Author: Paul Elsam
Paul Elsam is one of our two Yorkshire-based ‘County Champions’ – regional enthusiasts who have a deep knowledge and even deeper affection for their local areas.
Earlier this year, the Coast & Country Hotel Collection started the search for regional representatives to champion their locality, and Paul was one of two winners – with the collection having been unable to decide between him and Carolyn Frank. Both presented such an impassioned fondness for Yorkshire that we simply had to hear both of their takes on the best things to see and do in the county.
With Carolyn having already outlined the best places to visit in her home county of Yorkshire – with an emphasis on North Yorkshire, the area she knows best – Paul now takes up the baton, focusing on Yorkshire in the autumn and winter months, particularly Scarborough and Whitby.
I’ve lived in Scarborough for more than 30 years, and prior to that, I lived in Harrogate for a year in the mid-1980s. But it’s Scarborough, Whitby and especially the countryside of the North York Moors and the coast that I truly love.
If I had to use one word to sum up what makes Yorkshire so special as a holiday destination it would be variety. Even in the middle of winter, there’s a location somewhere that really suits.
The full county of Yorkshire is really varied, but it’s also massive – in fact it almost reaches the west coast! But you can get a flavour of most of the rest of Yorkshire, by staying here on the North Yorkshire coast – meaning you don’t have to travel that far to encounter the best of what we have to offer. And better still, there are quite a few hidden gems too.
If someone were to ask me what Yorkshire was known for, the list would be long. The countryside, the culture, the history, the success of ‘Team Yorkshire’ at the 2012 Olympics! Locals call it ‘God’s country’. Not county, note – country. I think they’re being ironic, but they do keep a straight face.
To elaborate on variety though – with inevitable oversimplification, here goes! For miles to the west of Scarborough, it’s mainly rural; pretty villages, rolling hills, forestry, lots of natural beauty. Go even further west, and you’ve got the bigger towns and cities; historic York first of all, but then the cultural and industrial cities of Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, and so on.
Head south from Scarborough, then move inland from the bird-rich high cliffs and the sandy and chalky beaches, and you’re on the high Wolds – a different sort of rural landscape. Directly north of Scarborough, it’s fishing villages, more high cliffs, and dramatic pebbly or sandy beaches. And east? Fishing, seals, dolphins (so I’m told, as I’m personally yet to see one!), even the odd whale if you take a boat trip from Whitby.
Variety then, as you can see, is evident – and that doesn’t even mention the food! The fish could hardly be fresher.
But, given this is a blog about the autumn and winter months, and factoring in the vagaries of the weather – what are the best places to visit in Yorkshire when it’s raining?
Well, starting on the coast, locals joke that you can choose between the Sea Life Centre, and the Sea Life Centre. But trust me, there are other options – and plenty of them! With the wealth of history and culture, museums and art galleries are in abundance.
For instance, in Whitby, there’s the museum in Pannett Park, and the little Captain Cook Memorial Museum by the swing bridge. Captain Cook (of Australia fame) was born in Marton-in-Cleveland towards Middlesbrough, so, as a North Yorkshireman, he’s linked to places across the county.
Whitby’s Church Street (at the foot of the 199 steps up to the Abbey) is great for a wander, with hopping in and out of the independent shops and cafes giving you plenty of shelter from the rain.
In Scarborough, try the Art Gallery in the Crescent and Woodend next door (which has basic food but in a really lovely cafe space). Also, the giant historic Market Hall just off Eastborough is another great spot, with the vaults below featuring some enjoyably random shops. For an all-weather swim, try Alpamare, not far from the Sea Life Centre, which, with its warm outdoor garden pool, is an enjoyable experience even in the midst of winter rain.
If all else fails though, both Scarborough and Whitby have amusement arcades where you can donate your tuppence pieces and escape the weather. A traditional scene in many a British coastal town!
Another thing that both Scarborough and Whitby have are Escape Rooms with good central locations. I haven’t tried them myself, but Whitby’s currently has a Sherlock Holmes theme, cleverly woven around the weird ‘severed hand’ exhibit in the town’s museum. Scarborough’s Escape Room has several options, including the new ‘Pirate Ship Mistry’.
While neither Whitby nor Scarborough have dedicated high-quality cinemas, you can still catch some of the latest releases (as well as live shows) at Whitby Pavilion, and at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre. Scarborough also has the cheap and cheerful Plaza Cinema, close to Peasholm Park.
If you like art though, drop into St. Martin-on-the-Hill church, just across Scarborough’s Valley Bridge, which features historically important windows and wall decorations created by several members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It’s a real treat for art and history lovers alike.
Still on the coast, the village of Staithes hosts a surprisingly large Heritage Museum jammed with oddments, with the main theme, again, being Captain Cook. Staithes is known as being the place where Cook first made contact with the sea, so they’re understandably keen to celebrate that fact.
Further inland, you can easily lose an hour or two (and quite a lot of money) inside the beautiful Castle Howard. A much cheaper and (for me) more interesting option is the National Trust’s endearingly run-down Ormesby Hall, just on the Whitby side of Middlesbrough. A famous theatre company run by the great director Joan Littlewood was in residence here just after World War Two.
Another National Trust property is the modestly sized Nunnington Hall. It’s not far from Helmsley, so if you love your history, you could combine a visit here with a trip to the town’s castle. Although, with no roof, you will need a coat if it’s raining!
But my personal favourite is in Thirsk, even further west. The garden to privately-owned (and newly opened) Thirsk Hall is accessed by ringing a bell (!), but the little door hides a small open air sculpture park, plus an impressive small gallery (for 2022, it featured early work by David Hockney). There’s no car park or cafe, but it’s in the centre of the town, and entry is just a little over a fiver.
One quirky (and free) option is a trip to the so-called ‘deserted village’ at Wharram Percy on the Yorkshire Wolds. There’s not much to see today, but the setting in a hollow is special, and the almost-surviving church is missing part of its tower, like a cake missing a large slice!
Talking of those hidden gems, though, here are a few:
The short walk to old Mulgrave Castle, a ruined pile. After parking in Sandsend, you reach it via a walk inland across private woodland, with access permitted on Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday (except in May). There’s no signage, so ideally bring an OS map. Cycling is not allowed, and dogs must be kept in leads.
May Beck. During the warmer months, you can walk to Falling Foss waterfall, grab some food at the Tea Garden, then continue your walk on the other side. Look out for the Hermitage, carved out of a large sandstone rock.
Out of season, my favourite walk goes the other way out of May Beck car park: cross back over the tiny bridge, and look up to the right for a gap between the trees. It’s an abandoned route, so wear boots with good grip, and be prepared to retrace your steps.
Stoupe Brow beach near Ravenscar. Follow the narrow turn-off next to the tall windmill, and keep going for a couple of miles until you run out of road. Parking is £1 in an honesty box. The beach is down lots of steps, but it’s worth it for the views, and (if you’re eagle-eyed) fossils and driftwood.
At low tide, there’s a colony of seals on the beach below the clifftop Raven Hall Hotel. Strictly no dogs there, please, and keep your distance – listen to the rangers if they’re on duty. And please don’t take any risks with the tide!
Also, try Cornelian Beach, just south of Scarborough. It’s just made it into a national ‘Best Beaches’ guide, but in truth, access is too steep for most people to visit more than once, so you’ll probably have the beach to yourself.
The beautiful Old Parcels Office on Scarborough station. I had my first photography exhibition there, but they actually mount a range of professional artwork, as well as booking live music (with a lean towards Americana).
Food & Drink
Quite a few places are closed outside the main season, but the Sandside Cafe on Sandsend beach is open all year round. Visit around lunchtime to be sure to catch them open.
Scarborough features a little gem offering great coffee and genuine Italian ice cream – visit Crema e Cioccolato, near the top of Eastborough. Also, Sherlocks café in Whitby – check whether the special little booth at the far end is free.
Those, then, are just a few options to consider. As pointed out, the variety on offer in Yorkshire is enormous – so I couldn’t possibly cover them all here, but hopefully, that gives you a flavour.
Cream Tea at The Granary, Harwood Dale
A few final pointers from me though: Be sure to bring good waterproofs (and spray for your boots). Ask a stranger if you’re lost or need advice – they’re a friendly lot on the coast. And do say hello as you pass other walkers; it’s expected and can lead to very pleasant chats.
Finally, given our fantastic coastline, a further warning to be careful to check tide times! High tides around lunchtime do limit your options, although at least one small beach (a rocky one at Hayburn Wyke) can still be accessed with care at high tide, but be mindful.
Above all, though, enjoy yourself. It’s what Yorkshire is all about.