Did I mention I’m half Yorkshire on my Mum’s side. And when you have Yorkshire ancestry, it’s important to visit the homeland as often as possible. And in all the seasons.
We had a little summer break – 5 days in North Yorkshire – for Mr B’s birthday in July. Rural North Yorkshire, even in a heatwave, is truly joyous so we booked another stay for last week.
You might think November is a strange month to book a mini-break but the turning of the trees, the balmy weather and a generous sprinkling of sunshine made it the most magical autumn break and one for the memory bank.
We stayed for the 3rd time in Valley View Farm Cottages tucked away in the little hamlet of Old Byland. It’s just 10 minutes east of Sutton Bank and 50 minutes north of York, with easy access to the A1 North/South. We love the location – right on the edge of the North York Moors surrounded by pretty cottages, farm clusters, cows, sheep and lots of bird life. The nearest town is beautiful Helmsley, a proper Yorkshire Market Town that simply oozes country charm.
If you want peace and quiet, Valley View Farm is your spot. It’s a working farm so you’ll hear the cattle lowing in the shed, and you’ll be woken by the local pheasant community pecking around for their breakfast. The only vehicles that pass by are muddy tractors and well worn Landrovers. This isn’t a holiday you can do on public transport, you’ll need a car to get around. There’s some fabulous country walks you can do along the river valley or around the fields. And it you bring your bike, you can join the Tour de Yorkshire route.
Visit Rievaulx Abbey
Many moons ago I spent 4 years in the city of York studying History and American Studies and became a little obsessed with medieval monasteries. And trust me, North Yorkshire is a medieval hot spot. If I had to pick a favourite it would be Rievaulx Abbey, with Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, a close second.
Rievaulx is hidden away in the valley just below Old Byland and completely blends in with the landscape. You can visit Rievaulx Abbey with English Heritage and get up close and personal. Definitely recommend this for your first time. Or, if you’re a frequent flyer (like me) you can admire it through the trees from a distance on a country walk around the village.
Named after the river Rye that flows alongside, Rievaulx was one of the greatest English abbeys from 1132 when Bernard of Clairvaux and his French Cistercian monks arrived for 400 years until Henry VIII got his hands on it during the dissolution of the monasteries.
You can take your dog there, you can have tea and cake there, you can even get married there. So many options.
Visit Helmsley & Duncombe Park
Helmsley is a picture perfect market town. Just made for Instagram. In fact it’s the only Market Town in the North York Moors National Park. It has a medieval castle, a pretty walled garden, a Bird of Prey Centre and it’s very own stately home Duncombe Park complete with 300 acres of gardens, parkland and nature reserve.
It’s the seat of the Duncombe family, previously Earls of Faversham. You might recognise it from ITV’s Victoria S2 & 3, BBC1s Parade’s End with Benedict Cumberbatch as well as The Secret Garden, The Thirteenth Tale and Dad’s Army.
We took a lovely signed walk of about 3 miles through the parkland and along the river. The Duncombe Estate is an absolute autumn wonderland with a magnificent array of trees that seem to go on forever. All you need is your walking boots, your camera and a delicious homemade picnic from Hunters of Helmsley.
Visit the city of York
After 4 years in York, I know my way around the cobbles pretty well but it’s been 6 years since we last visited so I was eager to get back. We spent our day gazing up at York Minster and wandering the streets and snickleways. One of the joys of York is the great array of small independent shops selling delightful local & handmade goodies.
We sipped tea and inhaled warm mince pies and clotted cream at Betty’s Tearoom. Betty’s is possibly the oldest tearoom in Yorkshire with branches in Harrogate, Ilkley, Northallerton and RHS Harlow Carr. Started in 1919 by the Swiss born self taught chocolatier Frederick Belmont, Betty’s has survived a world war, a bombing, and most recently a pandemic. And it’s better than ever. The Stonegate Cafe and shop was always a favourite of mine as a student but the challenges of an ancient listed building finally overcame it in the summer and it sadly closed. The good news is – we only had to queue for 10 minutes at the St Helen’s Square Tearoom. Although as we get closer to Christmas, this may not always be true. But let’s be honest, tea and cake at Betty’s is ALWAYS worth the wait.
The Museum Gardens are pretty spectacular at this time of year with the squirrels providing the in-house entertainment. But don’t rush through or you’ll miss the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, one of the oldest Abbeys in England. The building was started by William the Conqueror in 1088 to secure his presence in the North, then soon became home to the Benedictine Order but they only lasted a few years before a monkish dispute, a general walk-out and the establishment of Fountains Abbey up near Ripon.
One of my favourite ways to end a day in York is to walk down Stonegate and Petergate to the floodlit Minster just in time for the daily 5.30pm Choral Evensong . Times have thankfully changed since my student days and the Minister Choir now represents girls equally. Our visit was a girls night and they were completely delightful.
Folks. York is ready for Christmas. So get your visit planned. The lights are twinkling, the mince pies are warm, the Christmas market is filling up. You won’t find a nicer Christmas city break. I promise.
Other Yorkshire hilights that should be sampled include
- Treating yourself to a legendary Chelsea Bun from Thomas’ the Baker
- Trying a hot Mocha & slice of carrot cake from 200 Coffee, LOW Petergate, York
- Buying a box of mince pies and a couple of festive Fat Rascals from Betty’s to take home
- Enjoying the loveliest Italian evening in La Trattoria, Helmsley
Yorkshire isn’t just for Christmas. There are a zillion reasons to visit during any month of the year. But I hope my little review has whetted your appetite to get yourself up north.
That’s all for now