What is Yorkshire?

Fifteen years ago, in a University seminar, a group of us were asked what our nationality was. The answers ranged from English to Scottish to Welsh and so on, until it got to me. My instinctive answer without hesitation was “Yorkshire”. I glanced around the room and saw a mixture of bemusement and humour at the answer. The other students either thinking I was attempting a joke, or was just a little bit crazy. Maybe the latter is partly true!

Another Proud Yorkshire LAD
Another Proud Yorkshire LAD

This was perhaps the first time in my life that I had actually questioned myself. Yorkshire was the answer that all of my friends and family would have given, and the only logical answer for me, yet it was greeted with derision. Why? Are Yorkshire folk different? Why did nobody else in the room show affection to their “region” over their “country”?

These are questions I still ask myself today. What exactly is it about Yorkshire that causes such pride and devotion in its people? Why do I walk around with a white rose pin badge on my lapel?

There is, of course, no easy answer to this question. Yorkshire, and being from Yorkshire means something different to every single one of us. But there are undoubtedly a number of key factors that help to define Yorkshire’s “national” identity.

The sheer size of the place lends itself to a certain amount of insularity. Yorkshire in its entirety is a vast place. North Yorkshire alone is the largest county in England. And whilst, of course, size isn’t everything, in Yorkshire this size lends itself to an enormous amount of contrast and diversity.

For starters, Yorkshire has some incredible natural beauty. The Dales speak for themselves, and don’t really need me to sell them to anybody. Whilst I’m not necessarily a fan of cycling, the organisers of the Tour de France made an exceptional choice when picking the route for the first stages of the 2014 event. Fans, and cyclists alike, are in for a real treat!

Hartshead village
Hartshead village

But there is more to Yorkshire’s beauty than the Dales. Yorkshire’s second national park, The North York Moors, is vastly different to the Dales but staggeringly beautiful in its own way. There is something strangely breathtaking about bleak, heather covered moorland interspersed with quiet, quaint villages. Who hasn’t watched Heartbeat and felt a certain twinge of pride?

There is more! South of The Dales National Park lies the South Pennines and Northern Peak district, housing a mixture of lush “Dales” type countryside, beautiful villages and, in the words of Kate Bush, wild and windy moors.

To contrast this further you have the rugged East Coast of long sandy beaches, exposed cliff tops and stunning natural bays. The East Coast houses more than just its natural beauty, however. For many, a trip to Yorkshire wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the numerous towns dotted along the coast line. From the Victorian grandeur of Scarborough, and the historical landmarks in Whitby, all the way through to the picture postcard beauty of Robin Hood’s Bay and Staithes, there is something for everybody on the Yorkshire coast.

Whitby Abbey was built in 657 AD and left to ruin by Henry VIII
Whitby Abbey was built in 657 AD and left to ruin by Henry VIII

Yorkshire has more than its fair share of history. Castles, ruined abbeys and numerous stately homes dot the landscape, and help to tell the long story of the region. York is a city that captures virtually every period of history and is a simply wondrous place for it. The magnificent Minster would be a fitting resting place for any king, but the Richard III debate is for another time!

Speaking of Richard III, The Wars of the Roses have played their part too. Whilst there is a modern misconception that The Wars were wars between Yorkshire and Lancashire, what is undoubted is that this misconception, amongst other factors, has created a historically fierce rivalry between the two roses. When talking about regional or national identity, being drawn together by a common rival can undoubtedly create an ingrained sense of “pride”. Whether this was in the race for industrialisation, or battles fought on the cricket pitch, it helped engender a sense of being in the people of the region.

In West and South Yorkshire a different history is evident, as Yorkshire’s proud industrial heritage comes to the fore. Whilst much of this has disappeared in time, many mills, factories and grand Victorian engineering triumphs still remain.

Many of the cities and towns of the region were built on this industrial heritage. But that’s not to say they are stuck in the past. Leeds and Sheffield, as examples, are very modern in their outlook. Whilst embracing and incorporating their respective history, they have managed to develop into modern and attractive 21st century cities.

So from rugged coastline to rolling hill tops, modern cities to historic gems and the numerous landmarks in between, it is clear that Yorkshire has everything.  Perhaps having no need to look elsewhere for anything has helped to shape the Yorkshire-ness in us all?

When planning what to write for this piece, I asked a number of people what it was that made Yorkshire special. Whilst the items above featured heavily, there were numerous other answers that I found very interesting.

Some of them are very hard to quantify. Yorkshire beer and pubs featured very heavily, as did fish and chips. I can’t pretend that these aren’t factors in my Yorkshire pride. I am 100% certain that Yorkshire makes the best beer and our fish and chips are second to none. Nothing beats the sight of a local brew on tap, supped in front of a roaring fire in a beautiful country pub. Except maybe a big plate of haddock, chips and mushy peas on the harbour front in Whitby… accompanied by the ubiquitous pot of Yorkshire tea of course!

Yorkshire Pudding
Yorkshire Pudding

Then there is the Yorkshire pudding. In simple terms a baked pancake, and eaten as a starter in Yorkshire.  Yes that’s right, a starter. Not a tiny after thought at the side of a roast dinner. A starter!  Try telling somebody from Yorkshire that puddings are not great and you are likely to be greeted with typical Yorkshire bluntness (slap).

Yorkshire bluntness leads me nicely into the last element of what makes Yorkshire what it is, and that is the people. I’ve spoken to ex-pats living abroad (strange folk), and those not from Yorkshire who have followed the righteous path to God’s own county, and the vast majority will say the friendliness and camaraderie of the people is what they miss or what draws them here.

As somebody who occasionally travels abroad to London or Manchester, simple things strike me, like people not saying hello to each other, or apologising when bumping into you. Things that I take for granted at home. It may be a myth, and a false perception, but that’s certainly how it feels to me.

I can’t say with certainty that any of this answers the question definitively of why Yorkshire folk feel such pride in themselves, nor is this an exhaustive list. But what I do know is that all of the wonders I have listed here have made a contribution to me being the person that I am.

If asked again, 15 years later, what my nationality was, I once again wouldn’t hesitate.

I am unequivocally Yorkshire – as you can tell by my T-shirt.

Written by Steve Speight