A fabulous family day out

A fabulous family day out in the North York Moors for just £50

Less than an hour’s drive from our home in York we found ourselves in the heart of the North York Moors, ready for a day of exploring. We are all for saving money on days out these holidays, so wanted to see what we could get up to on a budget rather than heading to a big attraction like we usually would.

“We absolutely loved visiting the North York Moors to reconnect with nature after a busy month of school, work and clubs. It felt very refreshing to just slow down and be somewhere so quiet and peaceful with space to run around safely amongst beautiful surroundings.”

Erin, mum of two.

Helmsley Castle

Castlegate, Helmsley YO625AB

We arrived at Helmsley Castle early at 10:00. The early arrival worked out well, as we parked easily in the car park next to the castle entrance (£2.50 for 2 hours). However, when we left at midday, the car park was almost full.

We passed through the lovely shop, which serves as an entrance to the Castle and were immediately greeted by the friendly staff at the desk, who explained to us where we needed to go and offered us an audio guide. We didn’t take one but I think for older children this would be a fab way of holding their interest. Another staff member was so kind and friendly to the kids too, giving them a free badge and taking time to chat to them.

The shop was very enticing so the kids had a quick look around before we went through to the castle. Ted spotted Castle Monopoly and Lil’s eye was caught by the princess and knight dressing up items.

Once through to the castle we were immediately struck by how quiet and peaceful it was. There was hardly anyone else there since it was still quite early, and the kids’ imaginations were fired up immediately as we looked at the ruins, read the information boards and tried to imagine which room was which. They also began a massive game of hide and seek – just be careful, as there are some steep drops to be aware of.

We loved exploring all the nooks and crannies and different areas of the castle. It was also interesting to see the preserved room compared to the ruined rooms adjacent to it; it really showed the kids how the castle used to be. We could have spent hours here just playing and exploring despite the site being quite small, it was just such a lovely place to be, especially in the gorgeous sunshine.

Helmsley Castle is £9.50 for adults and £5.50 for over 5s, or free if you are an English Heritage member which works out as just £10 a month for family membership and so many places are included! It was £2.50 to park at Helmsley Castle for 2 hours.

Helmsley castle blog

Helmsley Village

Reluctantly leaving the castle, we decided to have a wander around Helmsley because it had looked so lovely when we drove in. I wish we’d had longer to look around all the shops and have something to eat in one of the many enticing-looking cafes, but our car park was due to run out, so we just contented ourselves with stocking up on some picnic food from Hunters of Helmsley, a lovely independent deli with a mouth-watering range of Yorkshire produce.

We picked some cakes and a few other bits and bobs but everything looked delicious!

We also had a look in a lovely little independent bookshop and couldn’t resist popping in an old-fashioned sweet shop to choose a bag of sweets each from all the jars lining the shelves. I’d have loved some time to explore all the other shops and may have to return without kids in tow another time.

We spent £13.40 at Hunters of Helmsley and £4.50 Helmsley Sweet Shop.

Sutton Bank National Park Centre

Sutton Bank, Thirsk YO7 2EH

We parked up at the national park centre, which costs £3.50 for up to 2 hours or £5.50 for all day and plenty of parking available. The centre itself is free to enter. Two hours would definitely not be enough in this fab location so we went for the second option.

The car park payment machine was card payment only, which was a relief to me not to have to scrabble about for change that I never seem to have any more. It was much easier to use Apple Pay!

The centre containing the cafe, shop, toilets, bike centre and nature lab was right by the car park. Here you could find information on all the different walks, bike rides and activities available using the centre as a starting point. It looked like an excellent place to go cycling and we saw so many families enjoying this facility – you can also hire bikes here. There were specific bike trails for bikes only and walking trails of different lengths, one being to the white horse. We definitely want to go back and try this walk, maybe when my little one is a bit older.

Inside the centre, we had a look around the nature lab, which was a really modern hands-on area for children to explore a bit more about nature and the world around them. There was a bird spotting area as well as microscopes to view different natural items. There was also a craft table with a range of different colouring and puzzles aimed at a range of ages.

The shop was also lovely and I allowed the kids a small bit of spending money. Lil chose a bird whistle (slightly regretting allowing this!!) and a magnifying glass, while Ted chose a colourful flask and some sweets.

Magic of Nature Trail

At the reception desk, we collected our trail sheets (£3 per sheet) which is a small booklet (clipboard and pencil provided) with a map to follow to find 10 checkpoints around a short circular walk which includes the playground and is pram and wheelchair friendly.

At each checkpoint, there is a task or question – sometimes it was filling in some missing words from a poem and sometimes a question to connect us more with nature, for example, closing your eyes and listening to what you can hear, then noting it down. The checkpoints were close enough to each other to keep the children engaged, and both of them enjoyed the different activities at each one.

Along the trail you also arrive at “the finest view in England” and we certainly agreed with this, it was breathtaking and the kids hadn’t seen anything as impressive as this before. It was lovely to experience this with them and stand looking at the view, talking about what we could see and just enjoying the moment.

Along the trail route we also passed some dens built in the woods and some good climbing trees which provided them with something else to explore.

The circular route brings you back to the visitor centre, where you can hand in completed sheets and claim your prize. The kids were pleased with their little wrapped packages containing coloured pencils and pencil sharpener along with some nature activity cards and a temporary tattoo!

Adventure play area

The playground was great, with lots of natural pieces of simple play equipment nestled amongst the trees, so it felt like you were searching for and discovering each one. There were stone structures, treehouses, simple obstacle courses and a mud kitchen, and the whole place immediately captured the imagination of both children, who started a make-believe game of “the famous five” with the treehouse as their base! Again I had to practically drag them away at the end of the day.

We spent £10.60 on coffee and ice cream at Park Life cafe, £5.50 for all-day parking at Sutton Bank and £3 for the Magic of Nature Trail.

We had ice cream and coffee from the cafe and refilled our water bottles from the handy tap before heading back to the car, tired and happy from a full day out with plenty of memories made, and we spent under £50 in total too!

We absolutely loved visiting the North York Moors to reconnect with nature after a busy month of school, work and clubs. It felt very refreshing to just slow down and be somewhere so quiet and peaceful with space to run around safely amongst beautiful surroundings. The kids loved noticing the small things, like the sound of grasshoppers and watching as a butterfly landed on the ground close by. The nature trail really helped to slow us down and make us notice things we usually might have passed by.

We returned home happy, refreshed and with a new sense of adventure. We are already planning to return soon to try some of the bike trails and shorter walks as we had such an enjoyable day and wish it could have lasted longer!

Head to the North York Moors National Park website for more ideas and inspiration for family days out!

Blog by
Erin Ek Rush on behalf of Yorkshire Tots

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