Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Travel: Yorkshire Coast, England

Since Simon and I like to travel as much as possible, I thought, "Why not include our trips with recommendations on what to do and what not to do on Bon Appetit?" It's not food-related, but the food article on our trip to England was quite a long one, without writing about what we did and saw as well! So here's the first Travel article, comments would be much appreciated!

The beautiful English east coast in Yorkshire

England is often overlooked by holiday-makers because of the uncertainty about the weather. Such a shame because there really are gorgeous places to visit. Emirates flies directly from Dubai to Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow. There's no price difference if you fly into one city and out of another which gives fantastic flexibility. We flew into Manchester to visit my family living there. My family live south of Manchester, near the airport in the Stockport / Wilmslow-area. In all my years of visiting them I have still never actually been into the City of Manchester! Manchester is an easy airport to get through as it's not very big and it links to the train station so you can get quickly to wherever you need to be. As an entry port to the UK, I would recommend it. As a city to visit, unfortunately I can't comment.

View of the area near Leeds-Bradford Airport (at Christmas - not in May!)

From Manchester, we drove to Yorkshire to see Simon's parents and family. You drive over the Pennines which are a mountain range that lie down the middle of Northern England in an almost vertical line up the country from Derbyshire to the Scottish Border. By mountains, I am not talking the Alps - the highest point of the Pennines is only 893m (2,930 ft) - but it is a beautiful drive past fields, sheep, huge farmhouses and reservoirs. You can do serious walking along The Pennine Way - 270 miles (434 kms) - but although we considered it (!) we chose to take the easy route and drive across. The drive is just over 2 hours, so not far at all.

The bleak Yorkshire Moors

We met up with Simon's sister, Louise at Leeds-Bradford Airport (where we returned our hire car) and she then drove us over to the the Yorkshire Coast where their Dad had rented a house in Sleights for a week. The drive from the airport to Sleights took about 2 hours and we saw more pretty country-side and passed over the bleak moor top before dropping back down to green pastures and yellow fields of rapeseed. The cottage was rented through a website called Owners Direct and it was perfect for a family holiday. With 6 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a large living room, kitchen and dining room it gave us all the flexibility of feeling like we were in our own house and enough space for us not to feel crowded. Over the course of the week John (Simon's Dad) and Sue (Simon's step-mother) were there, all the family came to visit for a few nights at a time. Great idea!

Stunning Robin Hood's Bay

We had been told by my aunt that Robin Hood's Bay was a must-see, so our first afternoon we headed straight there. As the name suggests, it is a bay although I don't know where the Robin Hood comes from. A picture-perfect fishing village, it also used to be a smugglers' haven in days gone by. The car park is at the top of the cliffs next to The Victoria Hotel and the flat part of the village. From the top you get magnificent views of the old fishing village built all the way down the hillside to the beach, the rocky headlands jutting out on either side of the bay into the North Sea, wild grasses growing down to the edge of the beach, old fishing boats, pebble and sand beaches and coves...Gorgeous. Walking through the old village down the hill you find almost all the shops are tea rooms, bed-and-breakfasts or souvenir shops. At the bottom of the hill we found an ice-cream van parked right on the beach selling the famous English 99s (soft Mr. Whippy ice-cream in a cone with a chocolate flake stuck in) and we had our first of what became a daily 99!!

The hill up from the beach at Robin Hood's Bay to The Victoria Hotel

In the rain I can't imagine that Robin Hood's Bay would have the magical feeling that it did in the blazing sun - and even in the sun there was quite a wind along the beach once you weren't protected by the houses any more. We returned to the top up the scenic path which was a small dirt track through the grass, passing some upturned fishing boats but no buildings and no other people. We didn't walk along the beach and could have spent a good few more hours there exploring the various walks around the time.

Whitby with the Abbey on the headland

Our way home from Robin Hood's Bay took us through Whitby where we stopped at the famous whalebone monument which is made of a whale's actual jawbone - enormous! Whitby used to be the centre of England's whaling industry and is also where Captain James Cook (who 'discovered' Australia) is from. We spent the whole of our second day in Whitby and could have easily spent a few more days exploring all the little alleys and shops and walking along the seafront. As I mentioned in my food article, Whitby has the widest, longest, most perfect looking beach I have ever seen. The main town lies around the harbour but houses and hotels then stretch from the harbour mouth all along the seafront to the village at the opposite end of the beach at Sands End. There is a very small area of flat land around the harbour so the houses climb the hillsides with graceful terraced gardens stepped down the hill.

Whitby's amazing beach

The north side of the village houses a large visitor centre, the arcades (slot machines, those impossible games where you try to pick up a stuffed toy with a claw etc), a pier to walk out to the harbour entrance (bring a warm hat to protect your head and ears from the wind blowing off the sea), the whalebone monument and the amazing beach. The south side of the harbour houses the old part of the village with narrow cobbled streets, souvenir shops and up high on the clifftop lies the famous 13th century ruins of Whitby Abbey. If you want to visit the Abbey, or the functioning Church, you have two choices: walk up a steep (but not too high) series of steps to the top of the cliff or drive round and up to the top to the car park. Not being entirely lazy, we walked up and drank in the spectacular views of Whitby, the harbour, the sea and the fields in the distance.

The steam train and Yorkshire countryside

Prior to visiting Whitby that morning, we drove across to Grosmont as it is renowned as a picturesque village. As we entered it, we saw the famous Yorkshire steam train was on the station platform ready to leave so we forgot about the idea of visiting Grosmont and jumped on board the train instead! The train interior is made of wood and stepping inside you feel like you've been transported back in time. Ignoring the signs telling you not to put your head out of the window and not thinking about the fact that the steam to drive the train is produced by burning coal, I stuck my head out of the window to take photos and promptly received a small spark of coal dust in my eye. Saved from blindness (!) by Louise and not wanting to miss my photo opportunity, I put my head straight back out and lasted quite a while before the next piece of coal dust attacked me! The price you pay to feel the wind in your hair! On arriving into Goathland, John was there to meet us. An English TV series, Heartbeat, was filmed in Goathland and there were various memorabilia pieces from the series placed around the village. Apart from a small strip of souvenir shops and a lovely tea room where we sat in the garden and basked in the sun, there wasn't much to see there though - unless you're a Heartbeat fan.

A fishing boat stranded at low tide
Our last day on the Yorkshire Coast, we drove down to Scarborough. This was the biggest town we saw but it still maintains that old-world charm. Scarborough is split into two separate bays by a large headland with the ruins of Scarborough Castle on top. North Bay is the less touristy side and South Bay houses the harbour and all the arcades that Scarborough is famous for. In North Bay we visited the 100-year old Peasholm Park which was designed to resemble an oriental garden and therefore has pagodas, Japanese bridges and weeping willows as well as ducks and geese in abundance. Very peaceful in May although in the summer there are apparently concerts played in the bandstand in the middle of the lake. Both bays have fabulous wide beaches, although the North beach is longer than the South one. The East Coast has huge tides and, as we also saw in Whitby, at low tide all the boats are literally grounded on the muddy bottom of the harbour - an amazing thing to see.
The Yorkshire Coast is a DEFINITE in terms of places to visit. Our three days there were so relaxing that we felt like we'd had a full week's holiday! Basing yourself near Whitby means that nowhere is too much of a drive to get to - it's also not far from the City of York which is an amazing medieval city and well worth a day trip. Renting a cottage is also a very economical way to do a family holiday and staying just outside of Whitby (rather than in the town itself) will give you considerable savings. We will certainly be going back there in the future.


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