I crossed the Pennines when I was in my very early teens, going to a canoeing event somewhere near Blubberhouses and spotting places like Ingleborough and Skipton. The moors all looked very dark and more like another country. I was actually born there in Lancashire, but the very difference in the actual landscape impressed me – there was almost a physical movement down to earth. I also believe that at some point I caught a fleeting glimpse of the dome of Giggleswick Chapel – I didn’t guess for a second what the coming years would bring.
What’s your favorite part of the county – and why?
This is the view, and the view from just about any peak or peak, anywhere. Climb up there and take in your surroundings, and you will never fail to be impressed by the scenery and its character. If I have to narrow it down, then it will be Simon’s Seat, that piece of gritstone gravel on the east side of Wharfedale. It’s very popular with hikers, so a day when you’re alone up there is very, very special.
Do you have a favorite walk or sight?
From our home in Settle, around Embsay Reservoir, a beautiful five mile loop. The great thing is you hardly ever see another soul up there unless they are on the water and a member of the local sailing club.
Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take to lunch?
Rob Jebb, a force of nature in his own right. A totally exceptional athlete, and (in my opinion) up there with the Brownlee boys, and more. Nothing beats him and if you are lucky enough to be in the same race as him then I can promise you the only view you will have of him is his back – somewhere far away.
Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take out for dinner?
Alan Bennett, whom I’ve admired ever since my mother made me listen to audio tapes of him reading Winnie the Pooh stories. Not so long ago Mum and I were having afternoon tea in the little shop in Clapham, and Mr. Bennett came in, sat down and ordered his tea. Mom had her back to him and had no idea he was there.
If you had to name your “hidden gem” in Yorkshire, what would it be?
Hell Gill Force, a stunning waterfall that if you didn’t know it was there, you would totally miss it. It’s in the Upper Eden Valley, and it’s unique to the UK, in that it’s what’s called a ‘slot canyon’. There are several elsewhere in the world, but only this example in Britain.
If you could own or have access to just one thing in Yorkshire for just one day, what would that item or place be?
One of our great rivers – people don’t realize that access to the water, for someone in a canoe, is very limited, there are fishermen’s rights to respect, boat rights, so many restrictions . So one day when I could paddle the Ribble, preferably after two days of steady rain, that would really be something special.
What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?
An unrivaled combination of landscapes, cultures, sporting events, a competitive spirit, the people – dry wit and candor – and the fact that when you’re in the county you really feel connected in a very strange way and personal. There is also, when you go out into the real countryside, still a lot of people wearing flat caps, and shoulders leaning over the barriers. People think it’s a cliché, but it still happens.
Do you follow sports in the department, and if so, which one?
One of the finest sporting examples in my part of the country is North Ribblesdale Rugby Club – determined players, great supporters, parents eager to give their boys a boost, a truly happy ‘feel’. A hard-hitting club team that lives up to what true sportsmanship should be.
Do you have a favorite restaurant or pub?
Jules and I have so many fond memories of The Fountains Inn in Linton, all of which are deeply personal. Suffice it to say it has a great setting, lovely staff and top notch cuisine. Even thinking about the next time we book a table there brings us a happy smile.
Do you have a favorite grocery store?
The Courtyard Dairy Shop is just down the road from Settle, and all the staff have a ridiculous knowledge of where their produce comes from.
How do you think Yorkshire has changed, for better or worse, since you’ve known it?
We both love the annual village and neighborhood shows, with their family atmosphere and the continuity of customs and events, but it is sad to see a slow decline in the small villages of institutions that have traditionally been helped by volunteers. – party halls, scouts, WI, things like that. Transportation (or lack thereof) to and from places doesn’t help, does it?
Who is the person from Yorkshire that you most admire?
We had a very dear teacher friend called Phil Andrew, who passed away not too long ago, and the man was amazing, interested in everything and everyone. He was a good teacher, a singer, a cook and a chef, a faithful friend, a radio amateur, a first-rate organist, so versatile and multi-talented. People like Phil are very rare. And my wife, Jules, never ceases to amaze me, she never follows the crowd, always makes the right decisions, is creative and… well, we’ve been together for ten years, and she never ceases to amaze me. In the most beautiful way, of course!
Has Yorkshire influenced your work?
It’s my job, 100%. I love exploring places completely off the beaten track, knowing every nook and cranny. People who “never go south of the river” and refuse to know what’s around the corner or over the next hill worry me a bit. Our fabric is unique.
Name your favorite book/author/artist/CD/performer from Yorkshire.
Dame Thora Hird. I know she was a young Lancashire girl, but in the way she played her characters she was the epitome of Yorkshire pragmatism and stoicism, good humor, practicality and no frills integrity. The last summer wine was simply superb.
If a foreigner in Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, what would it be?
The hillside chapel at Giggleswick School. It is a very strange building, partly very beautiful and – to a lesser extent – slightly grotesque. This huge gothic dome, and the interior with all these wooden benches and the beautiful stained glass windows. What moves me deeply are the memorial signs dedicated to the young men at the school who went to fight in both world wars and never returned. When you think of all that unrealized potential, abandoned before its peak, it’s sobering and very emotional.