This post is dedicated to some of the interesting and picturesque little spots I have visited in North Yorkshire. This sparsely populated county is the largest in England and is brimming with idyllic rural landscapes, rugged moorland and quintessential English villages. With its stately manors, striking abbeys and wealthy monastries, this is an area rich in heritage and unspoilt countryside. Home to the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales, 40% of the county enjoys National Park status and has a distinct and refreshing remoteness sometimes lacking in other English country hotspots. Despite its largely rural character, it remains well connected to some of England’s most charasmatic country towns, many of whose pubs serve up some of the best cuisine I’ve tasted throughout the UK. Even as a native of God’s own Country (as my dad likes to call it), each time I visit I always find myself discovering somewhere new before making a reluctant departure equipped with a wish list for next time round. This is a part of the country where you can truly relax, disconnect and immerse yourself in the charms and wonders of a rural lifestyle of yesteryear.
Here are some are North Yorkshire’s country and coastal gems, starting with Knaresborough, a superbly-located little spot just a few miles from the elegant town of Harrogate.
Knaresborough – Yorkshire’s Portofino
As the train pulls into the historic spa town of Knaresborough, passengers encounter the most stunning of panoramas; a large aqueduct crossing the River Nidd surrounded by a copious wooded valley. The town itself is pretty small, comprising beautiful cottage-style stone houses, a hilltop castle, charming cobble streets and old-fashioned shops adorned with multi-coloured bunting (I wasn’t sure at the time of visiting whether this was a remnant of Yorkshire’s 3-days of fame during the Tour de France passing in 2014). The walkway by the river hosts a cafe and rowing boats, all of which sport ladies’ names. The below shot was taken from up at the castle looking down on the town and its famous aqueduct.
Fountain’s Abbey – the UK’s largest monastic ruin
Situated in the impressive grounds of the Studley Royal Estate, the extensive and well-preserved ruins of Fountain’s Abbey date back to 1132 when thirteen Benedictine monks from St Mary’s Abbey in York settled here in pursuit of a simpler life. The monks were granted this huge parcel of land in the valley of the River Skell, a picturesque river that meanders through the grounds, and founded an abbey which remains largely intact today. Later on they became Cistercian monks (a stricter more austere order – though this didn’t stop them from brewing particularly strong ale) and lived and practised here, initially in great hardship, until 1539 when Catholic enemy #1 Henry VIII dissolved the country’s monastries. The abbey is now a Grade I listed building under the protection of the National Trust and the grounds are a truly spectactular concoction of French-inpsired landcape gardens, water features, classical statues follies, wooded terrain and a lovely lakeside tea room. I was really blown away by this UNESCO World Heritage Site and am at a loss as to why it’s not more widely known throughout the UK (still to find a Londoner who’s heard of it). Still, perhaps that’s no bad thing as I’m sure many Yorkshireites are keen to keep people shushed about this historical treasure.
I joined a tour of the abbey and gardens, during which it pelted with rain about 5-6 times (brace yourself – it was August!). With zero umbrella or raincoat, we spent half our time sheltering under trees, but what I did capture was fascinating so I’d well recommend you take the tour, which is free.
The Gardens – follies galore!
Overlooking the geometrically designed water gardens below.
The below shot was taken at the “Surprise View” or “Anne Boleyn’s Seat” as it is also known, named so as upon reaching a break in the woods, guests are greeted with this spectacular and unexpected view of the Abbey ruins in the distance.
I’ve always fancied trying my hand at a spot of llama trekking and I cannot rate Nidderdale Llamas highly enough. The llama farm is nestled away in the scenic valley of Nidderdale, just outside of Pateley Bridge. Upon arrival our group was given an introductory demo and told that we would all be matched with an animal that complemented our personality. I quickly exaggerated my (ahem) happy go lucky demeanor in the hope that I wouldn’t be landed with the grump and spend the entire trek being hurled around like a hapless victim. As luck would have it, my friend and I were given the lovely charasmatic alpaca, Gary – the only one in the group, the rest being llamas. Gary sported a ridiculously funky hair do which was greatly admired by all and he was a breeze to walk.
My alpaca, Gary (named after Gary Barlow as I recall, no obvious resemblance as far as I could see)
Me taking Gary for a walk (or perhaps the other way round)
Some of the others on our trek walking a very elegantly groomed white llama
Whitby – Yorkshire’s greatest haunt
Whitby is a quirky, intriguing seaside town located on the edge of the beautiful North York Moors. It’s famed for its pretty harbour and imposing gothic abbey whose haunting ruins were the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s classic vampire novel “Dracula”. Next door to the abbey is the Church of St. Mary and adjaent graveyard, all of which are reached by climbing up the famous 199 steps from the town centre (I ain’t bragging, but it’s a doddle!). Let’s be honest, Britain’s faded seaside towns are rarely anything to write home about, and this makes Whitby all the more unique. There really isn’t anywhere else like it! Set in a valley by the sea, the river Esk flows through the ancient port town dividing it into two parts – East and West – connected by a swing bridge. The abbey, church and old town lie on the east side, which is also home to some lovely old red-roofed fishermen’s cottages and a myriad of narrow cobble streets.
Back in its hey day during Victorian times, Whitby was a fashionable resort attracting artists and writers including Charles Dickens. If, like me, you love old vintage photos do check out the Frank Meadow Sutcliffe gallery – Sutcliffe was a Victorian photographer who produced an outstanding body of work documenting the everyday lives of the people who lived in the town. The photos are excellent quality for their time and reveal a social-realism akin to the modern day photo-journalist.
View showing the gothic abbey perched spookily on the hilltop overlooking the town below.
View from the graveyard looking over the town. You can see the delightful red-roofed fishermen’s cottages by the sea.
Church of St Mary and graveyard filled with large old tombstones.
The resplendent Whitby Abbey, shot just before the sun went down last New Year’s Eve.
Lurking around the graveyard as the sun went down – reconnecting with my gothic side.
Staithes – Yorkshire’s Cinque Terre
If Knaresborough is Yorkshire’s Portofino, then Staithes is certainly more than worthy of being Yorkshire’s answer to Italy’s Cinque Terre (in fact, many friends have seen the first photo below and said they couldn’t believe this wasn’t shot in Italy!)
Staithes, meaning “landing place”, is a delightful seaside village just ten minutes’ drive north of Whitby. Back in the 1800s it was one of the largest fishing ports in England and its residents made their living from the sea as fishermen, fish merchants and boat builders. These days its a haven for artists attracted by its superb geographial location, narrow cobbled lanes and pretty coloured cottages. Interestingly, Captain Cook spent some of his early years working in the local general store but the shop slipped into the sea many years ago.
Staithes is a photographer’s dream, as you’ll see from some of the snaps below (which I’m sure do not even begin to do it justice!)
Last of the picks is the small cliff-perched village of Runswick Bay, located just a few miles along the coast from Staithes. A lovely sheltered bay with a large sandy beach, it’s a popular spot for beach lovers, walkers, rock pooling and fossil hunting. Originally, the village was situated a little further north up the coast, but after a ground slip in 1664 which caused the entire village to fall into the sea, it had to be rebuilt. Today the village consists of white painted cottages tightly packed together – once home to fishermen but now many of which have become holiday homes.
That concludes my Tour de North Yorkshire for the time being. So many other spots I could write about, so hopefully I’ll do a future post on some of my other favourite Yorkshire haunts.