Stir together some breathtaking scenery, lots of sheep, a mixed bag of weather (hail! rain! sunshine!) and a couple of fabulous i-escape hideaways, and you’ve got the recipe for Marketing Assistant Anna’s last-minute family trip to Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales.
With the car filled with enough snacks, books and toys to keep a whole pack of one-year-olds occupied, my husband Anthony, son Finn and I embarked on the (surprisingly pain-free) journey from Bristol to Augill Castle, a family-friendly B&B housed in a folly castle in Cumbria’s tranquil Eden Valley.
We stayed in Appleby, a huge room with rich red walls at the end of a long, photo-lined corridor. The décor is perfectly in keeping with the building (no chintz here!) but the fittings are modern – we loved our drenching rainshower, which poured down over a four-poster tub.
Waiting for us in the room was a whole host of useful goodies for Finn – a travel cot with sheets and blankets, disposable changing mats, a nappy bin, baby bubble bath and some books, all topped off with a friendly teddy bear and some crunchy homemade biscuits.
Finn loved his early tea of scrambled eggs and soldiers, eaten at the head of the long oak dining table like a mini king. And that tricky pre-bedtime hour was easily filled by exploring the boxes of toys and bulging dressing-up chest in the library. There’s even a handy communal kitchen for storing and heating up bedtime milk.
Come evening, baby monitor in hand, Ant and I had a delicious meal à deux in the grand blue-and-gold-ceilinged dining room, followed by one of owner Wendy’s wonderful concoctions in the Great British Bar (the Lemon Bon Bon made with toffee vodka got the thumbs up from us). We really enjoyed having a romantic ‘night out’ in the knowledge that Finn was safely tucked up in bed upstairs.
Augill Castle is perfectly positioned for exploring: the Yorkshire Dales are a 10-minute drive south and the Lake District just 30 minutes to the west. We filled up at breakfast before heading out: Brougham Hall smoked salmon with scrambled eggs for me, a Full English for Ant, and cereal and a homemade banana muffin for the little one.
There are many buggy-friendly pathways and walks around the Lakes, so you don’t have to be confined to the towns. We made the most of those jaw-dropping views by going on a few easy strolls and picnicking by the shores.
Our next stop was Natural Retreats near Richmond. Any worries slipped away as we swept down into the hidden green valley to our glass-fronted lodge, where we could hear nothing but birdsong. We were greeted with a welcome hamper filled with goodies, including bread and jam, milk and eggs, wine, and biscuits from the local grocery store.
Finn loved standing at the floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the rabbits playing outside and the ducks swimming in our very own pond. We also found a great toy-filled playroom up the track at The Sanctuary for rainy days and tiring out little legs. We really appreciated having our own space (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a big open-plan living area), enjoying long lazy dinners after baby bedtime, and catching a few early summer rays on the deckchairs outside.
The Yorkshire Dales are right on the doorstep and are rich for exploring. We had a list of activities long enough to fill 3 holidays and tried to squeeze as much as possible into 4 days, starting with Richmond. It’s built up around a Norman fortress, and it’s easy to spend a few hours exploring this pretty little town and pretending you’re the king of the castle as you survey the tower-top views. We also picked up local foodie treats at the market and wandered down to the falls beneath.
Wherever possible we opted for the scenic routes on our days out and picked our way along winding lanes flanked by sheep-filled fields. We spotted the majestic Ribblehead Viaduct from the road, emerging from a backdrop of moody grey clouds. And we escaped the car for a walk along the (buggy-friendly) pathway from Malham village to the very impressive Malham Cove – a huge limestone cliff topped by a large stretch of limestone pavement.
When the sun popped through the clouds we drove the 90 minutes to Whitby on the east coast for a day of sea, sand and fish and chips. We loved exploring the alleys and peeking into boutiques, before shedding our shoes and socks for a toddle on the beach. A quick glimpse of the gothic Abbey standing moodily on the hilltop above the town was enough to help us see why Bram Stoker was inspired to feature it in his novel ‘Dracula’.
The lovely Retreat Manager Amanda recommended a local farm for a child-pleasing day trip and she got it spot-on – Big Sheep Little Cow Farm in nearby Bedale was great! It has a soft play area centred around a giant slide, ride-on tractors and pedal go-karts and, best of all, a farm tour. We got to hold or stroke loads of small animals (mice, rabbits, a friendly tortoise), brush the biggest, hairiest pig I have ever seen, and bottle-feed hungry lambs. There’s also a café serving good coffee, cake and light lunches, so you could easily spend a few hours there while the kids play.
Still on the list to visit? Bolton Abbey, Jervaulx Abbey (apparently good for picnics!) and a trip on the North York Moors Steam Railway – but they’ll have to wait until next time.