Burton Leonard - How a village cherishes its way of life

There's a rich rural character to delightful Burton Leonard. Bill Hearld discovers some of its attractions

There’s a rich rural character to delightful Burton Leonard. Bill Hearld discovers some of its attractionsBurton Leonard is a rural idyll set in rolling farm and woodland, tucked away in a dell along narrow winding lanes off the main Harrogate to Ripon road in North Yorkshire.

No so long ago there was wild media interest when it was rumoured James Bond actor Daniel Craig was eyeing a place to live in the village. But it is definitely home to The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin author David Nobbs.

But for a settlement of fewer than 1,000 residents, Burton Leonard is a hive of village activity. Once a year strange creatures appear in its gardens. That’s the Scarecrow Festival, part of the Mayfest weekend on the first Bank Holiday each May. People travel from miles around to see the villagers’ weird and wonderful creations along with the maypole dancing and fancy dress.

There’s a flower show each summer and the 100-year-old annual village feast. There are thriving cricket and football teams and a drama group which stages one, sometimes two, productions a year.

Then there’s the village hall which is home to the WI, Brownies, a toddlers’ group, yoga, art,  keep fit, Pilates and the occasional wedding reception or birthday party. Phew!

‘There are lots of things going on in there, but we could do with more regular bookings,’ said treasurer Mary Heath. ‘It’s a lovely village hall and, like me, it needs to be busy.’

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Burton Leonard is a pretty place – part in a conservation area – with three village greens and lots of attractive stone-built houses. It has two thriving pubs, playing fields, a chapel and the large St Leonard’s Church (hence the village name).

There is also a post office and general store though, after 11 years, postmaster Michael Suddards is hoping to sell up and move to pastures new.  ‘We always said we’d give it 10 years and then try something else,’ says Michael, an engineer by trade who originally hails from Bradford.

‘This is a nice place to live and there’s always something going on. We are well-supported by the locals but it is time for a change.’

Burton Leonard’s much-praised primary school, with places for up to 60 children is, along with the country lifestyle, helping to attract younger families into the village.

Burton Leonard’s biggest employer is the 100-year-old Alfred Hymas Ltd bulk haulier, one of the largest family-owned businesses of its kind in North Yorkshire, with a fleet of more than 60 lorries and a staff of over 80. The company transports almost two million tonnes a year, mainly aggregates from the wider area’s quarries, along with agricultural goods.

The villagers’ views of the traffic it generates are mixed. Some say they are not bothered because it’s a good company that has created local jobs. Others, mainly the newcomers apparently, object to such a company on the edge of a rural village.

Because of its relative isolation, Burton Leonard also has a volunteer group known as the First Responders. They work with North Yorkshire Ambulance Service to provide a first-line emergency response within the village and to the surrounding area. The group is equipped with oxygen, a defibrillator and other medical supplies and the volunteers are trained in first aid by the ambulance service.

Pauline Watson moved to Burton Leonard 42 years ago after working in broadcasting all over Africa, where she met her Yorkshireman husband. The move was a huge contrast but she eventually fell for the village and reckons she is there to stay. She is the organiser of the Scarecrow Festival, a member of the WI, the Yorkshire Countrywomen’s Association and the village church. ‘It’s a great place to live, the people are friendly and there’s something for everyone,’ she says. ‘There’s a good atmosphere in Burton Leonard, so much so, that when people are thinking of moving house, they buy somewhere else in the village.’My village

‘Burton Leonard epitomises English village life and I love being part of a local community, something that has almost disappeared these days. But it is very important.

‘It’s a hidden gem, tucked away off the main road,’ says Robert Gilpin, landlord and owner of the Hare & Hounds public house.

‘I bought the pub almost five years ago and had never even heard of Burton Leonard before the Hare & Hounds came up for sale. At first I used to live at the pub but I liked the place so much, I bought a cottage at the top of the village where I keep my two horses and follow my country pursuits.’

Robert had made up his mind  not to join  the family business, the well-known Yorkshire catering company, Craven Gilpin & Sons, and instead decided to strike out on his own. After running several pubs, he took on the Hare & Hounds.

‘I tried living in London but didn’t like it. I take great pleasure in seeing the same people come into the pub time and again and I make sure we take care of locals when there are lots of visitors in.

‘There are two pubs but no great rivalry. I concentrate on food and we both have very popular weekly quizzes.

‘The village is going through a transition with lots of young families moving in, looking for a country way of life. That creates a nice mix of people.

‘I love it here. It fits in with my lifestyle. Okay, it is hidden from the main road and that’s not good for business, but it helps Burton Leonard retain its character.’

Where it is: Burton Leonard is six miles south of Ripon set off the A61 Harrogate-Ripon Road. There are three buses a day to the two towns.

Where to park: There is plenty of on-street parking.

What to do: There is a Mayfest and Scarecrow Festival each May Day Bank Holiday; an annual feast and sports day each July; and a flower show every August. There are several attractive local walks in pasture and woodland; football, cricket and tennis, and good wining and dining in the two village pubs.

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