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Arts & culture

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough by James DrawneekStephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough by James Drawneek

The arts scene in the North York Moors is thriving – thanks to a winning mixture of lateral thinking and good old-fashioned making do… Even the most fervent arts and culture buffs will be taken with the quality and range of performing arts, museums and galleries on offer. Scarborough, Middlesbrough and York are right on our doorstep too, so top quality entertainment can be experienced all year round.

And if you're thinking some of our towns and villages look familiar, many films and television series have taken advantage of our stunning backdrops too.

Here's some of the best arts venues and touring events in and around the North York Moors.

Live music venues 

  • By the roadside near the village of Low Mill in Farndale is a corrugated iron shed. Except it isn't just a shed. It’s a titchy, marvellously idiosyncratic music venue called the Band Room, or 'the greatest small venue on Earth' as it's known. Built for the Farndale Silver Band in the 1920s, the Band Room has a capacity of 100, a great atmosphere, and a determinedly homespun ethic. It’s one of a number of small grassroots arts venues that have sprung up in the North York Moors over the last few years and which are leading the campaign to keep the cash-strapped rural arts scene alive.
  • Similarly sized The Shed®, the mastermind of Simon Thackray, describes itself as a pint-sized music and poetry venue on the edge of the North York Moors. Acts at the Band Room tend to be drawn from the worlds of folk, blues and Americana while a similar music repertoire is complemented by live comedy, poetry and the infamous Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race® at The Shed®. Shows are few and far between for both, but it’s worth checking if there’s anything on – the trick’s in the timing. (T: 01751 432900 Band Room; T: 01653 668494 The Shed®) 
  • Folk music has strong roots in the area with annual Folk Weeks in Whitby and Saltburn in August, baby versions are held over weekends in Robin Hood's Bay (home to Waterson Carthys, the first family of folk), and Botton (Great North Folk Festival), while the daddy of all celebrations rounds the year off in October at the Musicport Festival in Whitby, the UK's biggest indoor world music festival. You’ll also find regular folk nights at various pubs, including real ale favourite The Sun Inn in Pickering.
  • Classical music is well catered for too and makes the very best of the acoustics in our historic venues. The Ryedale Festival, held over two weeks in July, is one of the year's cultural highlights, welcoming performers from all over the world for concerts and arts events in spectacular houses, churches and theatres. Renowned musicians from around the world also gather every August in some of the area's most remote and beautiful churches for the North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, where the journey to the venue is part of the magic.

Theatre

  • If theatre is your scene, Alan Ayckbourn's favourite Stephen Joseph Theatre, housed in Scarborough's 1936 Odeon art deco building, is a cultural icon with an international reputation and a year-round programme of drama, music, comedy, dance, poetry and films. (T: 01723 370541)
  • Rural North York Moors is not forgotten either. Don’t miss the chance of an evening at the Esk Valley Theatre in Glaisdale – a gem of a small independent venue with a surprisingly adventurous programme during the month of August. Early booking recommended (T: 01947 897587)
  • Touring programmes reach even the most rural parts too. Rural Arts' ON Tour brings professional performing acts to rural communities and village halls across the North York Moors. Experience high quality theatre, comedy, music, pantomime, and puppetry in intimate settings.

Other arts' venues

  • Over in Coxwold is the wonderful Shandy Hall. The former home of the 18th-century novelist Laurence Sterne, now housing a museum and gallery, Shandy Hall is the venue for regular events, exhibitions and installations that channel Sterne’s playful spirit using contemporary media. (T: 01347 868465)
  • We can’t end without mentioning a veteran of the region’s arts scene: Helmsley Arts Centre. Situated in an old Quaker meeting house, it's been operating as a venue since 1993. The building was destroyed by fire in 2000, but rebuilt and reopened the following year. Initially a small-scale enterprise staffed by volunteers, it now has a 140-seat auditorium and 40-seat studio and exhibition space, and has a varied programme of cinema, live music, theatre performances, community plays, comedy clubs, art exhibitions and workshops/classes – proof that from small beginnings come great things. (T: 01439 771700)

Catch of flavour of other festivals and events happening throughout the year, great museums and quality galleries in the North York Moors too.