If someone were to remove all the signs between the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors, the Lakes and North Pennines, it would still be possible to tell where you are thanks to some small features that mark one place out from another.
Some are obvious: landmarks such as The Three Peaks or buildings like Bolton Castle.
Many of the distinguishing features are much smaller and take time to discern and appreciate. Some differences are only noticed by those in the know, but nonetheless important to local people as they define the place where they live.
Language, accents, even words vary. Do you call a narrow passage-way a ginnel or gennel? My secondary school had a catchment area of a few miles, taking in children from several villages. To outsiders there were no discernible differences between the pupils from each village, and yet we were instinctively aware through almost indescribable nuances of speech, whether fellow pupils were from our village or “across the valley”. It's said that even birds sing with regional accents! Place names are another way of gathering information about a location.
Building materials and styles are another tell-tale feature. Local stones are used and they weather differently according to micro-climates in each area. There are subtle differences in barn and farm building styles around the Dales which you'll see if you look carefully enough. We're proud of our dry stone walls. That's not to say that other places don't have them, but compare walls in somewhere like Devon with those in the Dales and you'll quickly see what I mean by 'local distinctiveness'.
Local customs also contribute to our sense of place - this could be anything from games like quoits, to Austwick's Cuckoo Festival and Masham Sheep Fair. Sheep are good clues that distinguish one place from another. In the Yorkshire Dales you're much likelier to see hardier breeds such as Swaledales, Dalesbred and Rough Fell sheep.
If someone asks, 'what makes the Dales, the Dales?' it's hard to answer because it isn't just one dominant feature. It's the combination of landscapes, buildings, people, customs, and of course wildlife that make it special. We're glad to have good populations of some species that are not frequently seen outside the area: red squirrels, swifts, curlew and other birds. Really the only way to answer the question of what makes the Yorkshire Dales, the Yorkshire Dales is to spend plenty of time here... watching, listening, noticing...