Wild moors and soft dales, cracking beers and a big heart
It would be a cheap shot to say Yorkshire is England’s best county simply because it’s the largest. The latter is obviously true but what makes it such a cracking place to spend a weekend (preferably longer) is the variety. Take the scenery; not one but two National Parks: the sheep-and-dry-stone-wall-dotted Dales and the wild and horizon-stretching North York Moors. Plus, a swathe of beaches, breezy clifftop walks, thrilling waterfalls (including England’s highest single-drop waterfall) and weirdly wonderful rock formations that pop up out of nowhere.
It’s not all for the hearty action-seeker though. There are sumptuous stately homes, romantically ruined abbeys, poop-pooping steam railways and world-class art from Salts Mill’s collection of David Hockney to the 500-acre Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Market towns still hold markets, there’s the occasional slice of posh (Harrogate, for example), and you'd be hard-pushed to find a village without a pub.
But, of course, it’s the people that make a place. Direct, maybe, but always big-hearted, keen to crack a joke and proud to share their beautiful county with others.
Hot right now . . .
Helen Pickles, our destination expert, offers her top tips on the hottest things to do and places to eat and stay this season.
Children can discover the secret world of ‘Skelves’ in the new adventure playground, Skelf Island, at Castle Howard (near York; 01653 648333) where a series of treetop nest structures, rope bridges, slides, nets and climbing equipment encourage them to get closer to nature, as well as have fun. The Skelves are named after the medieval site of Henderskelf that pre-dates the magnificent 18th-century, art-rich, Vanbrugh-designed stately home.
In Malton – the self-styled food capital of Yorkshire – The Talbot (Yorkersgate; 01653 639096) has undergone a smart makeover to create a modern version of its Georgian coaching-inn roots: relaxed atmosphere, comfortably old-school furnishings, hints of decadence in splashes of colour and velvet. Food is robust and the best rooms overlook fields sloping to the river.
Michelin-starred chef Shaun Rankin has returned to his Yorkshire roots to open the eponymously named restaurant at, possibly, Yorkshire’s flashiest new address, Grantley Hall (Ripon; 01765 620070) – all Palladian good looks, sweeping parkland and lavishly elegant furnishings. Expect creative and fun tasting menus with (thankfully) decent portion sizes.
48 hours in . . . Yorkshire
One of the charms of Yorkshire is its ability to surprise, effortlessly segueing from one landscape to another, and from bustling town to empty horizon. No one can cover the county in two days, but here’s a good taste of those surprises. Start in Whitby with a brisk walk up the 199 steps to Whitby Abbey (01947 603568), whose majestic medieval ruins dominate the eastern headland. Children will enjoy the interactive trail in search of ‘buried finds’. No interactive displays are in sight at the wonderful time-warp Whitby Museum (Pannett Park; 01947 602908), an idiosyncratic ‘museum of curiosities’ across the other side of town and whose old-fashioned cabinets display items from Victorian tonsillectomy guillotines to dolls’ houses; early Meccano toys to ships in light bulbs as well as gigantic 175-million-year-old fossil creatures.
Now, you’ve two options: either take a walk along the beach towards Sandsend or save your legs for a walk on the moors. Either way, have an early lunch at Rusty Shears (3 Silver Street, 01947 605383), a vintage-style café with pretty courtyard, Mediterranean menu and gorgeous cakes – and 180 gins!
Head south on the A169 for a glorious big-skies 35-minute drive over the moors to Pickering, stopping at Saltergate car park either for a photo-opp and/or a walk to the nearby vast amphitheatre of the Hole of Horcum (for walk directions, see North York Moors National Park).
In Pickering, have a quick nostalgia hit at the 1930s themed station – the terminus of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (01751 472508) whose steam trains huff and puff the 24 miles to Whitby – before driving west 14 miles on the A170 to Helmsley, your base for the night. Here you can either go indolent with an indulgent afternoon tea at the Black Swan (01439 770466) or take a romantic walk at Rievaulx Terrace (01439 748283) with its classical temples and magnificent views of Rievaulx Abbey below.
Tonight you’ve booked a taxi – and a table – for dinner at the Michelin-starred The Star Inn (01439 770397), two miles from Helmsley at tiny Harome. Whitby-born chef-owner Andrew Pern was one of Britain’s first champions of local sourcing – there’s a huge kitchen garden at the back of this chocolate-box-cute thatched pub – and you can expect punchy, robust yet skilfully balanced dishes. Beforehand, take a stroll around Helmsley, which is almost too perfect with its duck-bobbing stream (banks lined with daffodils in spring), honey-coloured stone cottages, medieval castle and smart shops.
Today, you’re up early for the hour’s drive to Harrogate and a visit to the former spa town’s octagonal Royal Pump Room (Crown Place; 01423 556188) – and a taste of the spa water; beware, it has the strongest sulphur wells in Europe – a poke around Montpellier Quarter’s antique shops and then coffee and cake at Bettys (1 Parliament Street; 01423 814070). Keen gardeners might prefer to spend the time at Harlow Carr Gardens (Crag Lane, Beckwithshaw; 01423 565418), the Royal Horticultural Society’s northern outpost and two miles outside the town – and which also, usefully, has a branch of Bettys…
A 30-minute drive west takes you into the Yorkshire Dales where the 30,000-acre estate of Bolton Abbey (01756 718000), in Wharfedale, is a firm family favourite. Stroll the ruins of the eponymous 12th-century priory, wobble across stepping-stones or take a woodland walk to The Strid where the River Wharfe squeezes spectacularly through a rocky chasm. Grab lunch at the estate’s Cavendish Pavilion, which offers a simple but filling menu including homemade soup, burgers and sandwiches, plus homemade cake.
Continue with a leisurely drive up Wharfedale, arguably the most attractive of the Dales with its rounded fells, soft green valley sides criss-crossed by dry-stone walls, and handsome stone villages clustered around low-arched bridges. At Burnsall, you’ll probably want to stop for an ice cream at the eponymously named shop on the village green. Eat it while taking a walk along the river – find the path beside the Red Lion – part of the 80-mile-long (128km) Dales Way; you might spot a kingfisher.
Back on the road, detour to Grassington for its quaint volunteer-run Grassington Folk Museum (6 The Square; 01756 753287), before finding a car parking space in the layby just north of Kilnsey so you can watch the dare-devil rock-climbers on the magnificent 180-foot (55m) Kilnsey Crag. Shaped by glaciers, it has a perilous overhang.
Buckden, in the lee of the 2303-foot (702m) Buckden Pike - scene of a hotly contested June fell race - marks the head of the dale, some 50 minutes’ drive from Bolton Abbey. There’s a choice of pubs, many several centuries old, to eat and stay in these upper Dales villages. One option is to check in at The White Lion Inn at Cray (01756 760262), also nestled under Buckden Pike, then work up an appetite for dinner by walking the mile or so to tiny Hubberholme and a pint of Black Sheep at The George Inn (01756 760223). The long and low, white-washed pub sits by the river, across from the church, a favourite haunt of Yorkshire writer JB Priestley whose ashes are buried in the churchyard.
Where to stay . . .
The sprawling Grantley Hall is a Palladian-style hall (17th-century origins) that has a sweep of distractions, from a Japanese garden, wellies to borrow (walking routes are available) and 30 acres of parkland to a wine-tasting room and a choice of restaurants including that of Michelin-starred chef Shaun Rankin. The most impressive is perhaps the two-level spa with thermal experience and snow room, 18-metre pool, indoor-outdoor hydrotherapy pools, outdoor terrace and hot tub area.
Doubles from £350. Ripon; 01765 620070
This large, country vicarage has been boldly converted into a cool and arty b&b with style rather than pretension. At Stow House, expect huge, light-filled rooms, modern art on the walls, great cocktails, walks from the doorstep and a calming atmosphere. Some rooms have open beams, others painted claw-foot baths. The best part is the beds; carefully positioned so you can wake up to views of fields and clouds without getting up.
Doubles from £110. Aysgarth; 01969 663635
An immaculately kept seven-bedroom b&b, furnished in tasteful vintage style and tranquilly located in Scarborough's Old Town, moments from the seafront. The owners of Tall Storeys, Ian and Morna Garner, are exceptionally friendly and thoughtful: staying here is like visiting a favourite aunt and uncle who keep a beautiful home. Some rooms have wonderful sea views, there's a lush garden and breakfasts are outstanding.
Doubles from £80. 131 Longwestgate, Scarborough; 01723 373696
What to bring home . . .
Using traditional methods of glass-blowing, and taking inspiration for colours and patterns from the surrounding North York Moors, Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones produce covetable pieces of contemporary glassware at Gillies Jones (Rosedale Abbey; 01751 417550), most notably bowls, in both opaque and translucent colours.
Find a real bit of Yorkshire at Swaledale Woollen (Muker; 01748 886251). In sweaters, socks, hats, gloves and more. Whether you choose hand-knitted or machine-knitted, it all comes from the wool of local Swaledale and Wensleydale sheep. Or buy a ball of wool and get knitting yourself.
When to go . . .
Obviously, nobody comes here for the weather, although it still gets a fair bit less rain than its old enemy on the other side of the Pennines. Come in summer and surf, hunt for fossils or lie on sandy beaches along its cracking North Sea coastline. There is no better place than the Yorkshire Dales on a long summer day, walking along its wildflower meadows and moors with only the mewing curlews for company. Yet equally satisfying is a winter tramp over sodden moorland to sit by a fire in one of hundreds of ancient sandstone pubs.
Know before you go . . .
During the summer months and peak holiday periods, roads throughout the Yorkshire Dales can become very busy with traffic.
The weather, particularly in the wilder parts of Yorkshire, can turn on a sixpence. On any day out you should bring a good waterproof and walking boots. On longer walks, definitely take a detailed OS map or something similar. Do not rely on an iPhone map to guide you as phone reception can be very poor in the national parks.
To drive from London takes four hours up the M1 or A1. The East Coast (eastcoast.co.uk) mainline serves Doncaster, Wakefield, Leeds, York and Northallerton and there are also direct services to the capital to Harrogate, Sheffield, Bradford and Halifax.
Helen Pickles is Telegraph Travel’s Yorkshire expert. Born within singing distance of Ilkley Moor and brought up on Dales’ walks, the proper way to eat Yorkshire pudding (as a separate course) and (extremely rare) treats at Bettys, she just knows Yorkshire is the best place on earth.
Experience Yorkshire with The Telegraph
Telegraph Travel's best hotels, tours and holidays in Yorkshire, tried, tested and recommended by our Yorkshire experts