Oh gosh, where does one start when touring North East England? There’s enough landscape, coastline, city life, village pubs, hills, activity and adventure to last a lifetime. Take the Yorkshire Dales National Park for example. Its beauty is sufficient to entice the visitor to return year on year and never see anything else of the Northeast. Alternatively, you may hanker after the smugglers’ coastline of the North York Moors National Park, or the long, sweeping bays of Northumberland, where the skies are wide – and the beaches empty.
But then, what of those towns and cities? Exploring the Romans in Haltwhistle, the Vikings in York, the Danes in Newcastle or the Victorians in Sheffield? It might even be the need to taste-test one toasted teacake after another in tearooms across provincial towns like Knaresborough, Settle, Market Weighton or Alnwick.
Whether your thing is to walk behind waterfalls, bungee off buildings or cast a glance over castles, you’ll be able to do it in North East England.
Things to do
1.Eat fish and chips on the harbourside in Whitby. Whitby’s fish and chips are considered some of the best in Britain – look out for renowned restaurants such as Trenchers, The Magpie, Hadleys or The Quayside fish and chip shop. Both Trenchers and The Quayside have won the top gong in the National Fish and Chip Awards in recent years.
2.Opt for a train ride along the Carlisle to Settle Railway. You can pick it up at Garsdale Head, in the north of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and alight at Settle, by which time you’ll have passed over the impressive Ribblehead Viaduct.
3.An iconic symbol of Humberside, take a trip across the Humber Bridge, once the longest single-span suspension bridge of its kind at 1.38 miles. It’s still the seventh longest in the world and you can walk or cycle across, in addition to driving. The Humber Bridge Visitors Centre is situated in a large, free car park on the north side, adjacent to the Humber Bridge Country Park.
4.Take in the sights along Hadrian’s Wall either walking the National Trail, cycling along the designated cycle route or by rail, using the Hadrian’s Wall Country Line that links Newcastle and Carlisle. Chesters Fort, Carrowburgh, Housesteads Fort and Vindolanda are all worthy Roman attractions along the way.
5.Enjoy a visit to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, off the Northumberland coast. To get there, you can drive, walk or cycle across the causeway (taking serious note of the tide times), or take a boat trip from Seahouses. And you can camp at The Barn at Beal, the closest campsite to the causeway.
When to visit
Events take place very much all year round in the north east of England, kicked off by the Tar Bar’l New Year celebrations in Allendale, Northumberland. Also in Northumberland, the Snowdrop Festival at Howick Gardens provides a welcome display in February, while in the same month York enjoys the huge Jorvik Viking Festival where boat burning and all-things Nordic come to the city.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, lights up the region with two large-scale flower shows, the spring event held in April and the Autumn Flower Show, in September. As a town that’s used to putting on big events and conferences, Harrogate also hosts the annual Great Yorkshire Show every July and numerous literary/arts festivals, including the, simply named, Harrogate Festival and, in honour of one-time visitor Agatha Christie, a Crime Writing Festival, both in July.
If August has seen too much slouching on the beach, you can get active in September with the Walking East Yorkshire Festival and the Great North Run, and, in October, the Kielder Marathon. And, in November, enjoy a walk through the streets of Durham during Lumiere, a city-wide celebration of light in the run-up to advent and Christmas activities, of which York always seems to have the upper hand with numerous events across the city.
The M1 motorway is one of the quickest routes from the south, which runs as far as Leeds. From there, the A1(M) picks up direct to Newcastle and the predominantly single carriageway A1 thereafter to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Travelling east-west, the M62, off the M1, serves the East Ridings and Humberside best while the A66 cross-Pennines route between the M6 at Penrith and the A1 (Scotch Corner) and the A69 between Carlisle and Newcastle-upon-Tyne provide scenic cross-country touring.
The A171 from Scarborough to Middlesbrough offers one of the best coastal routes, skirting the edge of the North York Moors; given its location on high ground, remember that weather conditions can change unpredictably fast, especially in winter.
You’ll find rural country lanes to be considerably quieter than in other parts of the country, particularly in Northumberland and the more remote areas of the Pennines. Only a few minor country roads are best avoided if your ‘van is particularly large and cumbersome: routes within the centre of the North York Moors National Park and Sutton Bank on the western perimeter of the Park; within the Yorkshire Dales bulkier ‘vans should consider avoiding the route from Thwaite, Swaledale to High Tan Inn, Arkengarthdale and the road from Kettlewell to Leyburn. Care should also be taken approaching campsites at Malham – consider phoning ahead to check for specific arrival and departure times to avoid meeting oncoming traffic along very narrow lanes.
Motorhomes exceeding 3.5 tonnes pay £2.50 more on the Humber Bridge than those below this weight.
As regions go, motorhomes actually have it quite good for parking in North East England You’ll find designated motorhome parking in both Durham and York Park & Ride car parks (though motorhomes are not allowed to park in city centre car parks in York). Many town centre car parks elsewhere also allow motorhomes to park using more than one bay, provided the correct number of bays are paid for, though in the Redcar and Cleveland council areas, all vehicles must park entirely within one bay and be less than 2T in weight. Motorhomes may park in Yorkshire Dales National Park-owned car parks and similarly in car parks owned by North York Moors National Park Authority; here it is recommended for motorhomes to use coach bays when available, including at the two national park centres.
Motorhomes may park in specific car parks around Whitby and Scarborough, together with popular coastal villages such as Staithes. Users should check the Council’s car parking information for available sites.
Northumberland County Council’s website provides a useful list of town centre car parks suitable for motorhomes in addition to their country parks where ‘vans may also park during the day.
Cheap overnight stops
You’ll find a handy selection of budget-priced places to stay with your ‘van in our Practical Motorhome Nightstops Scheme. Places such as the Ship Inn at Bridlington that’s perfect for visiting the town, or South Moor Farm, in the heart of the North York Moors National Park and great for accessing the cycle tracks within Dalby Forest.
Or you could consider The Black Horse Inn at Kirkby Fleetham, where you can stay overnight free of charge if you’re eating and drinking in the pub (minimum spend £20). It’s close to the A1(M), providing easy access and a good stopover when travelling north/south.
Don’t forget our Top 100 Sites, too. North East England always fares well in the annual awards, as voted for by our readers, with 14 sites from the region making it into the 2021 guide.
When touring Northumberland, one scheme to consider is Wild With Consent. These are tucked-away, wild locations on privately-owned land. Prices start from £25 per night and motorhome users receive exclusive use for the night.
In the North York Moors National Park, up to 15 motorhomes may stop overnight in the Cleveland Way car park in Helmsley. The car park is perfect if you’re looking to walk the beautiful Cleveland Way National Trail and wish to make an early start – or have the kettle on for a brew as soon as you return.
And if you’re members of either The Caravan Club or The Camping and Caravanning Club, you’ll find dozens of five-van CLs and CSs on farms and pub sites, with many charging less than £10 per night for a pitch.
Local transport links
While you’ll find good bus services and public transport links from villages on the outskirts of the major towns, rural areas often have, at best, a patchy (potentially once a week for market day) bus service, particularly in the more remote areas of Northumberland, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. Major routes, along Wensleydale in the Dales, and Bilsdale and Eskdale on the Moors, are well serviced by buses and, in the case of Eskdale, trains.
For Newcastle, the Metro system covers much of the Tyne and Weir district, and you can use the Shields Ferry to across the River Tyne between North and South Shields.
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The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of Britain's best-loved areas, with outstanding scenery