Here’s our rundown of truly special places and awesome landmarks that should be on anyone’s bucket list – each guaranteed to show you a perfect piece of our part of North Yorkshire.
1. Rievaulx Abbey
‘Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world’ so said Aelred, Rievaulx Abbey’s most famous abbot, nearly 900 years ago, a description as relevant today.
Religious communities have long made their home in the North York Moors and, in Rievaulx Abbey, the National Park has one of England’s greatest and most atmospheric abbey ruins beautifully sited in a tranquil valley just outside Helmsley, itself a picture perfect market town. Make a day of it and walk there and back on the path from Helmsley. The Abbey’s own gardens will provide some of the ingredients for your lunch in its popular family-friendly and recently expanded tearoom; take in the beautiful views from tables inside or outside, overlooking the impressive ruins. The visitor centre and museum have also had a contemporary overhaul.
2. Castle Howard
Castle Howard is rightly recognised as one of the world's most beautiful buildings, Yorkshire’s finest historic estate is set on a thousand breathtaking acres of landscaped parkland with temples, lakes and fountains. Designed by Vanbrugh and Hawksmooor, the stately home will look very familiar having appeared in many famous films and TV series, including Brideshead Revisited and Death Comes to Pemberley.
3. North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Jump on board the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, the world’s most popular heritage railway whose lovingly-restored trains will steam for 24 miles from the market town of Pickering through the heart of the National Park out to the golden sandy beaches of the coast at Whitby. It’s one of the earliest and most historic railways in England, dating back to the 1830s, with spectacular moorland and gorge scenery, family walks, historic halts and traditional station tea rooms all part of the attraction. Don't miss:
- A taste of indulgence aboard the Pullman dining service
- A Footplate Experience - on the bucket list for any serious steam train fan. Join the driver and fireman for a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to travel in the cab, blow that whistle and discover what it takes to drive these magnificent engines.
- Reliving the magic of Harry Potter with a visit to Goathland (Hogsmeade station from the first film)
- Walking the 3.5 mile Rail Trail from Goathland to Grosmont, along the route of George Stephenson’s original 1836 railway line. On the way stop at Beck Hole for its much-photographed tiny inn and nearby Thomason Foss waterfall. You can purchase 'The Rail Trail' booklet from our National Park Centres at Sutton Bank and Danby.
- Railway heritage at Grosmont, home to the world’s oldest horse-drawn passenger railway tunnel, engine sheds and workshops
- Beck Isle Museum, the Norman castle and painted medieval church frescoes in Pickering.
4. Sutton Bank and Kilburn White Horse
It's not just the view from Sutton Bank that's iconic (vet and author James Herriot declaring it the finest in England), it's also the start of the classic walk along the escarpment edge to the Kilburn White Horse. This famous landmark is the most northerly turf-cut hill figure and dominates the view for miles. It's the largest white horse in the country, with a surface area of just over an acre (318 feet long and 220 feet high) and the handiwork of Victorian schoolmaster Thomas Taylor who, having seen the famous chalk hill figures of southern England, wanted to create something similar back home. In 1857 he and his pupils marked out the figure on a hillside high above Kilburn before depositing 6 tons of lime on the naturally greyish rock beneath to whiten it. The Horse still has to be whitened at regular intervals today. Launch yourself into the Yorkshire sky with a trial lesson from the nearby gliding club for the ultimate view.
5. Hutton le Hole
Arrive in Hutton le Hole and you’re immediately smitten by the past. Could there be any more of a gem than this typical moorland village of old stone houses, grassy greens, white fences, wandering sheep and a tinkling stream with little bridges? It's the backdrop for a perfect stroll and streamside picnic, while the kids paddle in the clear waters of the babbling beck. Tearooms are plentiful and it’s also home to Ryedale Folk Museum, Yorkshire's award-winning open air museum where volunteers demonstrate cooking and traditional crafts like blacksmithing and rope-making. There’s also the Hutton le Hole Craft Workshops to check out, where artisans are open every day between April and October, and most weekends during the winter. See the chocolatiers in action, get the lowdown on hand-spun wool and felting, learn about lavender and moorland crafts, or watch the artists create unique pieces in glass, wood and ceramics.
6. St Mary's Church, Lastingham
Only a few miles away from Hutton le Hole lies Lastingham’s St Mary’s Church, famous for its atmospheric eleventh-century crypt. A monastery has been here since the seventh-century AD, whose first Abbott, the Anglo-Saxon monk Cedd of Lindisfarne (later St Cedd), died of the plague in 664. Interestingly a recent survey by University of Leeds archaeologists has found Roman material in the crypt and it may well be that Cedd was building on an abandoned Roman Temple.
William I set about restoring the abbey in 1078 and the crypt today probably dates from that time. It’s one of the most impressive pieces of early Norman church architecture and is unique in England in having a central aisle, two side aisles and a nave. There's a palpable sense of history as you descend the stone steps into the half-light beneath the present-day church. You'll find St Cedd is commemorated among the crypt's ancient carved stone crosses. Warm up afterwards in the village pub directly opposite the church.
Back in the main church, its exceptional quality of sound, described by Sir John Betjeman no less, as ‘unforgettable’ means it often features as a venue during the annual Ryedale Festival and North York Moors Chamber Music Festival, well worth making the journey for.
7. Levisham Estate (Hole of Horcum)
Levisham Estate is virtually the North York Moors in miniature. Into 3,358 acres it packs almost everything that gives the National Park its special character: spectacular landforms, ancient woodlands teeming in wildlife, world-class archaeology, and of course our famous heather moorland. Some of the best-loved beauty spots in the National Park are part of the estate. The breathtaking scenery of the Hole of Horcum, a vast natural amphitheatre, has been stopping travellers in their tracks for centuries. Newtondale, with its celebrated steam railway, is a place of pilgrimage not just for steam enthusiasts but for geologists, photographers, and people who simply know a beautiful view when they see one. Because the whole of the estate is Open Access Land, you're free to walk, run, climb, picnic and take pictures wherever you like. Access the estate from our Saltergate car park, Levisham village or Levisham station on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.
8. Robin Hood's Bay
Exploring the steep, narrow backstreets and ginnels in the atmospheric old smugglers’ haunt of Baytown (or Bay), the village of Robin Hood’s Bay is not to be missed. The higgledy-piggledy fishermen’s cottages connected by internal passageways were made for smuggling in the 18th century, with contraband moving from the dock to the top of town without ever seeing the light of day. It’s the end of Wainwright's Coast to Coast Walk too, named as the second best walk in the world back in 2004. Custom dictates that the journey is not over until Coast-to-Coasters have dipped their feet in the North Sea, followed swiftly by a pint in the Bay Hotel right by the slipway. There’s plenty of cafés and shops to stock up on food for a beach picnic too and in summer you can’t miss the ice cream van parked precariously on the beach. Once scoffed, head for the rocks for a spot of rock pooling and fossil hunting.
Our bucket list ends in historic Whitby, where Captain Cook beckons, along with abbey ruins, quaint narrow streets, Gothic inspiration, sandy beaches, smoked kippers from Fortune's, fish and chips at the famous Magpie Café… And of course you can join in with the age old debate on whether there really are 199 steps. It’s customary to count the steps as you climb up to St Mary’s Church and onwards to the ruins of Whitby Abbey. With each step more and more of the red-roofed town is revealed behind you, just try not to lose count as you gasp for breath!
Interested in our faith heritage? Discover more about our famous abbeys, distinctive crosses and sacred sites.
10. Roseberry Topping
Rising high above the Cleveland Hills, tackle the climb up Roseberry Topping – Yorkshire’s Matterhorn – and make sure you do it on a clear day for the most stunning panorama taking in the Yorkshire Coast, dales, heather moors, and villages, against the industrial might of Teesside. Its dramatically shaped summit – seemingly cut away on one side – came about after extensive mining over the centuries led to the collapse of the western face in 1912. Tackle it straight from our car park at Newton under Roseberry, where you can end the walk with a celebratory pint of Wainstones ale at the King's Head Inn or go for our seven mile walking option that also takes in Cook's Monument.
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