MAYBE it's an age thing, but over a couple of days pottering around the Yorkshire Dales I could never shake off the suspicion I was about to be run off the road by an Austin 7, hurtling in the opposite direction on its way to some veterinary emergency or other.

I refer, of course, to the starring role the Dales played in the classic 1980s TV series All Creatures Great and Small, based on James Herriot's tales of life as a young vet in the area. One of the most-watched programmes of its time, All Creatures ignited a tourism revolution, turning a previously unsung corner of England into a popular destination.

The numbers have thinned out since, but the attraction of the Yorkshire Dales has not diminished one bit. Sensibly managed by the local planning authorities, it retains a historic charm without feeling like a museum. Working farms and bustling villages create a sense of busy community rather than a theme park.

Of course, communities need pubs, and the picturesque hamlet of Low Row, situated in the heart of Swaledale, is blessed with one of the best in the county in the shape of the historic Punchbowl Inn.

The Punchbowl has become something of a gourmet destination in recent years, but its airs and graces have not been acquired at the expense of homely charm. At the bar you're as likely to rub shoulders with a local shepherd as a far-travelled foodie.

The Punchbowl's rooms are simple, comfortable and stylish. Not that you'd plan on spending too much time inside, given the abundance of attractions to explore nearby. Understandably, walking is the main recreation in an area of such overwhelming scenic beauty, but cyclists are well catered for as well. Indeed, the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France is to be held in the Dales.

All respect to the lads in lycra, but we decided to take things a little easier as we relied on petrol rather than pedal power. From the Punchbowl, we cut across the river Swale and through the wonderfully-named settlement of Crackpot, then headed west to the head of the valley and crossed over into Wensleydale for lunch - yes, we had some of the local cheese - in the village of Hawes.

From there, we headed east again, down the river Ure for a leisurely walk that was rewarded with a view of the spectacular Aysgarth Falls. By which time, dinner beckoned, so it was back to the Punchbowl once more.

The menu is clever, without being fussy, and leans heavily on local ingredients. The bar/restaurant is bright, but cosy, with a log stove and scrubbed wooden tables. All in all, a fine place to finish the day - and not a tweed-clad vet in sight.