There’s no doubt that North East England has its fair share of beauty, boasting no less than three National Parks in its midst and other Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. No wonder the Northeast is an appealing destination for caravan holidays.
As England’s largest county (and, according to the National Caravan Council, perhaps unsurprisingly, the largest purchaser of new caravans), Yorkshire covers much of the Northeast. Split into more manageable chunks, it covers four distinct areas: North, South, East and West Yorkshire
South and West Yorkshire are predominantly made up of townscapes – large conurbations like Bradford, placed on the map for its award-winning Indian restaurants; Huddersfield and Halifax; Sheffield, once renowned for its steelworks and Wakefield, in stark contrast, known for its rhubarb!
But don’t write off these urban sprawls as places not to visit. Sheffield’s civic buildings in the city centre are real gems, particularly the Winter Gardens while Halifax is home to Eureka! The National Children’s Museum. And for anyone keen on Crumble, the Wakefield Triangle, a 9-square mile area between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell is home to some of the very best rhubarb growing in Britain, considered worthy of appearing on the menus of top celebrity restaurants. Look out, too, for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield, with exhibits by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.
Perhaps the least known of Yorkshire’s districts is the East Riding of Yorkshire. Its claims to natural beauty are the Yorkshire Wolds, a delightful ridge of chalk hills, quiet valleys and gentle streams. The Yorkshire Wolds Way allows walkers to take advantage of its vantage points, with views over the Vales of York and Pickering and towards the coast. Here, a long stretch of sandy beach runs from the popular seaside resort of Bridlington in the north to Spurn Head, a spit that curls into the Humber estuary and a National Nature Reserve filled with bird life.
North Yorkshire, one could argue, almost has too much beauty for one county! Its numerous alluring areas vie for the attention of caravan holidaymakers. The Yorkshire Dales or North York Moors? Historic cities or charming market towns? Countryside or coast?
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of Britain’s best-loved areas, with outstanding scenery of gentle dales, bubbling streams and picturesque settlements. Swaledale, Wensleydale and Wharfedale are, perhaps, the best known but Nidderdale (actually outside the National Park but considered an AONB) and the Ribble Valley are equally as beautiful. In amongst are the less populated moorlands – all a part of The Pennines, with the Pennine Way long distance footpath stomping right through the centre of the Dales.
On the other side of the main A1 road running north to south, and hugging Britain’s east coastline is the North York Moors National Park, of significantly different character to that of its neighbour – you can see either park from the other. It is more remote, wilder, and more rugged than the ‘gentleness’ of the Dales. Although the moors are considerably lower in height than the peaks of Pen y Ghent and Whernside within the Dales, they appear bleaker, the valleys (still called Dales) more enclosed.
Look out for the beauty of Rievaulx Abbey, the charm of villages like Hutton-le-Hole, Danby and Goathland (where one-time TV programme ‘Heartbeat‘ was filmed), the natural wonder of the Hole of Horcum (a giant natural bowl), explore the magnificence of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, and the ruggedness of the coastline.
In itself, the coastal villages like Runswick, Staithes and Robin Hood’s Bay are more than attractive but they are, perhaps, surpassed by the main town of Whitby, known for its fishing fleet, its connection to Captain Cook, its ‘up-on-high’ Whitby Abbey and its connections to the gothic novel Dracula. And that’s not forgetting the traditional seaside holiday town of Scarborough, lined with sandy beaches and culturally known for its Theatre-in-the-Round.
In between the Dales and the Moors is a beautiful vale within which lie some of Yorkshire’s best loved towns and cities: the charming Northallerton, Thirsk, Leyburn, Ripon, Knaresborough and Ilkley. Every one deserves a visit, if only to sup a classic Yorkshire afternoon tea and wander the market squares to take in the hearty atmosphere that these towns all seem to pervade. Harrogate demonstrates an air of grace and elegance with its fancy Victorian metal walkways, spa town history and formal gardens, all centred around The Stray, a vast centre-of-town open parkland.
York, by contrast, is a city made on tourism filled with more eye-level history than most can contemplate as Viking and Roman finds sit alongside more ‘recent’ history like that of the majestic York Minster and the birthplace of Guy Fawkes. Walk the Roman walls, soak up the atmosphere of the narrowest streets in England – The Shambles and Whip-ma-Whop-ma-Gate (yes, really), enjoy shopping along Stonegate and visit the world-renowned Jorvik Viking Centre, before taking a boat trip on the River Ouse, a waterway that is notoriously cruel to its host city in times of flood.
Above North Yorkshire lies the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, within which are the Durham Dales, most notably Teesdale and Weardale. Both river valleys show magnificent natural features such as High Force and Cauldron Snout waterfalls, only accessible on foot, while the heather moors lie wild and remote above. The Wear runs through the centre of Durham a city with UNESCO World Heritage status for the grandeur of its hilltop castle and cathedral.
Beyond Durham is Tyne and Wear, the Angel of the North spreading her wings alongside the A1 to welcome visitors to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Gateshead. Known as much for its shoppers’ metropolis, the Metrocentre, as it is for the Tyne Bridge, Ant and Dec and The Magpies, Newcastle is also home to the impressive BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, and the birthplace of George Stephenson, inventor of the steam railway. You can visit his birthplace in the village of Wylam, on the banks of the River Tyne, just to the west of Newcastle.
One of the most undiscovered and least populated counties in the UK is Northumberland. Of all the counties in North East England, it is possibly the most exciting to visit for a caravan holiday – quiet roads, vast open spaces and unsurpassed beauty. A quarter of the county is designated as the Northumberland National Park, and much of that is taken up by Kielder Forest and Water. Kielder Forest is the largest manmade woodland in Europe, full of red squirrels and cycleways, while Kielder Water is the largest manmade lake in England by capacity (the largest in surface area is Rutland Water in the East Midlands). Though manmade, it’s hard to believe such is the attractiveness of the area, with tiny inlets and creeks feeding the reservoir and the North Tyne River.
In the very north of the county, shared with neighbouring Scotland are the Cheviot Hills, while Northumberland’s coast has vast, empty beaches under huge skies. Every now and again a magnificent castle like Bamburgh, Lindisfarne or Dunstanburgh pop up, defending the shoreline. Just inland is Howick Hall, home of Earl Grey tea and a few miles further inland still, the gorgeous town of Alnwick with its own castle.
Of course, Northumberland’s history goes way beyond a castle built a few centuries ago. The Roman Hadrian’s Wall cuts across the county east to west, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is 84 miles long. You can walk virtually the full length on the long distance footpath, but a lot of the stone wall itself has gone. Some of the best stretches to view the wall are those within the Northumberland National Park, around the attractive town of Haltwhistle, deemed the ‘capital’ for walkers of the Wall.
Things to do
1.Eat fish and chips on the harbourside in Whitby. Whitby’s fish and chips are considered some of the best in Britain – look out for renowned restaurants such as Trenchers, The Magpie, Hadleys or The Quayside fish and chip shop. Both Trenchers and The Quayside have won the top gong in the National Fish and Chip Awards in recent years.
2.Find the authors’ haunts. Visit Brontës’ Parsonage Museum in beautiful Haworth, with its cobbled streets, to learn more of the Brontë sisters, their lives in Yorkshire and their famous novels. Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights, for instance, draws much of its drama from the wild West Yorkshire landscape.
3.An iconic symbol of Humberside, take a trip across the Humber Bridge, once the longest single-span suspension bridge of its kind at 1.38 miles. It’s still the seventh longest in the world and you can walk or cycle across, in addition to driving. The Humber Bridge Visitors Centre is situated in a large, free car park on the north side, adjacent to the Humber Bridge Country Park.
4.Take in the sights along Hadrian’s Wall when you visit Northumberland, either walking the National Trail, cycling along the designated cycle route, or by rail, using the Hadrian’s Wall Country Line Day Ranger ticker that links Newcastle and Carlisle. Chesters Roman Fort and Museum, Carrawburgh, Housesteads Fort and Vindolanda are all worthy Roman attractions along the way.
5.Enjoy a visit to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the Northumberland coast. To get there, you can drive, walk or cycle across the causeway (taking serious note of the tide times), or take a boat trip from Seahouses. And you can camp at The Barn at Beal, the closest campsite to the causeway.
When to visit
Events take place very much all year round in the north east of England, kicked off by the Tar Bar’l New Year celebrations in Allendale, Northumberland. Also in Northumberland, the Snowdrop Festival at Howick Hall Gardens provides a welcome display in February, while in the same month York enjoys the huge Jorvik Viking Festival where boat burning and all-things Nordic come to the city. At least, usually; in 2022, the event will be held in late May.
In April, it’s Gateshead that puts on the annual International Jazz Festival, the biggest UK jazz festival outside London. For food lovers, there’s the Bishop Auckland Food Festival in April, the Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival in May and the Bridlington Bay Lobster Festival in July.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, lights up the region with two large-scale flower shows, the spring event held in April and the Autumn Flower Show, in September. As a town that’s used to putting on big events and conferences, Harrogate also hosts the annual Great Yorkshire Show every July and numerous literary/arts festivals, including the, simply named, Harrogate Festival and, in honour of one-time visitor Agatha Christie, a Crime Writing Festival, both in July.
If August has seen too much slouching on the beach, you can get active in September with the Walking East Yorkshire Festival and the Great North Run, and, in October, the Kielder Marathon. And, in November, enjoy a walk through the streets of Durham during Lumiere, a city-wide celebration of light in the run-up to advent and Christmas activities, of which York always seems to have the upper hand with numerous events across the city.
The M1 motorway is one of the quickest routes from the south, which runs as far as Leeds. From there, the A1(M) picks up direct to Newcastle and the predominantly single carriageway A1 thereafter to Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Travelling east-west, the M62, off the M1, serves the East Ridings and Humberside best while the A66 cross-Pennines route between the M6 at Penrith and the A1 (Scotch Corner) and the A69 between Carlisle and Newcastle-upon-Tyne provide scenic cross-country touring.
The A171 from Scarborough to Middlesbrough offers one of the best coastal routes, skirting the edge of the North York Moors; given its location on high ground, remember that weather conditions can change unpredictably fast, especially in winter.
You’ll find rural country lanes to be considerably quieter than in other parts of the country, particularly if you’re heading for Northumberland campsites and the more remote areas of the Pennines. Only a few minor country roads are best avoided while towing a caravan – routes within the centre of the North York Moors National Park and Sutton Bank on the western perimeter of the Park, on which towed caravans are banned.
When driving to campsites in the Yorkshire Dales avoid the route from Thwaite, Swaledale to High Tan Inn, Arkengarthdale and the road from Kettlewell to Leyburn. Care should also be taken approaching campsites at Malham – consider phoning ahead to check for specific arrival and departure times to avoid meeting oncoming traffic along very narrow lanes.
Humber Bridge tolls: there is no extra toll charge for towed caravans or motorhomes up to 3.5 tonnes on the Humber Bridge.
Where to stay
Make use of our annual Top 100 Sites. North East England always fares well in the annual awards, as voted for by our readers, with 9 sites from the region making it into the 2022 guide.
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The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of Britain's best-loved areas, with outstanding scenery