About Recreation

Before written records it is virtually impossible to reconstruct how people spent their leisure time. Finds of wine amphora at Bainbridge Roman Fort imply that life for the Roman soldier had its pleasures. One assumes that the farmers and other workers who lived on the land at the time, must also have found ways to spend their free time, however short that might be.


By the 18th century the rural working classes had developed plenty of ways to fill up their spare time. Sports that today seem quite shocking in their cruelty such as cock fighting and bull baiting were an everyday fact of life. Whole communities became consumed with the rivalries of cock fighting though today the remains of the many cockpits where such bitter battles were fought are hard to trace. The possible site of an 18th century example has been recorded at the village of Stirton near Skipton. The public house was the centre of much leisure activity for working men. Women had to content themselves with useful communal activities such as rag rug making or quilting, though these were probably no less pleasurable than playing dominoes or skittles.


With more money and time at their disposal, the wealthy could indulge themselves in a different range of activities. Horse racing, grouse shooting and riding to hounds played an important part in the life of many an 18th and 19th century country gentleman. The race grounds have vanished without a trace, even the one reputed to have once stood on the top of Ingleborough. A few derelict kennels for hounds and stables for horses have survived or have been converted into living accommodation such as the hunting stables in Askrigg but others such as the kennels in Thornton Rust have now been demolished. Only one hunt, the Wensleydale Fox Hounds, still [2004] houses its hounds within the park, in kennels near Gayle. Grouse shooting on the other hand is now a lucrative business and lines of grouse butts behind which the guns stand can be seen on several grouse moors in the Dales.


In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Yorkshire Dales were increasingly seen as a place where visitors could relax and enjoy leisure time. Walking and cycling were joined by touring in the car as the most popular ways of enjoying the countryside. All have left their mark on the landscape. Footpaths once only trodden by lead miners and farmers are now sometimes overwhelmed with the pressure of visitor numbers. The National Park Authority plays an important role in helping maintain the network of public rights-of-way. The motor car is now actively discouraged with subsidised buses, cycle buses, new bus shelters and bike lockups all helping to encourage more sustainable forms of transport for the future.


Today, sustainable tourism is seen as a vital contributor to the local economy. Even successful businesses like the Wensleydale Creamery rely on visitors to their factory and visitor centre in Hawes to generate additional income. Accommodation in the shape of cottages to let and guest houses hs led to many once empty properties gaining a new lease of life. On the other hand, it has also meant that local families on low wages now find it almost impossible to buy homes within the National Park. Low cost housing schemes, such as those developed in Reeth and Kettlewell are just one answer to a problem which is likely to loom large in the 21st century.