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Grains, trains and gastro-meals – heart-warming winter escapes in Ryedale

Winter is the time for feasting and fun by the fireside, and there aren’t many places that love the winter season and Christmas quite as much as Ryedale, in North Yorkshire.

The centuries-old tradition of bringing people together in celebration is joyously upheld across its five market towns (Malton, Helmsley, Pickering, Norton and Kirkbymoorside). 

Pickering-Christmas-Lights

Photo by Richard Burdon

Not only are they picturesque, with their ancient market squares and cosy rows of small, independent shops and eateries - they are also award-winning, with top-class attractions, hotels with roaring log fires and cosy self-catering cottages.  

Perfect, pocket winter escapes with everything you might need on your doorstep – be it luxurious spa treatments and gastronomic indulgence, or the simple pleasures of wide-open spaces and uncrowded streets. 

Notably, Charles Dickens enjoyed Christmas in merry Malton so much that it inspired his Christmas Carol. 

12 ways to have a Dickens of a winter get away (pre booking essential):

1. Winter afternoons at Ryedale Vineyard – mulled wine, hot spiced cider or hot chocolate at Britain’s most northerly commercial vineyard on Sundays 12pm until 5pm until Christmas. Ryedale Vineyard’s award-winning wines and champagne can be bought at the cellar door.  You can even stay in their vineyard farmhouse B&B.

2. Step through the wardrobe into the mystical land of Narnia, at Castle Howard where the stately home’s grand interiors are lavishly and theatrically decorated to recreate C S Lewis’ classic fairy-tale world, all crowned by the iconic 28-foot Christmas tree. Until 3 January.

3. Enjoy a magical adventure with Santa and his elves on board the North Yorkshire Moors Railway’s famous Santa Express, for an unforgettable Christmas train journey. Selected dates between 4 – 24 December, from Pickering or Grosmont stations.

4. Wander through the wintry fairy-size gardens of Helmsley Walled Garden, the star of the recent movie Secret Garden, based on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s novel and starring Colin Firth and Julie Walters. Open until 24 December.

5. See Winter Owls waltzing by torchlight through the trees; while Tiny Owls will be enchanting onlookers prancing in the Christmas Tree Cottage, all during the must-experience Winter Owl Evenings at the National Bird of Prey Centre in Helmsley. Every Saturday until Christmas.

6. At England’s only Fairy Sanctuary, the Northwood Trail, meet St Nicholas - the Holly King - and his Lady Winter, in their Winter Woodland Grotto. They are ancient fairy folk from the Christmas of the Green Past, crowned in evergreens and ivy, and together you will celebrate the season with an evening of storytelling, lantern-lit fairy trails and fairy winter displays. Selected dates from 5 – 23 December.

7. “Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world.” For almost 1000 years, otherworldly Rievaulx Abbey has eased the hearts and souls of wandering pilgrims, and it has become a lifeline for many winter walkers seeking a retreat from the stress of the Christmas season. For this reason, the abbey is open extra hours during the festive season, including every weekend during December, then daily from 26 December – 2 January.

8. At Helmsley Castle, it’s easy to imagine courtly knights and ladies of medieval romance amongst the dramatic ringwork ruins. Explore the eerily-empty state apartments, once resounding with masques and music or the impressive ramparts, as if scooped out of the stone by a giant’s hand!  Open every Friday – Sunday until Christmas.

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Photo by Richard Burdon

9. Lapland comes to Flamingo Land this Christmas, as visitors get a chance to join Santa’s elves in a magical festive land that includes Santa’s Grotto and Magical Toy Shop, the Reindeer Paddock, a chance to meet Peter Rabbit, and Mrs Claus’ Kitchen, where there will be Merry Marshmallow-Making and Magical Milkshakes, plus a chance to ‘talk to the animals’ in the award-winning Zoo. Weekends in December, and daily between 20 – 24 December.

10. Take a trip to the edge of the galaxy. Owing to the proximity of Ryedale’s market towns to some of the UK’s darkest skies, you can see the Milky Way on clear, wintry nights – an exceptionally rare star-gazing phenomenon in Britain.  During the winter, there are special star-gazing events, open to everyone, at the observatory in nearby Dalby Forest. 

11. Wonderful winter walking. You get the best of both worlds in Ryedale’s market towns: you can enjoy the winter beauty and tranquillity of the countryside, but without venturing too far from home comforts.  From each market town, there are 100s of miles of footpaths and bridleways - through river valleys and woodland, and across moorland – the perfect excuse to burn off excess calories, or just get away from the season’s stresses.  A favourite is the route from Helmsley Castle, famed as the Cradle of English Chivalry, wandering through the ancient woodlands of grand Duncombe Hall, to the haunting ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, once one of Europe’s largest monasteries (if you’re lucky you might even hear the whispers of a ghostly Christmas Mass…). 

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Photo by Richard Burdon

12. Hunt for antiques, arts, crafts and curiosities. Ryedale is a treasure trove of antique centres, auctions, vintage shops, art galleries and studios, so whether you want to buy, browse or get an insider’s insight into the region’s arts and crafts there are plenty of places to enjoy a rummage.

Top five places to eat and stay:

1. Regularly ranked amongst the UK’s top restaurants and boasting a Michelin-star and 4 AA Rosettes, The Old Swan (Oldstead) is the Restaurant with Rooms of celebrity chef Tommy Banks, twice-winner of BBCTV’s Great British Menu.

2. The 3 AA Rosette Pheasant Hotel – near Helmsley, multi award-winning and regularly ranked amongst Yorkshire’s favourite eateries (and hotels).

3. The Hare (Scawton) is a multi-award-winning, 3 AA Rosette Restaurant with Rooms, located in a characterful 12th-century inn, and again regularly ranked amongst Yorkshire’s favourite eateries.

4. New luxury 4* hotel, Sandburn Hall is the first major new-build hotel development in the region for more than 20 years. Family owned, the hotel’s 40 bedrooms feature four-poster beds and balconies overlooking the landscaped gardens and lakes.  It is located next-door to Castle Howard, and benefits from its own 1,000-acre country estate with a championship golf course, popular Tykes restaurant, and specially designed trails for cycling and walking.

5. Private Hill is a newly opened 5* luxury glamping near the village of Acklam on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds. With views for miles from your own geodesic dome (one of just four on the site), you can snuggle around the fire pit (or woodburning stove) to watch the stars while your private chef prepares a delicious candlelit dinner, or join alpacas Perseus, Renoir, or Ziggy for a private tour of the countryside. 

 A perfect pub lunch

Many of Ryedale’s country pubs pack a punch when it comes to a perfect pub lunch, receiving national plaudits for their delicious home-cooked menus featuring locally-sourced produce. 

Great value favourites include in Hovingham, the Worsley Arms (2AA rosette), and newly-refurbished Hovingham Inn (featuring in both The Times and Estrella’s top pub lists!); the Stone Trough Inn near Kirkham Priory; the Crown & Cushion in Welburn; the Fox & Hounds at Sinnington; the Fairfax Arms in Gilling East; the Fox & Rabbit at Lockton; the Horseshoe Inn at Levisham; but there are many more to explore tucked away in the region’s villages and along country lanes.

 A perfect pint

The region has several top breweries: in Malton, the Brass Castle Brewery & Taphouse is CAMRA award-winning brewer of vegan and gluten-free craft beers, while the town’s Bad Seed Brewery is amongst Yorkshire’s best craft breweries and nano brewery Malton Brewery has launched a beer made from Yorkshire puddings!  The Great Yorkshire Brewery in Cropton near Pickering has been producing award-winning, hand-crafted real ales for over 25 years and it’s a regional success story with its bottled beers now sold nationwide.  Helmsley Brewing Company design their range of craft beers using the finest ingredients (including Yorkshire Malts and English hop) and traditional techniques.

If you’re tempted to book a winter holiday, or take a trip to Ryedale for a magical day-out, visit www.visitryedale.co.uk