Any travel-lover who follows those ‘beautiful places’ accounts on Instagram will probably already be aware of some of the north’s key tourist spots: York, Whitby, Durham. Sunset pictures of Whitby Abbey, or gloomy pictures of the Shambles are popular on the platform, and do buck the trend of the north being viewed as some sort of post-industrial apocalyptic area (genuine views I’ve heard people express, even if it is as a joke.)
But there are other areas of the north that deserve attention, too. Whether they’re areas of natural beauty, like the North York Moors, or small towns nestled in the shade of the Cleveland Hills; these are six places you didn’t know where in north-east England.
1. Durham Heritage Coast
I think people are largely biased towards the southern coastline of England—the warm, sandy beaches, great surf spots, and blue sea. But there are sections of grand coastline in the north too, and that includes the Durham Heritage Coast.
This area has a strong industrial history, and the area around the small harbour town of Seaham used to be home to the largest glass-bottle works in Britain in the 19th century, as well as being an important place for the export of coal. If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth grabbing some fish and chips and sitting on top of the high cliffs that overlook this area of coast between Sunderland and Hartlepool—thanks to its industrial history and geological heritage, it’s pretty unique.
2. Castle Howard
Familiar to any literature fans, the beautiful stately home of Castle Howard has featured twice as the eponymous Brideshead house in TV and film adaptations of Evelyn Waugh’s 1945 novel Brideshead Revisited. It’s easy to see why this location was chosen—the house is as grand today as it was when it the house was built in the early 18th century.
Though a day out here is not cheap, it’s the perfect getaway if you’re interested in stately homes or literature—you can while away hours wandering around the grounds of the house, and inside things are even more impressive, with gold-framed paintings adorning every surface. The star of the show, though, is the dome of the house, which had to be rebuilt after a devastating fire in 1940. This matters little, as it’s still such an impressive work of art that you’re bound to tilt your head back and gasp. The house is only 15 miles from York, so it’s definitely worth travelling out to if you’re in Yorkshire.
3. The Cleveland Hills
The Cleveland Hills overlook Teesside and the large town of Middlesbrough on the north-east coast of England. Until I moved to the Netherlands and witnessed the absence of hills entirely, I’d always taken this range for granted—the fact that you could see them from the local shopping centre, for instance, or rising up in the distance when you’re on the motorways. The best views of the hills are reached from Lord Stones Country Park, so named after the prehistoric ring of stones at the bottom one of the peaks. From Lord Stones it’s possible to walk along the Cleveland Way to Roseberry Topping, a uniquely-shaped peak that can be seen all across Teesside.
4. Great Ayton
Most known as the birthplace of British explorer Captain Cook, Great Ayton is a picturesque village just in the shadow of the Cleveland Hills range; in fact, on a sunny day, you can see the memorial to Captain Cook on the hill of Easby Moor just behind the houses and shops on the main village road.
Captain Cook’s legacy is scattered throughout Great Ayton—it’s possible to see the site of his parent’s house (dismantled and given as a gift to Australia), and the place he went to school—but there are other reasons to visit the town. As a ‘gateway’ to the Cleveland Hills, there are some great walks in the area, including one up to the peak of Roseberry Topping, 320m above sea level. You also can’t visit Great Ayton without getting a signature ice cream from Suggitts, a traditional sweet shop and ice cream parlour that overlooks the river.
It’s easy to miss this stop if you’re travelling along the coastline of the North York Moors—Ravenscar is just a little hamlet situated right on the cliff’s edge, most of its visitors travelling along the Cleveland Way, which passes right along the front of the main visitors spot in Ravenscar, Raven Hall.
raven Hall actually sits on the remains of a Roman fort, but the hotel as it is now was built in 1774. The hotel also features a dining room with full-length windows that look out onto the North Sea and Robin Hood’s Bay—another picturesque and popular village in North Yorkshire. Of course,if you’re in Robin Hood’s Bay you can’t get a picture of Robin Hood’s Bay—and Ravenscar is perfectly situated for that. Don’t miss wandering round the landscaped gardens of Raven Hall (even if you haven’t been in for a quick afternoon tea and cake); they feature castle-like turrets and parapets that look like something right out of a fairytale.
6. Ormesby Hall
Historical home of the Pennyman family, this property is now owned by National Trust and is not something you’d expect to find in the middle of an industrial town like Middlesbrough.
Built in 1754, the property consists of a large mansion house and 270 acres of country land, but the Pennyman family haven’t lived in the house since 1983, when the National Trust took it over and opened it to the public. It’s a little gem in Middlesbrough, a place far away from the hustle and bustle of the town centre and surrounding areas, and sitting in the gardens you could imagine the family living here in the 20th century. While some National Trust properties can break the bank, Ormesby Hall is also reasonably priced (£5.70 for adults)—worth it to experience a little piece of pre-industrial northern history.