Yorkshire, or God’s Own Country as locals will tell you, is rich in Roman and Viking heritage, packed full of Norman castles and medieval abbeys, and home to some of the most stunning countryside you’ll see anywhere in the world.
If you want to immerse yourself in the history and scenery of the county then there’s nowhere better to start than with the English Heritage sites in the area.
Home to over 20 different sites ranging from huge monasteries, crumbling castles, deserted villages and even a Cold War Nuclear bunker, all located amongst the beautiful Yorkshire countryside and towns and villages, there is definitely something for everyone no matter what your interests are!
And after having recently covered all 4 of the sites in South Yorkshire on a day trip (read our blog here… https://www.troventrip.com/blog/step-into-south-yorkshires-story/), we’ve set out on a mission to visit all of the sites in North Yorkshire.
This blog will be updated as we work our way through all of the English Heritage sites in the area… there are so many to see we haven’t been able to tick them all of yet! So bookmark this page and follow our social channels to keep up to date with new updates!
Where else to start other than at Whitby Abbey? It’s not only one of the most famous English Heritage sites in Yorkshire, but it’s one of the most famous sites in the country.
The inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, and location of a recent Coldplay concert for the BBC, the ruins of the 7th century former monastery and abbey stand dramatically on the edge of the rugged coastline and tower over the equally famous 199 steps down to the town and harbour below.
Our visit was one of our first trips following the first Covid lockdown in summer 2020 (hence Paul’s lockdown haircut!) … it felt a bit strange to be around so many people after months of isolation and having to wear a mask on our travels, but as we wandered through the ruins listening to the audio guide, the last few months seemed to fade away and our love of travel and exploring new places came instantly flooding back!
It’s hard to describe just how stunning the Abbey is… the ruins are beautiful, the location is breath-taking, and you can almost feel the history and atmosphere of the place as you explore the grounds. And if you want to learn more about the Abbey’s history as you explore, there is a free audio guide you can listen to on your phone as you explore.
We’ve been to lots of amazing sites in many different countries before, but something just feels special here. Maybe that’s why so many literary authors like Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and of course Bram Stoker, were inspired to write their masterpieces here. And the best will be for you to plan a day long visit to this place as it is truly a place to relax, enjoy any hobby like listening to music, reading, sketching while enjoying the amazing views of the sea!
And don’t miss out on going at the back to enjoy the views of the side of the harbour, walk through the garden and grab a coffee at the coffee shop!
Read more about Whitby Abbey’s history here… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/whitby-abbey/history-and-stories/history/
The Abbey is located on Abbey Ln, Whitby YO22 4JT. There is a car park next to the entrance, postcode YO22 4JR
Free for English Heritage members, or £10 for adults and £6 for children, with discounts available if purchasing a family ticket.
There are public toilets in the car park and a café next door, although neither are operated by English Heritage. Plus the town is only a few minutes’ walk down the famous 199 steps!
Just half an hour away from Whitby Abbey is another of Yorkshire’s famous towns and English Heritage sites… Scarborough and Scarbough Castle.
While the Castle ruins may not be quite as spectacular as those of Whitby Abbey, the location and views most certainly are!
And that’s also not to say that the castle is not impressive… the former royal fortress dating back to the 12th century had more money spent on it by King John than any other castle in his Kingdom!
The large standing Keep and crumbling perimeter walls enclose a huge open space, high above the town, offering incredible views of the surrounding area and far out to sea. It’s easy to see why there has been some sort of fortress here for nearly 3,000 years with the amazing vantage point it holds.
It’s a very windy morning while we’re exploring and the site is pretty exposed though (we wish the castle walls were still as high and protective as they would have been in their heyday!), but it’s still a really cool place to explore and the free audio guide on our phone tells the interesting history at checkpoints as we roam around.
One interesting snippet is that some of the damage to the Keep and walls wasn’t caused by an historic Middle Ages war, but much more recently in World War I, when two German warships bombed the town and castle.
Read more about Scarborough Castle’s history here… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/scarborough-castle/history/
The castle is on top of a hill overlooking the town, found at Castle Rd, Scarborough YO11 1HY. Note there is no parking at the castle, I parked at Quay Street Car Park YO11 1PQ, and St. Mary’s Car Park YO11 1RY is also close by.
Free for English Heritage members, or £7.90 for adults and £4.70 for children, with discounts available if purchasing a family ticket.
There is an on-site café and toilets, and picnics are welcome in the grounds.
After having visited two of the most famous and biggest sites in Yorkshire, our third for the list is definitely one of the lesser-known English Heritage sites!
Heading inland into the Yorkshire Wolds and away from the coast, Wharram Percy is our next stop, a deserted medieval village close to Malton and York.
There are roughly 3,000 deserted medieval villages across Britain, and Wharram Percy is probably the most famous, largest and best preserved.
The village was lived in for over 6 centuries before being abandoned around the year 1500, with the residents of the village being evicted and their homes demolished to make way for sheep farming pastures.
The village is found about ¾ of a mile from the car park and it makes for a lovely scenic walk… crossing farmers’ fields and cutting through woods before picking up the trail and arriving in the village. Although it’s a beautiful summer evening, the path can be quite muddy in bad weather with some quite steep hills, so make sure you wear suitable footwear.
We’re not sure what to expect from a deserted medieval village as we make the walk, and as we reach the brow of the hill, we’re pleasantly surprised to see the spire of a small church and another more recent farm building.
While the ruined church is the last of the medieval buildings still standing, the foundations of surrounding houses and outbuildings can be seen and there are some information boards telling the story of what once stood there.
The abandoned church’s structure is in pretty good condition, and makes for an interesting explore. As we’re exploring the sun is starting to set behind the surrounding hills, and being completely alone other than the odd sounds of birds fluttering in the nearby trees, it feels quite eerie!
If you want to explore somewhere a little different and have a nice walk too, we definitely recommend a visit to the village.
Read more about Wharram Percy’s history here… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wharram-percy-deserted-medieval-village/history/
There is a car park just off the B1248, postcode YO17 9TD. And the village is a 3/4 mile walk from the car park.
Wharram Percy is one of English Heritage’s free sites to visit, although there is a £2 charge for car parking for non-members payable via text.
None! It is a deserted medieval village located amongst lots of fields and trees… so use your imagination 😉
Sitting on edge of the Yorkshire Dales and only a short distance off the A1M motorway is the small and pretty town of Middleham, and the huge medieval castle which dominates it!
Once the childhood home of King Richard III, the castle ruins are some of the biggest and best we’ve visited since taking up our English Heritage membership… quite a surprise given we’d never heard of either the castle or the town until Paul happened to drive through unknowingly on a road trip a year or two back!
On that road trip Paul arrived in the town late in the evening on his way home so the castle wasn’t open, but since then it’s been high on his must visit list!
And the Castle doesn’t disappoint… as said, the ruins are large and quite well preserved, and there is a lot of history in these walls. As usual with English Heritage sites there are numerous information boards dotted around telling the stories of the people and the wars the Castle endured, although this time we couldn’t find an audio guide which we usually like to listen to as well.
The surrounding area is beautiful and well worth a visit too, you can find out more with Paul’s blog here… https://www.troventrip.com/blog/the-forbidden-and-unknown-corner-of-yorkshire/
Read more about Middleham Castle’s history here… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/middleham-castle/history
The castle is on the edge of the town of Middleham, Castle Hill Middleham, North Yorkshire, Middleham, Leyburn DL8 4QG. There is no parking on-site, but there is free street parking outside and in the town only a few minutes walk.
Free for English Heritage members, or £6.90 for adults and £4.10 for children, with discounts available if purchasing a family ticket.
There is a shop selling drinks and gifts, but no toilets or café. The town of Middleham is less than a 5 minute walk away and is well worth a visit… we highly recommend the Richard III Hotel for a cosy pub!
In contrast to some of the other huge and famous sites we’ve covered so far, Spofforth Castle definitely falls into the “hidden gem” category!
Halfway in-between Harrogate and Wetherby is the small village of Spofforth, and the ruins of a 14th century manor house. The current ruins replaced an earlier 11th century manor house, where reportedly, the Magna Carta was created, which was the first document to say the King was not above the law.
The ruins are not that big but there are lots of arches and dark corners to explore, and are located on a nice large green space in the centre of the village. Behind the house is also a small wooded area and stream, making it a great place to spend an hour or so exploring and enjoying the late summer evening sun as it was when we visited.
Read more about Spofforth Castle’s history here… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/spofforth-castle/history/
Found between Harrogate and Wehterby, the Castle is in the village of Spofforth, Castle St, Spofforth, Harrogate HG3 1ND. There is no parking on-site, but free parking on the road next to the green.
Being a free site there are no facilities
We travel back to the North Yorkshire Moors for our next location… Helmsley Castle, which is about 45-minutes away from York.
There’s not much left to see of the original castle, only the gatehouse entrance and Keep are still standing, but there is also a more recent Tudor mansion house on-site which houses a small but interesting museum.
The castle itself is nearly 900 years old and was built by the same person as nearby Rievaulx Abbey, and was the scene of a 3-month siege by Oliver Cromwell’s men during the English Civil War in which half of the keep was blown up.
The town of Helmsley is also beautiful and worth a look around, you can see more photos in Paul’s Plog here… https://www.troventrip.com/plog/helmsley-market-town-and-castle/
Read more about Helmsley Castle here… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/helmsley-castle/
The castle is in the market town of Helmsley on the edge of the Howardian Hills and North Yorks Moors, address Castlegate, Helmsley YO62 5AB. There is a large pay and display car park next to the castle.
Free for English Heritage members, or £7.90 for adults and £4.70 for children, with discounts available if purchasing a family ticket.
Drinks are available in the gift shop and there are toilets on-site.
On the edge of Leeds and close to the A1M motorway is another of English Heritage’s free sites, Steeton Hall Gateway.
A decorative rather than defensive gateway to the original manor house Steeton Hall, it dates back to the mid-14th century and is Grade I listed.
It isn’t the easiest to find as we’re nearly past the turning before we see the sign on the winding country road, but it’s a pretty cool stop to have a quick look around.
The gateway is in great condition and has a lot of gargoyles at the top… some human heads, some animals, and the Reygate coat of arms, as the gateway was built by William de Reygate, an important Yorkshire royal officer.
There isn’t much to explore though… there are some stairs and a doorway but both are locked so we can’t go inside, and the current Steeton Hall sitting behind the big metal gates is privately owned and looks like it’s now been converted into apartments or houses.
So while it’s an interesting stop if you’re passing by, we wouldn’t suggest going massively out of your way to visit this site.
Read more about Steeton Hall Gateway here… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/steeton-hall-gateway/
Near the village of South Milford on the edge of Leeds, Steeton Way, South Milford, North Yorkshire, LS25 5PD. There is not a car park but off-road parking is available on the verge of the entrance road.
English Heritage is a charity which manages some of the best-known historical sites in England… Stonehenge, Tintagel Castle, and large parts of Hadrian’s Wall. But in total there are over 400 sites under their management across the country, so there are also some hidden gems amongst them! If you’re wondering which sites are close to you then check on the website… just enter your postcode and there is a cool interactive map that will give you the answer right away… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/
We became members during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 when international travel was not allowed and so we had to look closer to home for our adventures… and finding some of the English Heritage sites kept us going through those tough times of travel withdrawal!
Each site can be visited by paying on the door if you’re not a member (although there are many free sites to see too), or if you plan to visit a few sites then you can save a ton of money by becoming a member and enjoying unlimited entry to all sites… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/join/
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