There is a pot of gold for culture vultures in the heart of Yorkshire, land of muck and brass
Henry Moore, David Hockney and Harvey Nichols - they are the three Hs that have forever transformed the image of industrial Yorkshire from land of muck and brass to culture hub second only to London. The Leeds branch of Harvey Nics, it seems, is as much a proud symbol of England’s largest county as the Henry Moore Institute — which, along with all the sites associated with Hockney, is bringing a new class of visitor to the no-longer-mucky moors and mills of the Pennine towns.
A vibrant art scene has grown up around Britain’s greatest living artist and its most acclaimed modern sculptor, with much of their work on view near their birthplaces. The trail takes the visitor beyond the cities into sheep-dotted hills and villages boasting magnificent Victorian architecture as well as that Hovis-y whiff of nostalgia that seems to permeate Yorkshire.
There may be none of the coal-fired cosiness that characterises the countryside left in Leeds but, having elevated itself to cutting-edge standards of hospitality and entertainment, with boutique hotels, top-flight theatre and designer shopping, it makes an ideal base for the arts trail.
To the west lie Bradford, with its superb National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, and the atmospheric village of Haworth. This steep, picturesque, cobbled village is where the Brontë sisters wrote Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre; the parsonage where they lived and wrote is now a fascinating museum. Nearby are the moors that Heathcliff roamed, howling for his Cathy. It's even possible to climb to Top Withens, the real Wuthering Heights. An atmospheric and luxurious place to stay in Haworth is Ashmount Country House, a five-star B&B (think four-poster beds and hot tubs) in the former home of Charlotte Brontë's physician.
To the east lie the spectacular Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, and the villages of the Wolds, recently painted by Hockney. To the north sits Saltaire, a World Heritage Site whose crown jewel, Salts Mill, should be renamed the David Hockney museum and merchandising centre - think brilliant paintings and drawings, plus acres of fabulous arts-y stuff to buy.
Leeds — home of the Henry Moore Institute — is the natural starting point for Yorkshire’s arts trail. The institute’s exhibition space is actually given over to the work of other internationally known sculptors, while Yorkshire’s greatest Moores actually sit a 20-minute train ride away, in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, close to the artist’s birthplace. The park also displays modern sculpture from all over the world in a fabulous setting, making a truly great day out.
For the Hockneys, the visitor must make the short train journey from Leeds or Bradford to Saltaire, a picture-postcard Victorian industrial village that justly won World Heritage Site status last year. This is where miller and philanthropist Sir Titus Salt built lodgings for his workers and where, a century later, clothing tycoon Jonathan Silver would create a shrine at t’mill to his friend David Hockney.
Silver, who died tragically young, first met the artist at his dad’s Wimpy Bar in Bradford — they were both old boys at the local grammar school. In 1987 Silver decided to take on Salt’s derelict mill and convert it into a shrine to Hockney. The result is a triumph: Hockney’s colourful work is brilliantly showcased on three floors, each featuring its own retail opportunity. Given the size of the mill and other highlights —including a church that is a unique example of Italianate architecture — Saltaire demands a good half-day, and the walking tours given by characters in costume are highly recommended.
It seems fitting that another mill conversion should have become Leeds’s first boutique hotel: 42 The Calls. Bill-toppers at the West Yorkshire Playhouse and other celebs favour this riverside haunt, which is home to the Michelin-starred Pool Court restaurant. But it is no longer the only game in town. The former corn mill now has serious competition in Quebecs, an equally hip and elegant restoration, this one of the city’s former Reform Club.