North Yorkshire (Ten Castles Tour, Part Two)

After a lovely sunny day in Scarborough, I was surprised to wake to heavy fog the next morning. I was in no rush, as it was still a Bank Holiday and the buses were few and far between, so I made my way into town slowly and settled down at the bus stop with the book. I wasn’t the only one waiting for the bus to Helmsley, and several of my fellow passengers explained to me that this was just a sea fret so they were heading inland to get away from it and have a nice pub lunch somewhere less busy than Scarborough. That was reassuring, although the fog was still thick enough to make me a little sceptical.


Looking out from the steps of the Youth Hostel before I left Scarborough.


I shouldn’t have doubted. By the time I got to Helmsley, thirty miles inland, the skies were completely clear again. Helmsley is a beautiful little market town on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors.


Helmsley also has a castle. This is the most intact section, a Tudor mansion built on the space where the old hall used to be. It backs straight onto the innermost of the castle’s defensive ditches. Inside it now is a small display on the castle’s history.


Although the castle dates to the 1120s, its first, and last, battle was in 1644, when it was besieged in the English Civil War. It was besieged from September to November under the defenders were forced to surrender from lack of food. The Parliamentarian commander then ‘slighted’ the castle to prevent its further use, dismantling the curtain walls and towers and blowing up the east tower, which you can see here. The bank beyond it is still covered in overgrown rubble from where the tower fell.


Inside one of the towers that is still standing, beside the manor house.


By evening, Helmsley, which earlier had been so busy the bus had struggled to find somewhere to stop, was growing quiet again. Here’s the market square at dusk.


I left Helmlsey the next morning, heading back towards the coast. It was another sunny day, and I was heading towards my next castle of the trip, in Pickering.


Pickering is a motte-and-bailey castle, the most well preserved one I’ve ever seen. Here is the central mound with the remains of its defences. It offers views over the vale to the south.


The view from the mound.


The walls enclose a broad space around the motte, which is divided into two wards by a ditch and walls. The Inner Ward held the main buildings of the castle and the Outer Ward was used for more public business and could be cut off from the rest if attacked. The walls are still high around that side, and the whole interior space feels very sheltered and secure.

From the castle I walked down into Pickering and spent a happy hour in the local history museum, the Beck Isle Museum, which is one of those fantastic places which is packed with the memorabilia of everyday life over the last few centuries. After that, I headed across the road to the station and caught a steam train to Whitby, my overnight stop.

I didn’t have much time in Whitby and I needed to do some laundry, so I only went out to buy some fish and chips for my supper and then wander back through the dusk to climb up the steps towards Whitby Abbey (the Youth Hostel is beside the abbey).


Whitby is full of narrow little streets full of quirky shops.


Pausing for breath as I climbed up the Hundred Steps, I looked back to see the lights coming on along the waterfront.


At the top of the Hundred Steps lies the church of St Mary, which features in Dracula. I went for a slow amble around the grounds and glimpsed the abbey ruins rising above the graveyard.


And here’s the church itself. Despite the horror story connection, it was actually a very peaceful place to sit as it got dark.


I left Whitby early the next morning. I was heading north into County Durham, and had decided to take the scenic route up the coast instead of going straight to Middlesborough as I had on my previous visit to Whitby.


I was heading for the little fishing village of Staithes, which is tucked behind a tiny harbour and walled in by cliffs. I visited their local museum, a wonderfully quirky place which was 60% local history, with newspaper clippings and photographs covering every inch of the walls, and the rest is devoted to Captain Cook, who grew up in the village. The joy of Staithes, though, is the narrow streets and sudden views of the village, cliffs, and sea.


Although tourism is a major industry, fishing boats do still go out of Staithes.

From the end of the breakwater, which I was sharing with several artists. The big cliff here was covered in nesting gulls.

Staithes, for me, was the magical moment which comes on every long trip, where you take a deep breath and suddenly realise that you’re on holiday and you can relax as much as you like.

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