As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the North York Moors, Nicola Forsyth explores one of England’s largest heather moorlands, its woodlands, dales, valleys and great British coastline. Lose yourself in the Moors - before finding yourself tucking into world famous fish and chips in Whitby or learning about the lives of one or two classic writers who often visited this glorious National Park in the north of England.
Photos: North York Moors National Park Authority
Where to stay
Choose from the stately comfort of country houses, period B&Bs nestled in bustling market towns, converted farm buildings and even novelty and themed accommodation. The quaint market town of Pickering makes for a good base, or there’s the castle-guarded Helmsley where you can discover the southern and western reaches. On the east coast you’ll find Boggle Hole, Ravenscar or Whitby or Danby to the North.
If you do love to be beside the seaside, then head East to the popular seaside resorts of Scarborough or Whitby just a little further north of the North Sea coast. Whilst known for their classic British seaside town charm, you’ll find 4* comfort (and a spa) in Crown Spa Hotel. Perched on a cliff top overlooking South Bay beach, the listed period building has been awarded a Sustainable Tourism Award in the Enjoy England Awards for Excellence. Head further North towards Whitby and you’ll stumble across Raven Hall Country House Hotel, which sits 600 feet above sea level, overlooking Robin Hood's Bay. Whilst the main hotel is steeped in history - having been first built in 1774 - it has now has the more recent addition of eight Finnish-designed environmentally-friendly lodges.
To combine your break with learning a new skill, Cober Hill Hotel in Cloughton specialises in creative holidays - including photography, lacemaking, jewelry making, painting and stained glass. If themed escapes are more your thing, and it’s been a lifelong dream to stay in a Wild West themed holiday park, then you’re in luck. Family friendly, Pinewood Holiday Park, less than two miles out of Scarborough, is the UK’s only - complete with tipis, wagons and cowboy camping shacks. Furnishings are simple so check in advance what you need to bring. If you’re of a more “Curiouser and curiouser” disposition, then look no further than the cliff top La Rosa in Whitby. A famed favourite of Lewis Carroll (its blue plaque confirms the tales), it will take you down the rabbit hole and into a world of kitsch antiques, all carefully collected from thrift stores and used to decorate each of its rooms in a unique style. Throw in views of the Harbour and Whitby Abbey and you’ll be grinning like the Cheshire cat.
If you want award winning accommodation complete with a champagne bar, then 17 Burgate in Pickering is for you. It’s a renovated Georgian townhouse B&B with a cosy wood-burning stove, cruelty-free toiletries, homemade bread at breakfast, and just a few minutes stroll from the castle. When it comes to eco travel, how much more sustainable can you get than staying in a former train carriage? The Old Station in Pickering offers self catering stays in three formerly first class carriages, originally built in the late 1960s in Derby. Now renovated to offer all mod cons - and no less than 2-3 bedrooms each.
To unwind and shut off, venture a little deeper inland into the Moors and hole up in Kale Pot Cottage. From the doorstep of this 18th Century barn you can easily join the North York Moors’ network of cycle and walking paths. Enjoy living as one with nature - and look out for badgers and foxes, which are frequently sighted on the three acres of land in which the cottage sits. Even further inland, the marketown of Helmsley is a good base for exploring the North York Moors National Park. The Carlton Lodge, a grand B&B perfectly located just inside the Park gives way to many long and short distance trails leading into the moors - making it a paradise for cyclists, walkers and star gazers. It’s well stocked with maps and guides, so no excuses for not booting up and heading out.
Family and dog friendly visitors looking for a more back to basics style stay will be pleased to know there are five YHA hostels in the area - Boggle Hole, Whitby, Scarborough, Dalby Forest and Helmsley. Boggle Hole, which is mere steps from the beach near Robin Hood’s Bay, which recently added the Crow's Nest - an environmentally friendly building that can sleep 44 people, in addition to the 42 beds in the original building, the Old Mill.
Where to eat
The hills, fields and seas surrounding the Moors are home to an abundance of homegrown vegetables, rare-breed cattle, sheep, pigs, game, seafood and fish - so wherever you eat, you can be fairly certain your food is as local as it gets. And it would be almost criminal to leave Whitby without sampling its (freshly caught) fish and chips - arguably the best in the UK.
All of the eateries listed in this guide, from pubs in slumbering hamlets and vintage tearooms to chic restaurants and country inns, take pride in their produce, many growing their own vegetables and salads in gardens and allotments – and the result is a distinctive array of flavours unique to the region.
The Cleveland Tontine has it all - formal dining in the bisto and conservatory while more relaxed dining and lighter snacks are served in the lounge area or the Morning room - and private dining options, including the ‘snug’. They have strong relationships with local suppliers and can trace their produce from field to fork. For a “rustic gourmet bolthole” as it describes itself, head to the Star Inn in Harome, just outside Helmsley. Star by name and nature, the 14th Century inn has been awarded a Michelin star for its culinary creations. For truly decadent dining in a traditional pub setting, the Black Swan in Oldstead boasts a Michelin Star and three AA Rosettes. The seasonal and locally grown or foraged menu is the work of Chef Tommy Banks - Britain’s youngest Michelin-starred chef in 2013. The artistry doesn’t stop with the food - the coffee and most of the spirits, herbal teas and cocktails are unique to the pub, or feature herbs and botanicals from the garden.
For a very intimate eating and drinking experience, Birch Hall Inn, just 10 miles south of Whitby is made up of two tiny bars - separated by a sweet shop - whose record attendance is 30 people, and two small dogs. The menu is simple - think pie, stotties and scones - but be sure to try its famous Beck Hole beer cake as you listen to folklore tales of a giant worm with the mouth of a dragon that was said to have lived in the nearby forests before being slain.
If you crave a little after dinner entertainment, the New Inn & Cropton Brewery near Pickering has nightly live music and offers tours of its brewery which is conveniently located in its garden, so no excuses not to! The small and family-run pub has a separate dining room, village bar, conservatory and cosy coffee lounge. At the southern edge of the National Park, in the small village of Gillamoor, you’ll find the Royal Oak - a Grade-II-listed 17th-century inn serving up an a la carte menu of local produce, and many vegetarian options. There are eight bedrooms should you decide to stay a little longer.
For lighter and on-the-go options, the Moors offers an array of quaint cafes, farm shops and bakeries steeped in tradition or with the addition of arts and crafts. Cedarbarn Farm Shop and Cafe is an eco-conscious husband and wife outfit offering locally sourced and reared food with its own butchery, shop, miniature railway and growing fields for customers to pick their own fruit. Walkers attempting the Coast to Coast Path and nature lovers marvelling at nearby Falling Foss waterfall should consider stopping at Falling Foss Tea Garden for a sandwich or cream tea. The seasonal cafe (check opening times) is nestled in the grounds of Midge Hall, a tiny cottage which lay abandoned for half a century, before being restored in 2008.
Visitors with a sweet tooth may want to take a trip down memory lane at Suggitt’s Café and Shop. Originally as an ice cream shop in 1925, it now stocks a retro range of sweets and confectionery. Be warned - queues can become very long in the summer months.
Ice cream lovers shouldn’t miss the opportunity to sample the array of flavours on offer at Ryeburn in Helmsley - twice voted best in the country. I mean, it’d be rude not to! The Black Cherry ice cream was recently named national winner and the Toffee and Fudge and Cookies and Cream previously won gold in the National Ice Cream awards.
If these gastronomic delights tickle your tastebuds why not try your luck as a budding chef while you’re here? Arches Cookery School offers lessons from its chef Sarah Muir, who has been personal chef to a number of music’s greats (including Elton John, The Prodigy, Whitney Houston, George Michael and Bob Dylan to namerop a few…). A family-run affair, the school uses vegetables and herbs grown by Sarah’s mother.
Put your new found skills to use once you return home - but be sure to stock up on your local favourites first at the weekly Friday morning Wykeham Village Market, where you’ll find everything cheese, fresh or frozen game, handmade cookies to hand tied flowers and locally grown plants.
Where to visit
The Moors not only provides a natural playground - from its coastline to its expansive wilderness - but it has also nurtured the artistic talents of many painters, photographers, carvers and craftspeople, meaning there is much to see and experience during your stay.
Starting with Byland Abbey, which was discovered in the 12th Century by Savigniac monks. The historic building, whose long history has seen it sacked by Robert the Bruce, devastated by the Black Death and surrendered to Henry VIII, was a blueprint for the ideal monastic architecture and the inspiration for the rose window at York Minster. To continue your history tour, consider visiting a castle or two. 900 year old Helmsley Castle is one of the region’s finest and most important, beginning life as a medieval fortress before becoming a Tudor mansion and then a Civil War stronghold. Meanwhile, Pickering Castle harks back to the days when the market town was a thriving strategic centre of 13th Century northern England - and was once a royal hunting lodge and home for medieval kings. To retrace the footsteps of ancient ancestors, embark on the mile long stretch of the Wheeldale Roman Road.
Art lovers won’t be disappointed in the Moors. To view local masterpieces, or hone your own artistic talents, drop by Staithes Gallery & Art School where lessons often take place in the fresh sea air of the little fishing village. If you visit in September you may catch the Staithes Festival which celebrates its artistic history - starting with the 19th century Staithes Group of Artists to today. Whilst you’re here, why not make the most of the fishing village’s heritage and take a fishing or wildlife boat trip with Real Staithes.
Families can get up close and personal with animals at Betton Farm before enjoying a picnic of freshly baked bread, cakes and snacks from the onsite cafe. Run by social enterprise, Basics Plus, it provides training and work opportunities for young people with learning difficulties – which you’ll be supporting with your visit.
Things to do
The diverse landscape of the area means you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to activities - and why not when there are so many tasty local dishes and specialty foods to reward yourself with afterwards. Inntravel offers a self-guided Yorkshire Gastronomic Walking holiday with exactly this in mind. Gone Mountain Biking in Pickering, offers a similar service for cyclists. To explore the moorland and forestry by horseback, Bilsdale Riding Centre has a wide selection of horses and ponies and treks for all abilities.
For more independent travel, there’s a dizzying array of walking and cycling trails to tackle, from gentle day strolls to multi-day adventures. A walk around the 6,800-acre Conservation Area of Fylingdales Moor near Whitby may reward you with a glimpse of its rare wildlife. Managed by the Hawk and Owl Trust, the moorland is managed with environmentally sustainable techniques.
Adrenaline junkies will be well catered for at Carlton Lodge Activity Centre in Thirsk. Popular with schools, scout groups, youth clubs and corporate away days, its programmes are designed to boost self-confidence and team working skills through activities including archery, caving and zip lining to name a few. To truly take in the scenery here, you enjoy the breathtaking views from 33,000ft in a glider with Yorkshire Gliding Club. Water babies may prefer sailing, windsurfing or open water swimming with Scaling Dam Sailing Club. If you never thought you’d find a surfing spot up North, think again - the seaside town of Saltburn serves up some decent waves for and you can take lessons with Flow Surf School.
For more ideas of eco breaks in the North York Moors, including places to stay, local food and drink, attractions and activities, see our: Green Traveller's Guide to the North York Moors