10 things to do in and around Hawes, North Yorkshire

I loved visiting the Yorkshire Dales last year. We stayed in the small market town of Hawes, which is a great base for a Yorkshire Dales holiday. There are several attractions in the town itself and there’s plenty to see in the local area. Read on for our suggestions:

1. Wensleydale Creamery

By far the best known attraction in Hawes is the Wensleydale Creamery, home of Wensleydale cheese. The centre offers cheese making demonstrations, a small museum and viewing gallery, cafe and shops. The creamery has a lot to thank Wallace and Gromit for; the animated duo helped increase production at a time when sales were slowing. Nowadays the creamery sells a cheese named after them, I bet it’s a popular choice for visitors.

Wensleydale creamery
Wensleydale creamery

The best part, for most visitors, is the cheese shop. It’s full of samples, even for those people who (dare I say this) don’t like Wensleydale cheese.

You can visit the cheese shop for free; a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) to the museum and cheese making area costs £7.50.

2. Hardraw Force waterfall

Hardraw Force is England’s highest above ground single drop waterfall, with a plunge of 100 foot. It’s a short easy walk to the waterfall through the grounds of the Green Dragon Inn. We visited during a dry spell; I’d imagine it’s even more impressive after heavy rain.

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The waterfall is open daily from 10am. A family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) costs £7.50.

3. Hawes Ropemakers (Outhwaites)

Outhwaites Ltd, Ropemakers, Hawes
Outhwaites Ltd, Ropemakers, Hawes

Located in the town this traditional ropemaker is worth popping into for 20 minutes or so. It’s mesmerising standing in front of the machines watching rope being made. There are machines making braids of all thicknesses and lengths from church bell ropes to skipping ropes. And if you’ve got a dog, their leads are available to buy and very popular.

Entrance is free.

4. Sheepdog demonstration

Countryfile have resurrected “One man and his dog” over the last couple of years which may account for the popularity of this evening out.

Sheepdog demonstration, near Hawes
Sheepdog demonstration, near Hawes

Run by a local farmer, Richard Fawcett holds weekly demonstrations in a field just outside Hawes throughout the summer season.

Visitors are introduced to the dogs and watch them working the sheep. They make it look easy even if the sheep don’t always behave according to plan!

Check Richard’s website for details of upcoming dates and times. Tickets cost £5 for adults, £1 for children.

5. Dales Countryside Museum

The Dales Countryside Museum is a small local museum that focusses on the Yorkshire Dales and its people. Housed in the old railway station you’ll find exhibits ranging from Bronze Age spearheads to a Victorian smithy. Outside there are railway carriages with activities for younger children.

Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes
Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes

The Dales Countryside Museum is open daily except over the Christmas period and throughout January. Admission is £4.50 for adults, children are free.

6. Red squirrel spotting at Snaizeholme

First, an admission. We didn’t see any red squirrels because we didn’t actually make it to the squirrel viewpoint. Why? We made the mistake of randomly driving to the area shown on the Red Squirrel Trail map without arranging parking first. Don’t make the same mistake as us. Call in to the tourist information at Hawes to arrange parking before you go! Alternatively you can book the on-demand bus service from the Dales Countryside Museum.

Once you’ve conquered the transport there’s a 40 minute walk to the red squirrel viewing area where, hopefully you’ll be able to spot one.

7. Drive up Buttertubs Pass

Buttertubs Pass links Swaledale with Wensleydale and has the rather dubious accolade of being Jeremy Clarkson’s favourite road in the UK. I can understand why petrol heads might enjoy zooming around the twisty turns and bends but I decided on a more careful driving style.

Buttertubs Pass
Buttertubs Pass

We drove up on a misty and murky day. About halfway along there’s a small lay by to pull in and view the buttertubs; deep limestone potholes once used to store (you can probably guess) butter. Heading back towards Hawes the clouds cleared and we were treated to great views, and a very low flying helicopter!

8. Aysgill Force

We walked from Gayle Mill, along the beck to Aysgill Force. It’s about a mile or so to reach the 40 foot waterfall. Well worth the effort, although be prepared for mud and slippy sections if visiting after rain.

Aysgill Force, near Hawes
Aysgill Force, near Hawes

9. Gayle Mill

Gayle Mill is a restored 19th century sawmill with working machinery and water powered turbines.

The mill can only be visited on a guided tour but, if like us, you arrive at the wrong time you can always browse in the craft shop. Gayle Mill also offers heritage craft workshops with some great options such as making your own cartwheel (sadly rather pricey).

Gayle Mill, near Hawes
Gayle Mill, near Hawes

10. Explore the village

I’ve seen Hawes mentioned as a tourist honeypot but I think it manages to absorb visitors without harming the character of the town. It’s easy to spend an hour or two browsing the shops and stopping at one of the cafes. Although if you visit on a Bank Holiday weekend be prepared for hordes of motorcyclists, all apparently visiting for fish and chips!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these suggestions. If you’re looking for an active break in the Yorkshire Dales you might also enjoy reading about our Three Peaks walks and our trip down Gaping Gill pothole.

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2016: a year in review – my top 10

It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2016. What can I say? It’s been a mixed year. Huge political shake ups, continuing civil wars, the Rio Olympics and Paralympics and Planet Earth II.

Personally, there have been sad times and happy times. I’ve had some great adventures and ticked off a couple of long held ambitions. Focussing on the positives, and in no particular order, here are my top 10 of 2016:

1. Running the London marathon

The first three months of 2016 were spent pounding roads and muddy footpaths in preparation for running the London marathon. My once in a lifetime challenge.

Finished!
Finished!

The day itself was incredible and by far the most physically demanding thing I’ve done. There were tough parts (the last six miles), amazing parts (spectator support and running over Tower Bridge) and emotional parts (finishing). Would I do it again? No way! But I’m very glad to have completed it.

2. Walking the Yorkshire Three Peaks

View from Pen-y-ghent descent
View from Pen-y-ghent descent

We spent a week in the Yorkshire Dales and were blessed with ideal walking weather. Perfect for tackling the Yorkshire Three Peaks – Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. Often walked as a day long charity challenge, we chose the easy option and spread them over three separate days.

3. Family backpacking adventures

Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn
Rest break near the gallops, Lambourn

I’ve cheated here and combined two trips into one. At the start of the year we decided the kids were old enough for backpacking. We bought a couple of lightweight tents and chose a couple of weekend routes close to home.

Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham
Swinford Lock camp fire, Eynsham

It wasn’t all plain sailing. I oversetimated the mileage we could comfortably walk on our Lambourn Valley Way weekend. And the weather was just a tad too warm on our Thames Path walk. But both weekends were fun, we rewarded ourselves with lovely meals out and made some great memories.

4. Going underground at Zip World Caverns, Blaenau Ffestiniog

My scary but exciting birthday present. Zip lining in caves, crawling through tunnels and scaling the side of the caverns. Are you brave enough to tackle Zip World Caverns?

Zip World Caverns training
Zip World Caverns training

5. Watching a Midsummer’s Night Dream, Creation Theatre, Oxford

“Quick, follow me. Walk in zigzags and blink your eyes really fast. Get in the van, hurry”. Think of Shakespeare and you don’t generally think of being bundled into a van in a public car park. Or taking part in an audition. Or popping into the printers to pick up wedding invites.

Part immersive performance, part treasure trail around Oxford this was an incredibly imaginative version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from Creation Theatre. It was simply the best production I have ever seen.

6. Descending into Gaping Gill

Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent
Waiting for the Gaping Gill descent

This was an unplanned, but welcome addition, to our Yorkshire Dales holiday. After spotting an advert in a local cafe we siezed the opportunity to descend 100m by winch into Gaping Gill, a large pothole. We had to contend with an early start and a couple of hours queuing but it was worth the wait!

7. Finally finding a bee orchid. And then another. And another.

Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve
Bee orchid, Warburg nature reserve

You know the saying about waiting for buses? Well this year I could have substituted the words ‘bee orchid’. I was so happy to find my first bee orchid at Warburg Nature Reserve, closely followed by several more discoveries. I even found one on a roadside verge whilst out on my lunchtime walk. How could I possibly have missed them in previous years?

8. Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim

Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway

I’ve wanted to visit Giant’s Causeway for many years. It has been on my bucket list forever. With expectations so high, thank god it lived up to them!

9. Watching coypu at our campsite in France

Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany
Coypu at Milin de Kerhe campsite, Brittany

Whilst on holiday in Brittany my favourite activity was watching a family of coypu living near our campsite. I’d head down to the river every evening, about half an hour before dusk, and wait patiently for them to appear. I was childishly excited at the first glimpse of the coypu each night, and even more so whenever the young appeared.

10. Starlings and moon rise at Otmoor

Moon from RSPB Otmoor
Moon from RSPB Otmoor

Over recent years we’ve made an annual pilgrimage to watch the starling murmuration at RSPB Otmoor. This year, in addition to 40,000 starlings, we were treated to the most amazing moon rise. Two spectacular natural sights in one day!

What are my plans for 2017? We’re keeping things flexible at the moment but I have a very long UK bucket list which I’m hoping to make a dent in. How about you?

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Puffins and bluebells on Skomer, Pembrokeshire

Twenty odd years ago I spent a week volunteering as an assistant warden on Skomer, a small island off the coast of south west Wales. It was a formative experience of my 20s; the beauty of the island, the conservation work and the volunteers are all ingrained in my memory.

Bluebells and sea campion, Skomer
Bluebells and sea campion, Skomer

It’s always tricky to revisit a place that holds such strong memories but I wanted to return with the kids when they were old enough to enjoy it. Our recent holiday to Pembrokeshire gave me the ideal opportunity; I knew the visit would be completely different but would I regret returning?

Puffin on Skomer island
Puffin on Skomer island

The boat to Skomer

The boat to Skomer leaves from the small bay of Martin’s Haven. As the island has a limit of 250 day visitors you need to arrive early if you’re travelling during peak season. We were visiting on the late May Bank Holiday so didn’t take any chances and were in the queue for tickets by 8am.

Our early start paid off and we were allocated seats on the first day visitor sailing. Our boat, the Dale Princess, makes the 10 minute journey several times a day which is reassuring given the notorious reputation of Jack Sound, the stretch of water that separates Skomer from the mainland. I was glad it was only a short journey as the swell was considerable despite it being a calm day.

Skomer guillemots
Skomer guillemots

As we neared the landing stage we were surrounded by seabirds, mostly puffins, bobbing in the sea around us. After disembarking we were directed up a flight of steps, past ledges full of guillemots, for an introductory talk by the warden. 

The warden described the island as a piece of Swiss cheese. This is a perfect analogy. Three of its main inhabitants live in the burrows which cover the island; puffins, rabbits and Manx shearwaters. Whilst you’re likely to see both puffins (in season) and rabbits the Manx shearwaters arrive and leave in darkness. Only overnight visitors will witness the vocal cacophony of the shearwaters that return to the island each evening.

Visitor centre and volunteer accommodation, Skomer
Visitor centre and volunteer accommodation, Skomer

We had around 5 hours which is more than enough time to walk a circuit of the island. Our first stop was a trip to the Old Farm, which houses a small visitor exhibition and, most importantly, the only public toilets on the island. It’s also the location of the volunteer accommodation, which I was keen to show the family, even though the kids weren’t particularly impressed by my reminiscing.

Skomer volunteer accommodation - 1990s vs 2015
Skomer volunteer accommodation – 1990s vs 2015

The volunteer accommodation had certainly had a makeover since my earlier visit, as you can see from the then and now photo. Our converted cowshed (top photo) had no running water and very rudimentary facilities. I’m not sure what I smelt like after a week with no shower but I doubt it was fragrant!

We continued walking on towards Skomer Head. As with much of the Pembrokeshire coast the island is carpeted with flowers during late spring. At home (Oxfordshire) the bluebells have finished for the year but they were still flowering in abundance on Skomer, along with pink campion and sea thrift. 

Walking through the bluebells, Skomer
Walking through the bluebells, Skomer

We saw plenty of rabbits as we walked. Rather disconcertedly the first one was black and white which made the kids wonder if a pet rabbit had escaped. The rabbits were introduced to the island in the 13th Century and were raised by locals for their fur and meat. Hence many are from domesticated stock and aren’t the traditional brown colour.

We didn’t actually miss out on seeing Manx shearwaters either. Although sadly they were dead ones! Skomer is home to the largest population of Manx shearwater in the world and they’re easy picking for greater black backed gulls. As we walked around the island we saw plenty of Manx shearwater carcasses in various states of decomposition. My son delighted in taking photographs of these, I’m not quite sure what that says about his psyche.

Skomer signpost
Skomer signpost

We stopped for an early picnic lunch near Skomer Head where we attempted to spot porpoise. We were out of luck so contented ourselves with views of Grassholm, renamed gannet island by the kids. The island is home to thousands of gannets, who are responsible for the snow covered appearance of the island (bird poo).

The Wick

After lunch it was on to the main attraction, The Wick. This sheer cliff is rammed full of seabirds, mostly guillemots and razorbills, which you can hear just as well as you can see. All the visitors to the island seemed to congregate here too as it’s the best place to watch puffins on Skomer.

Skomer puffins
Skomer puffins

This year’s puffin count recorded more than 21,000 individuals, the highest number ever. The footpath runs between the puffin burrows and the cliff so visitors are treated to great close up views of the birds. There was no need for binoculars, although there was a Skomer volunteer manning a telescope focused on The Wick for better views of other seabirds.

I remember my volunteer work consisted of boardwalk building and a bird count. I should probably apologise for any inaccuracies in puffin numbers during the early 1990s. It was hard to accurately count birds that wouldn’t stay in one place for long!

Puffin burrows, Skomer
Puffin burrows, Skomer

The puffin burrows are marked with numbered sticks. These help the volunteers record which burrows are occupied and which eggs have hatched. Every so often a startled puffin emerged from one of the burrows, let out a squirt of poo and escaped the cameras by heading out to sea.

Of course puffins are not the only bird on the island. They’re not even the main attraction for the serious birdwatcher. The Skomer island blog shows that a black stork flew over on the day we visited; previous visitors this year include several golden orioles and even hoopoes! Needless to say we didn’t see any of these, but we were quite content with puffins.

View over to The Neck, Skomer
View over to The Neck, Skomer

After we finally tore ourselves away from The Wick we headed back to our start point, stopping to take in the glorious views over The Neck (inaccessible to day visitors). The photo above really doesn’t do it justice as the ground was covered in swathes of bluebells and pink campion.

We arrived back at the landing stage earlier than our planned departure time so that I could take some photographs of the guillemots we’d passed earlier. As it turned out, the boat arrived early too and we were allocated seats on an impromptu 2.30pm sailing. The trip back was completely calm, no spray and no swell, much more pleasant.

Boarding the Dale Princess, Skomer
Boarding the Dale Princess, Skomer

Did my return visit live up to expectations? Of course it did, and the rest of the family enjoyed it too. Sadly there was no sign of the boardwalk we built, but the island was exactly how I remembered it, with added puffins.

If you’re visiting the area you might also like to read my blog post about things to do near St Davids, Pembrokeshire.

More info:

  • Access to Skomer. The island is open from 1 April to 30 September, except Mondays (although it is open on Bank Holiday Mondays). It is not possible to book  trips in advance so on busy days during peak puffin season you should aim to be in the queue at Lockley Lodge, Martin’s Haven before 8am. Once you’ve got to the front of this queue and paid your landing fee you’ll be allocated a boat departure time. The landing fee is £10 for adults, children under 16 and members of the local Wildlife Trust are free.
  • Taking the boat to Skomer. The boat officially departs at 10am, 11am and 12 noon (although we were allocated a place on a 9.30am boat). It only sails when conditions allow. In particular, a strong northerly wind can mean no sailings; you can check latest boat information via @skomer_boatinfo on Twitter. The boat departure point is about 5 minutes walk downhill from Lockley Lodge. The fee is paid on the boat in cash only; this is £11 for adults, £7 for children.
  • When can you see puffins on Skomer? The best time to see puffins is May to mid-July. Most have left by early August.
  • What facilities are on Skomer? There are basic toilet facilities on Skomer but that’s all; there’s nowhere to buy food so bring a picnic with you. You can however hire a pair of binoculars; these cost £5 and are recommended if you’ve forgotten to bring your own.
  • Is Skomer suitable for children? Yes, but with some reservations. There are 87 steps to climb from the boat landing stage and much of the island is rugged terrain with open cliffs, visitors must remain on paths at all times. There are only a couple of  places to shelter on Skomer so visit on a dry day. Lastly consider whether it’s the kind of place your family would enjoy. If you’re looking for beaches, a cafe etc it won’t meet your expectations. If you’re happy to wander round the island, stop to watch wildlife and enjoy a picnic you’ll be fine. There are kids trails available, pick one up from the warden at the introductory talk.
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Starling watch at RSPB Otmoor, Oxfordshire

*To see details of our November 2016 visit to watch the starling murmuration at Otmoor click here*

Have you seen a starling murmuration? A murmuration is the name given to the swooping displays made by starlings just before they come into roost. Last winter we were treated to a fabulous display at RSPB Otmoor, and as this is the perfect time of year to see them we decided it was time for a revisit.

On our previous trip to Otmoor we made a mistake and arrived way too early. It was a freezing cold day and we spent a long time standing around in frozen mud trying to keep warm. The wait was worth it though as we were treated to spectacular murmurations.

This year we set off later. It had rained all day but as we negotiated the traffic delight of Oxford’s ring road the blue skies appeared. Surely a signal.

We duly arrived at the car park, put on our wellies and started the 20 minute walk to the viewing point near the reed beds. A couple of small groups of starlings flew overhead and as we walked we were treated to the most amazing sunset.

Otmoor sunset

Otmoor_sunsetOtmoor_sunset2Otmoor_sunset3otmoor_sunset4

Perhaps this should have been an indicator that we were a little on the late side arriving this year. Nevertheless, we joined several other bird watchers at the shelter and proceeded to wait for the starlings. And we waited.

A few minutes later a couple of the group started to walk back and we overheard that the starlings had already put on their display for the day. This was disappointing news to us, and to the people next to us who had driven for 1.5 hours to see them!

Many bird watchers have visited my blog over the last couple of weeks to find out what time the starlings roost. At the end of November it was around 3.40pm. About 10 minutes before we arrived.

Were we disappointed? A little. We hadn’t seen the starlings but we were treated to the most amazing sunset. And there’s something magical walking back through a nature reserve in the dark!

If you’re interested in other posts about local nature reserves you might also enjoy reading about moth spotting at Neptune Wood or orchid hunting at Warburg Nature Reserve. Alternatively locals and visitors alike might enjoy my post about things to do in Oxford.

More info:

  • Further details about Otmoor reserve can be found here.
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