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16th February 2019 Joe Willis

Arts and culture in the Yorkshire Dales

Thriving arts and culture scene

Arts and culture in the Yorkshire Dales

The Old School Art Gallery & Craftshop, Muker

The Yorkshire Dales have a thriving arts scene and a rich culture where creative pursuits are celebrated and supported. Artists and craftspeople flock to the National Park to look for inspiration. Many who visit decide to stay and set up workshops and galleries. Others who were born in the area and have grown up surrounded by the hills and moors have also gone on to become successful artists, with their work displayed in galleries locally and nationally.

Those who come are following in the footsteps of some acclaimed painters, sculptors, writers, poets and musicians who have been visiting the area for centuries to enjoy the unique landscapes and natural beauty – and hope it will help them produce great works of art. Over the years many have found that the Dales did just that, including celebrated painter JMW Turner who first visited in 1797, aged 22, and returned numerous times throughout his life.

West Burton, Ripon, Aysgarth Falls, Marrick Priory and Bolton Abbey are just some of the places he visited to sketch and paint. Visit any well-known beauty spot and it is likely that the artist known as ‘the painter of light’ will have also visited a couple of centuries earlier. You can find out more about Turner’s visit to the Yorkshire Dales at turner.yorkshire.com where you can find tourism Turner Trails which can be downloaded and include audio guides and activities.

Poet William Wordsworth, famous for his connection to the Lake District, regularly went walking in the Dales, too. After a visit to Wharfedale in 1807 he wrote the poem The Force of Prayer, which tells the Story of William de Romilly, who, as legend has it, died attempting to jump the Strid at Bolton Abbey. It was this same visit to Wharfedale that inspired Wordsworth’s narrative poem The White Doe of Rylstone. Today, you will find galleries and workshops which are open to the public throughout the Dales, often in the smallest of villages.

Artists and craftspeople flock to the National Park to look for inspiration

The Smithy Gallery

Arts and culture in the Yorkshire Dales

The Malham Smithy

The Smithy Gallery, in Kettlewell, features work by a number of artists based in the Dales or inspired by its landscapes and features, including renowned Pennine painter Peter Brook and local self-taught pencil artist Nolon Stacey, who specialises in drawings of British wildlife, rural scenery and farm animals. The gallery also features unique work by Christina Harris, who gets her inspiration from Dales sheep.

The historic smithy in Malham has been taken over by tax accountant-turned-blacksmith Annabelle Bradley, where she designs and hand-forges sculptural and functional wrought ironwork on the traditional coke forge. The artist uses traditional blacksmithing techniques combined with contemporary design to produce decorative items for the home and garden, including candle sconces, companion sets and hooks.

To discover artists working in the Northern Dales, follow the Swaledale and Wensleydale Arts and Crafts Trail. They are a diverse group working with a wide variety of materials including wood and wools, metal and glass, clay and candle wax, rope, felt and copper. The artists’ workshops can be found at Muker and Reeth in Swaledale, and Hawes, Hardraw, West Burton and Wensley in Wensleydale.

The Wensleydale Longwool Sheep workshop in Kelberdale Court, Leyburn, which produces knitwear inspired by the seasons, is well worth a visit. Over in Swaledale, Reeth has become an enclave for artists in recent years. The Dales Centre is a collective of designers and makers in working studios and workshops. They include sculptor Stef Ottevanger who makes individual sculptures of pets, sheep, horses and wildlife cast in bronzed resin.

Another sculptor based at the Dales Centre is Michael Kusz, whose work is inspired by the magical and mythical, while the nearby Nutmeg Company produces 3D cross stitch designs. Just outside the Dales Centre, photographer Debbie Allen’s gallery Scenicview can be found. Details of all artists on the trail are available at the area’s tourist information centre. For those younger visitors who like horses, author Hannah Russell, who has written a series of books about her adventures with her miniature Shetland pony, Alf, has a shop in Leyburn.

The artist uses traditional blacksmithing techniques combined with contemporary design to produce decorative items for the home and garden, including candle sconces, companion sets and hooks

Festival fever

Arts and culture in the Yorkshire Dales

Swaledale Festival

The Dales Countryside Museum, in Hawes, has regular exhibitions of work by local artists. The gallery includes a large number of etchings donated by renowned artist Piers Browne, who was born in Shropshire. He travelled and painted extensively in Europe and Africa before eventually settling in Wensleydale.

For music lovers, the Swaledale Festival has been attracting crowds to the Dales since the early 1980s. It features more than 50 events spread over a summer fortnight, including classical, folk, jazz, brass bands, poetry, drama, art exhibitions and guided walks. Events take place in churches, chapels, pubs, village halls and fields throughout Swaledale, Wensleydale and Arkengarthdale.

Grassington Festival has been running for more than 30 years, providing a lively mix of music, dance, street theatre, workshops, talks, walks and creative challenges. The two-week festival in June attracts visitors and locals in their thousands. Like the Swaledale Festival, nationally-known artists regularly perform.

The annual Hardraw Scaur Brass Band Festival was first held in 1881. The contest takes places in the natural amphitheatre at Hardraw Force near the Green Dragon Inn near Hawes. Brass bands, ranging from the small village band to the championship section, present short concerts throughout the day and are judged both on the standard of their music and on the selection of their concert programme. The day is brought to a traditional close with a short concert by the massed bands.

The Swaledale Festival features more than 50 events spread over a summer fortnight, including classical, folk, jazz, brass bands, poetry, drama, art exhibitions and guided walks

Book town

Arts and culture in the Yorkshire Dales

Hannah Russell, author of Little Alf

Sedbergh, which has been given the title of England’s book town because of the number of book shops and book-related businesses it contained, holds several literary festivals and events throughout the year, including a festival of books and drama in September. Sedbergh is also home to Farfield Mill, an arts and crafts centre which features workshops, exhibitions, resident artists, shop and café. Artisan markets specialising in food and crafts, produced by the stallholders themselves, are held monthly during the spring and summer Sedbergh.

Celebrations of locally-produced food and drink are now held every summer across the park. Like the Yorkshire Dales Festival of Food and Drink, held in July, they often feature music, art and local history on their packed programmes. Visitors to the Dales, whenever they come and wherever they come to, are likely to come across passionate and skilled craftspeople and artists who are being inspired by their surroundings to produce delightful things to view, sample or even take home.


Everything you need to know about the Dales

Where to eat in the Yorkshire Dales

The best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales

The best shopping in the Yorkshire Dales

The best nightlife in the Yorkshire Dales

Image credits: ©Annabelle Bradley; Grassington Festival; Hannah Russell; Swaledale Festival

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