I rarely take paid tours of anywhere. In fact I may never have taken one before my tour of the North York Moors, Whitby on the coast, and beautiful little villages in between. What a perfect day!
It helped that the whole of the UK is in the middle of a British heatwave. Skies are clear and blue, the temps are lovely, and everyone is smiling. Add to that a spacious comfy mini-van, with only six other people, and a top-notch driver/tour guide. I can’t think of a better scenario for a perfect day.
Mark, our tour guide and driver par excellence, loaded our little group in the Bob Holiday van. (That’s BOB as in Best of Britain, not Bob’s). BOB Holidays As we wound our way out of the city and into the country, Mark filled us in on the surrounding history and pointed out various sites of interest. Prior to the trip, I only knew that Whitby was a coastal town and that the moors were out in the country.
The North York Moors National Park encompasses over 500 square miles of rolling hills and dales. Created in 1952, it also contains all the small villages that have existed in its boundaries for centuries. How lovely it would be to say that you live inside a national park! Even better, there are rules set up to ensure whatever existed there prior to its inception, remains. There are no fast-food restaurants, or chain stores, or shopping malls; simply lovely countryside and quint villages that takes one’s breath away.
It always happens when I have been surrounded by city noise and people and a bit of chaos. I forget that another world exists. Driving along the two-lane country roads while gazing out onto the vast expanses of green rolling hills, it begins to sink in. The first time we stepped out of the van and I inhaled that glorious fresh air and heard only the sounds of nature, I once again questioned what it is I like about cities. This was heaven.
The Moors are renowned for their bright purple fields of heather which are just beginning to bloom. In two weeks the color will stretch as far as the eye can see. What a spectacular sight that would be. But as Mark explained, at that time the roads will be packed with cars and families on their summer holidays out to experience the heather in its full glory. We had the hills and dales basically to ourselves which is a trade-off I was happy to make.
And then there are the sheep happily grazing and resting in the fields everywhere we traveled, not a fence in sight. Up here in the moors, the sheep have free rein of the land. The farmers leave them to roam untethered year round. During lambing season, about two months ago, the farmers are up to check on the moms several times a day. And when it’s sheering time, they are rounded up and brought back to the farm. Only if there is a severe storm, are they are brought down off the hills in the winter.
I wondered how it was possible to get them all back to their respective farms. As with all my non-stop questions, Mark had the answer. (Actually, the whole sheep thing had been part of his planned talk.) Turns out sheep never stray more than six or seven miles from home. And they tend to stay in groups. Each animal has a red, green or blue stripe painted on its wool to designate its owner. Even with sheep dogs, it must be quite a task to collect them all.
Next up was the market town of Helmsley. What I would give to live a few months in Hemsley! At least on a bright and sunny day. I was most taken by the stone cottages and even more so by the flower boxes. Surely I could replicate those back in California. It is one of the first things I will attempt when I return.
From there we descended back down the mountain, out of the National Park, and to the fishing village and seaside resort of Whitby. Aside from my normal longing to gaze out onto the sea, I wanted to walk around the ancient ruins of Whitby Abbey. I believe the first monastery on the site dates from the mid-600’s. The gothic ruins date to 1225. Whitby Abbey
In 1890, Bram Stoker paid a visit to Whitby, sat on a bench overlooking the port and across to he Abbey high on the hill. It was there that the he got his inspiration to write Dracula. I could easily see how that occurred, especially when I first arrived up on the hill with the sea mist swirling around the spooky spires.
No time to waste – this was a tour after all, I had had to get down the 199 steps and into town, grab my fish and chips, and be back at the bus pick-up in two hours. (provided I actually found the bus pick-up spot.) I had no time to spend reading about the history or going through the lovely museum.
Mark had warned us, no less than three times, about the 199 steps down to the town. Lucky for us, he dropped us off at the top. I don’t know if I would have attempted the ascent. But 199 steps down, when you have less than perfect knees, can be a little intimidating. Turns out I had nothing to fear. These were not Mayan ruin steps. Easy going, handrails, and magnificent views. I simply followed behind a group of folks at least 10 years older than me. I wasn’t about to complain.
Whitby is lovely, but I really wish I could have walked the streets at 6AM. It was noon and packed with people like me, there to take it all in. But never mind; I was in England, I was in a fishing village, and I was going to eat fish and chips.
There are several famous shops along the waterfront and they all had lines out the door. I do not wait in line to buy food. So I popped in a few doors down to Terry’s, (no line), and grabbed an order. The owner warned me about the aggressive seagulls and not to walk with an open food container. Mark had also warned us.
At this point I still had my bulky camera slung around my neck, small bag across my chest, backpack on back, sun visor on arm, and clutching my box of fish & chips. I wove in and out of the crowds, with a sharp eye out for an available seat and lurking seagulls.
Eventually I came to some ancient stone thing – not a proper seat, but that’s where others sat. An older, local woman seated next to me warned about the seagulls who would snatch your meal right out of your hand.
At this point, I normally would have stowed my camera and done something else with all my dangling objects, but that would entail putting my food carton down. The seagull at my feet served as a reminder to not make such a foolish attempt. So I hunched over, put my face into the carton, and ate a few bites. I came up for air and that darn seagull now took a step towards me, looking for a way to get a snack. I finally had enough of playing chicken with Mr. Seagull and got up to find another spot.
I eventually did, but will never again attempt a meal totally encumbered by belongings and fear of a seagull snatching.
Our next stop took us to the village of Goathland. The name of the town might not ring a bell, but say Hogsmeade Station, and everyone will know what you’re talking about. The Harry Potter folks filmed the kids leaving for Hogwarts at the Goathland Railway Station. The village itself featured in the long-running, (1992-2010), British police drama, Heartbeat. In the series, it is know as Aidensfield. I’d never heard of the series, but now will see if I can find it.
We had reached our final stop and it was time to head back towards York. The drive back took us through one-lane, two-way roads, and over the moors with one final chance to breath in the glorious air and let our senses become saturated with nature.
I really do need to go back to the wide open, quiet spaces. It’s only when I come back from such a day that I realize how loud a city really is. All that background noise that one tends to ignore is suddenly amplified, and I feel like my head will explode with all the pandemonium. I’m staying in for today. And maybe searching for a home in the moors.
Note: my links aren't loading. bobholidays.com
Whitby Abbey: google it