As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to Nidderdale, Jane Dunford enjoys this beautiful Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales in the company of a furry four-legged friend, Morgan - no, not a dog, or a horse: Morgan is, in fact, a very loveable llama.
It’s not the kind of animal you’d expected to encounter on a farm in the Yorkshire Dales. Sheep, yes, cows, of course. But here I am on Kiln Farm near Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale, about to take a llama for a walk.
One of the more unusual attractions in the AONB, Nidderdale Llamas happened by accident, explains owner Suzanne Benson. ‘I was at a livestock sale intending to buy a pony for the farm, but somehow ended up with a llama – I just couldn’t resist it – and, after a lot of research, the idea of trekking with llamas grew from there!’
Opened in 2009 with just three llamas, NIdderdale Llamas has grown to a herd of 18 – as well as a pet village for smaller animals – and anything from day treks into the countryside, to shorter educational on-site experiences are on offer. I opt for the On Farm Trek, which starts with Suzanne introducing us to the llamas and telling us about their history and behaviour.
Originally from South America, they adapt to life in Yorkshire surprisingly well. Sensitive and intelligent animals, they’ve distinctive characters and roles in the llama community, from Noodle the moody teenager to Ike, aka Drama Llama, who likes a lot of attention.
We learn that llamas can protect sheep and chicken from predators (they act as guards, chasing foxes away), and they communicate with three tones of hum (a Christmas CD with llamas ‘singing’ was in production). They may ‘spit’ at each other to show their disapproval, but humans aren’t the target.
I’m allocated Morgan, an older male with gentle demeanour and ridiculously long eyelashes, and we set off on a trek around the farm. You don’t ride the llamas, but lead as they walk by your side - there’s something oddly calming about the whole thing. The farm and surrounding area is beautiful and we follow tracks across fields and over gentle hills, the pace slow, attracting some inquisitive looks from walkers passing by.
For anyone wanting a longer trek, you can sign up for a day trip to Brimham Rocks, stopping for tea in the woods along the way and a picnic lunch when you reach the amazing rock formations. Our hour and a half trek soon comes to an end, and back at the llama barn I find myself a tad sad to be saying goodbye to Morgan.
‘It’s hard to say what it is about llama trekking, but people really do form bonds with the animals – and it’s fun and relaxing. I guess really it’s all about enjoying the landscape in a different, slightly surreal way!’ says Suzanne.
Details: Experiences range from the Llama Farm Experience (£12.50 adults) to the Day Trek to Brimham Rocks (£75 adults). Minimum age of 10 years on farm trek and 12 years on other treks. www.nidderdalellamas.org
Where to eat and drink:
If llama trekking is on the more unusual side of Nidderdale’s attractions, a good traditional Yorkshire ale is one of the staples – so I head to the stone-built Wellington Inn in nearby Darley to refuel. With sprawling beer garden, it’s an amazing place for an outdoor pint in the summer, but in winter the cosy bar with open fireplace beckons for a pint or two of Black Sheep. The restaurant here is renowned in the area – it prides itself on locally sourced food. The starter of smoked chicken, bacon and avocado salad is prettily presented, while the ribeye steak is tasty and perfectly cooked. If you don’t feel like moving far after your meal check into one of the rooms attached to the pub.
Where to stay:
Head north across the moors from Nidderdale Llamas in Wilsill and you’ll come to the little village of Kirkby Malzeard, where I check into the lovely Cowscot House B&B. Set on a smallholding of four and a half acres with pigs, lambs, sheep, cows and chickens, the converted barn dates back 200 years. It’s super-comfortable with old wooden floorboards, squishy beds and lots of attention to detail. Owners Liz and Mike are welcoming hosts – and the breakfasts are huge and delicious. Much is homemade, from the yoghurt to the winter compote, and even the sausages. Mike’s paintings of the local area hang on the walls in the hall – nice keepsakes of a trip to Nidderdale. From £80 for a double room.