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Holiday cottages in the Yorkshire Dales

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The Yorkshire Dales National Park is a walking and cycling paradise, sandwiched between the Lake District to the west, and the North York Moors to the east. This is an area of high hills and moors criss-crossed by dry-stone walls, dotted with secluded cottages and farmhouses, and home to the ruins of Fountains Abbey and several country estates. To explore this area there are plenty of places to stay - from idyllic country cottages in the Yorkshire Dales, self-catering cottages with log fires, holiday houses in remote villages and everything in between.

For the cyclist the Yorkshire Dales National Park is heavenly. Most roads follow the bottom of the valley and so there is plenty of riding on the flat, but there's still plenty of more challenging climbs, and there are lots of suggested routes for one day, or much longer. One of the longest is the Yorkshire Dales Cycle Way, a 130-mile circuit that takes in some of the most exhilarating scenery in the area. It takes in Wharfedale, Wensleydale, Swaledale, Dentdale, and finally Ribblesdale. Some of the roads are steep and it is fairly energetic, but there are plenty of places to stop over, and to complete it is quite an achievement.

The Yorkshire Dales is one of the most popular destinations for walkers in the UK with options for all abilities, and the best place to choose your route is the local Tourist Centre. One of the best long-distance walks to take is the Dales Way, which starts in Ilkley and finishes, 60 miles later, in Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District. This journey usually takes five days, but you can extend this quite easily by taking local walks around the towns of Grassington and Hawes, for example.

Skipton, on the southern edge of the park, was once known as 'Sheeptown', and the market tradition continues to this day, with the High Street taken over on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays giving the town a festival atmosphere for most of the week. The main attraction in Skipton is the Castle. This is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in England an in direct contrast to most of the ruins you will find in the area.

Only 6 miles away is Grassington, another perfect place to rent a cottage as a base for exploring the Dales. It has an authentic Georgian centre, and attracts thousands of visitors each year who soak up the atmosphere, and it is about as traditional a town as you will come across in this part of Yorkshire. There are plenty of places to stay in and around the town, with guesthouses around the main square, to secluded cottages in the surrounding countryside.

One of the most visited places, and the destination for many walkers and cyclists, is Malham. It sits at the head of Malhamdale, itself a quiet and secluded valley, and is a small and traditional village, but the main attractions are the natural wonders of Malham Cove, formerly a huge waterfall, and Gordale Scar, a deep limestone chasm with lots of streams cascading down into it.

On the other side of Kirkby Fell is the market town of Settle. It has a quaint centre, with narrow cobbled streets, lots of shops to stock up in, and cosy pubs for the obligatory pint of beer. Settle is also the southern terminus of the Carlisle to Settle Railway. This feat of Victorian engineering is one of the finest achievements of that era and gently chugs passengers through some of the finest scenery in northern England. The train puffs its way up the Ribble valley, then over the spectacular Ribblehead viaduct, through Blea Moor tunnel, to pop out above Dent before reaching its highest point at over 1300ft before leaving the Dales and descending to Carlisle. This journey is a must for anyone who yearns after the great age of steam, and is a trip that rivals the West Highland Line in Scotland for drama and spectacle.

At the north east point of the Yorkshire National Park is the historic town of Richmond. It has two main advantages over most of the other places in this part of Yorkshire; it is virtually unaffected by tourism, and it is one of the most attractive of Britain's towns. It is crammed with cobbled streets and alleyways, filled with Georgian houses and old stone cottages. These streets radiate away from the central Market Square and give breathtaking views of the surrounding hills and dales. Overlooking the town are the massive remains of Richmond Castle, one of the first in England to be built entirely of stone. Probably the best part of a visit to this edifice is a climb to the top of the 30ft high tower from where you can look down over the Market Square on one side, or the surrounding hills on the other. There are plenty of places to eat and drink here, and some enchanting places to stay in Richmond and use as a base whilst exploring this part of the Park.

Richmond is at the eastern end of Swaledale, probably the quietest and least visited of all the Dales, but it is also more rugged and wilder than those to the south. Lead mining was the major employer here just over a hundred years ago, but when the bottom fell out of the market most people left and went to the cities, or emigrated. For example there is a large ex-pat contingent in Wisconsin. This exodus has left Swaledale almost deserted with only a handful of small, isolated villages littering its length. The largest of these is Reeth, and a great way to understand the history of this valley is to visit the Swaledale Folk Museum. There are plenty of shops, pubs, and cafes to cater for the walkers and other visitors to this Dale, and interesting cottages to rent around the village green.

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