Why has Leyburn become a popular stopover for Yorkshire Dales visitors
Leyburn, in North Yorkshire, is both beautiful and unique. Isn’t that the case? Lynn Ward, a local artist with a studio in town, occasionally forgets that. ‘However, I believe that is because I’ve lived here my entire life,’ she explains. That’s all right. When you see something every day, it’s easy to take it for granted. But, really, come on. Leyburn, a cobblestone market village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and surrounded by spectacular terrain, is undeniably lovely and a popular destination for ramblers.
There are also a variety of quaint and quirky businesses (one of which is even called Quaint & Quirky), nice pubs, and good cafes.
Do you want a Costa coffee? Unfortunately, you will not find one here. There are no high-street chains (save for the Co-op), just a string of high-quality independents, which is a welcome difference. It strangely distinguishes Leyburn. ‘People come into my studio and tell me how wonderful Leyburn is and how polite the people are,’ Lynn, who also plays cornet in the Leyburn Band, says. ‘It helps you appreciate your surroundings a lot more when you hear that.’
Because it was the 10th anniversary of the town’s 1940s Weekend, visiting Leyburn with Betsy, my 10-year-old daughter, was like stepping back in time. To be honest, I had forgotten about the occasion until I arrived into the parking lot and spotted Winston Churchill talking animatedly to an American GI. So I expected to see a few people dressed in military uniforms and 1940s attire, but almost everyone was dressed in antique attire.
Women wore high-waist shirts, knee-length A-line skirts, victory roll haircuts, imitation fur, and drawn-on stocking seams, while men wore double-breasted pin-striped suits with slicked back hair (parts of the market place looked like a Jacob Rees-Mogg fan club). Infantrymen, RAF commanders, naval personnel, and members of the Home Guard and French resistance were among those there. There was even a person disguised as a German officer, who was either very daring or naively naive. Locals in Leyburn, on the other hand, don’t do things halfway.
Hannah opened her first shop in Leyburn in July, selling a range of Little Alf merchandise, from books and clothes to toys, mugs, and bunting, and in October, Hannah’s autobiography, Little Alf: The True Story of the Pint-sized Pony Who Found His Forever Home, will be released by Little Brown Book Group, which also publishes JK Rowling. ‘It’s quite a mouthful’). And she’s only 20 years old.
So, how is it doing business here? ‘Having a base in Leyburn and working with other organisations and businesses is fantastic for me,’ Hannah explains. ‘In the future, I’d like to open more Little Alf shops around the Yorkshire Dales.’ But Leyburn was unquestionably my first stop. The Tour de Yorkshire firmly established Leyburn as a cycling destination and has had a long-term impact on the town. We now have a large number of cyclists. During the summer, it’s a popular tourist destination; the parking lot are always full, and all of the campsites are reserved. It’s a little, specialty market town, and it’s wonderful to be a part of it.’
Hannah, who is always up for a challenge, is hoping to launch a tourist route next year to attract fans of the Little Alf brand. ‘The route will begin at the shop and wind its way through the Yorkshire Dales,’ she explains. ‘They’ll get a trail bundle that includes a map, a comprehensive programme, and a Little Alf teddy bear to take with them.’ They’ll see landmarks like Aysgarth Falls, Berry’s Farm Shop, and the Wensleydale Creamery along the way.’
Of course, there’s no purpose in living somewhere that lacks soul. Fortunately, Leyburn has enough. According to Lynn Ward, the town has a strong feeling of community. When Betsy and I go for lunch at KTea’s Tearooms on the marketplace, which has an Alice in Wonderland theme and an excellent choice of bespoke cakes, we quickly understand what she means. Even though the room is packed to the brim, the servers are lively, polite, and on the ball when it comes to taking our order (Yorkshire rarebit, cooked with cheddar from the Wensleydale Creamery, if you ask). ‘During 1940s weekend, it gets pretty busy around here,’ adds one, clearly in the mood for the era with an Ava Gardner outfit. haircut to go with her bright red lipstick and vintage red polka dot clothing But she maintains her composure and continues on.
Betsy can’t decide whether she wants a bag of lemon sherbets or a bag of strawberry sherbets later in the Wobbly Dog gift shop and sweetshop. Being ten can be challenging at times. ‘That’s OK,’ the proprietor agrees. ‘I’ll make you a mix.’ It may seem insignificant, yet it makes a significant difference. We would – and will – return to both establishments the next time we visit the city.
According to Lynn Ward, Leyburn is an inspiring site, especially for artists with an eye for a striking vista. ‘A lot of people enjoy walking up to the Leyburn Shawl and taking in the vista of Wensleydale and Penhill,’ she explains. ‘It is said that Mary Queen of Scots dropped her shawl here, hence the name. ‘I’ve painted that scene many times.’
Hannah Russell, on the other hand, uses her writing to express her feelings for Leyburn. ‘I mention Penhill, dry stone walls, unmarked roads, and all the fauna around here in all my Little Alf novels,’ she explains. ‘I also included the town’s choir groups, as well as the Christmas fair and market, in my Christmas book from last year.’ I’d rather not be anywhere else.