Staycations seem to be the buzzword of the last few years, and never more so than in the great heatwave of 2018.
We have mainly ventured to Devon and Cornwall when holidaying in the UK, but when we ventured way north of Watford Gap to the Yorkshire Dales, what a revelation it was.
Although cooler than in the south, the welcome at the Aysgarth Lodge site couldn’t have been warmer.
Situated in the heart of the national park, the site is nestled on the side of a valley with 75 cabins dotted among the mature landscaped grounds.
The lodges are all self-contained and self-catering – each with its own hot tub.
With the whole site having been just renovated, my wife, three boys and the dog and I were staying in a refurbished Scandinavian 6.
With three bedrooms, one with an en-suite and a family bathroom, there was also an open-plan kitchen diner with doors leading to two separate patio spaces.
The view from one stretched for miles across the picturesque Bishopdale Beck valley, and could be enjoyed from the living room sofa or the six-person hot tub. And with free fast wi-fi, the kids were kept happy, and we never had the need to fire up the wood-burning stove.
The lodge came fully equipped with washing machine, dishwasher, oven, four televisions, microwave, towels and bed linen.
This meant all we had to pack was a small bag of clothes each for our four-night stay at the start of August.
The first night we treated ourselves to drinks and a meal at the on-site Falls End Bar and Restaurant, enjoying countryside views and a sumptuous three-course meal, including 28-day aged Yorkshire steak.
The next morning, to walk off some of the previous night’s excesses, we set off for the famous Aysgarth Falls – three stepped waterfalls that have been a tourist attraction for 200 years, but known to millions from the 1991 Hollywood movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. They featured in the scene when Kevin Costner has a staff fight with Little John.
The falls were formed over millions of years as thick layers of limestone were pushed up creating a series of steps. It’s free to roam around but there is an honesty box with a suggested donation of £1
Back at base we were given a tour of Aysgarth Lodge’s own petting farm with resident creatures great and small, from the Kunekune pigs Peppa and George, a talking parrot, donkey, miniature horse, alpacas plus ducks, chickens and goats.
As the park is situated just a few miles from the Wensleydale Creamery it was an obviously enticing place to visit.
The Wallace & Gromit connection was enough to convince the kids and the free cheese samples attracted the adults.
Visit between 10am and 2pm to get the best chance of watching the workers making the cheese.
There are also many displays, boards and artefacts showing the history of cheese-making in the
area, which stretches back to 1150 when French Cistercian monks first settled in the dale. In 1536, when the monasteries were broken up by Henry VIII, the recipe was passed on to farmers’ wives.
In 1897, the first creamery was built on the site in Hawes and the production of Wensleydale cheese began on an industrial scale.
The highlight of the trip was an entertaining 20-minute demonstration on how eight pints of milk are turned in to 500g of cheese.
It is easy to while away a few hours there, whatever the weather, and a bit of bargain costing just £3.95 for an adult ticket and £2.45 for a child.
We then set off on an hour’s drive across the national park, which at 841 square miles, is the UK’s third largest after the Cairngorms and Lake District.
Often driving down undulating and single-track roads, it was staggering to think of the hours it must have taken to construct the area’s 5,399 miles of dry stone walls. We arrived on the outskirts of Skipton for the Owl and Hawk Experience at the Coniston Hotel complex.
A family ticket for two adults and two children costs £49 and provided an hour’s interaction with birds of prey.
Everyone got numerous chances to have a barn owl and a Harris hawk land on their gloved hand and we learned that, contrary to popular opinion, 60% of owls are active during the day and sleep at night.
But “eyes like a hawk” is spot on as their vision is 10 times better than ours, meaning they can see a rabbit an incredible three miles away (theconistonhotel.com).
The next day we set off to investigate the imposing building we could see from the front door of our lodge, on a hillside across the valley.
Four miles later we found ourselves at the gates of Bolton Castle, which is one of the best preserved examples of a medieval fortress in private ownership in England today. During its 600-year history is was besieged during the Civil War and used as a prison for Mary Queen of Scots.
Now partly restored, visitors can wander round the old kitchens, armourer’s workshop, tower bedrooms, a maze and the obligatory dungeons.
Live attractions include an archery display, where you can test your skills with a longbow, a bird of prey display and the wild boar feeding time.
Another short drive took us to the bizarre but popular attraction The Forbidden Corner.
Set in four acres of ornate gardens, it is packed with hundreds of weird and wonderful curiosities which are dotted around booby-trapped mazes and underground caverns.
Visitor numbers are limited to prevent overcrowding so booking at least a day in advance is essential.
BOOK IT: Aysgarth Lodge Holidays in the Yorkshire Dales offers one week’s self-catering in a one-bedroom Scandinavian Retreat lodge (sleeps 2) from £425; Escape Plus lodge (sleeps 4) from £595. Pet-friendly lodges available. leisureresorts.co.uk 01969 663 268.
MORE INFO: Tourist info: yorkshire.com
BEST TIME TO GO: Looks reet grand early autumn
Come the end of our stay and faced with a long drive home it really felt as if we’d had a proper holiday.
We were relaxed, entertained and had been transported to a different time and place.
This staycation thing may be here, to, well… stay.