The North of England is a wild and windswept region, tempered by the relative civility of Roman occupation and forged thereafter by centuries of bloodshed. From Viking raiders to the Norman Conquest and the Border Wars to the Victorians, history and folklore are intricately woven within the fabric of this rugged region.
Peak District, Derbyshire
The upland area known as the Peak District lies mainly in northern Derbyshire and is comprised of two parts: The Dark Peak – wild gritstone moorland and peaks supporting little more than heather; and the White Peak – limestone valleys and rolling hills where most inhabitants live in the Peak District’s picturesque villages and market towns.
Its location between Manchester and Sheffield makes access easy, contributing to its popularity. An estimated 22 million visitors each year make the Peak District the second most visited national park in the world, after Mount Fuji, Japan. Chatsworth House, home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and setting for Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, is just one of hundreds of tourist attractions in the region. One of the few blights on the landscape is the Castleton cement works (above, right), with quarrying and cement a major component of the local economy.
In addition to castles, quaint villages and grand stately homes, the remains of ancient man punctuate the landscape. Numerous stone circles like Nine Stones on Harthill Moor (above) stand amid heather on the more wild expanses of the landscape, reminding us of the Peak District’s Bronze Age heritage, and making medieval fortresses seem almost modern by comparison.
Lake District, Cumbria
Cumbria’s rugged Lake District is an ancient landscape, teeming with tourists and popularised by the romantic poets of the 19th century. This is a mysterious place where, cliched as it may sound, Wordsworth’s voice can almost be heard on the wind that swirls around the fells. Despite the outstanding beauty of “The Lakes”, the abandoned slate mine at Coniston (above) reflects an industry that was once vital to the local economy.
As the name suggests, the eponymous Lake District boasts numerous lakes which are the longest and deepest in England. Similarly, most of England’s mountains are found here (including all land higher than 3,000 feet), such as Scafell Pike, the country’s highest peak. The picture above shows the west end of Ennerdale Water, with Anglers Crag on the right and Bowness Knott on the Left.
Above, dark clouds brood over Great Gable, while boats on Derwent Water reflect the Autumn glow. Historic steam trains are one of the main attractions on the Settle-Carlisle Railway, while the legacy of the ancient Britons lives on in numerous standing stones, such as Kinniside stone circle.
The landscape above could almost depict Middle Earth from The Lord of the Rings, and captures dramatically everything that is moody and mysterious about England’s north. The mountains may not be as high as the Alps or the Rockies, but the wild crags and fells, tempered by man’s attempts to make his home amid the arduous terrain over thousands of years, make the Lake District – Britain’s largest national park – an ideal destination for overseas tourists as well as Brits who want to get away from it all at the weekend.
The high fells and lake-filled valleys afford spectacular views across Cumbria, while converted 16th century barns and farm houses provide the perfect base for those who want to get out in all kinds of weather. From these vantage points, it’s easy to understand how superstition and myth gathered pace throughout antiquity and still cling to life, just about, in the digital era in which we now live. Cable TV and wireless internet may have reached Cumbria, but the ghosts, fairies and will-’o-the-wisps haven’t yet melted into the mountain air.
Yorkshire is England’s largest and in many ways most diverse county. From industrial South Yorkshire to the West Yorkshire Dales and the stunning North Yorkshire Moors, “God’s Own County” was home to Celtic Brigantes tribes before witnessing Roman occupation. It went forth to lose the Wars of the Roses, launch world-famous explorer Captain James Cook to distant lands, and invent Sheffield Plate (silver-plated copper) and stainless steel. To top it off, the very locally celebrated Yorkshire Day falls on August 1st.
Surrounding the industrial cities of Leeds and Sheffield, and the tourist city of York (once the capital of the North), is breathtaking scenery which reaches its zenith in two national parks – the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors. Wharfedale in West Yorkshire (above) is an example of a genteel river valley, while stately homes like Cusworth Hall stand on grand, centuries-old estates all over the county.
The stunning ruins of Whitby Abbey stand on a stormy headland above the North Sea. The Benedictine priory was founded in 657 AD and reflects the early Christian influence along the Yorkshire coast. Like so many of its contemporaries, Whitby Abbey was abandoned after a Viking raid in 867 AD. Almost 800 years later, not far from Whitby, a farm labourer’s son called James Cook would apprentice with a local grocer, and thereafter find the sea legs that would help him discover much of the known world.
An original apothecary shop in Haworth may have been visited by Emily and Charlotte Bronte (author of Jane Eyre), who lived in the town – their father was vicar of the parish church, shown above. A war memorial stands in the town of Conisborough, in front of of the 11th century fortress Conisborough Castle, one of the best preserved motte and bailey castles in Europe. The Old Red Lion is one of Leeds’ last remaining inns, having survived much inner city redevelopment. Less fortunate were the Tinsley cooling towers (demolished 2008), a Sheffield landmark, not least due to their appearance in The Full Monty.
Like its towns and cities, Yorkshire’s landscape is wonderfully diverse, from rolling pastures to the rugged Malham Tarn (above), where cattle roam and sheep graze the upland moors, and counting on the weather to behave itself is likely to scupper most unprepared forays into the great outdoors.
As far as landscapes go, Northumberland is as diverse as the northern counties mentioned above, while also enjoying the reputation of being England’s best kept secret. With a stunning coastline to the east giving way to corn fields and rolling river valleys, the landscape rises as it heads north to meet Scotland, culminating in the wild and mysterious border region – a repository of myth and legend and the scene of years of fighting between English and Scots. The photos above show one of Northumberland’s most enduring scenes – Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island, where Christianity first flourished in the North of England.
The mighty fortress of Bamburgh Castle, built around the time of the Norman invasion of 1066, is a magnificent sight overlooking the chilly North Sea. Located on a commanding and somewhat intimidating basalt outcrop, castles surely don’t come any more impressive than this.
But for all the elegant stately homes, castles, quaint villages and market towns, the most enduring images of the north country are most often the angry skies, rolling moorland and ruined medieval buildings. The storm rolling in over the Northumberland border country, with its hundreds of abandoned, centuries-old farm houses and barns, paints the ultimate picture of England’s rural north.
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