If the stress of Christmas leaves you wanting to get away from it all, then how about an escape to the Milky Way? Five neighbouring market towns in Ryedale, North Yorkshire, have created an unusual alternative for those seeking sanctuary this winter – sightseeing to the edge of the Galaxy.
With the UK’s darkest skies on their doorstep, the Ryedale towns – Helmsley, Kirkbymoorside, Pickering, Malton and Norton – are perfect gateways to the full winter glory of this rare star-gazing phenomenon. A trip to the stars is also the perfect antidote to the stress that many of us feel as the Christmas glitter settles, without adding more pressure on the pocket, as the NHS recommends: to combat the festive hangover and restore family harmony, simply have a change of scene and some fresh air.
“You don’t need to spend a fortune on exotic get-aways,” explains Craig Nattress of Visit Ryedale, the partnership helping to support the market towns’ renaissance. “What makes Ryedale’s towns so special is their easy proximity to tranquil, unspoilt landscapes, so that you can experience something breath-taking and unique in the UK – like a ‘Milky Way’ class Dark Sky – but still enjoy the indulgent luxury you deserve during the holidays.” There are even nearby Observatories for those who want to unlock the deepest secrets of the universe, and a Dark Sky Festival in February.
As well as Britain’s most impressive skies, Ryedale’s market towns – nestled between the North York Moors National Park and the Howardian Hills, an official UK ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ – are surrounded by some of Britain’s most impressive landscapes and wildlife, so there’s no need to venture far to enjoy a winter wonderland that will help recover festive spirits. The five market towns also shelter in their own unusual microclimate: located on the southern fringes of Britain’s driest national park, two out of every three winter days are dry, making it a pleasure to gorge on rejuvenating lung-fulls of some of the freshest air in the country.
So, here are six other ways to make the most of ‘Boxing Week’ in Ryedale’s market towns:
- For winter walking, there are over 1400 miles of trails that criss-cross Ryedale’s market towns. A favourite is a meander along Cleveland Way National Trail between Helmsley to English Heritage’s Rievaulx Abbey (open 27 & 31 December), once one of Europe’s most important medieval monasteries, but now haunting ruins with visitors hearing ghostly bell-ringing on winter afternoons, and even witnessing a phantom Midnight Mass during Christmastide. Or explore the woodland paths, lakeside terraces, fountains and temples – perfect for hide and seek – within Castle Howard’s stunning parkland, spanning over 1000 acres and open daily during the winter.
- Experience romantic Steam Train rides on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (27 December – 3 January) in Pickering, journeying across the iconic moorland and snow-clad valleys to the coastal, gothic splendour of Whitby from the comfort of a vintage carriage.
- Winter in Ryedale’s market towns is a great time for enjoying Wildlife Safaris. Intrepid explorers can be rewarded by an encounter with Merlin – not the wizard, but Britain’s smallest and rarest bird-of-prey, as well as many of our other favourite British creatures, including deer, bats, and owls; you can also wander through the UK’s oldest and tallest trees in ancient woodland, or find ancient survivors of the Ice Age in plants like juniper or cloudberry.
- Experience natural healing: not surprisingly, the area has become a hot-spot for Spas, including the Verbena Spa at the Feversham Arms Hotel in Helmsley, achieving a UK Top 5 listing in Tatler magazine, or the Orange Tree, Appleton Spa and Little Yoga Company near Kirkbymoorside.
- The winter retreats come with a health warning, because there is No Boot Camp in Sight. Just because it’s ‘post-Christmas’ doesn’t mean that the indulgence has to stop. Ryedale’s market towns are at the epicentre of Britain’s Capital of Cake, and Malton is Yorkshire’s Food Capital, so there’s no reason to detox yet.
- If you want to find a bargain, don’t fall for High Street tat: in these quintessential English towns, with their historic streets and market squares, visitors can find all of the ingredients for a dream holiday, with a warm welcome from hundreds of independent, distinctive, award-winning shops and tea-rooms, all offering the very Best of British, home-grown and hand-crafted from the heart and soul. Helmsley is also officially Britain’s Best Market Town, 2015’s winner of the Great British High Street awards.
The five market towns of Helmsley, Kirkbymoorside, Pickering, Malton and Norton are located just miles apart on the A170 and A169, easily accessible on day-trips from Leeds or York. For Boxing Week or winter short breaks, there is a wide range of top-class accommodation available locally, from award-winning B&Bs and hotels, with roaring log fires and four-poster beds to self-catering woodland cabins. To enjoy the Dark Skies at close-range, stay at Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside for Sutton Bank Observatory and Pickering, Malton or Norton for the Dalby Observatory.
For more information about Ryedale’s market towns, visit www.visitryedale.co.uk