My brother and I have this tradition. We come to England and visit him and his wife, then they move. Sometime later we will visit them at their new place, and shortly afterwards they will move again. It’s like they are in the witness protection program. Recently, however, they broke with tradition, for they have scheduled their departure from their current city, York, before we’ve been there. We have heard so many good things about York and the surrounding area that we stopped procrastinating and starting planning.
Kathrin quickly put together an agenda for the vacation. We would fly into Newcastle, rent a car, then drive a large, counterclockwise route through Durham, the Yorkshire Dales National Park, York, Scarborough, Whitby, and back to Newcastle. Kathrin did an excellent job of researching where to go, what to do, the route, etc. An enjoyable vacation was in the bag.
Our flight to Newcastle, our arrival at the airport, and the rental car process (Budget this time) went as smooth as silk. After dealing with Hertz for a few years, Budget’s quick and easy process impressed me. I may never go back to Hertz.
First Stop, Newcastle
Hotel Indigo offered a quick check in and we were in our stylish room in no time at all. We were both ready for dinner, so we just dropped our baggage off, powdered our noses, and went out in search of a restaurant.
We wanted to find a good “Welcome to Newcastle, England” restaurant. Looking at the map, we saw our hotel was on the edge of Chinatown. All the nearest restaurants that Aunty Google showed us were there. But we thought we would scout the area for alternatives. I was hopeful when walked through an area called Blackfriars. It’s a restored friary dating from 1239. There is now an expensive restaurant there, complete with white linen tablecloths, so we kept walking, wandered passed the traditional Chinatown archway, before finally coming to terms with Chinese food for our first meal and made our way back to Happiness 2, where we celebrated our arrival with a dinner of Sichuan Vegetables and Beef. A tasty morsel of English culture in every bite! At least they offered British beer. Jolly good of them.
The next day, after a great night’s sleep in the big, comfy bed, we went down to breakfast. Let me tell you, Hotel Indigo’s breakfast is amazing. All kinds of breads, cereals, muesli, fruits, as well as hot food choices. I took the full English breakfast–minus the black pudding.
The town greeted us with overcast, drizzly weather. It didn’t stop us from exploring, but it wasn’t the ideal weather for walking around. Of course, one should expect this when visiting in April, so we pulled on rain coats.
The points of interest in Newcastle lie within the city center and a nearby area called Quayside. There’s a bridge going over the river that reminds me of the Manhattan Bridge as seen from Brooklyn. It wasn’t the bridge itself, but the view between the buildings. As I was admiring it and taking photos, I could hear Simon and Garfunkel’s song in my head.
Charlie tipped us off to the castle. It’s small, really small. As in, plan for 5 minutes and go on. It was, indeed, an unimposing building. If we weren’t looking for it, we may have passed it by.
We had expected to spend a large part of the day in Newcastle, taking in the attractions, but we made our way through the town shortly before lunch. The plan was to meet Charlie and Angelica in Durham at 2pm. We asked if they could meet earlier, but unfortunately, the train schedule didn’t allow it. Still, we drove on to Durham, checked into our accommodations, and found a place to park. All of which took a bit of time.
Have fun storming the castle!
During this portion of our trip, we were staying in a castle, actually THE castle, Durham Castle. It’s now part of the university. When school is out, tourists can book a room. How many times can one say they have stayed in a castle? We couldn’t pass it up. Upon entering our room, located in the castle’s keep (the round tower in the corner of the grounds,) reality hit us. As exciting as it sounded, these were dormitory rooms, not spacious hotel rooms. The bed was tiny.
After dropping our bags off, we went downtown to do some preliminary scouting for lunch and wait for C&A to arrive. There was a weekly market in the town square and I struck up a conversation with a photographer who was selling is art. He recommended a pub directly opposite his tent, the Market Tavern, and told us he met his wife there. Once the Kelleys from York arrived, we took the photographer’s advice. It was a good choice. We enjoyed our steak and ale pie.
During the afternoon, we continued walking around town, including the cathedral, which is also on the campus. The university offers guided tours of the castle by students, so we joined in. We walked through one chapel, the gallery (a fancy hallway connecting the chapel with some other parts of the castle, the dining hall, and a stairwell.) It was nice getting a tour of the historic building we were staying in. On a whim we also visited Cosin’s Library, it was connected to the visiter center where we asked about the castle tour. It is an impressive room with an even more impressive collection of books and manuscripts. Some go back to medieval days. As dinner time approached, we were still full from lunch, so we opted for coffee and cake in a local cafe instead of a full meal
The next morning, at the dining hall, we all agreed that the beds were not comfortable. Angelica woke up with a sore hip. Kathrin and I decided to sleep at opposite ends of the bed the second night–feet to head. (It turned out to be an enormous improvement.) Breakfast was one of the better points of the accommodation. The cafeteria staff was on hand to provide a variety of hot and cold items, including the full English breakfast. We ended up enjoying an extended morning meal while chatting about life. Afterwards, we took a walk along the river that meandered behind the university. The views of the cathedral towers were impressive enough that I went back that evening for a photo shoot. There was also a pleasant restaurant/café area where we found a geocache.
The time came for Charlie and Angelica to board their train back to York, so we visited Hadrian’s Wall and Housesteads Roman Fort. After an hour’s drive through slow country roads, we arrived at the visitor center, where we walked 10 minutes to the museum and fort. With tickets in hand, we stepped out the door and into a sleet shower! This came fast. Fortunately, it also left fast–a few minutes later the weather settled down again. We strolled amongst the walls–what remained of them, of the ancient Roman fortress and even ventured a jaunt on the wall itself (it’s allowed) where we came across a geocache. Once back at the fort, I pulled my drone out and shot some video from a bird’s-eye perspective. It was really nice, and I was excited to see it on my laptop back home! By the time we reached the fort’s entrance, we found the gate locked and received a stern warning from the museum worker that the place was closed. Thanking her for the timely information, we climbed over the fence and, after another drone flight, made our way back to the visitor center. As we began the walk, the sleet returned, this time stronger. 10 minutes later, we were glad to be in the car where we could warm up.
Since it was Sunday, we planned on stopping in a village for dinner, rather than risk a long search in Durham for an open restaurant. The two pubs we tried in Corbridge didn’t serve food, so despite our best efforts we ended up driving all the way back, this time taking the highway, with empty stomachs. Our first choice was Shakespeare pub, but they also didn’t serve food, so we went to an Italian restaurant called Izzy’s. It was a good choice; we shared a 3-course meal.
Once I had safely escorted Kathrin back to our chambers, I headed out to the river for some evening photos. It was a worthwhile trip. I could get some good shots of the cathedral above the river before the storm clouds moved over the area. I arrived back in the room safe and dry for our final night in the castle.
On, and under, the Dales
The next morning, we said goodbye to the castle porter, a friendly chap, and headed to Ribblehead. To our dismay, we were met with detours and construction for several miles. We didn’t get to the viaduct until 12:15, so we had lunch first, at the Station Inn, a lonely guest house with a pub, where Kathrin had her favorite country pie and I had fish and chips. When our plates arrived, we were surprised to see how generous they were. These were Texas sized portions. Neither of us could finish, so we packed it up for dinner later. With doggie bag in hand, we first went to Ingleton to secure accommodations for the night. We found a place on Booking.com over breakfast called Mason Freehouse with 2 free rooms, but by the time we got there, they were gone. The hostess recommended another place, called the Pines, a bed-and-breakfast, that was just a couple of minutes up the road. The amiable man there had a room just waiting for us, which we gladly took.
With that load off our minds, we headed to White Scar Cave, the area’s other big attraction, to catch their last tour of the day. Our guide claimed it is the longest show cave in the country. Our tour must have been between shows. Still, it was interesting. We followed the river that runs through the cave to a waterfall, the first feature of the walk. We continued for about a mile sometimes squeezing past narrow passages, sometimes past curiously named stalagmites and stalactites–like the Witch’s Fingers or the Devil’s Tongue, until we came to the Battlefield Cavern, a massive expanse and the end of the publicly accessible portion of the cave, so we turned around leisurely made our way back to the entrance.
Now it was time to visit the place I had been looking particularly forward to, Ribblehead Viaduct. A picturesque bridge crossing a valley in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. We leisurely made our way to an information board at the foot of one arch, read a bit about its history, then began collecting the information needed for the virtual geocache here, afterwards I took some photos and made another exciting drone flight, with great video footage, before packing up and heading back to the Pines.
Upon arriving, we got the full tour of the place. It’s a lovely, 7-bedroom Victorian house with a lounge, a games room – including a bar, and the breakfast room in a sunny winter garden. We enjoyed our dinners of leftovers in the winter garden, taking in the rural views. After we had everything arranged in our room, I let Kathrin have some me time and headed back to the viaduct for some evening shots.
Regrettably, it wasn’t as good as I hoped. The sun set sooner than expected behind the foothills (the locals call them mountains, but really, they aren’t) which left the viaduct and surrounding dale in shadows. That and the featureless sky—not a cloud in sight—made for a less than inspiring experience. Still, I was glad I made the effort.
We had a splendid night’s sleep in the big, comfortable bed of our room. The next morning, we met the owner in the winter garden where we had a pleasant chat over breakfast. After a relaxing morning mealtime, we said goodbye to the owners, paid our bill, and set off for our next destination. Ingelton Waterfalls Trail is a 4.3-mile (7km) hike along two different rivers with at least 7 waterfalls. As I entered the area, I parked in the first space I saw. Once out, I realized that the entrance was still 100 meters at the other end of the lot, so I re-parked the car to make it more accessible after the hike. Once at the ticket office, I learned the hike ends at the other side of the lot, where I had originally parked. Oh well, I had good intentions.
I have mixed emotions about this place, to be honest. At one point, I stopped to take some drone video of a waterfall. I approached the primary subject above treetop level, got a good view of the falls, then backed away. My safety alarm bell went off, and I stopped and rotated the drone 360º to ensure it was safe to fly backwards, then repositioned the camera for the shot. So far, so good. Once the drone was back on my side of the river, I saw another area that was begging for a flyby. I lowered the drone and pushed it forward to capture the next video segment. I stopped and check that the way was clear, then proceeded with the flight. Suddenly I watched in horror the sight of my drone flying into a tree branch in the shadows and falling. My first thought was it may have landed on the opposite riverbank, so I ran down, took my shoes off, and looked for a place to cross the river. While scuffling over some rocks, I lost my footing and tumbled onto my back. That’s when Kathrin panicked and pleaded with me to give up on my efforts. I had another look at the remote control and saw that the signal it lost the connection to the drone. There was no way to locate it. Most likely, it had fallen into the river and floated away. I looked again, unwilling to accept that I had lost the drone and all the video I had taken during this trip. In the end, I had to accept that I would not get it back, so I put my shoes on and we continued the hike. I told myself to remain positive and enjoy the rest of the hike. My camera and all the photos were safely in my backpack. Three and a half hours later, we were back in the car and ready for lunch.
We stopped at Mason’s Freehouse, where we shared a steak and ale pie and a delicious soup before driving on to Bolton Abbey, home to an active church and the ruins of a 12th century Augustinian Priory on the banks of the river Wharfe.
The area of the Abbey is beautiful, there are stepping stones to cross the river and get a marvelous view of the ruins. After admiring the view, we crossed back over and went into the church where we met Bob, a nice older man who gave us a tour of the church. He was very knowledgeable about the history and also knew quite a bit about American history. He made the stop here really worthwhile, adding that special touch to the visit here.
On To York
Our next stop was York, where we spent two days with Charlie and Angelica. They gave us a wonderful tour of their town. We strolled down The Shambles, a former butcher street dating back to medieval times. It was the inspiration for Diagonal Alley in the Harry Potter films. Today, magic shops, a York Ghost merchant, and various other wizardry outlets have replaced the butcher shops that originally lined this street. Next, we wandered over to Barley Hall, a picturesque medieval townhouse hiding in a narrow, ancient alley. It has become a tourist spot and depicts typical life in old York. We didn’t go in, but there is one room that has a large glass section in the wall for passersby to get a glimpse. Eventually, we made it to the Minster. Some may call it a cathedral. I don’t know what the difference is. Entrance is chargeable, so we decided not to go in. We’ve seen enough cathedrals; we didn’t need to pay to see this one. Continuing through town, we then made our way to the city walls, where we could have a pleasant stroll at rooftop level and admire a panoramic view of the Minster. It’s an imposing sight!
We really enjoyed our time in York, catching up with C&A, hearing about their plans to move into their new home in Aberdeen, etc.
We said goodbye Thursday morning and made our way to Scarborough. Our plan was to tour the coastal town and spend the night. When we arrived, the hotel we had chosen (but not booked) was still closed so we walked around town for a first impression and lunch. Turns out the hotel didn’t have any rooms left. So, we strolled in the direction of the beach and kept our eyes open for alternatives. The more we saw of Scarborough, the more we became convinced that we didn’t want to stay here. It gave me the impression of a has-been beach town in the off season. Maybe we weren’t in the right area, but the more we saw, the less inclined we were to stay. After exploring a bit more of the beach promenade area, we went back to the car to continue on down the highway.
We soon came to Robin Hood’s Bay. A small, quiet town with just a single road for vehicular traffic leading to the bay. This road was so steep that Kathrin didn’t want to go back up, instead opting to walk. We almost passed this place up because we couldn’t find parking in the solitary public parking area, but after I circled the lot a few times a space opened up. Now we were free to explore this place, and we were glad we did. The name evoked images of pirates and smugglers, the narrow street and stone buildings adding to it. Sure enough, we learned that in the 18th century this place was a popular entry port for smugglers bringing in rum, brandy, tobacco, tea and silk from Holland and France in the dead of night. Gangs would then deliver the contraband via a network of connecting cottages, underground passageways, and secret tunnels. We also hunted down a geocache that lay on a lookout point that offered a delightful view of the village, really showing how it is built on the side of a cliff.
Once back at the car, we started towards Whitby, where we would spend the night. On the way, Kathrin had a great idea. Our original departure was on a flight that left at 11:30am on 1 April. We planned on staying at an airport hotel to make things easy. She checked and found a flight leaving the evening before, 6:00pm on 31 March. This would make our last day much more relaxed, so we rebooked our flight. We did a quick online search and found the Waverly Guest House. We contacted David, the owner, directly to get a room. After dropping our baggage in our room, he gave us an overview of the city, including a dinner recommendation. The Magpie Cafe serves the best fish and chips in all of England. As he explains it, if you tell people you were in Whitby, the first question they will ask is, “Did you have the fish and chips at The Magpie Cafe?” You must answer yes to this question.
Armed with this knowledge, we began our tour of the town. Mother Nature welcomed us to Whitby with a rainbow. It was a spectacular sight as we walked towards the downtown area. Half a block later, as I was taking a picture of a church, a gentleman approached me on his way somewhere and asked if I got a picture of the rainbow. Friendly folks here!
Whitby’s fish and chips are not the only thing it’s known for. There’s also an Abbey ruin sitting atop a cliff on the east side of the harbor with a commanding view of the town below. As well known as the abbey is for its history, it is equally famous for its portrayal in Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula.
Bram Stoker was vacationing in Whitby at the suggestion of a friend. The idea of Dracula was already in his head when he arrived. He spent time here enjoying the sights and doing some research on shipwrecks. The town inspired not only the name of his villain but also several scenes in the book. You can read the full story here.
We wandered around town, finding geocaches and looking at the Dracula references in various shopfront windows until finally, it was dinnertime. Will The Magpie Cafe live up to its reputation? I’m going to find out! They had plenty of offerings, including two choices of fish and chips—with cod or haddock. To my surprise, the price was the same for either choice. In the states, haddock is much more expensive. I took advantage of the discount and chose the haddock. It was tasty, with a light, crunchy batter. All things considered, very good fried fish. Kathrin’s tagliatelle was ok, but not great. I guess that shouldn’t be a surprise in a fish restaurant.
As we left the cafe, I turned around for a picture of the building, and just then a couple walked by and the man said we should go in,
“They have the best fish and chips in the entire country!”
“So we have heard, and we just tried it. It is indeed very good.”
Did I mention how friendly the people of Whitby are?
After a short stroll, Kathrin headed back to our room while I stayed in town for some evening photos. I was glad I did, as this place is very photogenic. I returned to our hotel wishing I had 2 or 3 more evenings for photos. The harbor area from above, the monastery, and the two piers are all attractive areas for photographers.
David’s wife provided breakfast. Nicely done and typically British. When we had finished and were all set for the day, we went to the pier to take some pictures and hunt for geocaches. The weather wasn’t the best—windy, drizzly, foggy, and cold. The photos were only so so, but we found the geocaches, so we called it a success and got away from the wind and crashing waves. Kathrin needed to powder her nose, so we searched for a public bathroom. Not finding one, we went instead to the Jet Museum, where I admired the jewelry and raw jet, while Kathrin answered nature’s call.
Jet is a black semi-precious stone and Whitby made a fortune for their high-quality deposits. The jet industry put Whitby on the map, thanks to Queen Victoria, who took a liking to it and wore a broach at Prince Albert’s funeral. Sadly, it completely died out by the end of World War 2, but saw a small resurgence in the 70s as a cottage industry.
With Kathrin’s business done, we headed for the “199 steps” that would take us to the monastery. Actually, we just wanted to get a geocache there and later drive to the monastery, but the climb was much easier than we expected, so after signing the logbook, we continued the rest of the way to the spiritual, and the literal, end. We walked around the grounds and enjoyed the sights we could get. The ruins of the monastery would come in and out of sight as the fog moved. Still, it wasn’t an unpleasant walk around and we didn’t feel like paying an entrance fee to walk amongst the ruins, so instead we searched for another cache in the area. Unfortunately, we didn’t find it, but we found an alternate route down to town, which was almost as good a discovery as the cache.
We were feeling the first pangs of hunger, which motivated us to look for a pub. The Dolphin was right in front of our nose, but they only opened at 12:00—an hour away. Continuing on, we didn’t find a place that opened earlier, so we returned to The Dolphin and waited for the doors to open. We were not alone. A group of silver-haired ladies, and a single elderly man, were also waiting. This was the lunch rush! Turns out, I misread the crowd. We were the only ones interested in eating. Everyone else was here for drinks. Our steak and ale pie and pumpkin soup was quickly on the table.
Properly fed, we returned to our car to make the journey back to Newcastle and the airport. The drive was not the most pleasant—it started in fog. After a while, that was replaced with traffic jams—one after another—until finally we made it to the airport. I made one last stop at a filling station before returning the car to Budget. The check-in process was a quick and easy as when we picked up the vehicle and within minutes we were walking to the terminal. The Newcastle airport is rather small, so getting through security was a breeze. Soon we were sitting in our seats for the flight home.
I’ve added these, and other, photos from our trip on my Flickr page.