Weekend break: Leeds, UK

Direct flights from Cork to Leeds make the city a very attractive weekend holiday destination, says Denise O’Donoghue.
Weekend break: Leeds, UK
The Shambles on a busy day looking down to Little Shambles in York. Picture:

What comes to mind when you think of the north of England? Factories? Emmerdale? The colour grey in general?

What about culture, shopping, history, and a landscape to rival West Cork and Kerry? Banish the stereotypes from your mind, because there’s more to Yorkshire than flat caps and factories.

If you Google Leeds you’re likely to learn the latest news for Leeds United. What a search engine can’t show you, however, is the essence of the city.

Leeds has been enhanced by its inhabitants, as we discovered on a walking tour of Leeds.

A city that was once defined by the Industrial Revolution is undergoing another revolution today. Leeds is evolving into a truly modern, metropolitan city, and it’s one of the coolest places to visit in the UK.

Yes, that means the hipsters have arrived in the north of England too. On second thought, maybe flat caps aren’t completely irrelevant in modern- day Leeds.

A visit to the West Yorkshire Playhouse opened my eyes to the culture of northern England.

I’ve read the Bronte sisters’ books but didn’t realise they lived nearby and the brooding moors of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are just a short trip away.

The playhouse is proud of the artistic landscape of the north, and in the coming months they have an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Villette in honour of her 200th birthday, and Northern Ballet’s production of her sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights.

Leeds is a city made for exploring. The city centre is easily navigable as the majority of the shopping areas are pedestrianised and it’s built on flat land — a novelty for this Corkonian.

Kirkgate Market.
Kirkgate Market.

It’s also a city for all budgets. If funds dictate you only window shop in the lavish Victoria Quarter, then a stroll around the thriving Kirkgate Market will make up for it.

The market is one of the largest covered markets in Europe and it’s home to a broad range of shops, from food to fashion.

You can even shop at the site of the very first Marks & Spencer, which was founded there in 1884, or indulge in a very northern lunch — a Yorkshire pudding wrap.

If that’s not to your tastes, the Trinity Shopping Centre, which defied the odds and opened mid-recession, provides everything for more modern palettes.

We dined in the Craft House restaurant in the centre one evening and the food was amazing. If you visit, I wholly recommend the steak.

And remember those hipsters I mentioned earlier? We stumbled upon their headquarters in a cocktail bar downstairs.

With staff in a uniform of matching shirts and braces and serving cocktails such as ‘beyond the kale’, we were expecting enviably Instagrammable drinks, and we were not disappointed.

The bar was packed on the night we visited, a common occurrence midweek, our guide assured us, but mere moments after ordering I was presented with their signature cocktail, and the bemused males of the group, having ordered the closest thing to beer they could find on the menu, received glasses of pink beer cocktails — a far cry from the craft beer we had enjoyed with meat and cheeses nearby in the charming Friends of Ham that afternoon.

Despite their misgivings about the colour, the ‘pink beers’ were drained in minutes and received high praise.

The drinks were much needed as we had spent the latter part of the day walking around sunny York, which is a 20-minute train ride away from Leeds.

The Shambles on a busy day looking down to Little Shambles in York. Picture: www.visityork.org
The Shambles on a busy day looking down to Little Shambles in York. Picture: www.visityork.org

We were immediately greeted with stunning views of York Minster in the distance, the second largest gothic cathedral in Europe. It’s so large that one of its stained glass windows is the size of the centre court in Wimbledon.

Having spent an hour or so exploring its fascinating interior, from the altar to the crypts below, I emerged into the sunshine and headed straight for the banks of the River Ouse to hop on a YorkBoat tour and soak up the story of the city.

Upon disembarking, I sheltered in the shadows of the city’s Roman walls from the heat of the summer sun with an ice cream in the beautiful Museum Gardens.

The gardens are home to the thousand-year-old walls of the city, the striking ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, and the Yorkshire Museum.

One of York’s most famous sons is Guy Fawkes, who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament. We ended our day with a meal in the house of his birth.

The Guy Fawkes Inn serves one of the heartiest pies I have had the pleasure of eating. None at the table could finish it. If you find yourself in York, I challenge you to clean your plate here.

On our final day in Yorkshire, we took a detour en route to Leeds Bradford Airport and spent some hours in the grounds of Harewood House, where I indulged my literature loving side, because it is a truth universally acknowledged that a stately home featuring a large lake must be in want of a Jane Austin comparison.

Harewood House; imagine the ghost of Jane Austen drifting by. Picture: John Steele
Harewood House; imagine the ghost of Jane Austen drifting by. Picture: John Steele

Those were my thoughts while standing outside Harewood (pronounced Har-wood).

The impressive facade and man-made lake it overlooks call to mind comparisons between the present landscape and Pride and Prejudice’s Pemberley.

Indeed, it has in the past been host to the Darcy family as the filming location for Death Comes to Pemberley.

The location lends itself to period adaptations, having recently played host to ITV’s Victoria.

Nestled among 700 acres of land here is the Harewood Bird Garden, home to over 30 birds from around the world.

The most charming was neither a penguin nor a parrot, but a common crow named Colin. He loves children, and can often be heard from afar cawing in conversation with some chatty kids.

Visiting Yorkshire has dispelled any preconceived notions I didn’t even realise I had about northern England. I’ll definitely be making the most of the new route there from Cork in the future. Will you come too?

Aer Lingus Regional operates flights twice daily between Dublin and Leeds Bradford, with prices from €19.99 each way.

Flights between Cork and Leeds Bradford operate up to three times weekly in peak summer times, with prices from €29.99 each way.

See www.aerlingus.com for details.

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