After spending a day walking around the city of York, we were excited to participate in a bus tour of the surrounding Yorkshire country. Now, actually I was a bit apprehensive because my only experience with bus tours in England has been courtesy of a Miss Marple episode – and after a couple of murders, it didn’t fare so well. I was a bit concerned that perhaps we would end up solving murder mysteries with the other guests on the tour…. but happily that was not the case. Instead we spent the whole day exploring the natural beauties and cultural history of Yorkshire.
Our first stop was the Bingley Five Rise Locks, which was built in 1774 as part of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
It is the highest staircase lock in the UK and we were lucky enough to get to see it in action, as 2 canal boats were going up the lock. There’s a series of five compartments and after closing the door of the compartment, you open the gate to the one above so that water enters the lower compartment until the water equalizes in both and then you can move to the next higher level.
Although we could walk around and have a snack at the cafe, most all of us stood entranced at the locks watching the clever workings. And we even got to help open and close the gates. Our tour guide ushered us all back on the bus and then we were back on the narrow winding roads. I spent much of the time on the road wondering how many inches we were away from the rock walls and admiring the vegetation that was sticking through the bus windows as we squeezed through tight spaces. But the views were breathtaking.
Our main stop of the day was in the town of Haworth in West Yorkshire. This was our longest stop – for 2 hours, in which we were told to explore the museums, parsonage, visit the town, and have a leisurely lunch. Quite frankly, that seemed a bit ambitious for 2 hours… especially with there being a museum. Haworth was the home of the Bronte family and the parsonage where they lived has been converted to museum. And conveniently, that’s exactly where our tour guide dropped us off.
The gardens of the home alone were incredibly beautiful, and overlooked the church. The museum was fascinating, taking us through the living rooms, study, and bedrooms of the Bronte’s – complete with their own furnishings, clothing, and belongings.
Upstairs was a very thoughtful display with many of the family’s personal papers, letters, and editions of their books. Charlotte Bronte is my favorite of the sisters and it was incredibly emotional to stand in her room and look at her belongings, clothing, and paintings. She died in that room. All of the Bronte’s died young, though we learned from the museum that mid-30s was average life span for Haworth in the early 1800s because of the poor quality of the air and water. The Bronte’s sisters loved to take long walks to the moors and drink in the wild beauty of the untouched natural surroundings there. The landscape heavily influenced the emotional heart of their novels. In the gift shop, we bought a book about the museum and I bought a jewelry set for my mom and I of heather blossoms preserved in resin. It’s one of my favorite souvenirs from the trip and every time I hold it, I think about Charlotte Bronte and how she loved the heather-covered moors too.
The church was right next door and I was amazed by the graveyard. It had rained some that morning, so the air was damp and the moss and ferns that covered the tombstones were dewy emerald. The tombstones were so old that many had cracked in half over the centuries.
The church was small and beautiful – the stained glass at the altar was exquisite. The entire Bronte family is buried there except for Anne, who passed away at sea.
After lingering in this special place, we had no time to explore the rest of the town. We ran down to a nearby tea shop for tea and scones to eat on the bus for our lunch and then we were on our way again.
We drove up to Penistone Hill on our way to Yorkshire Dales National Park. Here we were able to take a short hike through the moors and admire the views much like the Bronte sisters did so long ago. I had long dreamed of seeing the moors in bloom – several books I’ve loved since childhood take place on the untamed moors of Yorkshire – and it was an incredible gift to stand among the blooming heather and breath deep of the wild, sweet air.
Our next stop of the afternoon was at Linton, a picturesque village in Dales. Here we were able to photograph Linton Falls and do a bit of hiking down lush trails along the river, and envy the residents who lived there… all in a gentle patter of raindrops.
I mean who wouldn’t want to live here in the middle of Yorkshire, with stepping stones across the river no less? And a little picket gate!
And don’t get me started on the beauty of those stone walls that were everywhere. Oh the moss, the ferns!!! I won’t tell you how many photos I took of stone walls on our trip. (that will be my secret). Our tour guide bustled us all back on the bus ( a bit soggy by that point) and we set out for Bolton Abbey, our main afternoon stop.
I should point out that by the time we got there, that rain had turned into a downpour with gusty winds. And then he stopped and said to get out and he’d pick us back up in 45 min. I must confess that at that point, I would rather have stayed on the bus – especially since to get to the ruins required a long walk through open fields… but I told myself sternly that we had raincoats on, waterproofed our shoes, and brought an umbrella, and how often do you get to stand in 23th century ruins in the rain in England?? Besides, it made for some really cool photos with the fog and all, and eventually it did stop raining (about the time we found a building with a roof).
Now, how gloriously gothic is that? I’d like to point out that Bolton Abbey and the extant Priory Church is part of the Yorkshire estate holdings of the Duke of Devonshire, who’s home estate is Chatsworth. I had to remind myself about we were not to covet. What joy to own such beautiful tracts of land!!
We drove through several more towns and enjoyed the idyllic scenery of the Dales on our way back to York. We still had several hours of daylight and so Mom and I explored an area that we had found on our walk around the wall the previous day – the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. In fact, the street we stayed on in York was called St. Mary’s – for this very abbey.
All that’s left of it now is picturesque fragments of walls, which lent a lovely gothic feel to the gardens. Then we had the most amazing dinner at a pub called The Botanist. The pub was decorated with a theme of 17th-18th century botanical journeys, with some rooms designed to look like potting sheds. Oh, it was lovely… absolutely lovely. The food was delicious and we also splurged on special drinks. They were the most delicious drinks we’ve ever, ever had. I’m still dreaming about how exotic and amazing they were.
I had Botanist Lemonade (on the right) with thyme, lemon juice, and elderflower cordial. Elderflower was one of the flavors I fell in love with in England and I need to find some to experiment with now I’m home. Mom had Juniper Garden, an incredible elixir of seedlip garden, edlerflower cordial, vanilla and sage syrups, apple juice, lime juice, and juniper berries. I’m not sure how to describe the taste of this – it was something like sundrenched, raindrop kissed forest. It will go down as one of the most delicious and elusive flavors in my memory- like the notes of the most beautiful song you can imagine, but now only hear echoes of in a dream.
As a matter of fact, that’s how the whole day felt – surrounded by ruins, heathered moors, the memory of wildness in nature, the melancholy of lost centuries, and the joy of experiencing it all.
Blessings to you,