Exploring near Harrogate, Yorkshire in June 2021
Updated: Jul 6
Our touring adventure continues as we look for places we have never visited before. Which is why, although we based ourselves near Harrogate, the lovely town itself does not feature in the blog! We have explored it several times in the past, and can definitely recommend it for a visit! This summer, touring with the van has definitely been impacted by the Covid pandemic. Although we are allowed to travel, some tourist attractions are still closed, or only partially open. A lot of lovely churches have been locked, and guided tours of stately homes are not happening. We are still loving the trip, but are aware that we haven’t explored some areas as thoroughly as we might have in more normal times! On the campsites, we have had no trouble finding places for midweek, but every weekend the sites are full, so booking ahead has been essential.
For this part of the trip we booked 4 nights at Harrogate Caravan Park, on the outskirts of the city. It is part of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society and next to their showground. A spotlessly clean site with very good facilities block, it is very well located for bus travel, and 2 minutes from a huge Sainsburys. Best of all is Fodder, the Yorkshire farmers café and farm shop next door.
Wow. Best farm shop I have ever been to, and not as expensive as many of them. Chris foolishly let me go in alone!! The site has a regular flypast of red kites in the early evening which made a stunning display in the sun.
Yes, we did have sun, while our house sitters said it was raining at home!
Driving from Staithes to Harrogate we stopped at Kiplin Hall, an HHA house, so free admission with our membership. Built from 1619, it’s owners, the Calvert family, were instrumental in the founding of the province of Maryland, USA. The first settlers arrived on 2 ships, the Ark and the Dove in 1634. Eventually creating a state that wanted to permit religious tolerance between catholics and protestants. The Calverts, along with the Penn family, also commissioned Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason to survey and draw the Mason Dixon line separating 4 US states, and dividing those that opposed slavery from those that supported it.
By the 19th century, the family had 3 daughters, the de Grey sisters. They and their children were passionate about art, especially the Arts and Crafts movement, and much of their own work is seen in the house, including the Noah's Ark table below. One of their daughters, Bridget, trained as a Nurse and served in a hospital on the Austrian/Italian front in World War I. There is an exhibition of her letters describing the harrowing conditions, in very matter of fact terms. She later received an OBE for inventing a waterproof torch, which was eventually issued to Navy, Merchant Navy and RAF personnel in WW2 and is believed to have saved many lives. Quite a story. The garden and lake were lovely too.
We briefly visited pretty Pateley Bridge, home of reputedly the oldest sweetshop in England from 1827.
Brimham Rocks is an amazing outcrop of weatherworn rocks of millstone grit. They are far more extensive than your first glimpse of them from the road suggests. The car park was busy, but get up to the rocks and explore and you will find many peaceful spots. Chris leapt about like a mountain goat, and we loved the views. We then ventured out onto the moorland and found paths through the woodland beneath the rocks. This is a great walk. We saw rock climbers and lots of birds, including Pied Wagtail. An amazing place to visit, especially as the breeze was welcome on a day when temperatures reached 29°C. Free for National Trust members.
The RHS garden at Hadlow Carr is a lovely spot, but very prone to flooding so there is new, unobtrusive landscaping work going on to manage the water as naturally as possible. The streamside planting was stunning. For us the stars were the Meconopsis, one of my favourite flowers. It comes in lots of colours, but this is the best!
Alliums, candelabra Primulas and Wisteria stood out too. Take the time to explore the corners of the garden. The scented garden and Alpine house were lovely, with some nice ideas for mini alpine gardens in troughs or shed roofs.
Newby Hall and Gardens was our favourite place. Another HHA house, owned by the Compton family for over 250 years, it was designed in 1695 when it’s very well to do owners wanted to make a statement. No expense was spared. The architect was Sir Christopher Wren, the interior design was by Robert Adam, and the furniture by Chippendale. Rarely have we seen a house that has these three giants of English design so fully represented in one house.
Unfortunately no photos are permitted in the house, so internal shots are taken from the guide book. The gardens match the house in quality and have won Christie’s Garden of the year twice.
Like so many places, they have had to diversify to generate income, but the river boat trip on the creatively named Onion…. (It is a Barge… can you work it out?!), was worth the £5, and we saw sand martins swooping into their river bank homes which was a treat. They also have a super dolls house collection, with exquisite examples of different styles of house. The detail was incredible.
A trip into Ripon to see the Cathedral revealed a sleepy city, the 3rd smallest in England, with pretty centre and a magnificent Cathedral towering over it. The first church here was built by St Wilfred in 670, and part of it still exists as the current Cathedral crypt. It’s design is unlike anything else seen in England, and was based on Roman and European construction techniques, brought back to England by Wilfred after his travels in Europe.
The present Cathedral was started in the 13th century, and key features are the mediaeval stone screen, and the 15th century choir stalls. One of the carvings on the misericords (the seats uncomfortably shaped so that the sitter wouldn’t fall asleep, hence the name!), is of a Griffin catching a rabbit, and is said to have inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland.
The weirdest feature is a disembodied hand high above the choir, below the organ. It dates from 1695, and was used by the hidden organist to conduct the choir!
From Ripon we drove to Staveley Nature reserve, run by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. An excellent reserve with a few miles of walking trails past pools and reed bed gave us our first reed warbler of the trip. The walk ended conveniently at the Royal Oak pub in Staveley, and the menu looked so good we decided to stop for supper. Excellent.
Our last day in this area took us to Knaresborough. We parked our campervan easily in the Conyngham Hall car park and did the 7.5 mile Nidderdale circular walk. A short distance on road at the start is soon replaced by a lovely woodland walk in the deep valley of the River Nidd. Bird song was all around, but the now heavily leafed trees meant they were hard to spot. On the river we added Grey wagtail to our list, but, surprisingly, none of our favourites, the Dippers. The river stretch ends at magnificent 7 arched Nidd viaduct, built in 1848, but now a greenway for walkers, cyclists and horseriders. We followed the old track up to Bilton, and the tiny Gardeners Arms, a listed pub which has traded since the late 1800’s with few interior changes.
A good pint of Sam Smiths Ale for Chris and we were off again, walking through farmland back towards Knaresborough. The last part followed the Beryl Burton Cycleway. She was a local woman, born with all kinds of health problems, who taught herself to cycle, and rose through the ranks to become World cycling champion 7 times. She was the first woman to cycle 100 miles in under 4 hours, and held the record for 28 years. In 1967 she was the first woman to beat a man’s time trial record, cycling 277.25 miles in 12 hours, and even offered her rival male racer a Licorice Allsort as she overtook him! Another remarkable story!
Entering Knaresborough, there is a dynamic racing sculpture reflecting this area’s passion for cycling. We wandered up the amazing cobbled streets to find a charming town. It’s railway station, still active, has an historic interior, and the signal box appears to be precariously added to the wall of a house. All around town are examples of houses needing to fit in around the hilly and rocky terrain, and some houses had unusual trompe d’oeil paintings illustrating the town’s history.
At the highest point are the ruins of the 12th century castle and court house, once much favoured by English monarchs. It has a commanding view of the river gorge below, including the famous viaduct, still carrying trains today. The gorge was once a place of mills for paper, cotton and flax. Knaresborough linen was excellent quality and used by Queen Victoria. The river bank walk now has some coffee shops and café, and adds to the charm of this lovely place which is well worth a visit.
Lots of lovely places as an introduction to this part of Yorkshire. So now we move on to.....?