Stepping stones, cascading water, ducks under the bridge-English village life at its very best. Add in a great pub or two and you have the perfect getaway; and you can help save the environment too!
The North York Moors are at their most dramatic in late August whilst clad in a blanket of purple heather, but beauty is a constant in this National Park. Wide open heaths top rolling green valleys and nestled within are some of England's most perfect villages.
Great Ayton could be regarded as the northern gateway to the Moors. A substantial village this, the River Leven meanders through it, gurgling over shallow falls. Captain James Cook spent his boyhood here, attending Postgate School, part of which has since been turned into the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum, 101 High St www.captaincookschoolroommuseum.co.uk . Cook’s father was just a farm labourer but fortunately the farm owner spotted potential and paid for the education which was to lead to Cook’s voyages of discovery, starting out in the Whitby-built ship Endeavour. The museum is tiny but educational, and good for rainy days. Meanwhile local children celebrate his birthday each year with a model boat race on the 27th October.
History aside, this is a lovely village for strolling in, or if you’re feeling energetic a good hike takes you up to the summit of nearby Roseberry Topping, a distinctive local landmark. Follow the signs for Captain Cook's Monument from the edge of the village and you have the choice of a shady climb through woodland to the monument itself, or a stepped path leading to fine views of the surrounding countryside. Don’t forget to buy some pies from Petch's on the Green before you go. This butcher does a roaring trade in mince, or egg and bacon pies- his customers walk away with a tray load each! (Be aware they're closed Mondays, as are many of the village cafes)
The Royal Oak (High Green, Great Ayton) is a coaching inn dating from 1771 with original beams and log fires. The food here is the star turn- you can have your Yorkshire puddings as a starter with caramelised onion and beef gravy for £3.75, or as part of a traditional roast for £8.75. It doesn’t stop there- the menu is huge and caters for all tastes. Check out the Early Bird 3 courses for £13.75.
Lealholm is definitely in the running for my favourite village. It has magical stepping stones- just the right depth and width for successful crossing of the River Esk for all ages. It has a bridge, with attendant ducks. It has sheep, with their established grazing rights on the village green, or wherever else takes their fancy. It has Poets Cottage Shrub Nursery- a delightful small garden full to the brim with plants, and the Forge Pottery where you can watch hand thrown stoneware being made. Better still this is a stopping point on the Esk Valley Railway, a beautiful and relaxing way to see some of the best scenery in these parts. On the first Saturday in September the village show takes place, the highlight of which is the Duck Race. 1000 yellow plastic ducks are launched into the river- don't ask me why, but it’s fun.
A great vantage point is the Beck View café overlooking the village green. There’s a waterfall in the garden and with even a “hint” of sunshine an outside table is positively therapeutic. The homemade cake’s good too.
The Board Inn (Village Green, Lealholm YO21 2AY 01947 897279 www.theboardinn.com ) sits right next to the bridge and does homemade and locally produced food at extremely competitive prices. The soup and sandwich option is big enough to share if you lunch with a "not too greedy" friend.
Hutton-le-Hole is the prettiest of villages, with wide greens intercepted by Hutton Beck, and still more of those wandering sheep. This is the home of the Ryedale Folk Museum www.ryedalefolkmuseum.co.uk and attracts a lot of visitors in high season. The museum relates the history of Ryedale from the Stone Ages and includes several thatched cruck houses and a unique Elizabethan glass furnace. You can have your photo taken in Edwardian costume or wander the craft workshops next door. One of the star attractions of the village for me is locally made Ryeburn dairy icecream. Choose from any number of flavours- Cinder toffee and apple crumble are my favourites. The village pub The Crown Inn has a good reputation but I’ve usually been too busy scoffing icecream to try it.
To escape the coach trips, take the public footpath to Lastingham,1½ miles away, or you can get there on the Moorsbus. A tiny village this but chocolate box pretty, it is watched over by wonderfully atmospheric St Mary's Church. Founded by St Cedd of Lindisfarne in 1654, when he died of the plague 10 years later he was buried in the crypt. In 1078 the crypt was rebuilt. It contains an altar and several crosses, creating an intriguing church within a church. It is said to have powerful energy due to the presence of ley lines. Of course, there’s a ghost.
The Blacksmith's Arms ( Front St., Lastingham, YO62 6TL, 01751 417247 www.blacksmithslastingham.co.uk ) is another extremely popular village attraction. On Summer days you can sit outside on the comfy armchairs and indulge in real cask ales and good wholesome pub grub. The homemade pies certainly hit the spot.
Where to stay
The Royal Oak in Great Ayton offers good access to most of North Yorkshire’s villages. This together with its food justifies my recommendation, but all of the pubs I have mentioned include accommodation at around the same price. Double rooms are £70 per night, great breakfast included.
Bed & Breakfast
The Bridge Guest House ( 5-9 Bridge St, Great Ayton TS9 6NP) is a character property in a riverside location and en suite doubles are just £33 including breakfast.
Burnley House ( Hutton-le-Hole YO62 6UA) offers Grade 2 listed luxury in a former Georgian farmhouse. The beck flows right by their garden and the owners are very happy to advise on everything from walks in the area to local art classes. Rooms are from £71 per double, with breakfast.
Lealholm Hall Holiday Cottage (Lealholm Hall, North Yorks YO21 2AF) is an excellent base for a family of 4. It butts onto Grade 2 listed Lealholm Hall and has access to some great facilities including boules, croquet and a barbecue. In an idyllic setting, prices range from £195 in low to £395 in high season.
The area is very keen indeed to be green and is well served by public transport. The Esk Valley Railway passes through Great Ayton and Lealholm on its way out to the coast at Whitby. Timetables and lots of good suggestions are available on www.eskvalleyrailway.co.uk , including waymarked walks between stations. For fun on Friday evenings in Summer try the Music and ale trains.
The Moorsbus has a comprehensive network linking the villages and with a little planning you can happily leave the car behind. An all day pass is from £5 per person and up to 4 children can travel free with an adult. www.northyorkmoors.org.uk provides a wealth of information and timetables, including Moorslink which enables you to combine bus travel with the Esk Valley Railway and the North York Moors steam trains. Assuredly the romance of the steam trains provide a fitting finale to any visit to the North York Moors.