Motorhome travel: North York Moors National Park
We ring the Caravan and Motorhome Club site at Rowntree Park in York to book a pitch for the beginning of our journey into the North York Moors National Park.
We’re only about 20 miles away when we do this, which is a bit foolhardy. It’s a Saturday in January - how hard can it be to get a pitch? Our naivety carries us into the city. We get the last pitch, because of a cancellation, which is a surprise and a relief.
Sometimes camping in winter can be difficult. You have to plan ahead, find places to stay in advance, because those few sites that stay open all year, like Rowntree Park, are often fully booked well in advance.
Happily, we get our pitch and head towards the site. It’s not an easy place to find, especially as our sat-nav takes us along the River Ouse on the most direct route, but without considering that we might be a little high for the 2m bridge that stands between us and a hot shower.
We stop short then I pull forward while Liz gets out and watches the front of the 'van. No, it’s not going to fit. Reversing isn’t easy in the dark. When we reach the site we receive a warm welcome and a wry smile about the bridge. We aren’t the first to come unstuck that way. Thank goodness for reversing cameras.
Exploring York and The Shambles
Rowntree Park is perfect for exploring York. It’s just a few minutes’ walk from the city centre; we put our glad rags on and hit a few pubs.
On the way we walk down York’s most famous thoroughfare, The Shambles. It is a lovely, higgledy-piggledy, narrow thoroughfare where the medieval houses overhang, almost meeting in the middle.
In the morning we wake to a light dusting of snow. We pack up and head north, on the B1363, into the national park. We are heading to Middlesbrough before aiming for the North Yorkshire coast. It will take us through some of the best bits of the park.
Our first stop is Helmsley, the southern border of the park. An impressive castle stands guard over the houses of this friendly, busy market town. The buildings that surround the market square are made of cream-coloured stone with clay tile roofs. The local shops are mostly independent. There is an art centre and one of the best delis I’ve ever been into.
West of Helmsley is Sutton Bank, an extremely steep (25%) hill on the A170 that drops down into York Vale from the park. Supposedly, according to the famed vet and writer James Herriot, it’s the finest view in England.
Heading to Rievaulx Abbey
The road is a real gear grinder, with a hairpin halfway up. Later on during our trip we will drop down it (second gear all the way), but for now we head to Rievaulx Abbey, an amazing ruined priory that was once one of the greatest monasteries in England before Henry VIII dissolved them and left them in this half-dismantled state. How wonderful it looks in the winter sunshine as the pale orange light glows on the York stone!
The road across the Cleveland Hills is brilliant: a perfect slow road through forest and dale, down the steep bank into Bilsdale and through the fabulous, wide-bottomed Fangdale. We stop at Clay Bank to enjoy the views before we drop out of the park and head towards our second night stop.
We re-enter the park the next day, after a night at the White Water Caravan and Motorhome Club site at Loftus.
There is thick snow on the moors and, when we get to Whitby, we can’t help but take a drive up Blue Bank, to have a look.
As if it wasn’t cold enough for us on the moor we stop off at Sandsend, just north of Whitby to try out our inflatable stand-up paddleboards (SUP). We gear up into our winter wetsuits and take to the water.
We get funny looks from people walking on the beach in their hats, gloves and scarves but this is what our adventures are for; we don’t want to simply drive around looking at views. We want to get involved. SUPs are fantastic for people who like the idea of surfing but don’t like surf! On flat water they are a fun way of getting about and can be used in rivers, canals and the sea by almost anyone – plus they can be rolled up and packed away in the 'van – perfect!
The North Sea is really cold but we still manage to stay in the water for about an hour, surfing the small waves and larking about.
Warming up in Whitby
We warm up in Whitby with a walk around the abbey, a visit to the microbrewery and a wander around the beautiful harbour. We park by the Cook Memorial and walk down the hill. The sunset from the abbey is spectacular.
We head south rather than back to Middlesbrough and hope that we’ll find a pitch somewhere. We head for Robin Hood's Bay, the end of the Coast to Coast walk, and a place I have camped before.
However, the CL is closed, as are the other sites, so we drive further on to the top of the cliff. The track to the village is small, very steep and inaccessible to all but the locals, so we park up. Is this the end of the road?
Help is at hand with an overnight pitch
We consult our guidebooks, ponder over maps and generally rub our chins looking for a suitable overnight spot. We’re coming up with nothing.
Out of the blue there’s a tap on the glass on my side. I wind down the window and say hello to the man who is standing next to the ’van.
He’s got little round John Lennon glasses and mad white hair and a white beard that makes him look a little like Gandalf or Merlin. He smiles and asks us if we’re stuck for an overnight. We are. “Don’t worry,” he says and tells us about a spot where we can park up for the night that’s not far away. Abracadabra – a wizard has conjured up something for us!
Within 20 minutes we’re sorted out: blinds down, bed made, heating on. We step out into the night and down the steep hill to Wainwright’s Bar, the last stop on the Coast to Coast, where we know there will be a warm fire burning. When we get there it’s heaving and the fires are giving a warm glow to the excited, busy pub. Just what we need.
The next day we rise early after a peaceful, undisturbed night and wander down to the beach to search for fossils. We find ammonites and belemnites and then warm up in the Swell Café Bar and gallery. The views over the bay are amazing and the bacon butty isn’t bad, either.
Funny how it always seems to work out, isn’t it?
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