Child’s guide to the best of Yorkshire

Family with fishing nets and buckets by rock pool
Family with fishing nets and buckets by rock pool
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Forget about the pyramids and swimming with dolphins. In what we’re calling the Bucket (and spade) List, naturalist Amy Jane Beer gives a rundown of the 50 experiences no Yorkshire child should miss.

It’s a trend we’re familiar with. Childhood independence is being eroded and youngsters are increasingly isolated from nature. Understandably, we want our children to be safe. But freedom is not a luxury. A child’s liberty to encounter adventure, to feel the frisson of risk and the elation of discovery or achievement is a crucial part of their development. But what they miss most by well-meant mollycoddling is a personal relationship with nature – confronting it, embracing it, connecting with it. It’s essential that we address this deficit. It needn’t be expensive, and it can certainly be fun.

The experiences that help define childhood vary, not least according to where we grow up. Yorkshire youngsters are blessed in this respect – we all live in striking distance of the Dales, Moors, Wolds, or the coast, and in a county with exceptionally rich heritage and cultural identity. Given this embarrassment of riches, I’ve been pondering the key experiences that might shape a Yorkshire childhood.

The result is the Bucket and Spade List. The adventures are mostly natural, some are more cultural. They are experience and activity-led, and most are free. It’s not a list of visitor attractions, nor is it exhaustive, and I can’t promise there won’t be grumbles, wet socks and skinned knees. Nature, by definition is not all sunshine, soft turf and butterflies. She is sometimes downright unfriendly and encounters can be cold, wet, dirty, nerve-wracking (at least for parents), exhausting and abrasive. But they are also exhilarating, character building, life affirming, and darned good fun. And I’ve rounded them out with several suggestions that involve food – after all, exploring is hungry work.

1 Swim in the North Sea

This falls into the category we’ll call character building. However, while the temperature might be chastening, Yorkshire has some of the world’s cleanest bathing beaches, not overly busy and many blissfully free of the smell of fried food and blinking neon of amusement arcades. Try Runswick Bay, Sandsend, Cayton Bay and Hunmanby Gap.

2 Learn the ‘Yorkshire anthem’

A few years ago I accompanied a group of geography students from York College on a field trip to Morocco. Camped one night on the edge of the Sahara, our guides sang us a Berber folk song. In return the students gave a rousing rendition of On Ilkley Moor bar t’at. A priceless cultural exchange and once learnt, never forgotten.

3 Climb Yorkshire gritstone

The super-grippy surface of Yorkshire gritstone is enough to inspire any budding Spider-Man. The iconic bulging geology of Brimham Rocks is a favourite with Yorkshire mountaineer Alan Hinkes and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us. Alternatively, try the Bridestones in Dalby Forest or the imposing Stanage Edge on the South Yorkshire-Derbyshire border.

4 Watch steam trains – better still ride on one

You may be inspired by Thomas, The Railway Children, or the Hogwarts Express, but there is nothing like the hiss, huff and smut of the real thing close at hand. The steam railways at Embsay, Keighley and Worth Valley and on the North York Moors from Pickering to Grosmont are all wonderful to watch or ride, and on summer Fridays the Scarborough Flyer runs longer day trips from Huddersfield, Wakefield or York.

5 See a village cricket match

I grew up on cricket grounds, and in Yorkshire we can enjoy the game at its most picturesque. Cricket matches take a long time and while some of that should be spent focussed dutifully on the game, the rest can be spent absorbing a powerful sense of place, taking in the surroundings, exploring nearby, listening to birds and watching the clouds.

6 Explore a cave

Some of Yorkshire’s most exciting landscapes are underground. A great option to explore yourself is Yordas Cave, near Ingleton. Wear old clothes, sturdy footwear, a hat to protect your head from bumps, and take a torch. For an adventure of more epic proportions, Gaping Gill near Ingleton is the largest cavern in Britain, incorporating our highest waterfall. Public open days at Gaping Gill are run by Bradford Potholing Club and Craven Potholing Club in the weeks preceding the Whitsun and August bank holidays, allowing you to be lowered into the grandeur of the main chamber, and back up again (thankfully), for £10.

7 Discover fossils

The Yorkshire coast contains extraordinarily productive fossils beds, yielding ammonites and other fossil shells, plants and reptile remains (yes, including dinosaurs) and jet. Not surprisingly the area is regularly scoured by fossil hunters from far and wide, but each new tide exposes fresh opportunities and a few hours at Saltwick Bay after a winter storm and you’ll be unlucky not to find something. If you have ambitions for finding dinosaur bones head up the coast a little to Kettleness or Port Mulgrave. The latter are suitable for older children only due to tricky access.

8 Learn basic natural navigation

Which way is north? Nature provides us with any number of clues to help orientate ourselves, and yet the skills of reading them are being lost. Getting to grips with the movement of the sun, learning to locate the pole star, to find south using the growth patterns of orange lichens are simple pleasures that provide a lifetime of useful know how.

9 Witness a sea of flowers

There is something humbling about a floral display on a landscape scale. Bluebells are undoubtedly the most celebrated of these natural spectaculars, and there are breathtaking displays all over Yorkshire in May (try Hardcastle Crags at Hebden Bridge; Silverwood Colliery Wood near Rotherham or Hackfall Wood near Ripon). In February you can wander among carpets of snowdrops at Burton Agnes Hall, in late March nodding battalions of wild daffodils grace the river banks of Farndale. In June the exquisite hay meadows of the Dales come into their own, followed in July by fields blazing scarlet with poppies (sites vary year to year) and in August by rolling acres of heather on the North York Moors.

10 Learn to ride a bike

The lifelong health and environmental benefits of cycling are undeniable, and in the run up to Le Tour Yorkshire in 2014, bike fever is likely to consume many playgrounds.

11 Eat fish and chips on a sea wall

Any Yorkshire sea wall. Any seaside chippy. Spontaneity is the magic ingredient in a memorable seawall supper.

12 Explore a ruin

Nothing brings history closer than imagining past lives in a ruined building. Take your pick from crumbling local relics or the more grandiose heritage sites with which Yorkshire abounds – castles such as Helmsley, Conisborough, Middleham, Richmond, and Skipton, or the abbeys and priories of Kirkham, Fountains, Monk Bretton, Byland, Roche, Mount Grace, St Mary’s York, Whitby, Rievaulx, Jervaulx and Bolton. Or what about a ruined village? Almost nothing remains of the medieval settlement of Wharram Percy near Malton, but the site is evocative.

13 Hear a brass band play live

Whether it’s a resounding Ding Dong Merrily on High belted out in a festive market, or the strains of Dvorák’s New World Symphony hanging in the summer air, a live brass or silver band performance is magic. The names of Black Dyke, Grimethorpe Colliery and Brighouse and Rastrick bands are world famous but the website lists more than 80 others. Or there’s the annual Hardraw Brass Band Festival (this year on September 8) or the Yorkshire Brass Band Championships in Bradford every March.

14 Go down a mine

Coal may no longer be king, but it remains key to our industrial heritage. At the National Coal Mining Museum near Wakefield you can don hard hat arm yourself with a torch and take a tour 140m underground, expertly guided by a former miner.

15 Devour a Fat Rascal

The definitive Fat Rascal made famous by Betty’s Cafe Tea Rooms celebrates its 30th birthday this year. The recipe for this fruity scone-biscuit, with its cheeky cherry-and-almond face, is based on a centuries-old teatime treat, the turf cake.

16 Climb a really big hill

So many to choose from. Alan Hinkes says he would opt every time for Roseberry Topping, Olympic triathlete Alistair Brownlee suggests Pen Hill, and Yorkshire walks guru Mark Reid plumps for Penyghent. All three offer a stiff challenge.

17 Visit an agricultural show

The varied delights of a country show are a feast for childish senses. Livestock, machinery, music, performance, arts, crafts, races, competitions and sweet and savoury treats. Yorkshire puts on more than its share of shows, from the epic Great Yorkshire Show (Harrogate, July 9 to 11), to a plethora of one-day events.

18 Cross a river on stepping stones

Wharfedale is the place for stepping stones. In low water, the river’s wide, shallow course can be crossed and crossed again by these wonderfully precarious walkways, with good examples at Linton, Hebden, Bolton Abbey, Burley-in-Wharfedale and Ilkley. Elsewhere you can teeter across the beck at Stainforth near Settle, over the Aire at Gargrave, the Swale at Marrick, the Esk at Lealholm, the Rivelin and the Porter in Sheffield, the Don at Wortley and near Huthwaite Hall, Thurgoland. There are ornamental versions at Harewood House and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

19 Pick and eat wild berries

Blackberries, wild raspberries, wild strawberries in the Dales or bilberries on the North York Moors. Most of these are easily identified and there’s something about eating them in the wild that makes them taste much better too.

20 See the Milky Way

The dark skies over the Dales, the North York Moors and the Wolds are the envy of southern stargazers. On a clear night the vast celestial smudge of the Milky Way is clearly visible to the naked eye and it is even better with binoculars.

21 The wishing trees

The origins of these trees are unknown, but they have become a feature at beauty spots including Bolton Abbey, Ingleton waterfalls and Janet’s Foss. Please don’t damage living trees, but if you can make a wish, you could perhaps make a plea for a warm and sunny summer.

22 Beachcombing and rockpooling

Check the tide times and head for the coast between Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby for wonderful rockpools. These hidden worlds offer both beauty and drama. Runswick Bay is arguably Britain’s best beachcombing spot, but don’t neglect the shifting expanses of Spurn Point.

23 Canoe down a river

Travel at a sedate pace down one of our watery highways, seeing Yorkshire from a new perspective and looking out for dippers, kingfishers, herons and water voles. For a safe introduction and expert tuition, try or sign up with your local club.

24 Get head-to-toe muddy

Getting filthy with a gang of mates is a curiously bonding experience, perhaps because once plastered in mud we all look the same. I recommend peeling off clothes on the doorstep and hosing them down (the clothes, not the child) before putting in the washing machine.

25 Inherit a great Yorkshire pudding recipe

Everyone knows someone who makes the world’s best Yorkshire puds. The secret depends who you ask. I know kitchens where the handed-down recipe is framed on the wall.

For the final 25 activities see Monday’s Yorkshire Post.