Yorkshire: Taking the Leeds

By Michael Brown

Michael Brown visits the largest city in Yorkshire and finds it's a thriving place.

A walker enjoys the Yorkshire moors. Photo / Visit Britain
A walker enjoys the Yorkshire moors. Photo / Visit Britain

I am, apparently, a second-class shot; well down on the range of scores with no hope of being accepted into the army.

Of course, in the finest tradition, I blamed my tools. The sight on the Bren gun was skewed, I insisted, making it difficult to aim and leaving the people-shaped targets at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds with barely a light windburn, let alone gunshot wounds.

The Royal Armouries Museum is home to 50,000 military weapons (more than 8000 are on show at any one time) amassed from 3000 years of military history around the world.

The marksman simulator, source of my aiming shame, is modelled on the actual test prospective army recruits have taken since 1942. It's just one of many interactive features within the multi-storied museum, a building which itself resembles a modern fortified castle complete with moat.

Inside there are weapons from Asia, Africa, and the two World Wars as well as the surprisingly short tournament armour of England's Henry VIII, a Ming Dynasty sword and the only elephant armour on display in the world.

If you time it correctly, you can even catch a jousting display, falconry or hand-to-hand combat.

The Armouries is a fascinating place, and one of many surprisingly good tourist attractions in and around the west Yorkshire city of Leeds; a city not previously high on my list of English must-dos.

In fact, Leeds is a delightful place to visit and has in the past been voted the best English city outside London, and British "visitor city of the year" by such luminary publications as Conde Nast Traveler and The Good Britain Guide.

The fact the city is located in the physical centre of England means it's easy to get to, and all manner of attractions are just a short drive away.

If shooting and weapons are not your thing, here are some other suggestions for amusing yourself in this surprising city and its beautiful Yorkshire surrounds.

A trip through time

From Harewood House (home to the Queen's cousin, the Earl of Harewood) to Temple Newsam (a magnificent Tudor-Jacobean mansion) and the medieval Kirkstall Abbey (built by Cistercian monks in the 12th Century), Leeds is dripping with history. It's hardly surprising given that in 2007 the city celebrated the 800th anniversary of being granted the charter that transformed the borough of Leeds into a new town.

The city revolves around Briggate, the main street, and you don't have to wander far from it to chance upon a glimpse of the past. The dome-roofed Corn Exchange, for instance, is now a 35-store shopping mall, the name the only reminder of its first life.

The Victoria Quarter is just a little further up the road - a fabulous building with a stunning stained-glass roof. It's now home to designer shops, cafes and restaurants but was once, at the turn of the 20th century, the site of decidedly less glamorous slaughter houses and butcher shops.

And if antiques are your thing, both Harewood House and Temple Newsam have extensive collections of some of the greatest works from the world's most famous cabinet maker, Thomas Chippendale, who was born 15km north of Leeds at Otley in 1715.

Old York

Just 35km from Leeds on the A64, or a short ride on one of the many trains, is the city of York - a riverside city that dates back 2000 years, and which still wears its Roman walled boundary almost intact.

Stunning York Minster cathedral dominates the inner city - its steeple pierces the sky and is a wonderful landmark for lost tourists to navigate by - but the Jorvik Viking Centre is perhaps the highlight.

Archaeologists fossicking in the city's ruins chanced upon the remains of 10th century Viking buildings that had been beautifully preserved in the moist, spongy Yorkshire earth. The Jorvik Centre takes you on a journey through a recreated village on electric carriages.

Moor to see

With more national parks than any other region, Yorkshire is considered the greenest area in England and the reason for that is the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors and Peak District.

The lush, rolling hills and river valleys of the Dales represent quintessential English countryside and are flanked on one side by the higher hills of the Pennines.

The North York Moors are an altogether more open and harsh environment covered in colourful heather. It's hard not imagine Wuthering Heights' Heathcliff stomping about the moors in a strop, as a cool fog descends.

Ramblers, or hill walkers are these days a common sight. There are many popular multi-day pub walks or horse rides that connect a number of the quaint villages.

Further information: See yorkshire.com or leeds.gov.uk.

Michael Brown travelled to Leeds courtesy of Flight Centre.

- Herald on Sunday

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