by modernist pioneer Barbara Hepworth and her contemporaries. Close by is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, an 18th-century estate studded with work by Hepworth, Henry Moore and other local talents made good. You could combine this with a visit to the National Coal Mining Museum, where visitors can tour a decommissioned mine.
No need to recommend a day in York, for this was long the second city of Britain and its soaring Minster and winding streets are justly celebrated, though uncomfortably thronged in summer. Beyond is Castle Howard, the baroque mansion that was the principal location of Brideshead Revisited. Head north-east to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where sheep outnumber cars, and the intensely green country rolls on to the horizon with nothing to spoil the view. Cistercian monks chose remote and beautiful locations for their monasteries, all of which were shut down in the reign of Henry VIII. The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey are among the great treasures of the world, for the austere architecture and the pastoral setting.
Stone villages are scattered around; and I can recommend the thatched Star Inn in Harome for wonderful dinners and sybaritic, though expensive rooms, and the Blacksmith’s Arms in the hamlet of Hartoft End for comfortable lodgings within the park. Warmth, simplicity and musical accents are hallmarks of rural Yorkshire. You could easily spend a couple more weeks driving around this, the largest of English counties, or detour into the Lake District—a destination in its own right–on your drive back to Manchester. If you are Olympic caliber, you could do the whole trip on a bike, though you would need twice as much time.
For more information, visit www.yorkshire.com.
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