Caroline Mills

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Now's the time to visit York for a motorhome city break – see the iconic Flying Scotsman and try our pick of campsites and the top five attractions in York

York is one of the finest English cities for history and cultural experiences. It’s also a great place to have fun. And, with several campsites in the area, it makes a fabulous city break for motorcaravanners.

In some ways the great city of York has been in the shadows in early 2016, a kind of supporting act to the star of the show, the Flying Scotsman. This magnificent gleaming machine, the locomotive that captures everyone’s imagination, always takes centre stage as it fires up and steams its way across the country from its home at York’s National Railway Museum.

Always an admirer, I too have became spellbound by her (I’m reliably informed it is a ‘her’) – and I only saw her rear end! Following the Flying Scotsman’s £4.2 million refurbishment, I saw her when she was being filled with water in preparation for an inaugural run down to Kings Cross Station in London and back to York.

Scotsman Season

That all the ‘Scotsman on the Tracks’ trips across Britain sell out so fast is testament to the Flying Scotsman’s enduring popularity. Visit the National Railway Museum and you will have plenty of opportunities to see her ‘in the metal’ and take part in many of the forthcoming events during Scotsman Season from 25 March until the end of July 2016.

The chance to see the ‘Flying Scotsman’ alone is a great reason to visit York, but this is a city of many outstanding sights and notable events. When I saw her, I was actually in town to witness the annual Jorvik Viking Festival, held every February half-term holiday, which celebrates York’s Viking history. You can read about the festival and my visit in the June 2016 issue of Practical Motorhome, on sale 6 April.

Other annual festivals in this great city include the York Literature Festival (every March), York Food Festival (taster weekend in June; main festival in September/October), York Chocolate Festival (late March) and Illuminating York (offering a beautiful way to explore the city by night in October). You can also see a full programme of York Races and music events every year at York Racecourse.

York Mystery Plays

One major event in York only takes place once every four years – it's the York Mystery Plays – and 2016 is one of those years. The spectacle, dear to my heart (I once took part, many years ago) will be staged from 26 May until 30 June 2016 and performed on this occasion in the monumental auditorium of York Minster. It’s a wondrous event, not to be missed.

Top five things to do in York

Any time you visit York you're likely to coincide with a notable event, and there’s also so much to see in the city all year round. Here are my top five 'must-see' places to visit in York.

1 – York Minster

No motorhome breaks in York are complete until you have seen York Minster. One of Britain’s greatest treasures and the largest Gothic Cathedral in Northern Europe, York Minster's exterior is magnificent, and the sheer scale is breathtaking. Inside, you can see the stained glass windows at their best and the building appears even bigger. York Minster still stands because of the incredible craftsmanship carried out over the centuries and I love to watch the stonemasons at work in the neighbouring stone yard.

2 – Walk the walls

York City Walls are the longest medieval walls in England, at just over two miles long. There is a walkway along most of the length, so walking the walls provides some of York’s best views. I particularly like walking the walls from Micklegate Bar to Lendal Bridge, with York Railway Station, the River Ouse, the Museum Gardens and York Minster all in sight.

Walking the walls is a great activity for children. Armed with paper and a crayon, they can create a map of York by rubbing panels along the walls as part of the Retrace York City Rubbings Trail.

3 – Snickelways walk

Another fascinating walk is to explore the Ginnels and Snickets of York (winding alleyways and narrow streets). You’ll come across fabulous street names like Whip-ma-Whop-ma-Gate and Mad Alice Lane. The walk also takes you to some of York’s best-loved shopping streets, such as like The Shambles, Stonegate and Petergate. A meandering walk, it’s great for sauntering, stopping off for coffee or browsing in shops along the way.

4 – Go shopping in Shambles Market

Full of food and flowers the Shambles Market, just off Parliament Street, is a great place to pick up fresh produce for a motorhome feast. Here you can buy high quality fresh meat, pies fruit and vegetables, as well as indulgent cakes and sweet treats. The market is open seven days a week and there’s also a farmer’s market held on the last Friday of every month.

5 – Betty’s Tea Room is a 'must'

As much of an institution as York Minster, visiting Betty’s is one of those ‘must-do’ treats that come with visiting York (or indeed North Yorkshire as Betty’s is also in Harrogate, Ilkley and Northallerton). Its main York café and shop is in St Helen’s Square, with a window to the world.

Queues form to get a table, such is the allure of the food and service, so you could try my preference, Little Betty’s, a cosy alternative on Stonegate.

Or if you simply can’t bear to queue, visit the shop to pick up wonderful teas and coffees, bread and cakes. Yorkshire Fat Rascals (a little like rock cakes, but dotted with cherries and almonds) are always on my list!

Floods closed Jorvik Viking Centre

Unfortunately the Jorvik Viking Centre, one of the most popular visitor attractions in England, succumbed to the devastating winter floods of 2015. The River Ouse, spanned by York’s attractive bridges, is one of the city’s most beautiful attractions, but it can be unforgiving in high water. Plans are afoot to rebuild Jorvik Viking Centre and reopen it in 2017. 

If you’re planning to pay for tourist attractions during your stay, buy a YorkPass, which covers one, two or three days and includes entrance to many of the city’s attractions, also giving you discounts at cafés and restaurants. Included are places like Clifford’s Tower, The Chocolate Story, Treasurer’s House and York Boat. The YorkPass also includes major attractions outside York, such as the North Yorkshire Moors Railway and Castle Howard.

If you are looking for good campsites near York, I can recommend the campsite I used: the York Rowntree Park Caravan Club Site is in an ideal location just a five-minute walk from the city centre.

There are several more good campsites near York, including Castle Howard Holiday Park, in the castle grounds, and Robin Hood Caravan & Camping Park, one of Practical Motorhome’s Top 100 Sites Guide 2016, just outside York, in the village of Slingsby.

For more ideas of things to do during motorhome holidays near York, see our travel guide to North East England.

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