Wensleydale is probably most famous its cheese and sights like Aysgarth Falls and the main town of Hawes. But if you’re looking for somewhere a little less well known, then Leyburn and Middleham should be top of your list… The Forbidden Corner, Middleham Castle, pretty market towns with tasty tea rooms and cosy pubs, and stunning views of the Yorkshire Dales. There’s lots for kids and adults alike.
Places to visit in Wensleydale
The Forbidden Corner
One of Yorkshire’s most unusual family-friendly attractions is The Forbidden Corner in Tupgill Park. Originally constructed as a private folly and garden, it’s a maze with tunnels, chambers, follies and many other surprises set in the 4-acre gardens.
I’ve seen signs for it a few times when I’ve been in the area for walks, and once even ventured inside the grounds and saw the welcoming dragon at the entrance. But I’d never been inside, with it either being closed due to the late time I was there, or due to Covid restrictions.
I’d also assumed it was very much aimed at kids, and as I enter the gardens, my assumption looks to have been right! It’s not often I feel out of place when travelling and visiting places alone, but this is one of them!
I let the inner child inside me out though as I explore the follies and the maze, and it’s a great time to visit with lots of the areas decorated for Halloween, some which would be pretty scary and harrowing for kids I think!
It’s a fun place which I imagine kids would love… you could spend hours exploring the many tunnels and passageways, getting lost in dead-ends and finding the surprise statues and decorations at every turn! But it’s not just for kids, although in Autumn now the gardens are still in very good condition and are nice to explore, and there are amazing views out over the surround Yorkshire Dales too from the viewing platforms and balconies. A fun-filled day out for all ages!
Pre-booked tickets are needed which can be purchased online, and I was lucky to get one for the only time slot available on the day so I’d recommend booking in advance.
The childhood home of King Richard III, the 12th century Middleham Castle dominates the North Yorkshire town of Middleham.
Also once home to the Neville family, one of the most powerful families in Northern England during the 15th century (Richard Neville was known as the “Kingmaker” and was a leading figure in the War of the Roses), there is a lot of history in the castle! You can read more here.
The lady in the shop is very helpful and explains a bit about the castle and then how to make the most of my visit… starting off through the gatehouse and following the castle around the perimeter to see the impressive keep, before entering what was once the Great Hall, and heading up the winding staircase to the roof to see the views all around.
Since taking up my English Heritage membership last year I’ve visited quite a few castle ruins, and this is one of the best kept and biggest I’ve explored. Well worth a visit!
The castle is managed by English Heritage and tickets can be pre-booked online.
Leyburn and Middleham
I start my day in Leyburn parking in the Harmby Road Car Park behind The Golden Lion, although parking is also available on the Market Place on non-market days.
Starting and ending my walk in the town, I get a chance to check out the many local independent shops which surround the marketplace, as well as the bakeries, cafés and traditional pubs. For such a small town there is a lot to see!
I can highly recommend Chambers Coffee House for lunch, the Masham sausage, stilton and onion marmalade baguette was delicious! And their cappuccino was great too.
After lunch I head to Middleham with the castle being the main draw, but after seeing that I head into town to have a look around.
Although much quieter than Leyburn was and not as many shops or cafés around, I’d say Middleham is prettier. And there are plenty of pubs to try!
Having just come from the castle I pick the Richard III Hotel to try and feel like I’m stepping back to the 12th century as I enter the welcoming and cosy traditional pub… roaring log-fires, low wooden beamed ceilings, and local ales on tap. What a great way to take a break and rest my aching legs! The towns horse racing heritage is also evident in the pub, with the walls covered in photos of horses and the locals wearing jackets from the stables watching the racing on the TV above the fire.
Walks in Wensleydale
Being located in the heart of beautiful Wensleydale in the Yorkshire Dales, one of the best things to do in the area is go for a walk.
And that’s how I start my morning, although I almost mistakenly attempted a 15-mile route which would have taken me all day!
There are many routes to pick from on AllTrails, and before leaving I picked a 5-mile circular route around Leyburn and Harmby. Trying to put the route onto my GPS watch at 7am though I was obviously still asleep, and as I’m ready to set off I can’t find it… looks like I didn’t upload it!
You can use your phone to follow the routes on the app as well though, so I find the route and head off, walking through the town before heading out through some fields.
After a few minutes I find myself on top of The Shawl, a limestone ridge with amazing views over Wensleydale. Although it’s bright and sunny this morning, there’s a strong biting cold wind, so after taking a few photos I continue on into the woods which run along the top of the ridge, saying good morning and stopping for quick chats with the other walkers and dogs I pass on the way.
As I’m walking along the ridge though I’m a bit confused at how far out of Leyburn I’m heading, the picture of the route I have in my head didn’t seem to head so far in one direction. Checking my phone, I realise I’ve clicked on the wrong route, and I’m well on my way to a 7-hour hike around the whole area!
With plans to visit Middleham Castle after lunch (which I also haven’t brought with me having planned to be back in Leyburn by then), I find another option which loops back to Leyburn through the village of Wensley.
This turns out to be a bit of a result… I’m not sure what the Harmby circular would have been like, but this walk is great… cutting through fields with sheep, cows and horses, exploring some farms, barns and what looks to be a ruined mill, and Wensley is a beautiful sleepy village with picture-postcode cottages and a small church which you can enter and look around.