It was a difficult decision. Should we spend what we guessed would be the last warm and sunny trip of the year exploring a city – so much more enjoyable when you can stroll around the sights and streets in sunshine without being bogged down by coats and umbrellas – or walking on the coast, relaxing on the beach and enjoying great views?
As I often do when faced with such choices, I turned to my map. Discovering that York is just over an hour from the white cliffs of the East Yorkshire coast (Kent, it seems, doesn’t have a monopoly on white cliffs!) we realised that we could visit both city and beach on the same trip – the best of both worlds.
Just a week or so after that, we were arriving in York. There are a couple of campsites to choose from quite near the city and we opted for Manor Farm, a small, friendly and very comfortable adults-only motorhome site a 40-minute walk from the city centre, via a park and a pretty riverside pathway.
Oh, and it’s just across the road from the racecourse, if you fancy a bit of a flutter while you’re there! Otherwise, York Rowntree Park Club Campsite is a good alternative if you are touring with children.
With so much to see and do, we didn’t waste time when we arrived mid-morning, quickly setting up our pitch and heading out.
As well as its long and rich history waiting to be discovered, York is a shopper’s delight. Besides the familiar favourites, there are plenty of quirky shops lurking in the medieval lanes in and around the famous Shambles, which dates back to the 14th century and is a hive of activity.
With brilliant venues such as The Shop That Must Not Be Named, The Imaginarium and The Potions Cauldron, this is browsing heaven.
We discovered shortcuts through the many Snickelways, which took us from street to street. One of these narrow passages brought us to a market and the happy discovery of Fairytale Gin. Eventually, we needed food. We had thought of visiting the famous Bettys Tea Room, but the queue was ridiculous and there was no shortage of alternatives. We plumped for The Vanilla Café, next door to the mighty Minster, for coffee and cake in the sunshine.
We decided to forgo visiting the Minster for now, wanting to avoid the crowds and instead enjoy the lovely weather. But I couldn’t resist a quick look at the statue sitting proudly on the square outside the cathedral.
Constantine I became emperor in 306, and the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. His bronze statue, designed by sculptor Philip Jackson, was unveiled in 1998.
Curiosity sated, we headed to the river for a boat trip, leaving the crowded streets behind to see York from a different perspective. It was well worth the ticket price, as our knowledgeable guide provided a commentary on some of the city’s history as we sailed along, including the origins of the famous chocolate industry and York’s earlier incarnation as Eboracum, the provincial capital in Roman times.
On the riverside stroll back to Manor Farm, we passed an ice cream boat, which, of course, we couldn’t resist. An evening in the sunshine at our pitch with possibly the last barbecue of the season and a glass of chilled white wine, while deciding which sights to visit tomorrow, rounded off a great day in the city.
With over 2000 years of history, it is only natural that York is full of museums (the tourist information website tells me there are 33!). We decided to start our second day, after a full English breakfast on site, with the daddy of them all, Jorvik Viking Centre, where we thoroughly enjoyed the recreation of village life as it was lived here 1000 years ago. Well, we mostly enjoyed it, although the authentic aroma was something I happily left behind when returning to the fresh air, and the rat running under the tracks of our ‘capsule’ ride as we moved through the village was almost too realistic – made me see how lucky we are today!
Almost next door is The York Dungeon, an immersive storytelling experience where I was branded (totally unfairly of course) a nag and Ro found himself thrown into prison for answering back. After all the giggles, scares and historic tales, we needed a drink, and wandered to the Guy Fawkes Inn, which we had spied close to the Minster. The birthplace of the man himself back in 1570, it also serves a decent pint.
Suitably recovered from our dungeon encounter, we set about exploring more of the city’s cobbled streets and alleys, roaming from gothic Minster to Roman walls, then to Parliament Street, built to house a Victorian market.
As dusk fell, we joined a spooky ‘ghost tour’ to be regaled with tales of ladies in white, barefoot children and of course, the headless corpse that won’t take anything lying down!
The streets remain busy at night, but in York, it is less about partying and more about strolling, spotting places like Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate (said to be one of the shortest streets in England) and Mad Alice Lane (she murdered her violent husband, went mad and was hanged in 1825).
After stopping for a pint at Ye Olde Starre Inn, one of the oldest licensed premises in York, we strolled a bit more, curious to see what might be around the next corner.
For dinner, we went to Turtle Bay, a Caribbean restaurant with a buzzing atmosphere and décor to match. Later, we enjoyed a nightcap at the Golden Fleece, which, as all self-respecting ghost hunters will tell you, is York’s most haunted pub.
The white cliffs of East Yorkshire
Next day, we were leaving the city to head for East Yorkshire’s white cliffs, but because it was only about an hour’s drive and we had all day, we decided to squeeze in a little more history and visit York Castle Museum.
The castle built by William the Conqueror is no longer standing and today, the museum is known for its recreation of an authentic Victorian street, but it is so much more as well.
We stepped into the original Georgian prison cells to see what life might have been like for the inmates – including highwayman Dick Turpin – before being transported to 1914 and World War I, and then on to the swinging 60s.
A quick cream tea courtesy of Bennett’s Café and we were off to Bridlington Club Campsite. We couldn’t have asked for a greater contrast from the city we had just left than the cliffs and beaches of the East Yorkshire coast.
From the campsite, it was a gentle stroll along the coast path into Bridlington (the location, by the way, of the 2016 Dad’s Army film), passing the Grade I listed Sewerby Hall and Gardens on the way. The house today is a representation of life in Edwardian England, with fine gardens and woodland to explore.
We wandered around Bridlington for an hour or two, returning by land train. As we were dropped off conveniently close to The Ship Inn at Sewerby, on our route back to the site, we called in for fish and chips with a sea view (when at the coast…).
Lighting the way
Next morning, we were up and about early for a drive to Flamborough Head and its lighthouse. Most walks on this part of the coast start here and turn left towards Flamborough Cliffs and North Landing beach. The chalk was laid down millions of years ago, when dinosaurs roamed, and we had heard tell of one last remaining dinosaur – this we had to see for ourselves!
Turning right instead of the usual left at the lighthouse, we soon came upon our prey – a cliff formation in the shape of a dinosaur drinking from the sea. There are many unusual cliff shapes here, thanks to all that natural erosion, but this is perhaps the best.
Photos duly taken, we were soon on the path towards Flamborough Cliffs and the café on the beach. You can continue on foot to the RSPB Bempton Cliffs Nature Reserve, but as the days were getting shorter, we decided not to risk having to walk back along the 400ft-high cliffs as the dusk fell.
Although I can tell a sparrow from a seagull, my birding knowledge isn’t that great. But when someone tells me an albatross has been spotted flying around the Yorkshire coast, my interest is piqued. So in the end we did visit RSPB Bempton, just a 10-minute drive from Flamborough.
Amid spectacular sea views, it is estimated that half a million birds choose these cliffs to raise their chicks. I must admit I was totally unprepared for the smell! As we watched and photographed the gannets, guillemots and kittiwakes, a shout went up among our fellow visitors (most armed with long-lens cameras): “It’s up!”
What’s up? The price of fuel, the sun for a bit? Oh… the penny dropped. There was Albie the black-browed albatross, flying above the cliffs, soaring on the breeze and showing off for the cameras. What a great sight.
And then, regrettably, as the last of the summer sun set over our final al fresco meal on site, our short time here was over.
But, as ever, we have plenty of reasons to return – I have quite simply fallen in love with the great city of York and its coastal cousins. Who knows, I might even invest in a longer camera lens
Touring essentials for a trip to York & Bridlington
We have been touring for more than 12 years in our 2003 Hymer Camp on a Fiat Ducato base. Although not the largest of vehicles, the overcab bed allows us to keep it permanently made up, leaving more space downstairs.
Where we stayed in York & Bridlington
Bishopthorpe Road, York YO23 2QA
Flamborough Road, Sewerby YO15 1DU
Food and drink in York & Bridlington
The Vanilla Café
12 College Street, York YO1 7JF
25 High Petergate, York YO1 7HP
40 Stonegate, York YO1 8AS
11 Little Stonegate, York YO1 8AX
16 Pavement, York YO1 9UP
30-32 High Petergate, York YO1 7EH
Cliff Road, Sewerby, Bridlington YO15 1EW
Find out more about York
- Visit York
- Visit Bridlington
- Visit East Yorkshire
- Jorvik Viking Centre
- The York Dungeon
- York Castle Museum
- Sewerby Hall and Gardens
- Flamborough Head
- RSPB Bempton Cliffs
Lead image: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Head to our Best of British: Touring Adventures section for more inspiration!
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