From the bleak, wind-swept moors echoing to the sounds of “Heathcliffe!”, to the Old Swan Hotel in the spa town of Harrogate, Yorkshire abounds with literary heritage. If you’re fascinated by authors who hail from ‘God’s own county’, or you’d like to explore the settings from famous novels, Harrogate is the ideal spot for your next short break in the UK.
The disappearance of crime novelist Agatha Christie is well known, although why she went missing for 11 days is still subject to conjecture. We know she left her home on 3rd December 1926, and that she was found at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (as the Old Swan Hotel was known) in Harrogate 11 days later. Opinions vary as to why she disappeared. Was it because her husband was having an affair and wanted a divorce? Was it because she suffered from depression? Or was it simply a sensational way to sell more books? The compelling mystery is one reason why Harrogate hosts the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in July each year.
The Yorkshire village of Haworth was home to the Brontës from 1820 to 1861. The Haworth Parsonage (now known as the Brontë Parsonage Museum) was where Charlotte, Emily and Anne wrote some of their best-loved works, including Wuthering Heights, which was set on the nearby moors. These three women, daughters of a clergyman, wrote some of the most dramatic novels that are still enjoyed today. Living such modest lives, the powerful imagery they imagined makes their accomplishments even more astounding.
Who isn’t acquainted with the endearing James Herriott novels, or the television series All Creatures Great and Small? These charming tales involving vets James, Siegfried and Tristan were set in Thirsk, where you can visit the house and surgery, and be transported back to the 1940s. Even the original Austin 7 car is on display.
I vant to drink your blood
No prizes for guessing who said those chilling words. Part of Bram Stoker’s horrific tale of Dracula was set in Whitby, where the ship he was travelling on ran aground on its way to England. Dracula then took up residence in Whitby Abbey, originally a 7th century Christian monastery, and you can visit the atmospheric ruins overlooking the sea.
The county of Yorkshire has inspired a host of great authors, with its outstanding landscape and quaint villages. Whatever your literary taste, you’ll find a connection here.
Harrogate sits in the centre of Yorkshire, which makes it the perfect base from which to explore the fantastic natural beauty of this part of the UK. If you’re a fan of short breaks in Yorkshire, staying in Harrogate will give you the best of both worlds: sophisticated shopping and dining, plus awe-inspiring country walks nearby.
Harrogate Ringway Walk – 20 miles/32km
This circuit goes around Harrogate, with a radius of 3-4 miles from the town centre. Although it’s classed as strenuous, the walk can be broken up into several smaller sections. You’ll amble by becks, viaducts, the River Nidd, Nidd Gorge, Birk Crag, plus plenty of woodland and open countryside. It takes you through Knaresborough, which is worth taking time out to explore. If you get thirsty on the Ringway, you could stop for a pint at the Travellers Rest (south side of Harrogate, off the Wetherby Road) or the Black Swan in Burn Bridge.
Nidderdale Way – 53 miles/85km
This challenging circular route traditionally begins and ends in Pateley Bridge, but as we’re not all Ray Mears, you can walk many shorter sections where you will still be surrounded by the natural beauty of Nidderdale. Incidentally, every year the Nidderdale Charity Walk takes place in May, which raises hundreds of thousands of pounds for various charities. There are 5, 10 and 20-mile options, plus a 2-mile assisted walk which is wheelchair friendly.
Pateley Bridge Circular 1 – 11 miles/18km
Starting in Pateley Bridge, you walk along the River Nidd until you get to Gouthwaite Reservoir, which is popular with birdwatchers. You’ll take in the village of Ramsgill, which has super views over the water, as well as the Michelin-starred Yorke Arms restaurant. There are some fantastic views over the Dales when you reach Pincher Hill, which is almost 1,000 feet high.
Pateley Bridge Circular 2 – 9 miles/14kmThis takes you in the opposite direction to the previous route, and in addition to hills, water features and woodland, it takes you through lots of lovely villages and to Brimham Rocks. The 320-million-year-old geological rock formations on this site are an outstanding feature of the area.
How Stean Gorge, Middlemoor and Nidderdale – 3 miles/5km
How Stean Gorge has been called ‘Little Switzerland’ and is said to resemble a miniature Grand Canyon. Whether or not you agree with either of these statements, it’s definitely worth visiting. The gorge has a small cave and a tunnel, if you’re not afraid of dark, confined spaces. You can book to be taken gorge walking with the trained staff on site. The walk has wonderful scenery and takes you through the villages of Stan, Middlesmoor and Lofthouse.
Blubberhouses Tree Trail – 3 miles/5km
Getting your boots on doesn’t mean you have to walk all day. This delightful route takes only a couple of hours, starting and ending at the wonderfully named Blubberhouses. As you follow the River Washburn for most of the way, you’ll catch plenty of glimpses of local wildlife. There is also a wide variety of trees, as well as several disused quarries.
Ripley and Knox Circular – 5.5 miles/8.9km
Ripley is an ancient village about 3 miles (5km) outside Harrogate. It has a 14th century castle and beautiful landscaped gardens. From this starting point you will enjoy walking along the River Nidd, as well as crossing an old pack horse bridge and the Nidd viaduct. It takes you through the tiny hamlet of Knox, where you can enjoy a drink at the pub of the same name.
Anyone coming for a short break in Harrogate is spoilt for choice when it comes to walking in areas of outstanding natural beauty, such as Nidderdale.
Kimberley Wilson & Simon Storer
owners and operators of The Camberley