Yorkshire is the largest of the 39 historic counties of England. A long history of administrative tinkering has complicated defining what precisely is Yorkshire, with parts of the traditional ridings now being part of North West and North East England (e.g. nearby Middlesbrough). However, the region has a strong cultural identity and offers visitors a wonderful variety of thriving urban centres, important historic towns and world renowned countryside. The Humber forms the southern boundary with the East Midlands and to the west, across the Pennines, lies North West England. East and North Yorkshire have coastlines on the North Sea.
Yorkshire was historically the largest county in England, divided into three "ridings" plus the city of York. In 1974 it was re-organised into four smaller counties, which were not altogether popular but these make sense for the traveller.
|North Yorkshire |
Mostly rural with two national parks, the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales. Attractive towns include the walled city of York, genteel Harrogate and Ripon, gothic Whitby and Scarborough perched on the cliffs.
|East Yorkshire |
Bucolic Beverley, the thriving port of Hull, and a coastline that sweeps from the haunting sandhills of Spurn Head to the great chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head.
|South Yorkshire |
In hilly Sheffield much of the steel industry is now in museums. On its doorstep are some of the best parts of the Peak District National Park
|West Yorkshire |
Yorkshire's urban heart, home to trendy Leeds and cultural Bradford; meanwhile, Wakefield's Sculpture Park and the Brontë Country's bleak moorlands beckon you away from the big cities
- 1 York, the ancient capital, is rich in Roman, Viking and medieval history. The city walls are well-preserved and within are the magnificent Minster, cobbled alleys and wharves, and a teetering castle stump.
- 2 Bradford is a multicultural city with great Victorian architecture and the National Science & Media Museum.
- 3 Leeds is the most cosmopolitan, with fascinating museums, galleries and the best luxury shopping in the north.
- 4 Sheffield: this metal-bashing city has interesting industrial museums and a buzzing student atmosphere.
- 5 Wakefield is home to the Hepworth, the National Mining Museum and a large sculpture park.
- 6 Kingston upon Hull: Andrew Marvell, William Wilberforce and Philip Larkin once called this Humberside port home.
- 7 Middlesbrough, birthplace of Captain Cook, is where you'll discover the parmo, and try to fathom that strange contraption the "Tees Transporter Bridge".
- National Parks - The North York Moors are within North Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Dales along with Nidderdale AONB are mostly so but this area has been greatly extended to reach Cumbria. Part of the Peak District is in South Yorkshire though the bulk is in Derbyshire.
- Brontë Country, mostly in West Yorkshire is an expanse of moorland and atmospheric villages, centred on Haworth near Bradford.
- The coast starts to the south with the Humber estuary and the sandhills of Spurn Head. There's then a long expanse of mud cliffs, very rapidly eroding: entire villages and churches now lie several miles out to sea, and if you follow a coastal lane shown on an old OS map, prepare for a surprise. North of Bridlington are the chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head (the highlight) along with Bempton and Speeton. The geology changes again at Reighton Gap, running northwards passing Filey, Scarborough, Ravenscar past Whitby to their highest point on the East Coast at Boulby. Beyond that lower cliffs drop to Saltburn, Redcar and the mouth of the River Tees.
Proudly claimed to be "God's own country", Yorkshire has wonderful countryside, great cities and warm locals which have a long history of attracting visitors. The people have a strong regional identity and a distinctive dialect (see below in 'Talk' for details) and culture. The emblem of Yorkshire is a white rose, which can occasionally be seen on flags in the county.
Yorkshire is provincial and in many parts rural, but never hick: this region has always felt close to the pulse of affairs. One fellow who arrived as an army officer but departed as Roman Emperor was Constantine I, who in 306 AD was so proclaimed in Eboracum, today's York. After the Legions marched away the Vikings raided the coast, until they saw the advantage of harvesting this rich land for their own, instead of just seizing a pig and rushing back to sea. Eboracum became Jórvík, and Viking influence was only broken in 1066 at the nearby Battle of Stamford Bridge, where King Harold's Saxons triumphed but then had to force-march south to Hastings to face the Normans.
The Norman victor William the Conqueror faced uprisings in England which were smashed 1069 / 70 by a scorched-earth policy known as the "Harrying of the North". The death toll was huge, mostly from starvation, and 20 years later the Domesday Book recorded that 75% of manors were still wasteland. There was however a spate of building of castles and cathedrals in Norman style, many of which still stand, such as York Minster.
The Norman dynasty was strife-riven but the later Plantagenets were even more so. In 1399 Richard II was deposed and killed in Pontefract castle at the hands of Bolingbroke, better known to theatre-goers as "Henry IV Part One". Conflict between the York and Lancaster factions, nowadays dubbed the "Wars of the Roses", dragged on for decades; its bloodiest day was the 1461 Battle of Towton, near Selby, when 28,000 died. York won that day but lost the war in 1485, and in came the Tudor dynasty. Henry VIII looked at all the wealthy monasteries and thought: "They're not paying tax, they're not supplying an army, and they're not singing my praises. Right!" And so came the Dissolution, and great establishments like Fountains and Rievaulx were reduced to picturesque ruins.
South and west Yorkshire became industrial early. Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Sheffield were important wool-trading and processing centres; Halifax and Hull used the guillotine on traders giving short measure. Cottage industry gave way to water-powered mills, such as at the Abbeydale complex in Sheffield, but even more power came from coal-fired steam engines. The York-Derby-Notts coalfield lay near (even upon) the surface, was thick and with few fault-lines, so it was easily mined. Barnsley became the main mining town, Sheffield blasted iron into steel, and the main railway line was laid down from London to York. The cities burgeoned and became squalid: cholera and other epidemics broke out. The late Victorians sought to rebuild, with confident Italianate and Gothic public buildings (soon smoke-blackened), and healthy municipal parks.
Other parts of the county remained rural while the cities were again blighted in the late 20th century by the loss of steel-making, textiles and coal-mining. They've to some extent been regenerated by converting industrial brownfields into retail parks, museums and green spaces, and by the growth of 21st century enterprise in IT, financial and similar services. Above all they've become destinations in their own right.
Don't go on Ilkley Moor without a hat
On Ilka Moor baht 'at is Yorkshire's unofficial anthem - a traditional song of mid 19th C origin, sung to the Methodist hymn tune Cranbrook. It's jocular yet deep, very deep. For if indeed you ventured onto Ilkley Moor without a hat, and perished for such folly, how could your community and unquiet spirit be reconciled? Thus:
Whur 'ast tha bin since ah saw thee, since ah saw thee?
Tha's bin a-courtin' Mary Jane, Mary Jane
Tha's bahn' to catch thy death of cold, thy death of cold . . .
Then we shall have to bury thee, to bury thee . . .
Then worms'll come an' eat thee oop, eat thee oop . . .
Then ducks'll come an' eat up worms, eat up worms . . .
Then we shall come an' eat up ducks, eat up ducks . . .
Then we shall all have eaten thee, eaten thee . . .
Then we shall have thee back again, back again . . .
(The two final verses are often omitted:)
Yorkshire has a distinctive regional pronunciation and dialect. Time was when the speech of individual towns and valleys could be distinguished, but by the end of the 20th century this had succumbed to population mixing through work and higher education. So local speech remains northern, but anyone who uses a heavy dialect is either a rustic aged over 70 or is being ironic. "Yorkie" and its variants seem set to pass into history like other languages that are fondly remembered but seldom spoken: Lallans, Yiddish, Klingon.
It may persist, as those do, in comedy and entertainment. One example was the Keith Waterhouse character Billy Liar, with his "trouble at t'mill" routine and spoof dialect; another was the dulcet Holmfirth tones of Peter Sallis in Last of the Summer Wine and Wallace and Gromit. You can earn a penny from tourists by publishing Yorkshire phrasebooks - they're in that little stocking-filler pile next to the gift shop checkout - and there's even an online translator. Some useful phrases are given below, the only essential to learn being that namaste of the great Yorkshire subcontinent, "Ey up!"
- The - the definite article - is reduced to a brief glottal stop before the noun. On the page it's rendered as t', as in "Let's go down t'pub!"
- Ey up and Ow do are greetings, meaning "hi" or "how do you do?" According to context "Ey up" can be a warning, exclamation, query or symptom of indigestion. There isn't a distinctive leave-taking.
- Owt means "anything" and nowt means "nothing"; thus a trivial matter is dismissed as "summat and nowt". A Yorkshireman trying to big-up his tight-fisted northern Weltanschaung might declare: "'Ear all, see all, say nowt. Eyt all, drink all, pay nowt. And if ivver tha does owt fer nowt, allus do it for thissen!"
- Love, pal, pet and duck are casual appellations that can be used regardless of gender or of whether you're on friendly terms. Examples are "Ey up, duck", "Alreyt, pet!", "Thanks, pal!" or "Yes, love?" They're not intended to be condescending, rude or flirtatious.
- Reyt good means "right good" or "very good", but Yorkshire folk are uncomfortable with praise, and would rather say "Huh, 's not bad, considering".
- Mardy is from "marred" ie indulged and spoilt as a child, so it means sulky or moody. Thus "Stop being such a mardy bum!" means "stop complaining!" It might stretch to mean "cheer up" but many Yorkshire folk are suspicious of cheerfulness.
- Snicket and ginnell are alleyways, thus "I 'eard 'im racin' dahn t' snicket!" means "I heard him running down the alley".
- Second person singular: Yorkshire speech retains the old word thou (pronounced tha) to mean "you", along with thee ("you"), thy ("your"), thine ("yours") and thissen ("yourself"). Southern English lost these forms during the 17th century. The thou / you distinction is solely between singular and plural: "thou" can be used formally or between strangers, unlike the French tu and other European equivalents. It's sometimes compounded, eg "sethee" meaning make sure, "see that you . . . "
- Leeds Bradford Airport (LBA IATA) is the region's main airport, with good connections across west Europe and within UK, but it lacks a railway link.
- Manchester Airport (MAN IATA) has an excellent range of flights. It's far side of the Pennines but with direct trains to many parts of Yorkshire.
- You're unlikely to use Humberside (HUY IATA) south across the river from Hull, as it only has a few flights to Amsterdam and Aberdeen.
- Doncaster Sheffield Airport (DSA IATA) closed in Nov 2022.
Wikivoyage has a guide to Rail travel in Great Britain
The main railway routes through the region are:
- East Coast mainline from London Kings Cross via Peterborough to Doncaster, with one fork west to Wakefield and Leeds, while the main route continues to York, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.
- Midlands mainline from Bristol, Birmingham and Derby to Sheffield, Wakefield, Leeds and York then north along the East Coast line to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
- Transpennine line from Manchester airport and Piccadilly to Huddersfield, Leeds, York and Hull, with another line through Sheffield and Doncaster to Cleethorpes.
Branch lines reach Bradford, Ilkley, Harrogate, Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington, Halifax and Skipton. This last continues via two very attractive routes through the Dales, with one fork to Carnforth and Lancaster, the other via Ribbleshead Viaduct and across Cumbria to Carlisle.
The M1 connects Yorkshire with the south of England. The A1 runs north-south through the region and the M62 runs east-west. Most major towns have a National Express or Megabus service to London Victoria. Leeds is the best connected, with frequent buses to Manchester, and at least daily to the Midlands, Newcastle and Scotland.
- In the urban west and south, use the bus within a particular town, but the train is usually much quicker between towns. The West Yorkshire Metro network is particularly well developed. Public transport options are sparser in the rural east and north.
- There's a good road network, but always beware that you might meet a tractor round the next corner, even on the A1: welcome to Yorkshire. Scenic main routes include A59 from York and Harrogate across the Pennines into Lancashire, and the A64 and A170 to Scarborough and the coast. Summer weekends these get very congested.
- Abbeys: elegantly built in the Middle Ages but abandoned during the 16th century Dissolution, the best-preserved are Fountains near Ripon, and Rievaulx near Helmsley. Jervaulx near Ripon, Bolton Abbey near Skipton, St Mary's in York, Kirkstall in Leeds and Whitby are smaller but all worth a look.
- Cliffs and coves: the most spectacular are the sheer chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head, just north of Bridlington. There's another outcrop at Filey, then a long rugged coastline north of Scarborough, with attractive little places such as Robin Hood's Bay and Saltburn then Whitby. The cliffs are not just on the coast: Sutton Bank is a scarp at the edge of the Hambleton Hills in the North York Moors, where gliders launch, while bikes and caravans labour up the steep gradient.
- Saltaire near Bradford was a 19th century planned model village, now a world heritage site. It's centred on Salt's Mill which has a large collection of works by David Hockney.
- Brontë Country is the area associated with the works and all-too-short lives of the Brontë sisters. Sites are scattered across the northeast but most are in or near Haworth. This upland area of west and south Yorkshire has bleak terrain, a plateau of millstone grit overlain by peat bog with scarps overlooking the valleys; so presumably that's what heights do when they are "wuthering".
- Yorkshire Dales further north are limestone country and much more scenic. There are caves, crags and "pavements" such as at Malham. The Pennine hills of Ingleborough, Whernside, and Pen-y-ghent are sometimes combined as a "Three Peaks" challenge.
- Weird rocks: especially around Harrogate, the gritstone bedrock has been exposed in fractured columns. The best example is Brimham Rocks in Nidderdale.
- Unusual museums include the wartime base of Eden Camp in Malton, the National Science and Media Museum in Bradford, and the industrial museums of Leeds and Sheffield. Go down a real coal mine at Caphouse Colliery outside Wakefield.
- Castles and stately homes: Castle Howard is the standout, a grandiose affair north of York; Harewood House near Leeds is almost as grand. Skipton castle is a genuine medieval survival, but most bastions from that era were deliberately wrecked to prevent rebels holding them, such as at Pontefract.
- Walk - long distance routes include the Pennine Way, the Coast to Coast Path, the Cleveland Way, the Wolds Way and the Nidderdale Way. There are lots of other paths well suited to an afternoon stroll.
- Walk, bike or boat along the canals. The most scenic are the three canals that cross the Pennines towards Manchester, all navigable throughout:
- - The Leeds-Liverpool canal crosses by the relatively low Aire valley, with a flight of locks at Gargrave near Skipton;
- - The Rochdale canal climbs from picturesque Hebden Bridge to Todmorden then over to Rochdale and Manchester;
- - The Huddersfield Narrow Canal - and it really is narrow - plunges through the Pennines in a long tunnel with no towpath.
- Sports - Yorkshire has several pro sports teams to watch plus facilities to play yourself.
- - Football: most major towns have a professional soccer team. In the Premier League, the top tier, are Huddersfield Town and Leeds United.. In the Championship, the second tier, are Middlesbrough, Rotherham United, Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. In League One, the third tier, are Barnsley, Bradford City, Hull City and Doncaster Rovers. In League Two is Harrogate Town.
- - Rugby in Yorkshire means Rugby League, 13-a-side. In the Super League, the top tier, are Leeds Rhinos, Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants, Hull FC, Hull Kingston Rovers and Wakefield Trinity. Rugby Union (15-a-side) is only played at amateur level.
- - Cricket: Yorkshire County Cricket Club is based at Headingley in Leeds. International games are often held here.
- Cycling: lots of scenic routes, though the gradients will get your attention. Following the success of the 2014 staging here of the Tour de France, the Tour de Yorkshire is held annually in early summer. The 2020 event however was cancelled and it's not known if it will resume in 2021.
- Horse racing: there are nine racecourses in Yorkshire, all with flat races April to October, and some with jumps races in winter. The courses are at Beverley, Catterick near Richmond, Doncaster, Pontefract, Redcar near Middlesbrough, Ripon, Thirsk, Wetherby and York.
- Heritage railways - there are at least seven in Yorkshire, often steam-hauled. Those that could be called a "proper railway", ie you make a real journey of several miles, are:
- - Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, from Keighley to Haworth and the Brontë Country;
- - Wensleydale Railway, from Leeming Bar near Northallerton to Bedales, Leyburn and Redmire;
- - North York Moors Railway from Whitby to Pickering;
- - while the National Railway Museum in York has a large collection of locos and rolling stock, though the working track is just a few yards long.
- Music - from the Leeds Symphony Orchestra to Sheffield being the home of Def Leppard, Arctic Monkeys and Pulp, there's something for everyone.
- Leeds and York have the most cosmopolitan selection, in all price ranges.
- Curry and what's loosely called "Indian" food is here more often Pakistani / Kashmiri. It's found in all the towns, especially in Bradford's many little cafes.
- Liquorice was traditionally grown in Pontefract, and turned into liquorice allsorts and similar confectionery there (as "Haribo") and in Sheffield (as "Bassett's"): when Charlie Chaplin ate his boot in The Gold Rush, it was a liquorice boot custom-made in Pontefract. The other key ingredient is beet sugar, grown all over lowland Yorkshire, but the counties' many chocolate and soft drinks factories are steadily closing down.
- Wensleydale is a crumbly white or blue cheese traditionally eaten with sweet desserts. Wensleydale's many admirers include animated characters "Wallace and Gromit" (who lived in Lancashire, but Wallace's accent is from Holmfirth in West Yorkshire). You can visit the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes.
- Yorkshire Parkin is a ginger cake traditionally served on Guy Fawkes' Night, 5 Nov.
- Yorkshire Pudding is made from batter, though they're also sold ready-made in the supermarkets. They can be eaten savoury or sweet, as an accompaniment or as an open pie / stew main dish.
- York ham is a dry-cured ham that originated in Yorkshire. Unlike similar hams in France, Germany, Italy or Spain, York ham is usually breaded and cooked before it is eaten. It is now hard to find, with the last traditional butcher in York having closed down in 2020. Specialist butchers throughout Yorkshire may cure a limited number for Christmas, though these need to be ordered in advance.
- Thomas the Baker. A Yorkshire chain of bakeries selling fresh bread, pastries, sandwiches, and the like.
- Ale - two of the UK's best-selling bitters, Tetley's and John Smiths, have their breweries near York. Theakston's Old Peculiar and Black Sheep Ale are brewed in Masham, North Yorkshire
- Tea houses: Betty's in Harrogate is the best known but gets very busy in summer.
- Malt whisky is distilled in Filey, with the first bottles going on sale in late 2019. It can't be called "Scotch" of course, but that's the style.
- Mineral water bubbles to the surface in several places, but the main Regency and Victorian spa was Harrogate. Agatha Christie fled here incognito to recover from her busted marriage, while PG Wodehouse's character Jeeves cordially detested the place. Taste the mephitic waters served at the Royal Pump Room and your vote is with Jeeves.
York, Sheffield and Leeds are the most convenient bases for exploring the region and have a wide variety of accommodation options to suit every budget. Of course, exploring Yorkshire's stunning countryside involves getting out of the towns and into the many hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs that are scattered throughout the region.
Yorkshire in general is quite safe. But like many places in the north of England, the collapse of various industries in Yorkshire has had a devastating effect on the economy, thus crime rates have become very high in some areas, mostly due to high unemployment. It's very unlikely that tourists will be victims of crime, but you should keep your wits about you if you decide to venture into areas that aren't tourist oriented.
Out in the countryside there is little risk of crime (other than valuables left on view in cars in isolated places), though if going walking in winter take sensible precautions against the weather. Also make sure you have a map and compass if you decide to go off the beaten track, you can very easily get lost without them.
In towns and cities, keep valuables out of sight, and stick to well-lit busy areas at night as is recommended for all UK towns and cities.
- Manchester and Liverpool in North West England are lively, interesting cities easily reached from Yorkshire.
- Historic Lincoln in the East Midlands is a walled city with a well-preserved centre.
- County Durham has historic Durham and unspoilt Pennine countryside; while further north is Newcastle.