Busing round the Dales

I have been planning to ride buses through the Dales for some time, ever since I saw that it was possible, and read Bus-Pass Britain.

Obviously, I don’t have a bus pass, but the book told me about the buses that go through the Dales. There aren’t many, some are locally funded, and many only run in the summer. Well, it’s summer (despite the chilly wet weather), so I was willing to work out how to do it. And my son has come over to England to join me for a week, and he wanted to see the Dales. Since I have no intention of driving, it’s the bus or don’t go.

I chose Saltaire for our stay, since every time someone heard I was a historian focused on the Victorian era, they’d say, “You’ve been to Saltaire, yes?” Um, no. But there happened to be an AirBnb holiday let that’s actually in one of the cottages Titus Salt built for his mill workers, so that was too cool to resist.

First, then, Saltaire. It’s a little bigger than the French Quarter in New Orleans, but similar in that it is a quite perfect place surrounded by imperfect places (in this case, Shipley and Bradford).

It’s a little difficult to manage, because no one seems to eat dinner out here (unless you like fish and chips — then go to Webster’s). The first night we walked to Shipley, and there wasn’t anything there either. But there are wonderful shops, including a butcher and a baker and a co-op grocery with everything. And you can see the Dales in the shots above, but it’s not close enough for me.

So what we did was (takes notes):

Train from Saltaire to Shipley, then change for the train to Ilkley. (This was kind of strange — the Shipley rail station is a bit bizarre, and you get off on one platform, but then have to cross the car park to get to the other.) Walk to the bus stop (quickly, because there is no bathroom at Ilkley station), and catch Bus 74A to Hebden.

Now this is a country bus, which is more like a van than a bus. And it filled right away with local pensioners, leaving only the two seats we took (one of which had to be given up for an older gentleman before our stop). The bus is the only one with a stop at Bolton Abbey, which is far more stunning than it looks in any of the photos. And the driver was fantastically helpful. Knowing (because he drives it) that there is only one bus coming later that day, he told us he’d watch for us.

Have I mentioned that people in the north of England are invariably helpful? As soon as they know you’re a visitor, you get advice on what to do and how to do it. If you’re lost, they help. And they do it all with an extraordinary sense of humor. Yorkshire folks in particular have a deadpan and ironic humor that is very similar to my own — they’re always having you on. So much more fun than in the south. They say northerners are dour, but that’s never been my experience (with the exception of the Left Luggage man at York station).

For example, a woman on the crowded bus had a little dog. When a man got on the bus, they negotiated, since he had a cane and wanted to sit on the aisle for his leg, but she was worried her dog would get crushed, and her argument carried. As he squeezed in to the window seat, he asked, “Is your dog fierce?” and she immediately said “Well, he ate several people for breakfast”, then the woman behind him said, “You’re all right then, since he’s eaten already.”

I thought that Bolton Abbey was just a ruin (thanks, Henry VIII), but it’s a whole estate. The ruined part is there, but so is an active church that still stands in part of the old building. An attendant was there to tell us about the church and its history. And the whole setting is along the glorious River Wharfe, which I had seen in Wetherby but looks completely different here, active and fast-moving.

After a few hours walking around Bolton Abbey (lunch at the Cavendish Pavilion was quite good), our driver returned on the 74A (empty bus this time, so we could chat) to continue on the line to Grassington, through glorious scenery.

He said it was lucky there were enough seats this morning. I said I felt badly if we took away seats from the locals, since we’re only on holiday and they have places they need to go. But he said many of them just ride the bus for something to do, and just ride around all day. I told him if I lived here, I’d do that too!

He then advised us not to stay in Grassington, but to take the next bus to Skipton (Bus 72, which is a little more frequent than the eastern line), since it was market day there and more would be going on. I have learned always to take the advice of bus drivers, so that’s what we did. And the scenery along the way from Grassington to Skipton was, as I hoped, equally glorious to the ride between Ilkley and Grassington.

We happened to get to Skipton Castle just in time for the last entry, so we were the only ones there. We had a whole castle to ourselves for almost an hour.

Skipton Castle is fantastically preserved, and restored thanks to:

From Skipton, which you have to walk across to get to the rail station, it’s an easy train ride back to Saltaire.

So even though it’s tricky, I’d do it again. With the Dalesbus schedule on your mobile phone and the help of Yorkshire bus drivers, you can’t go wrong.

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