Pirates in the Yorkshire Dales with HF Holidays
Pirates? Pirates in the Yorkshire Dales? Pirates in the Caribbean yes but not here in Yorkshire. It is miles from the sea. Is it a fancy dress weekend, maybe? Suddenly realising I had my driving glasses on and not my readers, things suddenly became much clearer. I was much relieved to see it said Pilates not pirates. I thought I would take an eye patch just in case.
It was time for our annual short break before Christmas. Holidays have to be taken - use it or lose it and personally I like to use them. Something to look forward to. Temperatures at this time of year are dropping and the evenings drawing in much earlier than usual. So a break sets you up for the hectic Christmas schedule. And it's a chance to meet and mix with like-minded people.
This year we had chosen a Leisure Activities Taster weekend with HF Holidays. A chance to sample art, bridge, the already mentioned Pilates, Nordic walking, ukulele playing and a natural history/wildlife walk with an expert guide. Sounds like a wonderful mix of activities. Wasn't it Thomas Beecham who said "one should try everything once except incest and Morris dancing"? I quite fancy trying Morris dancing.
HF Holidays have recently celebrated 100 years of providing outdoor holiday’s home and abroad. Best Activity tour operator in Silver Travel Advisor’s recent awards. A Which? recommended provider for three consecutive years. Winner of the Telegraph's Specialist Tour Operator in 2014. The awards keep coming so they are clearly doing things right. All breaks are carefully and meticulously planned. Their goal is to provide an interesting and sociable holiday in a memorable location.
Our home for the weekend was Newfield Hall in Malhamdale. A former country house a mile from the village of Airton and 20 minutes from Skipton. Designed by Lancastrian EG Paley at a cost in today's money of £3 million. In the 30s the house was leased to Holiday Fellowship and today HF Holidays administer the running of the hall.
The Yorkshire Dales are simply stunning. A National Park since 1954 and soon to cover 841 square miles. A place to visit and enjoy its every changing moods. Take a deep intake of pure air and breathe. Ah, that's better. Rolling landscapes, breathtaking views, big fells, deep valleys. Hidden gems at every turn all waiting to be explored.
A short drive from home but life is not about how far you travel, it's about what you discover. Following heavy rains the streams appeared like silver snakes slithering down dry stone walled fells.
A sunny afternoon, bright but bitterly cold - it's parky up North. Clouds galloped over the landscape as did the horses in the fields as we drove by - spooked maybe or just at play?
Cows cow(ered) in fields looking forlorn, faces wetted by the recent rain. Looking so miserable that even a visit from the vet would be welcome.
The greeting by GEM (Guest Experience Manager) Ian was warm and efficient. He had great charisma and had joined HF Holidays recently from a career as a trained nurse. HF Holidays’ gain, nursing's loss. Our room, no 6 , was in the main house. Spotlessly clean and massive with views over glorious countryside. In fact it was so large that we agreed to communicate in semaphore rather than shout. A big bathroom too complete with jacuzzi bath and shower. A double bed with a giant duvet. Tog rating ‘snug as a bug’. A kettle with lots of tea, coffee and milk. Always a good sign.
Easy ways to draw
Our tutor Richard Nichols had his work cut out with me. HF Holidays promise to unleash my creative beast. It has been hidden for 59 years and can't see it appearing in a 3 hour art tutorial. I have never had any idea on how to draw and sketch. On a good day an apple may end up looking like a banana and a straight line a circle, even when using a ruler.
The human body is not safe in my hands-well artistically speaking. Body undulations and imperfections always appear grotesque in my pictures looking like a cross between Beryl Cook and Picasso.
So armed with much lead in my pencil (supplied) - a major achievement at my age - the tutorial began. And what a revelation. Richard was superb and Babs and I thoroughly enjoyed the lesson.
A sense of achievement as well turning an elongated figure of eight into a boat. It did actually look like a boat. Well chuffed! The attempts at drawing a human body failed miserably. I have no idea about perspective, distance and size. I produced what looked like a big fat astronaut when I was attempting to draw a thin man. That's Life!
The glass tumbler and wine glass I drew appeared defective. If I had bought them in a shop then they would have been quickly returned. The session was great fun and I can't thank Richard enough. A lovely man with great wit and great patience. I enjoyed it so much that I have bought a book about learning to sketch and draw. A life changing event maybe or simply a waste of £6? Watch this space. Cheers Richard.
Nordic walking and Pilates
Linda Rusbyis a fully qualified exercise professional specialising in Nordic walking and Pilates. And a lovely lass too. I never realised that Pilates was named after a real person - German Joseph Pilates. Today it is practiced by millions worldwide, with numerous versions being taught.
I especially enjoyed the breathing exercises. The session ended with a relaxation session. I was so relaxed that I began to see faces in the ceiling rose directly above my exercise mat. A fabulous and wonderful experience.
Nordic Walking is often called ‘Pilates on poles’. Its health benefits are well documented. Using the poles does help people suffering from balance, co-ordination and joint problems, so it is excellent for sufferers of Parkinson's disease, arthritis and strokes. Nordic walking uses 90% of the muscles in the body and calorific burn is higher than walking without poles. Great for muscle tension in the neck. My shoulders certainly felt better. Over 11 million people enjoy this wonderful form of exercise.
Learning the ukulele
In the next room Chris McShane was hard at work teaching the ukulele. All of his weekend classes were fully booked. At home he runs workshops, at festivals and summer schools too. His ukulele club meets monthly and has a healthy 60 plus participants. Strains of "Singing in the Rain" followed by a boat song from Hawaii drifted around the hall. On the last night, after the wine tasting Chris treated the group to an impromptu ukulele concert and sing-a-long. Great fun and a perfect way to end the weekend. A room full of laughter and music and wine!
Our nature rambles were overseen by Mike Phillips. A countryman through and through. Impressively knowledgeable. I would not be surprised if he popped up on BBC's ‘Countryfile’. There is nothing he doesn't know about the birds and the bees and the plants and the trees.
Most people bunked off one session in the weekend to visit the local area. If you love limestone then you will love Malhamdale. The Yorkshire Dales have some wonderful examples of limestone pavement. None more so than world famous Malham Cove. Home to the fastest birds in the world, Peregrine Falcons. The cove is a block of sheer white/creamy-grey rock towering over the valley. A natural bow shaped amphitheatre - 300m wide and 80m high. On top the limestone is riddled by ‘grykes’ or deep fissures formed by rainfall erosion, creating an almost lunar landscape.
Close by is Gordale Scar, reached from the cove by a 1 mile plus footpath. Waterfalls cascade over precipitous rugged terrain. On route to Gordale you pass Janet's Foss. Janet is Queen of the Fairies and lives in a cave behind the woodland waterfall named, yes you have guessed it - Janet's Foss.
Many spent time in the heated swimming pool. Indoors of course - it's parky up North.
The weekend has been a great success and Babs and I enjoyed it very much. Wonderfully hosted by Ian and expertly organised by HF Holidays.
A lovely social mix of people. I can see why these weekends are so popular. Good well cooked food, well presented. Lashings of hot soup at lunch, plenty of coffee, tea and biscuits at morning and afternoon break.
It's frequented by couples and singles in equal numbers. I would have no hesitation in booking a break on my own - friendships are easily made and emails soon swapped.
This has been a great break and potentially life changing for some. A chance to sample activities you would probably never get a chance to participate in at home. Where can I find a Nordic walking class in Doncaster?
HF Holidays offer 3-7 night Walking and Activity holidays in the UK and abroad. Holidays include en-suite accommodation, a full programme of guided walks or leisure activities and the services of experienced leaders.
Never tried an activity holiday? Not sure if it’s for you?
Enjoy a weekend’s celebration and join one of HF Holidays beginner taster breaks where you can enjoy a superb selection of some of the different types of walking or activity holidays on offer.
3 nights from Full Board from £199.
Visit www.hfholidays.co.uk/taster or call 0345 470 7558 for more information.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends HF Holidays