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Travel: Yorkshire

Above us only the occasional white cloud mars a perfect blue sky; before us only the occasional baggy-shorted Englishman blocks the long, low view of lush mown grass.

The sky's the limit as a glider flies above the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty
The sky's the limit as a glider flies above the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Photograph: Matthew Lloyd/Getty

To the left of us queue stark, white gliders.

Behind us there is the chatter of men sitting around a battered garden shed that may, in their heads anyway, be a control tower. Then it all comes together as game old gents with knobbly knees and battered loafers march glider after glider out to the starting point. Each man holding a bendy wing until a cable zzz-zips tight and a pilot's head, bumps, bobs and bangs to the tune of the grass runway as he trundles towards the cliff edge, Sutton Bank I suppose. Fuselages dip down alarmingly, wing tips bend up madly.

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If there could be a soundtrack to all this it would be Vera Lynn and bluebirds. But there isn't. There is just the comforting drone of Englishmen as they chalk stuff on a board and drawl into a radio microphone. There are now 20 gliders circling and more queueing to take off, yet the smell of bacon tantalisingly wafts down from the far more substantial pre-war looking building behind us. This is England in all its amateur splendour, surely?

To think I initially turned up my nose at the thought of crossing the border to Yorkshire rather than crossing the Channel for a holiday. Lager louts, Engerlund tops, identikit town centres? Absolutely none of the above is here today at North Yorkshire Gliding Club.

In fact, we will not see any of it on our whole break. Here, this morning, people walk their dogs on the perimeter of grass runways, gliders are everywhere and there is not a fence, a barrier or the dreaded health and safety to be seen.

We initially wandered up only to look at the rather dull chalk horse etched in the hill over there. Now, following our noses, we stick our head through an official-looking hatch to ask if randoms can go upstairs to their oval viewing room. We are waved on. Up to where pilots blather, mwah, mwah, mwah, breakfasts cook sizzle, sizzle, sizzle.

Suddenly we face the recurring moral dilemma of this holiday. Should we eat here? Way back before we left Scotland we made a deal that we would eat locally for the whole of our stay at cosy little Noble Cottage, shoehorned as it is into a tidy side street in the disarmingly pretty village of Nawton way over there somewhere. Sustainability. Support the local economy. But did we really promise not to eat more than 10 miles from the cottage? Oops.

It was easy last night. We popped into Helmsley, moments away. Our journey punctured by occasional exclamations of how lovely, how prosperous it all seems here - as though somehow North Yorkshire wouldn't be. And then into the palm court splendour of the Black Swan Hotel, with its art encrusted walls and black tie waiters.

It is, incidentally, the first of two Black Swans we will eat at in just two days - though the second at Oldstead may not, ahem, actually be within 10 miles of Noble Cottage. Something similar to the 10-mile eating radius started the sensationally successful Slow Food movement in Italy and it is good to see big business like Cottages 4U fostering it.

In Olstead we stumbled upon a Black Swan with bow windows, flagstones and a Michelin star. There were tables free outside the bar so we dined on a sweet tartare of sea trout with cubes of beetroot three ways, pork belly with morteau sausage and separate biscuity-crisp skin, apple and new potato. Edible pea flowers decorated everything, not least the palate, while under the table the dog panted away in the warm English summer.

And to finish? A taste sensation that was billed as lemon, strawberry and creme fraiche but was so much more than that. It was only then we remembered our 10-mile promise. One slip we thought. Not the end of the world, we agreed. We had done so well up until then too, we announced.

There was fish 'n' chips in Helmsley on the first day, after cycling in Dalby Forest, of course. If you strap three bikes on the back of a tiny Fiat 500 and drive all the way from Scotland you have to use them don't you? And so we forked out £7 to a man in the hut at the forest's entrance and cycled our hearts content. That took about 30 minutes. Then food.

That first chippie we went to in Helmsley had an old Hopkins Range for frying, and a door into the back shop that was left far enough ajar for us to see a family sitting on a sofa watching television while presumably dad tended the counter. Charming.

But we needed a seat. So it was Scott's of Helmsley. All smart and casual. We had cod fillets in a batter so crisp it would have stood up on its own, spam fritters for a laugh and crisp and creamy textured, dry fried chips. So different from the style of chips in Glasgow.

The next day we crossed the 10-mile limit to go to the Pickering Traction Engine Rally. We had to. There were signs advertising it everywhere. Traffic queued for miles too. So we sat and sweltered in the Fiat then paid a tenner to get in and see exactly what all the fuss was about.

There were traction engines belching black smoke and powering fairground rides of gilded waltzing horses, there were others pulling ploughs and grinding machinery. The whole thing set in acres and acres of unbelievably chaotic-looking autojumble tat and garnished with the overpowering aroma of fags and frying food. It was easy to skip lunch.

Easy to dress up later and flit in with the hotel crowd as they chattered all around us at the Black Swan. Do we Scots go out for dinner in hotels any more? Our parents did. I don't. I haven't, ever, I think. Of course we're thinking Crossroads Motel, but in a good way.

And the food? Surprising. Chargrilled watermelon. Boudin blanc with onion marmalade. Shitake mushrooms with grilled duck. Crikey. Throughout the meal that fishy popping candy known as caviar will explode in our mouths. Viola flowers will decorate our plates. We will have what tastes like muesli with rhubarb and a seared foie gras that somehow, bizarrely, melts on the tongue.

While spooning freeze-dried strawberries into a dessert of creme fraiche and strawberry sorbet for a whole moment I wonder is this also the real England?

It feels familiar yet so foreign. Who knows if our fellow diners are locals, or holidaymakers or perhaps wealthy weekenders with glamorous Yorkshire getaways like Noble Cottage to bolt back to? Or maybe they are all on the 10-mile plan like us? We did well with it. Only broke our promise once for that Michelin meal at Oldstead. Well, once only if you ignore that fry-up at the gliding club. But breakfast does not count.

Not when you are on holiday anyway.

TRAVEL NOTES

Where to stay

Noble Cottage, Chapel Street Nawton, North Yorkshire available through cottages4you.co.uk or call 0333 252 7027. Prices are £279 for three nights self-catered accommodation. Sleeps five with room for two pets.

Where to eat

Scotts of Helmsley, Bridge Street, Helmsley; The Black Swan Hotel, Market Place, Helmsley; The Black Swan at Oldstead, Main St, Oldstead.

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