ANN and PETER FROST explore the delights of North Yorkshire.
Perhaps it’s because we are just Soft Southern Jessies but when we hear the word Yorkshire our first thoughts are of the ‘dark satanic mills’ of the West Riding. Yet the north of our largest county has beautiful coast, moors and dales to rival anything in this fair island of ours.
Lest you think we are alone, or that in someway anti-Yorkshire let me quote you from a song that we heard some Yorkshire people singing on our tour, it’s called The Dalesman’s Litany and the chorus goes “from Hull and Hell and Halifax, Good Lord deliver me!”
So come with us and discover the coast and countryside of North Yorkshire. we are sure it will surprise and delight you.
Just like Captain Cook we’ll start our voyage of discovery in the pretty fishing port of Whitby. Our voyage won’t be quite as adventurous as his. He sailed his tiny Whitby built collier The Endeavour to discover Australia – this time we were touring North Yorkshire in a tiny VW Camper Van.
There is a fine replica of Cook’s Endeavour that sails passenger pleasure trips from Whitby harbour. Colourful fishing boats still bob in the harbour and fish for crab, prawns and lobster continuing a tradition that goes back centuries.
Whitby’s dark waterside lanes can tell some stories. Stories of the men of Whitby who sailed north to arctic waters ‘a fishing for the whale’. Today most of us wouldn’t approve of catching whales but whale oil lit the lamps of Britain in those far off days.
In those dark Whitby lanes Bram Stoker found a creature far more terrifying than any whale. Whitby inspired him to write his spine chilling book Dracula. Gothic horror is alive and well in Whitby the town often features ‘Goth’ weekends when the local Boots does a roaring trade in black lip-gloss and nail varnish.
If black is your colour, Goth or not, check out Whitby’s jewellery shops. Jet is a black stone found on the local beaches and the town has built quite an industry turning the black pebbles into beautiful jewellery. It’s still possible to find your own jet on the shore.
On the North Yorkshire coast they have elevated fish and chips to a high culinary art. Nowhere more so than at the famous Magpie Cafe in Whitby.
In season or out there is always a queue for a table in this amazing restaurant. Not surprising when you know that no less an expert than Rick Stein reckons it’s the best fish and chips he’s ever tasted.
Ian Robson the proprietor and Paul Gildroy the head chef both started at the Magpie when it just sold battered fish and chips but today although the fish and chips are just as good you can have much more sophisticated fish dishes.
Ian and Paul have certainly moved on from just battered haddock. On the day we ate there they were cooking no less than 16 different kinds of fish in all kinds of exotic dishes.
Ann started with a crab bisque, Peter had a single kipper smoked in the town by a firm who have been smoking kippers for 150 years. He thought they had just about got it right.
For a main course Ann chose skate in black butter, with new potatoes and mushy peas. Peter had amazing seafood chowder bursting with scallops and giant prawns. He declared it delicious.
It actually isn’t hard to find great fish and chips anywhere along the NorthYorkshireCoast but for something a bit special join the queue at the Magpie Café.
Today Robin Hood’s Bay is just a tiny near neighbour of Whitby but it wasn’t always like that. In the 16th century, Robin Hood’s Bay was far more important than Whitby. In charts published in 1586, Robin Hood’s Bay is indicated while Whitby isn’t even mentioned.
But why the name? There is no evidence to suggest that Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest ever visited the bay. The name is more likely to have grown from similar legends with local origin. Shame really, I love men in green tights, and I love Robin Hood’s Bay.
One reason is the Fossils. Millions of years ago, the land upon which Robin Hood’s Bay sits was a deep warm sea. The sea animals of the time, buried in the mud, became fossilised, providing one of the best sites in Britain for the fossil hunter.
There is no better holiday souvenir that a fossilised and perfectly preserved sea creature that is several million years old.
Which neatly brings us back to legends, if we can’t have a young man in green tights give us a pirate or a smuggler. In the 18th century, Robin Hood’s Bay was the busiest smuggling community on the Yorkshire coast.
Smuggling at sea was backed up by many on land who were willing to finance and transport contraband. Fisher-folk, farmers, and gentry alike were all involved even the local vicar.
Fierce battles ensued between smugglers and excise men, both at sea and on land, and Bay wives were known to pour boiling water over excise men from bedroom windows in the narrow alleyways.
From the Bay it is just a short drive to the village of Goathland. Although when you arrive you might think you’ve taken a wrong turn or even driven through a 1960’s time warp.
The shop and garage signs proclaim this as the village of Aidensfield but you won’t find that name in your road atlas or on the satnav. To find Aidensfield you will need to turn to the TV Times for this is the home of the popular Yorkshire TV series Heartbeat.
Goathland village has a history that extends back to Viking times, and plenty of curiosities remain. The most obvious of these is the tame black-faced sheep that graze the village common.
These sheep aren’t the only ancient tradition alive and well in Goathland. On the wall of the local pubs you will find a very strange object indeed. A curious six pointed star made up of interwoven short knives or swords whose origins are lost in the mists of time.
These are the famous rapper swords still used in traditional dancing in these parts. Teams of dancers, unusually young men do an intricate dance weaving in and out, over and under until the rappers are separated or woven back into their traditional star.
We were not in Goathland to watch the dancing nor to pay homage to a TV programme; we were here to catch a train. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway, carrying upwards of 200,000 passengers a year, is one of the most scenic and well-travelled steam lines in Britain.
Linking Whitby and Pickering, it follows the route of the 19th century line that gave Whitby harbour and its fishing fleet reliable access to the outside world for the first time. It would change an unknown fishing port into a popular holiday destination.
Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Sorry you’re a little late. The fair started around 1250 and was held for five hundred years but alas it now only remembered in song.
Don’t worry the town has much to offer. The North Bay, a resort in its own right has the best beach, a Sea-Life Centre, parks and gardens and a miniature railway. It’s also much easier to park here and take the open top bus to the Southern bay with fine Victorian Promenade and bracing walks around the harbour from where all kinds of trip boats offer a touch of sea air.
The North York Moor’s National Park starts on the very edge of Scarborough and there are some great walks in the Park and the Yorkshire forest parks. The smaller roads towards Pickering aren’t always motor caravan friendly being narrow, twisty and having some low bridges.
Pickering is also reached by The North Yorkshire Moors Railway that we first met back at Goathland. The market town is the official gateway to the North York Moors National Park.
Ann is just old enough to remember sweet rationing after the war. It was swept away in 1953 just in time for the Coronation. She can still remember buying a glass of Tizer on her way home from school. It cost just one old penny and no coupons.
I found a new ration book at Eden Camp museum near Malton. It is an incredible place that was a prisoner of war camp until 1948. Now its thirty huts house an unbelievable collection of exhibits on every aspect of the Second World War.
I loved the home guard hut and an entire exhibition on the evacuees. I saw a doodle-bug, the unpiloted V1 rocket plane that had terrified Londoners like my mum and dad. And I got a brand new ration book and a chance to sit in an air raid shelter.
Eden Camp is one of those places where everyone walks about saying things like “Oh, do you remember, we had one of them like that at home?”
The walled city of York would be worth an entire article all of its own. It was certainly worth a detour from our route. York’s fabulous Minster has some of the best stained glass in the world.
The Shambles provides tiny lanes or ginnels, as they call them here, full of interesting shops, cafes and pubs.
York has a museum for every day of the week and then some. From the Castle Museum to the Jorvik Viking Centre, the list is endless but for the next year or two York has a brand new attraction.
The Yorkshire Wheel is a huge Ferris wheel in the grounds of the National Railway Museum. It is 54 metres high ands that’s nearly as high as the Minster.
Here’s a bonus for motor caravanners. In a city notorious for its parking we found space for our camper among half a dozen larger motor caravans in the National Railway Museum car park. It’s well signed in the city.
The Railway museum is free and well worth a visit but we had come to ride the great wheel for wonderful views of the city. When you get off the wheel you can leave your ‘van in the car park and take the little road train into the heart of the York. It made a perfect day.
From York we headed for Helmsley, my favourite of the north Yorkshire market towns. There is a spectacular castle a pretty walled garden and just up the road the magnificent Rievaulx Abbey.
Thirsk is also a fine market town (markets Monday and Saturday) dominated by its racecourse which has a campsite handy for the centre of town.
The town is of course not Thirsk at all it is really Darrowby, centre of vet James Herriot’s world. The town and the surrounding countryside make much of their connections with the books, films and TV programmes that made James Herriot a household name.
While you are exploring James Herriot Country don’t miss the huge Kilburn White Horse cut into the hillside at Roulston Scar in 1857. It is the most northerly hill figure in Britain.
Ripon describes itself as the unspoilt Cathedral City of the Yorkshire Dales and a hidden gem in North Yorkshire. There is certainly enough to see and do especially on Thursday, market day. It really comes into its own however as a base for local attractions such as the World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey.
Fountains started when 13 monks got involved in riot at St Mary’s Abbey in York. The year was 1132. These troublesome monks were banished the valley of the little River Skell, a place “more fit for wild beasts than men to inhabit”. It’s nicer now.
The exiled monks became part of the Cistercian Order and under its rules they lived a rigorous life, with long periods of silence, subsistence diet, and a habit of itchy coarse wool with no underwear. Despite these hardships, or perhaps because of them, by the middle of the 13th century it was one of England’s biggest and richest religious houses.
In the 14th century bad harvests and raiders from Scotland, caused economic collapse. Then along came the Black Death. Today’s Fountains Abbey is the largest monastic ruins in Britain and a peaceful, inspiring and beautiful place to spend a few hours.
They are remarkably fond of sheep in the historic market town of Masham. Markets are held here on Wednesday and Saturday but on the day we arrived the largest market square in Yorkshire was full of the woolly wonders and in more breeds and varieties than I ever knew existed.
It wasn’t real sheep however that had bought me here. Masham is home of my favourite beer the legendary Black Sheep Bitter. You can take a tour of the brewery or indeed tour Masham’s other brewery the home of Theakston’s Old Perculiar. Quite a beer lover’s town is Masham.
We didn’t need any other reason to end our journey here. We found a nice pub and I sat down to try and work out how many pints it would take to turn a couple of soft southern Jessies into a real Yorkshire Tykes. Cheers!