From York we toured through the North York Moors National Park to the seaside town of Whitby, and then on to Castle Howard before returning to York for the night.
Whitby is a harbor village on the North Sea at the mouth of the River Esk. Towering above the town are the ruins of Whitby Abbey, inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. The 7th century monastery became a Benedictine abbey before being confiscated by Henry VIII around 1540. We enjoyed a guided tour of the abbey ruins before walking down and through the town for an excellent lunch of fish and chips.
The next stop on our day-tour was Castle Howard, home of the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for over 300 years. [The most famous member of the family was Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII in 1540-41.] The stately home sits on a 10,000 acre estate and is best known for being the set of the Brideshead Revisited TV series and movie. We enjoyed a guided tour of part of the magnificent building and spent some time walking through the extensive gardens.
The next morning we left York for the Lake District, stopping on the way at the small town of Settle. We climbed a steep hill through thick forest to Castlebergh Crag, a rocky outcrop that overlooks the town and surrounding countryside, before lunching at the Naked Man Cafe.
Next was a short rest stop at Windemere , the largest natural lake in England and one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Lake District (“mere” means “lake” in Old English). Then on to the village of Grasmere, where we would stay at the 17th century Swan Hotel for the next two nights.
On our walking tour of Grasmere we encountered the family burial plot of William Wordsworth, who lived here for 14 years, and the nearby daffodil garden which honors his poetry. The plot is in the graveyard of the 14th century St. Oswald’s Church, which holds an annual rushbearing ceremony dating from the middle ages and immortalized in a Wordsworth poem. The next day we sampled some delicious fresh-baked gingerbread from the adjacent 165-year-old Sarah Nelson’s store.
The village is surrounded by the Fells (hills), which are mostly wild, open grazing land for the thousands of sheep in the area. Dry-stone walls extend from the pastures around the town to almost vertical lines up the steep Fells. The next evening we were treated to a lengthy and entertaining presentation on the art of building dry-stone walls.
Beatrix Potter House
The next day we boarded the bus for the village of Near Sawrey (there’s also a Far Sawrey a little further away!). Before lunch in a local inn we toured Castle Cottage, the marital home of Beatrix Potter, author of the Peter Rabbit children’s stories. In her later life Beatrix became a strong supporter and advocate for the local sheep farmers, and purchased fifteen farms herself which she bequeathed to the National Trust. The current occupant of her home has established a thriving business manufacturing tweed goods made from the local herdwick sheep, which Beatrix had championed in the area. One of her herdwick tweed handbags is now Connie’s favorite.