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22nd July 2019 Joe Willis

The best things to do in North Yorkshire and the Dales

A day out means different things to different people. For some, thrills and excitement are required. Others see unwinding and relaxation as the main priority. One of the great things about North Yorkshire and the Dales is that there are things to do for everyone, however you want to spend the day. There is so much to do that, with a little planning, you can ensure everyone in the family gets to do something they want.

For example, a morning on the beach and playing in the amusement arcades at Whitby or Scarborough can be followed by an afternoon exploring the unique, independent shops that can be found in both seaside towns. Or how about members of the party, who are looking for a little indulgence, visit the Turkish Baths in Harrogate, while those looking for adventure head for Lightwater Valley up the road near Ripon? The theme park boasts the longest rollercoaster in Europe, as well as a range of other exhilarating rides for all ages.

The natural world

Equally as terrifying/exciting is Flamingo Land, between Malton and Pickering, on the North York Moors. As well as a large theme park, the venue boasts a zoo with kangaroos, rhinoceros, red pandas, giraffes and many more weird and wonderful creatures. An attraction that you may be able to smell before you see is Wolds Way Lavender, in Wintringham, near Malton, which has more than five acres of lavender ranging from rich hues of purple to the purest white. The farm also has its own miniature railway, as well as a maze and timber trail.

Lavender things to do Whitby things to do North Yorkshire and the Dales

You’ll smell the beautiful Lavender from Wolds Way before you see it

There’s nothing miniature about the North York Moors Railway. The line runs across the spectacular countryside of the North York Moors between Pickering and Whitby. Passengers can travel on steam or heritage diesel locomotives, with a regular fine dining service running throughout the year. Dalby Forest, near Pickering, is managed by the Forestry Commission. There’s a free visitor centre with exhibitions and regular events. There’s also miles and miles of forestry trails for walking, running and cycling, as well as a Go Ape outdoor adventure centre with tree top ropes, zip wires and Segways.

In the pretty town of Helmsley you will find an English Heritage-owned castle that is fun to explore. Nearby is Rievaulx Abbey, which was once one of England’s most powerful Cistercian monasteries. Picturesque Nunnington Hall, a country house with an organic garden and regular exhibitions, is also worth a visit.

There’s nothing miniature about the North York Moors Railway. The line runs across the spectacular countryside of the North York Moors between Pickering and Whitby

A day out at the seaside

Whitby is full of things to do and a day out all on its own. There is much to see in the vibrant seaside town with a colourful history. As well as a good beach to the north of the harbour, where children fish for crabs from the walls, there’s the famous 199 steps leading up to the ruined Whitby Abbey. Whitby played a central part in Bram Stoker’s gothic novel, Dracula, and the blood-sucking count was said to have run up after his ship ran aground nearby.

Whitby things to do Whitby North Yorkshire and the Dales

Take a trip to the wonderful seaside town of Whitby

Today, the town remains a popular destination for gothic enthusiasts, with an annual Goth Weekend attracting large numbers. Down the coast in Scarborough, the Sea Life Centre is an interesting and informative day out that is not weather dependent. Scarborough’s Oriental-themed Peasholm Park has been attracting visitors for more than a century. As well as a great place for a picnic, the park, which is free to enter, has a boating lake where you can hire rowing boats, canoes and pedalos with dragon heads.

Whitby is a day out all on its own. There is much to see in the vibrant seaside town with a colourful history

Life of a vet

There is lots of things to do in and around Thirsk, including the World of James Herriot – an attraction celebrating the life of the vet and author behind the All Creatures Great and Small books, which have done so much to increase the profile of the area nationally and around the world.

For those visiting with younger children, Stockeld Park, near Harrogate, is not to be missed. There’s an enchanted forest, go-karts, playgrounds, a maze and lots more. Depending on what time of the year you visit, there could also be cross-country skiing, ice skating, roller blading and children’s scooters.

Child playing things to do Whitby things to do North Yorkshire and the Dales

Kids and adults alike will enjoy getting back to nature

For a more leisurely day out, RHS Gardens Harlow Carr, in Harrogate, is a good option. As well as stunning gardens to explore, there’s a branch of renowned tea room Bettys on site for when a famous fat rascal cake is the order of the day! Not far from Harrogate is an attraction billed as England’s oldest. Mother Shipton’s Cave, in Knaresborough, which was once home to a famous prophetess, is situated next to a petrifying well which turns objects to stone. The Forbidden Corner, in Coverdale, near Leyburn, is like no other attraction you’ve ever visited. As well as a huge pyramid made of translucent glass, there are paths and passages that lead nowhere, extraordinary statues, puzzles to be solved and tricks to avoid. Booking is essential.

There is lots of things to do in and around Thirsk, including the World of James Herriot – an attraction celebrating the life of the vet and author behind the All Creatures Great and Small books

Beautiful landmarks and national treasures

The waterfalls at Aysgarth are a must-visit if you are in the area. Although not particularly high, the three falls – upper, middle and lower – are still impressive, especially when the River Ure is in spate. A few miles away is another popular Dales waterfall which, like those at Aysgarth, was used in the Kevin Costner film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

At 100ft high, Hardraw Force is Britain’s largest single-drop waterfall. In the south of the Park lies Bolton Abbey, where visitors can explore the ruins of the priory and almost 30,000 acres of surrounding countryside. The estate features more than 80 miles of footpaths along the side of the River Wharfe, through woodland and across moors. And when you’re ready for a rest there are shops, restaurants and tea rooms to provide refreshments.

The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway invites visitors to take a ride behind one of their vintage steam locomotives. The four miles of track takes passengers through stunning countryside from the pretty village of Embsay to Bolton Abbey in lovingly-restored Victorian and Edwardian carriages. Passengers can hop off mid-journey at Holywell Halt and watch the trains go by. Alternatively, in the north of the park the Wensleydale Railway runs a regular service in the summer and weekend services at other times.

Ripon Cathedral

Visit the stunning Ripon Cathedral

Ripon Cathedral is a beautiful, ancient church with a history reaching back to the 7th century. The first stone church was founded by St Wilfrid and dedicated in 672. The crypt remains from this time and is a highlight of any visit. Not to be missed are the medieval choir stalls which inspired Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland. You can also follow in the footsteps of Wilfred Owen, the war poet as he recuperated here during the First World War and wrote many of his famous poems, before returning to the front to die.

Ripon Cathedral has a strong musical tradition with a choir, who sing six services each week as well as several special events throughout the year. The cathedral holds several services a day and a series of musical concerts – open to all who may be interested.

Ripon Cathedral is a beautiful, ancient church with a history reaching back to the 7th century. The first stone church was founded by St Wilfrid and dedicated in 672

Popular excursions

A popular excursion with visitors is to get the train to Redmire and then walk a mile across fields to Bolton Castle. The castle is one of the best-preserved examples in the country. It was originally built 600 years ago as one of the finest and most luxurious homes in the land. The castle is still in the private ownership of Lord Bolton, the direct descendant of the castle’s original owner, Sir Richard le Scrope.

Tours of the longest show cave in the UK – White Scar Cave, near Ingleton – are available all year round. Underground waterfalls, stalactites, stalagmites and other natural limestone formations can be seen as the tour makes its way towards the impressive Battlefield Chamber – a huge cavern formed by glacial flood waters during the last ice age.

White scar cave

Take a tour of the impressive White Scar Cave

Just as impressive is Ingleborough Cave, near Clapham. Another idea for a wet day is watching cheese being hand-made at the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes. As well as a museum revealing how the production of Wensleydale Cheese has evolved over the centuries, visitors can watch staff still making cheese using the time-honoured skills of cutting, stirring, pitching and salting.

A popular excursion with visitors is to get the train to Redmire and then walk a mile across fields to Bolton Castle. The castle is one of the best-preserved examples in the country

Historical hotspots

The Dales Countryside Museum is another good destination for a rainy day. The museum, housed in the Hawes’ old railway station, tells the story of the people and landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. Displays interpret the development of the Dales from prehistoric times to the present day. The museum features regular exhibitions and events.

Next to the museum is Hawes Ropemakers where you can see ropes being made in the same way they have for centuries. The company, which makes everything from dog leads to banister ropes, ships its products to 20 different countries across the globe. The Dentdale Heritage Centre, in Dent, near Settle, features a wealth of information on the working lives and social customs of the Dales folk who inhabited the area in years gone by. Many of the items on display have come from the collection of Jim and Margaret Taylor of High Laning Farm, who were the centre’s founders.

Dales Countryside Museum

Take a trip back in time at the Dales Countryside Museum

Kilnsey Park, between Grassington and Kettlewell, is another family favourite. As well as a working fish farm and lakes packed with brown, rainbow and golden trout for fly fishing, there are trails, a restaurant and farm shop. Don’t forget to get some fish food as there are lots of hungry trout to be fed. The pygmy goats might like a nibble too!

For those interested in military history, the Green Howards Museum, in Richmond, is a great place to spend a few hours. The attraction has on display 14 Victoria Crosses (VC) won by the illustrious regiment’s members over the years, including the medal of Stan Hollis, who was the only soldier to receive a VC for their conduct on D-Day. The Station at Richmond is a good option whatever the weather. The venue has a three-screen cinema, as well as an art gallery and a number of artisan food producers on site, including an ice cream producer, bakery and brewery.


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Image credits: ©Andy Aughey Landscape and Light Photography/Bolton Abbey; Annie Spratt/Daiga Ellaby/Unsplash; The Dales Countryside Museum; Tim Grevatt/White Scar Cave

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