Juggling family life with a busy career and domestic duties can become something of a plate spinning exercise at times. Taking a break to enjoy time with the youngsters in your life is a treat for not only the children but the ‘big kids’ too. Broadcaster Rob Walker makes a date in his diary for that all-important annual jaunt.
For almost 20 years I’ve worked in TV, popping up on Channel 4 or the BBC at some of the biggest events in the sporting calendar. Commentating is what I dreamt I would do as child and I’m aware how lucky I am to be doing something I love.
However, it’s also a job which by its very nature dominates a family’s schedule. Last year with the Winter Olympic Games and Paralympics, Commonwealth Games, Youth Olympic Games, Invictus Games plus snooker and darts commitments, it’s not unusual for me to spend 4-5 months away from the Cotswolds home where I live with my wife and Arthur, our four year old son.
So, as soon as Arthur turned two I made a decision that once a year he and I would have a week’s “boys only holiday,” allowing us quality time and giving my wife a complete break. Although tiring, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and our trip to the Yorkshire Dales back in July was one of the most memorable and best weeks of my life.
As a family we’ve enjoyed superb holidays in wonderful Yorkshire, but this time heading further north in the county I was amazed at the range of activities for children, the spectacular scenery and of course the friendliness of the people.
We arrived at The Gamekeeper, a superb two bedroom cottage booked through Gorgeous Cottages, a couple of miles down a quiet bridleway, just outside the picturesque market town of Pateley Bridge. You’d never stumble upon it, you’d have to know it’s there, hence the privacy is first class. Arthur loved his double sized bunk bed and the sloping secret back garden with a hidden rope swing dangling from a magnificent oak tree, which became our half hour pre-breakfast routine each morning.
As well as being surrounded by the natural beauty of Nidderdale, the town itself was friendly, atmospheric and had a superb children’s playground.
Holiday excitement meant normal rules went out of the window and the day began at 5.30am (I got used to going to bed early).
Only three miles out of town are Stump Cross Caverns caves, where back in 1963 Geoffrey Workman set a world record, spending 105 days beneath ground. With hard hats and a map to find a set of tiny “fairy doors,” we set off learning about the difference between stalagmites and stalactites, an ideal activity with children.
After an hour beneath ground in the dark, we emerged and walked up Greenhow Hill near Appletreewick, to a beautiful set of rocks for a picnic lunch. For what seemed like miles in all directions, we couldn’t see a soul and sat for an hour chatting over cheese sandwiches and crisps, warmed by the rocks beneath us on a very hot day. Both tired after an early start we headed back to the cottage for the afternoon to play Lego and watch The Jungle Book. The old classics still resonate with children, proving the old adage that class is permanent.
The area around the town is hilly but by the river it’s flat and perfect for a wobbly young rider who’d just got to grips with cycling. Arthur rode along the banks of the river on a beautiful early summer’s evening, while I ran alongside making sure there were no mishaps, we hardly saw a soul.
Another crack of dawn start beckoned. We’d read about a brilliant place called How Stean Gorge with lots of activities on offer including abseiling or putting on a wetsuit to scramble in the pools of water. Armed with a map and excellent signage, the self-guided gorge walk and a paddle was perfect for us, there was even a small cave walk for which you needed a phone torch. It was pitch black inside but a lot of fun, looking for hidden pirate treasure...but it wasn’t to be on this occasion.
Following a footpath at the top of the gorge, heading up towards Middlesmoor on a scorching day, I suspected a meltdown was imminent. We couldn’t see any shade and then Arthur spotted a tree in the distance. It became the carrot to dangle for our picnic stop. It’s now known as the “Shawshank tree,” in our house. If you’re not familiar with the classic 1994 prison break film The Shawshank Redemption, the main character, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), urges his best friend Red (Morgan Freeman) to find a particular tree and look for something he’s buried there if ever he gets out. It’s a seminal moment in the film. The hidden gem of the tree we found that day wasn’t a box full of dollars and directions to a beach in Mexico, as it was for Red, it was simply the view back down this stunning Yorkshire Dales valley. I suspect we’ll return.
The weather turned, but the blustery wind added to the experience as we drove away from the town to Coldstones Cut for a walk. The sheer scale of the quarry and the sensitive way it’s hidden from sight of the nearby roads and fields was impressive. Arthur was in his element, clambering over rocks.
Then a highlight...it was the Pateley Bridge annual 40s weekend, a tribute to the war spirit which was evident across Yorkshire and the entire country. A superb afternoon with so many people in authentic dress and lots of army jeeps from the era, it was difficult to know where to look first! It’s a proper carnival atmosphere with dancers and crooners on street corners, bunting and brass bands. Arthur wanted some chocolate peanuts, so we visited The Oldest Sweet Shop in England and it was like stepping back in time.
The cottage was so good we were sad to leave but had plans to head to Camp Kátur in Bedale, a superb glamping location on an impressive country estate. First impression is the amount of space around each tent, they’ve deliberately kept numbers down so you have some privacy in very peaceful woodland and open fields. We were in a teepee with full use of an outdoor kitchen and all the utensils you could need. There’s a great outdoor children’s play area, with THE biggest wooden fort I’ve ever seen. That night was Arthur’s first-time sleeping in a tent, it didn’t get dark until almost 10pm, way beyond his bedtime, so he was awake late.
After a late-night/early rise we had a quiet day, with such a lovely site to explore, it was nice to have time to use the facilities. Such an idyllic site for families, with a host of activities, including quad biking and a brilliant zip wire.
In the evening, as we were camping I did cheesy hot dogs followed by fruit with yoghurt. Thankfully Arthur went to sleep very early that night as we had a special treat for our last full day.
I’ve always found talking to locals a hugely underutilised source of information and after a chance conversation, I found out about the Wensleydale Railway and its beautifully restored steam engines, that run for selected periods of the year. For our last day we planned to catch one from Bedale, heading down a stunning section of track to Redmire. The impressive surrounding area inspired the artist Turner and was the setting for TV’s All Creatures Great and Small.
As with many boys, trains and steam engines are right near the top of the excitement pile for Arthur. We left the campsite early and tickets sorted, we had time to fill before the splendid engine puffed onto the platform. I was planning an impromptu walk around Bedale to contain excitement levels, when just to the right of the station I spotted a sign for Big Sheep and Little Cow Farm. Within walking distance from the platform it was brilliant, with lots of animals and feeding times, plus an indoor play barn for when the rain lets everyone down.
After being told to take about 100 photos to prove to Mummy that we did actually go on a steam train, we were on our way. The whole line and operation is a triumph, a shining example of Yorkshire’s homegrown passion.
Halfway through the train journey in one of those lovely old-fashioned carriages, Arthur took his shoes off, stretched out and fell asleep. This rare twenty minutes of peace allowed me a moment of reflection. This year’s trip had an added poignancy which didn’t register with Arthur but certainly did with me.
The previous year we’d cancelled our annual father and son trip when he suddenly woke one morning in a lot of pain and unable to walk. He’d developed a serious infection in his thigh bone called acute osteomyelitis (we’d never heard of it either!), after seven weeks of brilliant NHS treatment, he gradually regained movement and strength. Hence seeing him restored and so active on this holiday was very special.
Off at Redmire station and a small uphill walk/cycle to the brilliant Bolton Castle, with some lovely vantage points en route, the castle is well-geared for children with a wonderful maze, a costume room where kids can dress up as knights and maidens of old and the pièce de résistance, a superb, informative and fun birds of prey demonstration. The vista across the valley is breathtaking.
That night, just to round off in style, we upgraded from the teepee to a safari tent, a cross between a log cabin and a massive two bedroom canvas lodge. Luxury indeed. We returned back home the following morning with incredible memories to cherish. Reflecting on our holiday to write this, I was reminded of a simple yet powerful quote from Shakespeare - “It is a wise man that knows his own child.” Like all parents, I’m still learning about my son and what it actually means to be a dad. As this fascinating journey of discovery continues for Arthur and I, so too will our relationship with this most stunning and surprising of counties.
This article was taken from This is Y 2019.