Wensleydale is world renown for its delicious cheeses, but there are many more interesting reasons to visit this peaceful area of Yorkshire beyond satisfying your taste buds. There is the imposing bulk of 14th-century Castle Bolton, perched above the valley. The castle was built by Richard Scrope, Lord Chancellor during the reign of Richard II and houses an excellent folk museum.
Just a few miles away from Castle Bolton lies Middleham Castle, which dates back to the 12th century. This massive creation was once known as the "Windsor of the North". It was owned by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (called "Warwick the Kingmaker" for his immense power in the realm), and later, Richard III grew up here. Middleham is now under the care of English Heritage.
Two miles down the road from Middleham are the ruins of Jervaulx Abbey, slumbering in parkland beside the River Ure. The abbey church is mostly destroyed, but the monastery is in good condition.
Jervaulx was founded in 1168 by a group of Cistercian monks who claimed to have been led to the site by a vision of the Virgin Mary.
The largest town in Wensleydale is Bedale, scene of a weekly market since 1251. St. Gregory's church, just off the market square, was mentioned in the Domesday Book, and contains remnants of even earlier construction. Opposite the church is Bedale Hall, a Georgian mansion that doubles as a local museum. Bedale is a serene place, blessed with cobbled streets and neatly whitewashed houses.
If Bedale is the largest town in Wensleydale, Hawes is the most aromatic, for it is the centre of the Wensleydale cheese industry. Here at the local market over 100,000 sheep change hands annually. Just outside Hawes is Hardraw Force, a spectacular waterfall with a sheer drop of 98 feet, making it one of the highest in Britain.
Wensleydale is decidedly rural in character. You won't find the bright lights of the big city here, but if you enjoy walking there are excellent trails across the hills, and a feeling of timelessness that pervades the valley.
What to see:
Castle Bolton: 14th century castle overlooks the valley.
Middleham Castle: Home of Warwick the Kingmaker and Richard III.
Jervaulx Abbey: a ruined Cistercian abbey dating to the 12th century.
Hawes - pretty market town, home of the Wensleydale creamery
Hardraw Force waterfall - just outside Hawes
Buttertubs Pass - dramatic limestone formations just north of Hawes