Why Pateley Bridge is a great place to visit all year round
PUBLISHED: 00:00 09 August 2018
Credit: MJ Peakman / Alamy Stock Photo
A perfect place to while away the summertime, says Richard Darn
There are few places in England – let alone Yorkshire – with such an enviable setting as Pateley Bridge. Surrounded by the majestic hills and woods of Nidderdale, the town does more than live up to its magnificent surroundings.
It’s a bit of mystery to me why some equally beautiful areas became national parks, such as the Yorkshire Dales, whilst others, like the 233 square miles around Pateley Bridge, became Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Nidderdale was so designated in 1954 and shares the 2,300ft Whernside massif with its bigger cousin.
But whatever we call it, this landscape remains a gem, offering a vast array of walking, biking, caving and sight seeing opportunities, not to mention stargazing at the excellent Lime Tree Observatory, near Grewelthorpe.
As the de facto capital of Upper Nidderdale, Pateley Bridge is the perfect place to while away a few hours or even longer. It oozes charm with its main street flanked by lovely stone buildings, one of which is occupied by the oldest sweet shop in the world. Opened in 1827 it’s the place to head to reawaken your taste buds to forgotten pleasures such as sherbet lemon and pear drops.
Flowing through the town is the lovely River Nidd – the name means ‘brilliant’ in Celtic – which starts its journey to the North Sea on the high slopes of the previously mentioned Great Whernside. It provides the backdrop for the Pateley Show, the last of the big Yorkshire agricultural events in the calendar, which this year takes place on September 24th in Bewerley Park. Founded in 1895 and marking a feast which has its origins in medieval times, the traditional livestock and produce exhibits have expanded to offer a marvellous family day out.
It’s good to see so much happening locally these days. Making its debut this year is the first Nidderdale Food and Drink Festival, set be held on October 28th and showcasing the area’s wonderful local produce and cookery skills, and watch out for details of the popular Pateley Walking Festival in late September offering guided strolls through peerless terrain.
And NiddFest deserves a special mention. It began life three years ago as a family-friendly literary festival featuring some of the UK’s best writers with an emphasis on the great outdoors. It’s gone from strength to strength with the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, one of the fabulous recent speakers. Look out for it next June.
As picturesque as it all seems today, Pateley Bridge conceals a very different past. Long before it was discovered by tourists it was a hard working mining town. Lead has been dug out of the surrounding hills since Roman times and was used to roof Windsor Castle in 1363. A much prized resource it was even the subject of disputes between Fountains and Byland abbeys, both of which owned mines. Stone was another much valued local material, used to build monastic houses across the north.
The 53-mile Nidderdale Way, which starts and finishes in Pateley, takes you into the heart of this industrial landscape. Prosperous House mine is one of the best preserved of the modern sites dating to the 18th century. It provided a slim profit to the owners and back breaking work for locals who endured long hours and dangerous conditions. Like so much of the lead mining industry in the north it struggled to remain viable as prices fluctuated and imports undercut local supplies. Eventually it was abandoned in 1899, but evidence of this tough trade is still around in the spoil heaps and smelt mill walls. Even closer to the town are the remains of Scot Gate Ash Quarry, which produced a fine millstone grit stone used to build the National Gallery and other prestigious buildings in London, along with railway platforms at York, Paddington and Victoria. A real money spinner in its day, the quarry was linked to the newly arrived mainline railway in the 1870s with a steep trackway, which is still visible. That meant stone could be shipped out in large quantities. Pateley Bridge in the 19th century must have cut quite a scene. A pall of smoke would have hung over the hills and valleys and with the quarry alone employing 500 men and boys, lime kilns and linen mills in full swing and steam trains chugging in and out, this part of Yorkshire had gritty past.
You can retrace the story at the excellent Nidderdale Museum in Pateley Bridge, which has even recreated a dark lead mining tunnel to explore. Run by the volunteers it is housed in what was the town’s old workhouse and has won numerous accolades (including one for the museum that does the most with the least!). It provides a wonderful window on how the Industrial Revolution arrived and departed this tranquil area, adding a fascinating chapter to Nidderdale’s story.