It's where I send many first-time visitors to the Dales as a great starting point to their exploration - you'll also hear many locals exclaiming, "I never knew that!"
The museum is run by the National Park so information and displays are carefully researched and considered. They describe it as "telling the fascinating story of the Yorkshire Dales and the people who have lived and worked here, and shaped the landscape for thousands of years". That's a pretty accurate description. The "shaped the landscape" bit is important: many people assume the Dales have always looked as they do today, not realising the area was once covered in trees, and then alive to the sound of mining.
The Museum is at the bottom of Hawes in the former Station Yard, behind the Ropemakers. Children enjoy being able to climb aboard the carriages of the old locomotive, though the main museum is indoors, using a time travelling feel moving through a series of themed galleries.
One of the prized artefacts is a Viking gold ring but this is much more than a museum with boxed exhibits. The overall feel is one of welcome, where you can wander at will and really get a feel for the history of the Dales. You can find out what it was like to be a lead miner, learn about the importance of the knitting industry (at one time even miners would knit as they walked to work to supplement their meagre incomes), and find out about the crafts and trades carried on in Dales villages.
There's an excellent changing programme of displays in the large John Richard Baker Exhibition Hall. John Baker was a former National Park Officer whose memory inspired the famous alternative Women’s Institute Calendar and the popular film, Calendar Girls. Exhibitions within this space are included with the admission ticket to the Museum. Plans for 2019 include an exhibition of 19th and 20th century rural quilts. This will be followed by a portrait of a shepherdess, Alison O’Neill who farms on a small hill farm near Sedbergh, and has created a range of wool clothing. This exhibition is followed by Dairy Days, telling the story of the dairying industry which has been at the heart of the Wensleydale economy since medieval times.
If you have any Dales family connections, you can arrange to find out more about your ancestors in the Research Room - call in advance for details to make sure someone will be there to help you.
After your visit, I definitely recommend the coffee (strong like Yorkshire women - I'm not sure why I felt the need to write that!) and cake at Firebox Cafe next door which is also the base for Stage 1 Cycles.