A journey north from London on the M1, M18 and the A1 (M) brings you into North Yorkshire, a land of wild moors, dramatic coastlines and charming villages. To kick the tour off, the start of the trip begins in the historic city of York, famous for its Roman history, beautiful gothic cathedral and complete city walls.
Leave the A1 (M) at Junction 44 and head north east on the A64 passing the brewing town of Tadcaster on your left then heading into York along the A1036 past the racecourse and turning right on Nunnery Lane, while remaining on the A1036. This takes you over Skeldergate Bridge and the River Ouse to St George's Field car park right by the castle. This is the best of the central parking areas within this ancient walled city.
Founded by the Romans in 71AD as the capital of Britannia Inferior, two Roman Emperors, Septimius Severus and Constantius died here and one more, Constantine, was proclaimed Emperor here. The city has a wealth of Roman history and much, much more. By parking at St George's Field you will be able to start a walking tour of the city immediately as you are standing in the shadows of Clifford's Tower, a Norman Keep, or central tower, standing on top of a great earth mound. This is part of York's fortifications built on the orders of William the Conqueror in the late 11th century. Adjacent to this is the Castle Museum which isn't really an in depth museum about the castle itself, more of a museum of the history of York and its area. Being a former debtors prison, the old cells are open to the public and the rest of the museum deals with the history of the city, furniture and fashion along with a recreation of a Victorian street.
On the other side of Clifford's Tower is Fairfax House, built in 1765 for the Viscount Charles Fairfax and now a museum of late 18th decor and furnishings. Just opposite is the famous Jorvik Centre which gives you the chance to go on a 'dark ride' and expore the city's Viking heritage through sights and smells with the help of actors in costume.
Both these locations are at the edge of the Coppergate shopping centre and if one walks to the north side of the mall you will arrive on Piccadilly and there you will find the historic and beautiful Merchant Adventurers Hall. This large timber framed building was constructed in 1357 and the oldest timber-framed building still used for its original purpose in the country. Three rooms are open to the public to wander through, the Great Hall for business, the Undercroft as an almshouse for charity and the chapel for worship.
Walk north up Piccadilly then turn right on Pavement to the foot of The Shambles, York's most famous and most photographed street. Made up of former butchers shops and built from 1350 to 1475 the shelves that kept the meat were known as Fleshammels which is where the word Shambles originates. Many towns had their Shambles characterised by narrow streets with overhanging buildings to keep the meat away from the sun and from the flies. This street is a visual treat with its old world charm and inviting shops, now selling souvenirs and serving teas rather than butcher's produce. But notice how many shops still have their old butcher's hooks on the roof or above the outside windows! Its resemblance to Diagon Alley explains why there are numerous Harry Potter shops that sell their wares here.
Walk along Lower Petergate and you will be following an original Roman Road up to York Minster, a stunning Gothic cathedral built from 1225 to 1478. Look out for the statue of Emperor Constantine standing outside. The earliest Christian church was built here by St Paulinus in the year 627, several other churches were built to replaced it and the present stone structure is the world's second largest gothic cathedral after the one in Seville. It is known for its wealth of ancient stained glass. The Great East Window, completed in 1408, contains the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. At a height of 10 metres it depicts the Creation and Revelation. The Five Sisters window of 1260 is 16 metres high and is a fine example of grisaille glass making.
For a walk along the walls head along Goodramgate just north east of the Minster and join the walls at Monk Bar, one of four 14th century gateways into the city, this is the only one to still have a working portcullis. In this crenellated tower there is a small museum to Richard of York, the erstwhile King Richard III. Here you can walk along a portion of the old walls westwards to Bootham Bar with fine views of York Minster on your left hand side.
At Bootham Bar head over to the Yorkshire Museum and its delightful gardens. The museum centres on natural history and archaeology and the grounds feature the Multangular Tower, a 10m (30ft) high Roman watchtower built around 210AD with Roman coffins lined up at the bottom. Also across the park are the remains of St Mary's Abbey, founded in 1088 by Benedictine monks and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539. The ruins of the Abbey buildings can be explored.
A fun side trip from here is to cross Lendal Bridge towards the railway station and walk under the tracks along a tunnel to the National Railway Museum. Alternatively, take the road train that leaves regularly from outside the Minster. Here you will find a huge museum dedicated to rail transport and it is free of charge to visit. Climb aboard the Royal Train, see the world's fastest steam locomotive and operate signals and other railway machinery.
If you choose to walk back through the centre, take a stroll down beautiful Stonegate and visit the famous Betty's Tea Rooms at its western end. Have a look at York's Chocolate Story museum in King's Square and learn about both Rowntree's and Terry's, the local confectionery and chocolate makers. Down on the river boat trips are available throughout the year.
Back at St George's Field car park head out on the A1036 eastwards. As you drive out of York the walls will be on your lefthand side and you will see Walmgate Bar, a 14th gateway and the only one left that still retains its barbican outwork. Turn right here on the A1079. You will return to the A64 and head left in a north easterly direction towards Scarborough.
The A64 will take you northeast through open countryside and then after about 20 minutes take a left turn on Mains Lane following a brown tourist sign for Castle Howard. The distance on the road sign indicates 4 miles. Mains Lane becomes a road called The Stray and it leads up to an arched gateway with a pitched roof. Drive under this and a few moments later turn right into the grounds of Castle Howard.
The impressive and stately Castle Howard was built from 1699 for the 3rd Earl of Carlisle and designed by the architect Sir John Vanbrugh. It took over a hundred years to complete, beginning in a baroque style and completed in a Palladian design. The house has been opening its doors to the public since 1952. Apart from a lavish interior, the grounds extend for 1,000 acres with formal gardens and woodlands. The estate boasts a lake and a number of decorative follies such as the Temple of the Four Winds and the Mausoleum. The interior has the Howard family art collection on display including works by Italian masters Titian, Caneletto and Bellini along with English artists such as Reynolds and Gainsborough. Many visitors will recognise Castle Howard from the TV series Brideshead Revisited.
Leaving the house and grounds the way you entered, this time turn right up The Stray and take a right on Hepton Hill in the direction of Malton. This charming town has a large square as its centrepiece. The key day for one to pay a visit is Saturday which is when the large market is held, with farmer's produce and fine foods, along with the vibrant and lively sound of market traders and shoppers. Not surprisingly, Malton is known as the Food Capital of Yorkshire. The town's history goes back to Roman times when it was known as Derventio, a Roman military camp. Malton Museum on Yorkersgate, the town's main thoroughfare, reveals a lot about the towns history from the Roman occupation to its 19th century industrial heritage with the coming of the railways.
Leave Malton on the B1248 Scarborough Road which will bring you back to the A64. Head onwards towards the coast. Follow the A64 into Scarborough right up to the railway station where plenty of parking can be found. The station is very close to the beach and it is a short walk down Somerset Terrace and Falconers Road to the end of St Nicholas Street where you can take the winding path down to South Bay Beach or take a right along St Nicholas Cliff to the fascinating Rotuna Museum. Dating back to 1829 it is one of the oldest museums in the country and specialises in fossils and minerals from Yorkshire's Jurassic coast.
Scarborough has two large sandy beaches, the North Bay and South Bay with the South Bay Beach being the most central and with more facilities. Standing above the shoreline is the iconic Grand Hotel, built in 1867 and boasting over 400 rooms, it was the largest brick structure in the world at the time. Down below, the esplanade stretches southwards to the elegant Scarborough Spa, a Victorian concert hall designed by Joseph Paxton who was also responsible for the Crystal Palace built for London's Great Exhibition. The whole of the Foreshore Road that skirts the seafront is full of restaurants and attractions.
The two bays are linked by Marina Drive, a headland that features the ruins of Scarborough Castle with its 12th century tower and clifftop views. Scarborough used to feature 5 clifftop funicular railways ferrying people from the beach to the upper town. Two of which still operate today and another one is now a restaurant. Fans of literature may wish to visit St Mary's church on Castle Road. Anne Bronte is buried there, the only one of the famous sisters not buried with the rest of the family in Haworth.
Returning to the railway station, briefly drive back on the A64 turning right on the A171 Scalby Road to follow the coast northwards. Here you will be following the edge of the moors as you drive towards Robin Hood's Bay.
The drive at this point skirts wild moorland, most of which will be on your left. To the right, and sometimes way off in the distance, one can glimpse the North Sea. Eventually you will take a right hand turn signposted for Fylingthorpe and Robin Hood's Bay, a distance of just 2 miles (3km). This road will take you over the crest of the hill with a stunning view of the expanse of the ocean ahead of you. Drive down through Fylingthorpe and into Robin Hood's Bay to the Bay Car Park at the mini roundabout. Local cars can only go forward from this point so park up and venture to the other side of the road where there is a small area of benches and picnic tables with delightful views over the ocean.
Nobody really knows why Robin Hood has his name associated with the village and bay. In the legends written about him, he never ventured here, nor do we really know who he was, or indeed what historic period he was from. The Bay Museum on Fisherhead, south of the main harbour, touches on this point plus delves into the history of the village as a fishing port and centre for smuggling.
You can walk down from the car park to the charming harbour and walk along the coastline in either direction. There are plenty of narrow passageways and alleys to explore leading off from the old harbour walls. If the parking area is full there may be more room at the Station Car Park on the other side of the village. Although parking is available here, trains stopped running through the station in the early 1960s. You can pick up the road to Whitby from the Station Car Park. It will be the B1447 signposted for Hawsker and Whitby.
The B1447 joins the A171 which will take you straight down into Whitby itself. There is a large amount of parking available at the Marina Front Car Park right at the mouth of the River Esk as it enters the North Sea. Crowning the hilltop above the town is the ruins of Whitby Abbey, a former Benedictine house of worship dissolved by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. An abbey was established here back in the 7th century and it was here that the Synod of Whitby was held in 664 to decide whether to follow the Roman or Celtic Church which had both developed separately after the Roman occupation ended. This early abbey was destroyed by Viking raiders in the 9th century. The present structure dates from the 1220s.
Across from these stark yet romantic ruins is the ancient St Mary's Church. You may have walked up the 199 steps from the harbourside to get up to here, not realising that it is exactly what Dracula did in the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker. Once the ship had put ashore Dracula, transformed into a hound, ran up these steps to St Mary's Church. If you are here overnight an evening Dracula walking tour of the town and Abbey ruins is recommended!!
Back down in the harbour is a replica of the Endeavour, the ship that was captained by local boy James Cook which sailed the world in 1768. Climb aboard and walk the decks, see the Captain's cabin and ponder over botanical images of fauna and flora discovered on these voyages to the new lands such as Australia. If you have any further interest then just across the harbour is the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in Grape Lane, a 17th house filled with Cook's charts, drawings and personal artifacts. Captain Cook's statue stands on top of the West Cliff along with the Whalebone Arch, a tribute to Whitby's whaling fleets.
No visit to Whitby would be complete without a visit to one of the shops specialising in Whitby Jet. It's a precious gemstone fashioned from fossilised wood and found on the seashore and cliffsides in the vicinity of the town. This deep black organic stone is turned into jewellery and became increasingly popular after it was worn by Queen Victoria in the 1850s.
One more thing to do is to grab some fish and chips. Britain's best chip shops can be found here, regularly winning awards. There is stiff competition and a number of rivals can be found around the town but most foodies will agree that Whitby ranks as the best location to try the UK's favourite hot dish.
From Whitby drive away from the coast into the North York Moors National Park by taking the A171 Mayfield Road/Guisborough Road then left at the roundabout onto the A169, crossing the River Esk at Briggeswath then at Sleights turn right onto Eskdaleside, a winding country lane which follows the river into the National Park itself, and onto the village of Grosmont.
One of the highlights of Grosmont village is the restored railway station, part of the North York Moors Railway. Head down into the village along Front Street and over the level crossing. The station car park can be used for visitors to the railway, including the well stocked souvenir shop full of railway memorabilia and the station cafe. If you turn around in the village and head back out on Front Street, just after leaving the village take a right turn following signs for Goathland, a six mile journey. Turn right on Fair Head Lane through beautiful open countryside and right onto the A169 very briefly before turning left on Cow Wath Bank which will bring you into the scenic village of Goathland.
Apart from being an attractive village on the moors, Goathland receives visitors from around the world because of its filming connections. The TV series Heartbeat, which ran from 1992 to 2010 was centred here, the village doubles up for Aidensfield where most of the drama takes place. The garage, pub and shops are immediately recognisable. The railway station was also a major feature of the TV series, however others flock to the station because of its Harry Potter connection. It featured as Hogsmeade in the movies, destination of the Hogwarts Express!!
Once you have explored Goathland continue westwards out of the village and at the mini roundabout at the edge of town turn left and enjoy a breathtaking drive through the wild open North York Moors National Park. The park was created in 1952 and covers 554 square miles (1,430 square km) and these country lanes will take you on a journey through the heart of it. Drive under the North York Moors Railway, twist and turn over babbling streams and drive high over wide scenic vistas. Join the A169 and turn right and head south, you will find signs to the Hole of Horcum as you head south. Saltergate car park will appear on your left side and short walks will take you up to Levisham Moor to the hole itself, at 400 feet in depth (120m) and almost a mile across (1.4 m) it is an impressive natural feature created by spring water undermining the hill slopes. From the car park continue south and just after the Fox and Rabbit pub make a left following signs for Thornton Dale, a further 3 miles.
You will enter this delightful village along Whitby Gate. At the cross roads continue straight on along Malton Gate then make a left turn soon after to gain access to the car park. This will give you a chance to explore the place on foot. The Thornton Beck is a little stream that flows through the village and stone bridges criss cross the water with stone and thatched roofed houses on either side. Thornton-le-Dale is often voted North Yorkshire's prettiest village.
A short drive west along the A170 will take you to the market town of Pickering which lies at the southern end of the North York Moors Railway. Drive into the town staying on the A170 picking up signs for the car park which will send you left down Vivis Lane. A must see here is its outstanding castle, almost complete and hardly damaged from various conflicts over the centuries. Untouched by the Wars of the Roses, left alone in the Civil Wars, the keep, battlements and walls still survive. Also pop into the parish church, St Peter and St Paul to see its remarkable surviving late Medieval Wall paintings dating from around 1450. The railway station is the southerly end of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and doubled for London's Kings Cross Station in the first Downton Abbey movie.
Continue on the A170 until you reach a sign for Keldholme and Hutton-le-Hole which will take you on a right turn heading northwards on a scenic side trip along a country lane up to Hutton with its stone cottages and vast green open spaces. A bucolic and serene collection of houses seeming scattered around a large grassy common. Once you have passed through the village take a left turn on Lowna Road and over the cattle grid, twisting and turning down Gillamoor Bank and through the village of Gillamoor where you will turn left onto Kirby Lane back onto the A170 by following signs for Kirbymoorside.
Head right and continue westwards to Helmsley Castle, a remarkable ruined fortress and Tudor Manor house. Although very few sections of the original fortress remains due to various attacks and partial demolition in the Civil Wars the residential area was left untouched so you can explore the ruins, ditches and ramparts along with the remaining towers then visit the adjacent 16th century Manor House.
Just up the B1257 from Helmsley you will approach Rievaulx Abbey. Make a left turn when you see the signs and drive over to the stunning romantic ruin of a once great Cistercian house of worship. Founded in 1132 and dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 the ruins gracefully stand amongst the landscape like a vast skeleton, with buttresses and arches towering over the visitor. An abbey of some 150 monks and 500 lay brothers, just imagine what a busy community would have lived and worked here before the Dissolution of the Monasteries changed all this for ever.
Leaving Rievaulx Abbey and driving through Rievaulx village continue south through Scawton towards the A170 again. Turn right towards Thirsk picking up the town bypass by turning left on the A168 then left again on the A19 back to York.