Local attractions in the North York Moors

Updated: Jun 15

As part of our Green Traveller's Guide to the North York Moors, Paul Bloomfield picks out a selection of historic buildings, museums, art and culture in this wonderful National Park in the north of England.

There’s something in the air here. Or maybe in the water – and definitely in the soil, and even deep underground. It’s inspired monks to build majestic abbeys amid the solitude of the moors, and drawn miners to tap seams of ironstone in the Cleveland rock. It’s nurtured the artistic sensibilities of painters and photographers, carvers and craftspeople. And it’s sparked the urge to explore that took perhaps the area’s most famous son, Captain James Cook, to the far-flung reaches of the globe.


The legacy of these people, ancient and contemporary, is a network of attractions around the region that adds absorbing human interest to the compelling natural beauty of the moors and coast. From the ruins of those stately monastic estates to galleries and workshops, and from evocative museums to hands-on activities for children on farms and shores, we’ve identified a host of destinations showcasing the diverse aspects that make the North York Moors such a unique area to visit.


Gisborough Priory

Founded in 1119 by the Bruce family that were to become Kings of Scotland, the stunning skeleton of this Augustinian priory still stands on the edge of the National Park. It was one of the wealthiest monastic foundations in the country. The last to be buried here was Robery de Brus, whose grandson would rule Scotland in the early part of the 14th century. english-heritage.org.uk/visit/whats-on/

Byland Abbey

It may seem hard to credit now, but in its heyday Byland was a blueprint for the ideal monastic architecture – indeed, the spectacular rose window at York Minster was inspired by the west front of Byland’s mighty abbey church. Founded by Savigniac monks in the 12th century, the abbey was sacked by Robert the Bruce and devastated by the Black Death two centuries later, then surrendered to Henry VIII and allowed to crumble. But though the soaring gothic architecture is decayed, you don’t need much imagination to get a sense of the awe-inspiring grandeur of the abbey in its pomp – the floors, intricately patterned with glazed tiles, rival Roman mosaics for beauty. english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/byland-abbey/

Helmsley Castle

This 900 year old castle is one of the region’s finest and most important; from its inception as impressive, strategic fortress; through its role as Tudor mansion; stronghold during the Civil War; and more. With sections dating from the different ages of its history, there is much to discover. english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/helmsley-castle/

Rievaulx Abbey

Like Byland, Rievaulx was founded in the 12th century, and progressively rebuilt, expanded and developed over the following two centuries; unlike Byland, when Henry VIII’s suppression of the monasteries emptied these precincts of religious orders, Rievaulx found other purposes – functioning first as an ironworks, then incorporated into the ornamental landscaped grounds of Duncombe Park, augmented with classical temples and the like. Today it’s an impossibly romantic spot, the walls of its abbey church still defiantly upright amid the wooded hillsides. Best accessed from Helmsley on a delightful walk, it’s a place to wander and wonder at the lives of monks nine centuries ago. english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/rievaulx-abbey/

Pickering Castle

Harking back to the days when Pickering wasn’t just a pretty market town but a thriving strategic centre of 13th Century northern England, this impressive castle boasts well preserved outer walls offering wonderful views across the Moors. Learn about its history, including roles as a royal hunting lodge, holiday home for mediaeval kings, and stud farm. english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/pickering-castle/

Wheeldale Roman Road

Stretching across the high moors for around a mile, Wheeldale’s well preserved Roman Road is a testament to ancient engineering and construction techniques and provides a fantastic opportunity to combine archaeological discovery with wonderful walking and scenery. english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wheeldale-roman-road/

Mount Grace Priory

The most important and best preserved of England’s ten mediaeval Carthusian houses, Mount Grace Priory sits in elegant defiance of its ruin below the rolling slopes of the North York Moors. Discover the life of devout isolation led by Monks in the days of the priory’s youth, and soak up a rare ambience of tranquillity as light and shade play through the archways, framing the surrounding hills and woodland. english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/mount-grace-priory/

Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritage

The impossibly picturesque fishing village of Staithes celebrates its impressive artistic heritage (including its role as home of the Northern Impressionism movement) with this festival in September. With a range of different arts represented across various events, galleries, pop-up galleries, and pop-up cafés, there are talks, walks, workshops and more, all surrounded by the fresh salt air. staithesfestival.com

Staithes Gallery & Art School

Not only is Staithes beautiful, it also has an impressive artistic heritage: the little fishing village’s most prominent showcase for both local, and locally-inspired, contemporary art is its gallery, with a changing range of exhibitions. The Art School is the perfect place to hone your artistic talents in a beautiful, relaxed setting, with experienced tutors – classes often take place in the fresh sea air. staithesgallery.co.uk

The Mouseman Visitor Centre

One of the finest craftsmen of the early 20th century, Robert Thompson used traditional tools to carve his inimitable style of oak furniture in a workshop in Kilburn, at the far south-west edge of the moors. Inspired by classic English pieces of the 17th century, his work was in keeping with the Arts and Crafts movement, but with a character very much of its own – typified by the trademark mouse he carved into every piece, lending him his nickname: the ‘Mouseman’. The visitor centre at his workshop features fascinating period rooms recreating that era, as well as an enticing café and shop selling smaller pieces and gifts. robertthompsons.co.uk

Pulpitations

Papermaking artist Niki Hampson welcomes you to her lovely studio in the heart of the North York Moors’ lush Dalby Forest. Here you can have a glimpse into the life of a papermaker, see the work of her and other artists in the gallery, watch demonstrations of the craft, and even take workshops to learn how to make your own paper art creations. pulpitations.co.uk

Jenny Pepper Feltmaker

Jenny’s extraordinary, organic felt designs seem to grow and evolve rather than being made – not least because many incorporate found materials such as seeds and old lace, becoming sculptural works of art. Join one of her inspiring workshops or courses to learn how to make bags, hats, flowers or scarfs, or to use feltmaking techniques to develop your own ideas. Day workshops are usually held in Hutton Buscel Village Hall near Scarborough, at the south-eastern edge of the national park, while weekend courses sometimes run at Cober Hill (see Places to Stay). jennypepper.com

Hands On

At the multi-faceted, and thoroughly lovely, Beadlam Grange Farm, you can have the chance to – as the name suggests – get hands on and creative! From ceramics, to wool, to painting, and much more: get involved and discover a craft you never thought to try, or hone long-ignored skills in a relaxed, friendly, and fun environment. handsontraditionalcrafts.co.uk

WareHouseArt

Based in an open studio at the old stationmaster’s house on the platform at Levisham Station, Christopher Ware is the artist in residence of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. But though he’s renowned for his watercolours of these fabulous trains, each capturing a whiff of the timeless charm of steam locos in a style that tips a nod to Turner’s soft-focus, large-scale scenes, he does sometimes go off the rails and paints landscapes from the moors and coast. You can pop in and see Christopher at work in his studio (Thursdays to Sundays), and groups of six to ten people can book an illustrated talk. warehouseart.com

Wheeldale Woolcrafts

Rediscover the traditional arts of woolcraft on a series of workshops run by specialists in the art, Wheeldale Woolcrafts. In the lovely North York Moors countryside, true sheep country, learn how to felt, how to spin, and how to dye. You could learn to make a rug or all manner of pretty – and practical – felt objects, and see some of the impressive offerings of the professionals. wheeldalewoolcrafts.co.uk

North Yorkshire Moors Railway

What more evocative way is there to see some of Britain’s finest scenery but by steam train? Harking back to a golden age of railway travel, these vintage locomotives have been lovingly looked after and retain original features such as wood panelling, all intact. Hop aboard, admire the scenery, dine in the Pullman, and allow the Moors railway to wind dramatically up from Pickering to the lovely seaside town of Whitby. nymr.co.uk

Betton Farm

Betton Farm has mini pigs. This unique family attraction is owned and run by Basics Plus, a social enterprise providing training and work opportunities for young people with learning difficulties – which means a wealth of activities and things to see for youngsters and their oldies. At the basic level, there’s an campsite and extensive play area, plus the chance to see the working farm’s horses, sheep and chickens (did I mention the mini pigs?). The café and farm shop dish up fresh-baked bread, cakes and snacks; there’s a ceramics centre where you can paint your own pottery, and a woodturning workshop where you can watch or learn about the craft; and the Honey Bee Centre has displays on the buzzing insects. And don’t forget the mini pigs… Campsite pitch from £17/£12 with/without electrical hook-up. bettonfarm.org.uk

Beck Isle Museum

From the outside, this Grade-II-listed building is just another Regency-era townhouse, albeit a rather grand one set in attractive gardens (ideal for a picnic). But delve into the Tardis-like museum and you’ll discover no fewer than 27 themed rooms and courtyards providing a whirlwind tour of home and working life in Victorian Pickering and Ryedale. Play shove ha’penny in the Victorian pub, or indulge in some extreme retro shopping therapy – dip into the cobbler’s, the tailor’s, the hardware store and the chemist’s, with its 116-drawer hand-made drug run. Elsewhere, a selection of pictures by Yorkshire photography pioneer Sydney Smith, spanning over half a century, is on display, along with vintage farming equipment and an antique printing press. beckislemuseum.org.uk

Helmsley Walled Garden & Vinehouse Café

Founded in 1759, on land originally part of the Helmsley Estate, the Walled Garden has a long history and its contemporary appearance is the result of generations of hard work, love, and care. One of the finest gardens in the region, this beautiful floral display seeps with the gentility of old England, and is a fragrant, relaxing spot to while away a sunny day. Fruit and vegetables are also grown in the garden, and you can sample them as ingredients in the award-winning, vegetarian, Vinehouse Café. helmsleywalledgarden.org.uk

Rievaulx Terrace

Relive the 18th Century grandeur of Rievaulx Terrace on a stroll through its magnificent woodlands and across its wide landscaped open spaces giving dramatic views over the Abbey below and beyond across the vales and moors of Yorkshire. Enjoy the neoclassical temples and their frescoes and relish the decadence of a bygone age, with the scent of wildflowers blowing on a fresh breeze. nationaltrust.org.uk/rievaulx-terrace

Ryedale Folk Museum

The rich and long history of Ryedale is very much alive and thriving at this five-acre, open air museum in the picturesque village of Hutton-le-Hole. From the Iron Age to the 1950s, discover how ways of life changed and developed over time – including set-piece historic buildings restored to their former glory, and demonstrations of local crafts in their traditional way. There’s also an art gallery celebrating the best local arts and crafts, and a programme of events and workshops throughout the year. ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk

Shandy Hall

Grade I-listed Shandy Hall is a museum dedicated to the life and writings of Laurence Sterne, housed in a wonderful building dating back to the 15th Century and still containing preserved historic interiors. The house’s two acres of beautiful, well-maintained gardens, which are also open to the public, are home to an amazing array of moths. An incredible 234 varieties have been recorded so far – there is even a blog devoted to them. laurencesternetrust.org.uk

Wolds Way Lavender

Just south of the North York Moors you can discover a world of lavender at Wolds Way. With a shop, gardens, tearoom, aromatherapy, and more – this is a one-stop for everything lavender-related. There is even a distillery on-site to make their own one hundred percent pure lavender oil, and a narrow gauge railway can take you through twelve fragrant acres of plants and wildlife. woldswaylavender.co.uk

Scampston Walled Garden

Scampston Hall is one of Yorkshire’s finest stately homes, a masterpiece of regency architecture with stunning grounds to explore: including a wonderful walled garden. Retaining some of its traditional features and sections, what makes Scampston stand out is its unique contemporary design, created by renowned Dutch plantsman, Piet Oudolf. scampston.co.uk

Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum

For nearly a century, men extracted ironstone from the rock at the Loftus Mine in Skinningrove – the town where, in 1848, the first mine opened in Cleveland, becoming the birthplace of an industry that transformed the social and physical landscape of the region. A tour of this museum includes a subterranean excursion into the North Drift, as well as a chance to hear firsthand the story of Fred, and his life as a 12-year-old ‘trappy’ lad. Up above, there’s a wealth of mining artefacts, photos and other memorabilia, bringing to life the reality of working in an ironstone mine. ironstonemuseum.co.uk


For information on nearby characterful places to stay, local food and drink, and outdoor activities, see our Green Traveller's Guide to the North York Moors.


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