Scroll To Top
Scroll To Top
Scroll To Top

Travels with an Eriba

Exploring the North York Moors National Park and Coast

You could spend weeks exploring this area, there is so much to see and do. Our visit, given limited time and true to our major preoccupations, was focussed on the countryside and on several spectacular ruins! We got there from the interesting town of Pickering via a trip on a vintage steam train which runs from there to the coast at Whitby. En route it passes through lovely scenery and some most picturesque stations and small villages.


North York Moors Railway



This is a great option for a fun outing between April and October. The line runs from Pickering to Grosmont, with a link onwards to Whitby. It's been featured in numerous TV series and films, such as the 60s drama Heartbeat, standing in as Hogsmeade Station in the Harry Potter films and featured also in Downton Abbey, among many others. The slideshow below features a few of our shots on the journey and a brief stop-off we took in the attractive village of Goathland.


North York Moors - the Abbeys

A Monastic Enclave

Even today there are two "live" monasteries in one small part of North Yorkshire - Benedictine monks live at Ampleforth Abbey near Gilling and Benedictine nuns at Stanbrook Abbey in Wass. Located not far away from these are the atmospheric ruins of two medieval Cistercian foundations at Rievaulx and Byland and the extraordinary remains of the Carthusian monastery of Mount Grace, near Osmotherley.


Medieval Monastic Ruins

Visiting Rievaulx

We first set out to visit Rievaulx several years ago fairly late on a VERY wet Saturday afternoon. We approached it via a steep, winding lane which had probably started life as a farm track. Like many ancient country lanes in England it was sunken, with trees on either side almost totally over-arching the road. So it was like driving down through a tunnel. Eventually we emerged into a lovely valley and were greeted by the sight of this remarkable ruin.


As it was still pouring with rain we enjoyed some refreshments in the tearoom. By the time we’d finished the rain had eased off and we ventured out. To our great delight everyone else had gone home and we had this wonderful place to ourselves. What a treat! Fortunately, when we visited the following year, the weather was beautiful, though that did mean there were more visitors!


The Abbey was established by twelve white-habited Cistercian monks in 1132, sent from Clairvaux in northern France. It was finally dissolved by order of King Henry VIII in 1538. Nowadays, it’s in the care of English Heritage and is visited by thousands of people every year.



Byland Abbey

At first sight you might be tempted just to admire the entrance and move straight on, but you would be missing a treat. The most enjoyable feature of the site for us was the large area of 13th century floor tiles in the abbey church. The tiles are richly decorated, and for 13th century work that had been exposed to the elements for so long, they seemed still vibrant and alive with colour. Byland is a lovely historic site; if you enjoy medieval monasteries like we do, but don't like the crowds you might encounter at places like Fountains Abbey, then Byland is perfect.

It is significant for its exceptionally large cloister and the scale of the abbey church, reflecting the size of the community which once lived here. The design of the church was by far the most elaborate attempted by the Cistercians at that time in England, and Byland occupies an important position in the development of Gothic architecture.

Video Tour with Music



Mount Grace Priory

Ruin of a 14th-century Carthusian priory

This is England's most important, best preserved and most accessible of the ten medieval Carthusian houses (Charterhouses) in England. Mount Grace comes as something of a surprise. A Carthusian priory might best be described, paradoxically, as a community of hermits.The individual cells (in fact they are like small houses) reflect the isolation of the monks who lived as hermits, each occupying his own dwelling. Each cell was in effect a private monastery, with its own cloister for meditation and a walled garden. They came together only in the chapel for the nocturnal liturgical hours and Mass, though on Sundays and feast days the monastic day was different. On those days the monks dined together, met to discuss business and discipline, and celebrated all offices in the church.

One of the most attractive parts for a visitor to Mount Grace today is the carefully reconstructed monk’s cell. It makes it easy to imagine both the attractions and the demands of the Carthusian way of life. Extraordinarily, for those times, each cell was provided with fresh water and had an outside toilet with running water, linked to the main building by a covered walkway.

Nowadays there is only one "live" Charterhouse in the UK today in Parkminster, near Horsham, West Sussex.




“This is a lovely place. The little River Esk runs through a deep valley which broadens out as it comes near the harbour. The houses of the old town are all red-roofed and seem piled up one after the other anyhow. Right over the town is the ruin of the Abbey, a noble ruin of immense size. Between it and the town is another church, the Parish one, round which is a big graveyard, all full of tombstones. It descends so steeply over the harbour that part of the bank has fallen away, and some of the graves have been destroyed.”

Such was Bram Stoker’s description of Whitby in his novel Dracula, published in 1897. The wonder is that the townscape has changed so little in more than a century. Whitby is an ancient port with a fascinating history, a ruined abbey and a working harbour. It also has sandy beaches, donkey rides and rock pools, not to mention some of the best fish and chips in the world!

A Few Facts about Whitby

  • Captain Cook was born not too far from Whitby and he moved to the town to study his apprenticeship as a seaman with John and Henry Walker. It was during the apprenticeship that Captain Cook found his love for the seas when working on coal ships

  • Whitby was was once a major whaling port

  • There are few reminders left around Whitby of its rich whaling history. Perhaps the most prominent reminder is the Whalebone Arch which can be found on the top of the West Cliff close to the Captain Cook monument.

  • Whitby was once a smuggling hotbed

  • Throughout history, people have made a living from smuggling goods and living under the nose of the taxman. Whitby and the surrounding villages were a hotbed for smuggling for generations, with tales of hidden tunnels and secret societies aplenty.



Whitby Abbey

The ruins of Whitby Abbey are among the most celebrated sights of North Yorkshire. The first monastery here, founded in about 657, became one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world. In 664 it was the setting for the Synod of Whitby, a landmark in the history of the Church in England. The headland is now dominated by the shell of the 13th-century church of the Benedictine abbey founded after the Norman Conquest.




The Synod of Whitby

In the 7th century the monastery at Whitby, or Streaneshalch as it was then known, was a place of great prestige. The North had been Christianised from the early 7th century by two different groups of missionaries, those from Rome, who were first on the scene, and those of the Irish or Celtic tradition, from the island of Iona, who had made Lindisfarne their chief mission centre. The problem was that the two traditions had different Christian practices, most important of all the way they calculated the date of Easter – a moveable feast, as it has to be a Sunday. Its precise timing is determined by the cycle of the moon, and the two contrary methods sometimes resulted in dates up to four weeks apart. Since Easter is the pivotal event in the Christian calendar these issues were not just inconvenient. As Bede, writing in the early 8th century, put it:

This dispute rightly began to trouble the minds and consciences of many people, who feared that they might have received the name of Christian in vain.

So in 664 King Oswiu summoned eminent clerics from the rival movements to Whitby in an attempt to resolve the conflict. Each side laid its case before the king. Bishop Colman of Lindisfarne led the Irish faction, while the Roman point of view was put forward by Wilfrid, abbot of Ripon. Eventually Oswiu decided in favour of the Roman practice which sent out a clear message that the tide was turning against Celtic ways. The Synod was a landmark – not just in the history of the Church in England - but also of the Church in western Europe in the Middle Ages.

Adapted from the English Heritage Red Guide to Whitby Abbey, by Steven Brindle

Caedmon - the first named English poet

Cædmon lived at Streaneshalch in about 680, when it was ruled by the great Abbess Hild (or Hilda). According to Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in 731, Cædmon was a lowly layman, ‘well advanced in years’. He had no artistic leanings whatsoever, and after a feast he would rise from the table and leave whenever he saw ‘the harp coming his way’. How, then, did this harp-dodging, middle-aged everyman become an accomplished Christian poet of great renown?

One evening, Bede tells us, Cædmon had left a gathering as usual to tend to the monastery’s livestock before retiring to bed. In a dream that night, a man appeared to him asking him to sing about the creation of all things. Cædmon protested that he was unable to do so, but then began to sing verses in praise of God the Creator ‘that he had never heard before’. Thanks to this inspiration, which Abbess Hild pronounced divine, Cædmon was able to listen to a piece of scripture and turn it into verse.



St Hild of Whitby

Hild (614–680) is a significant figure in the history of English Christianity. As the abbess of Whitby – a monastery for both men and women – she led one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world

A Dream of Brilliance

Hild’s life is recalled with wonder by the Venerable Bede, the 8th-century historian of Christian England. An early sign of her brilliance, he says, came in the form of a dream. Bede describes how during Hild’s infancy her mother dreamt of a ‘most precious necklace’ glowing under her garment. ‘It seemed to shine forth with such a blaze of light that it filled all Britain with the glory of its brilliance.’ The necklace, Bede writes, represented Hild, because her life ‘was an example of the works of light’. Most of what we known about Hild, or Hilda as she is also known, comes from Bede.

Robin Hood's Bay

This picturesque small fishing village is well worth making the five mile detour from Whitby to visit it means a steep walk down to the little harbour and back but the reward is seeing lots of interesting sights on the way. The village has lent itself to being featured in many books such as Dracula, films like Phantom Thread and even a poem by Michael Rosen, the Children's Laureate. It's not clear whether there is any connection at all to the famous outlaw!


Our Campsite in the North York Moors National Park

Cote Ghyll, Osmotherley

Cote Ghyll is beautifully situated in an idyllic valley, next to a stream. The site is divided by terraces and areas of woodland providing sections with varying character. We were pitched in a pleasant slightly elevated area. We enjoyed our stay very much, though it did get rather busy and noisy at the weekend. There have obviously been many improvements to the site since we were there, in particular a second very well equipped toilet block and a designated "quiet" area. The attractive village of Osmotherley is just a short distance away.