It was a difficult decision. Should we spend what we guessed would be the last warm, sunny trip of the year exploring a city – so much more enjoyable when you can stroll around the sights in the sunshine, without being bogged down by coats and umbrellas – or walking on the coast, relaxing on the beach and enjoying great views?
As I often do when faced with such choices, I turned to my map. Discovering that York is just over an hour from the white cliffs of the East Yorkshire coast (Kent, it seems, doesn’t have a monopoly on white cliffs!) we realised that we could visit both city and beach on the same trip – the best of both worlds.
The Cathedral city of York
Just a week or so later, we were arriving in York. There are a couple of campsites to choose from quite near the city and we opted for Manor Farm, a small, friendly and very comfortable adults-only caravan site that is a 40-minute walk from the city centre, via a park and a pretty riverside pathway.
Oh, and it’s also just across the road from the racecourse, if you fancy a bit of a flutter while you’re there!
Otherwise, York Rowntree Park Caravan and Motorhome Club Campsite is a good alternative if you are touring with children and want a family caravan park.
With so much to see and do, we didn’t waste time when we arrived mid-morning, quickly setting up and heading out.
As well as its long, rich history, waiting to be discovered, York is a shopper’s delight. Besides the familiar favourites, there are plenty of quirky shops tucked away on the medieval lanes in and around the famous Shambles, the historic shopping street that dates all the way back to the 14th century and is still a hive of activity today.
It is also reputed to be the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, and with great venues such as The Shop That Must Not Be Named, The Imaginarium and The Potions Cauldron, is browsing heaven.
We discovered shortcuts through the many Snickelways, which took us from street to street. One of these narrow alleys brought us into a market and the happy discovery of Fairytale Gin.
Eventually, we needed food. We thought of visiting the famous Bettys Tea Room, but the queue was ridiculous and there was no shortage of alternatives. We plumped for The Vanilla Café, next door to the Minster, for coffee and cake in the sunshine.
We decided to forgo visiting the Minster for now, wanting to avoid the crowds and instead enjoy the lovely weather. However, I couldn’t resist taking a quick look at the imposing statue sitting proudly on the square outside the cathedral.
Constantine I became emperor in 306, and the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. His bronze statue, designed by sculptor Philip Jackson, was unveiled in 1998.
Views from the water
Curiosity sated, we headed off to the river for a boat trip, leaving the crowded streets behind us to see the city from a different perspective. It was well worth the ticket price, as our knowledgeable guide provided a commentary on some of York’s history as we sailed along, including the origins of the famous chocolate industry and the city’s earlier incarnation as Eboracum, the provincial capital in Roman times.
On the riverside stroll back to Manor Farm, we passed an ice cream boat, which, of course, we couldn’t resist. An evening in the sunshine at our pitch with possibly the last barbecue of the season and a glass of chilled white wine, while deciding which sights to visit tomorrow, rounded off our hugely enjoyable day in the city.
With over 2000 years of history, it is only natural that York is full of museums (there are 33 of them, apparently!).
After a full English breakfast on site, we decided to start our second day at the daddy of them all, Jorvik Viking Centre, where we enjoyed the recreation of village life as it was lived here 1000 years ago.
Well, we mostly enjoyed it, although the authentic aroma was something I happily left behind when returning to the fresh air, and the rat running under the tracks of
our ‘capsule’ ride as we moved through the village was almost too realistic – and made me realise how lucky we are today!
Almost next door is The York Dungeon, an immersive storytelling experience where I was branded (totally unfairly of course) a nag and Ro found himself thrown into prison for answering back. After all the giggles, scares and historic tales, we needed a drink, and wandered to the Guy Fawkes Inn, which we had spotted close to the Minster. Birthplace of the man himself back in 1570, it also serves a decent pint.
Suitably recovered from our dungeon encounter, we set about exploring more of the city’s cobbled streets and alleys, roaming from gothic Minster to Roman walls, then to Parliament Street, built to house a Victorian market.
As dusk fell, we joined a spooky ‘ghost tour’ to be regaled with tales of ladies in white, barefoot children and of course, the headless corpse that simply refuses to take anything lying down!
The streets remain busy at night, but in York, it is less about partying and more about strolling, spotting splendid places like Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate (which is said to be one of the shortest streets in England) and Mad Alice Lane (poor Alice murdered her violent husband, went mad and was hanged in 1825).
After pausing for a pint at Ye Olde Starre Inn, one of the oldest licensed premises in York, we strolled a bit more, curious to see what might be around the next corner.
For dinner, we decided to go to Turtle Bay, a Caribbean restaurant with a buzzing atmosphere and décor to match. Later, we enjoyed a nightcap at the Golden Fleece, which, as all self-respecting ghost hunters will tell you, is York’s most haunted pub.
Castle and cliffs
Next day, we were leaving the city to head for East Yorkshire’s white cliffs, but because it was only about an hour’s drive and we had all day, we decided to squeeze in a bit more history and visit York Castle Museum.
The original castle, built by William the Conqueror, is no longer standing and today, the museum is known for its recreation of an authentic Victorian street, but it is so much more as well.
We stepped into the Georgian prison cells to experience what life might have been like for the inmates – including the highwayman Dick Turpin – before being transported to 1914 and World War I, and then on to the swinging 60s.
A quick cream tea courtesy of Bennett’s Café and we were off to Bridlington Club Campsite. And we couldn’t have asked for a greater contrast from the city that we had just left than the cliffs and beaches of the East Yorkshire coast.
From the campsite, it was a gentle stroll along the coast path into Bridlington (the location, by the way, of the 2016 Dad’s Army film), passing the Grade I listed Sewerby Hall and Gardens on the way. The house is now a representation of life in Edwardian England, with fine grounds to explore.
We wandered around Bridlington for an hour or two, returning by land train. As we were dropped off close to The Ship Inn at Sewerby, on our route back to the site, we called in for fish and chips with a sea view.
Lighting the way
Next morning, we were up early for a drive to Flamborough Head and its lighthouse. Most walks on this part of the coast start here and turn left to Flamborough Cliffs and North Landing beach. The chalk was laid down millions of years ago, when the dinosaurs roamed, and we had heard tell of one last remaining dinosaur – this we had to see for ourselves!
Turning right instead of the usual left at the lighthouse, we soon came upon our prey – a cliff formation in the shape of a dinosaur drinking from the sea. There are many unusual cliff shapes here, thanks to all that natural erosion, but this is perhaps the best. Photos duly taken, we were soon on the path towards Flamborough Cliffs and the beach café. You can continue on foot to the RSPB Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve, but we decided not to risk having to walk back along the cliffs as dusk fell.
Although I can tell a sparrow from a seagull, my birding knowledge isn’t great. But when someone tells me an albatross has been spotted flying around the coast, my interest is piqued. So in the end, we did visit RSPB Bempton, just a 10-minute drive from Flamborough.
Amid truly spectacular sea views, it is estimated that half a million birds choose these cliffs to raise their chicks. I must admit I was totally unprepared for the smell! As we watched and photographed the gannets, guillemots and kittiwakes, a shout went up among our fellow visitors (most armed with long-lens cameras): “It’s up!”
What’s up? The price of fuel, the sun for a bit? Oh… the penny dropped. There was Albie the black-browed albatross, flying above the cliffs, soaring on the breeze and showing off for the cameras. What a sight.
And then, regrettably, as the last of the summer sun set over our final al fresco meal on site, our short time here was over.
But as ever, we have plenty of reasons to come back – I have quite simply fallen in love with the great city of York and its coastal cousins. We’re already planning a return trip, and who knows, I might even invest in a longer camera lens.
Are you looking for some inspiration for where to go for your next tour? Then our best caravan site guide is sure to help, as we reveal the UK’s standout campsites to stay at.
Where we stayed in York & Bridlington
Bishopthorpe Road, York YO23 2QA
Flamborough Road, Sewerby YO15 1DU
Food and drink
- Guy Fawkes Inn
- Ye Olde Starre Inn
- Turtle Bay restaurant
- The Golden Fleece
- Bennett’s Café
- The Ship Inn
Find out more about York
- Visit York
- Visit Bridlington
- Visit East Yorkshire
- Jorvik Viking Centre
- The York Dungeon
- York Castle Museum
- Sewerby Hall and Gardens
- Flamborough Head
- RSPB Bempton Cliffs
Lead image: Sue Taylor
Head to our Best of British: Touring Adventures section for more inspiration for your next trip.
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