Motorways are convenient for getting about the country – though not usually the most pleasant of experiences. Most service stations leave much to be desired, though there are exceptions; the Tebay Services on the M6 and the Gloucester Services on the M5 are usually considered to be worth stopping at.
For those of us who desire something a little less frantic or more culinarily satisfying than a services stop, there has grown up a small publishing industry that guides us off the motorway to something a little better. They have titles like ‘Just off the Motorway’, ‘Five Minutes from the Motorway’ and ‘The Extra Mile’. Each does an excellent job – through they can soon be out of date as the places they direct us to change or close.
But what if our aim is not so much sustenance (for our body or for our vehicle) but for something interesting to see en route? There is not a great deal of help to be found for this type of off-the-motorway venture, but along every route pleasures – major or minor – can be found.
So, taking the nearest stretch of motorway to Ripon, here are a few suggestions of what to see just a mile from route – though bear in mind that this is a crow-flight mile; the paucity of junctions may require you to make a longer journey to reach the site by road! The A1(M) from Junction 51 at Leeming Bar to Junction 43, where the M1 begins, is our sample.
Bedale itself falls just outside our self-imposed one-mile limit, so let’s make our first call at Kirklington church. St Michael’s has its own Ripon links, as mountaineer Charles Hudson, who was born in Park Street and was among the party that first climbed the Matterhorn, was curate here. At the end of the south aisle is an impressive stained-glass window by Catherine O’Brien of An Túr Gloin (The Glass Tower), an important Dublin-based studio. Notice the church choir in procession at the bottom.
Next, a detour on the narrow lane that circles though Middleton Quernhow to look at the ruins of the Manor House, built in the first part of the 17th century. The surviving part has a five-stage chimney and two mullioned-and-tramsomed windows (one blocked) with pediments. The house was abandoned in the 18th century.
On the other side of the motorway are the villages of Baldersby and Baldersby St James, both with buildings designed by the 19th-century architect William Butterfield. Baldersby has some of his typical cottages, with half-hipped roofs and decorative brickwork. There are some at Baldersby St James, too, but the highlight here is St James’ Church, one of Butterfield’s masterpieces. Its tall spire is a landmark, and the interior, of brick and stone, glows with the stained glass of Frederick Preedy. Many of Butterfield’s furniture and fittings survive.
Further south there are the Devil’s Arrows at Boroughbridge. The antiquarian William Stukeley believed them to have been the remains of two concentric stone circles, but they are now considered to be part of the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age ceremonial monuments, including Thornborough Henges, in the Ure valley.
South again to Allerton Park. ‘The Buildings of England’ calls it ‘a disappointment, externally at least’, but the interior makes up for the drabness of the gritstone outside. Built 1845 to 1851 for the 19th Lord Stourton, it has an impressive, double-height central hall with a hammer-beam and a sweeping staircase. The restoration (twice, once in the 1980s and 1990s and again after a fire in 2005) has been meticulous.
Crossing to the west side of the motorway again, it’s worth calling at the Bridge Inn at Walshford and asking to see the Byron Room. It’s a surprise; the hotel is an undistinguished mid-20th-century effort, but the room has mid-18th-century Rococo plasterwork. The explanation is that the decoration was bought when Halnaby Hall near Darlington was demolished in 1952 and eventually placed here. And why Byron? The poet spent his, by all accounts disastrous, honeymoon at Halnaby.
At Cowthorpe there is another unusual survivor, a piece of church furniture. St Michael’s church has a rare wooden Easter Sepulchre. In the form of a canopied chest, it was made in the 15th century to hold the consecrated host from Maundy Thursday until the ceremonies of Easter Eve. It is unusual in that, unlike most other Easter Sepulchres, it is portable, and may have been used in procession.
South of Wetherby (itself worth a visit) is Bramham Park. By appointment you can visit the fascinating early 18th-century garden, the best-preserved example in Britain of a French-style garden. Its straight allées, bounded by beech hedges, are interspersed with temples and urns, and there are canals and waterworks. They are in two parts, joined by a ‘boulevard’ across a valley.
Like Halnaby Hall, the house at Parlington Park at Aberford was demolished in 1952, but muct of the park layout survives, along with a number of buildings, including the Triumphal Arch. It’s a really a piece of stage scenery, as it has little depth. It was designed for Sir Thomas Gascoigne and was completed in 1783. Thirteen years later the Prince of Wales was on his way to visit Parlington. He reached the arch and read the inscription on the top – ‘Liberty in N America Triumphant’. He immediately turned his carriage round and headed off – he wasn’t about to stay with revolutionaries.
One final stop on this quick trip down the A1(M) takes us to Lotherton Hall, another Gascoigne property. Now run as a museum by Leeds City Council, the house, mostly Edwardian, is displayed with its early-20th-century interiors. The chapel nearby is Norman and has a rood by Sir Ninian Comper over the chancel arch, who also designed Ripon Cathedral’s high altar. And if architectural interest is faltering, there’s always the attractive bird garden to enjoy.
Just off this short stretch of road these is plenty to see (and, indeed, much more not mentioned here); it’s a scenario that, with a little investigation, can be replicated along all the country’s more than 2000 miles of motorway.