Wensleydale, once known as Yoredale, is the largest of the Yorkshire Dales. The main town, Hawes, is at the western end of the dale. It is England's highest market town at 850 feet above sea level. Wensleydale is the only dale not named after the river which runs through it.
Hawes was first recorded as a market place in 1307, though it had been home to Yorkshire families long before. Originally the town was named Le Thouse, I'm glad it changed its name. After the terrible 'Harrying of the North' under William the Conqueror which left so much of Yorkshire officially classed as wasteland, Hawes, and most of Wensleydale, was designated as royal forest. Nowadays Hawes is a maze of narrow streets with places to eat and drink, hotels and guest houses and some interesting shops, one of my favourites being Elijah Allen & Son. Tuesday is Market Day, and is very busy. The Farmers' mart here was 'Darrowby Cattle Mart' in the TV series 'All Creatures Great and Small.' There is also a pottery and a glassblower. The town is also remembered for its Mole Catcher - he once caught 385 in a single day.
The famous Wensleydale cheese is made here, and is the single largest employer in the area. This cheese is traditionally thought to have been introduced by Cistercian monks of Jervaulx Abbey in the C12th. If only they knew what they'd started. A visit to the Wensleydale Creamery is a must. You can see the cheese in production, one thousand gallons of milk are churned to make 850 gallons of whey and a by-product of curd, processed into a light, crumbly cheese that's pushed into presses and left to dry. The distinctive flavour of Wensleydale stems from the milk, taken from cows that feed on grasses and herbs full of nutrients from lime rich soil. Our previous visits to the creamery found it fairly quiet. Our latest visit found it teeming with folk, and this was a weekday, I put this partly down to Wallace & Gromit, those lovable characters who now endorse the cheese.
Wensleydale Creamery Visitor Centre
Click on Wallace and Gromit to hear about the cheese!
Click door area for close-up
Hawes most famous and respected son has to be Kit Calvert. He rescued Hawes Dairy in 1933. He established a bookshop which is still going strong. Kit also translated parts of the Bible into Wensleydale dialect. There is an additional page on this much loved character. Click here to see it.
On a small hotel, once a Quaker building, inscribed on a lintel is: 'Ano Dom 1668. God being with us who can be against.'
If you visit the Ropemakers at Town Foot you will see how church bell ropes, halters, skipping ropes and washing lines are made. The factory, trading under the name of W R Outhwaite & Son, uses traditional methods to produce fine rope. Production is laborious, and uses machines which spin spools with 32 bobbins at break-neck speed, winding together countless coloured threads to form a wide variety of rope products which are on sale in the shop.
The Dales Countryside Museum in the town embraces life and manufactory in the dales. It is devoted to farming, knitting, lead-mining and other industries. It is situated in the former Station Yard and features the history of the Dales Railway.
The Pennine Way, a mere 250 mile footpath, passes through here. There are plenty more walks around that are a little more gentle. Hardraw Force is nearby, the highest single drop cascade in England. Go through the Green Dragon Inn, enter a short, deep valley, this ends with Hardraw Scar. The water falls clear of the rock, the more adventurous can stand behind it. The poet Wordsworth did just this in 1799. JWM Turner painted the falls, later reproduced as a very popular engraving. Believe it or not, brass band competitions were held here in the C19th. The backdrop was used as a natural sounding-board. Near the falls lies a mysterious cave, which is said connects by a subterranean passage with Cotterdale Cave over a mile away.
What more can one ask for?
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