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Your guide to close encounters with fantastic beasts on a great Yorkshire safari!
Butterfly Clouds and Birdsong Festivals
The area’s garden attractions are planting wildflower meadows and restoring orchards to grow habitats for wildlife, including bees and butterflies, whilst also creating stunning mosaics of colour, butterfly ‘clouds’ and mini ‘live music’ festivals of birdsong! Over 97% of the UK’s wildflower-rich grasslands have disappeared over the past 80 years – a major contributing factor to the loss of native wildlife – so this is a project close to many local hearts.
The area’s crowning glories include:
The Yorkshire Arboretum is a 120-acre garden of trees from across the globe where visitors can see over 70 acres of wildflowers. The idea is part of Buglife’s ‘B-Line’, an initiative to create a network of habitats across the UK - and Ryedale is one of the largest, and also one of the first UK projects to get up and running. The meadows provide nectar for a range of bees, moths and butterflies which you can watch busily feeding on a warm summer’s day – a glorious living kaleidoscope of colour.
Helmsley Walled Garden has not only restored its 250 year old orchards with apples (including rare, ancient ‘Yorkshire’ varieties), pears, plums, damsons and cherries, but has created a home for Britain’s bumblebees to help pollinate them, by building hives and planting wildflower meadows. Visitors can ‘suit up’ to ‘Meet the Bees’ in fascinating workshops with the besotted beekeeper, entering the hives but also enjoying the delicious fruits of their labour (including honey) in their tea-room! The restored orchards at the National Trust’s Nunnington Hall and Beningbrough Hall (near York) also provide tempting treats for visitors (as well as wildlife), while Ampleforth Abbey’s 200 year-old orchards have become famous for their hand-pressed, home-grown and award-winning ciders, juices and liqueurs. The area’s trees were once celebrated as the Orchard of the North – the fruit even helped Captain Cook on his famous deep-sea travels.
In Terrington and Wintringham (near Malton), visitors can explore vast Lavender Farms – the most northerly in the UK thanks to the local benevolent microclimate – with wildflower and herb gardens that are used for healing remedies, but also to act as a haven for local wildlife.
Duncombe Park, near Helmsley, has some of England’s oldest and tallest trees – national living treasures that support a vast diversity of wildlife amongst their giant, gnarled trunks. Now a National Nature Reserve, the historic estate has also planted over 2000 oak, beech, lime and field maple over the past 10 years to keep the ancient legacy alive for the next millennia. The 8000-acre Dalby Forest near Pickering is also a vast natural paradise, home to raptors and snakes, badgers and deer, with a regular programme of wild-watch events and workshops to enjoy with its expert team of rangers.
As an award-winning amusement park, Flamingo Land might seem an unlikely place to see wildlife, but for the past five years the theme park has been awarded the David Bellamy Conservation Gold Award for its outstanding commitment to biodiversity conservation, including the planting of 8,000 trees, alongside native plants and the building of wildlife habitats.
A New Breed of Animal Attraction
York and Ryedale are surrounded by some of Britain’s – even the world’s – most important landscapes, including the heather moorland of the North York Moors National Park (rarer than tropical rainforest); England’s most important ancient woodland (with more trees than the New Forest); the picturesque rolling farmland tapestries and river gorges of the Howardian Hills, designated a UK Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Not surprisingly, it’s become a haven for some of Britain’s most precious creatures – some of them, like the merlin and golden plover, are rare on a global scale. A number of lucky local attractions are playgrounds for some very special creatures indeed:
Otters were on the brink of extinction 50 years ago, but have now found a playground in Ryedale’s rivers, with regular sightings of these joyful, secretive creatures at Howsham Mill - a restored, regency watermill that is now a visitor centre for conservation and rural crafts – and the National Trust’s Nunnington Hall. The future is looking even brighter for wildlife along the River Rye that runs alongside Nunnington Hall, and the National Trust’s Rievaulx Terrace: the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just announced its support for Ryevitalise, an innovative scheme to revitalise the river landscape, including the aquatic habitats of rare and threatened species like otters, bats and crayfish. It promises to be the largest scheme ever delivered in the Howardian Hills.
The National Cen tre for Birds of Prey at Helmsley has the North’s largest collection of birds of prey, but is also a passionate and dynamic supporter of wildlife, taking in injured wild birds, and is engaged in active breeding programmes to protect the future of endangered species (among many other things!). The Centre has education at its heart, with regular flight displays enjoyed by both people and birds – including very cute barn owls. In winter, candlelit woodland flights make the birds of prey seem like Christmas angels, a magical and memorable experience, with the proceeds funding future conservation!
Once home to medieval monks and barons, the ruins of Ryedale’s many ancient abbeys and castles now make ideal homes for birds of prey, who often roost in long-abandoned English Heritage keeps or silent belfrys…
Introducing Great British Wildlife Safaris
To enjoy the ultimate in wildlife adventures – a Great Yorkshire Safari – you just need to step outside. With hundreds of miles of footpaths and bridleways to explore, you’re guaranteed to meet some wild companions on your journey. And without lions and tigers and bears around, you can explore independently – on foot, horseback or bike – with just your loved ones for company, (and the wildlife)! Try these:
The Yorkshire Arboretum offers a year-round ‘safari’ programme including hawk walks, dark skies evenings, bat and moth nights and fungi forays, with special Howardian Hills Junior Ranger sessions and Explorer Days for children during the school holidays. Explorer backpacks are available for hire to help younger visitors to discover the creatures and plants of the site. There is also a composting zone, mini-beast hotel and natural play area.
Hire a tandem bike to explore York’s rivers and canals: it might be a city, but York is famed for its wildfowl, and is surrounded by national nature reserves of ancient woodland, heathland and fen, sustaining a huge diversity of wildlife. The city’s university even has a bird sanctuary with Europe's largest plastic-bottomed lake and over 200 acres of parkland all created for wildlife.
The brilliant, iridescent flash of kingfishers and banded demoiselle damselflies rewards lucky walkers along the banks of the River Derwent from Kirkham to Howsham during the summer. Howsham Mill have recently created a riverside hide where you can sit quietly to look out for inhabitants, and have a lively programme of wildlife events and workshops for adults and children.
Secretive creatures like badgers, barn owls and deer are often spotted during evening or early morning walks or mountain bike rides along the Centenary Way between Slingsby and Appleton-le-Street, or on the pathways near Terrington. The Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has designed circular walks and cycling routes to make the most of ‘wildlife safaris’, which can be downloaded from their website; even if the wildlife is proving elusive the views from these routes are spectacular!
Whilst many people visit Castle Howard for its wealth of history, the real treasure is the estate’s wildlife. Little grebe breed on the south lake, tawny owls nest in the mature oak trees and woodpeckers can be heard drumming in Ray Wood. Further afield, walkers and cyclists enjoying the network of footpaths and bridleways criss-crossing the Estate will be accompanied by the chattering call of tree sparrows in the hedgerows, rising song of skylark as they climb higher and higher, and melodic tune of yellowhammers from the field boundaries. For the best ‘safari’ routes visit ‘Rides and Rambles’ at www.howardianhills.org.uk.
Jeffry Bog Nature Reserve, managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, lies in Kirkham Gorge, which might appear to be a tranquil, hidden valley but is actually a cityscape of habitats for wildlife, with an impressive range of wildflowers, including early purple orchid, bogbean and betony. On warm summer days, day-flying moths, dragonflies and damselflies can be seen in abundance. For the best times to visit, check the website.
Stay Close to Nature, but no roughing it…
It’s a common misconception that the best way to get close to nature is to ‘rough’ it; but just like the old-fashioned safaris, the Great Yorkshire Safari is all about luxury…
Go old skool: if you want to camp or caravan, then at least go 5*. Enjoy wildlife in luxury at JollyDays Woodland Escape, a glamping Site near York with a Gold Green Tourism Business Award, and a 20 year Woodland Management and Bio Diversity Plan, which includes tree planting, and reintroducing fauna such as the native English Bluebells. Or there’s the Vale of Pickering Caravan and Camping Site, proud holder of a David Bellamy Conservation Gold Award. Meanwhile, in Yurtshire those seeking a complete getaway can enjoy handcrafted yurts on the edge of ancient woodland at Newburgh Priory, in the heart of the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They might be designed for sustainable living – including being ‘off-the-grid’ with lighting supplied by lanterns and candles – but they’re also created for luxury, with hot tubs and chic furnishings.
Through Farmstay, you can enjoy accommodation on many wildlife-friendly farms in the heart of the countryside, just like Rains Farm B&B – recently voted the nation’s friendliest B&B by the AA, and it even has a wildlife hide so you can nose at your wild neighbours.
If you’re an animal lover, Low Costa Mill Holiday Cottages don’t just share space with wildlife – including a shy kingfisher – but have a pets’ corner, with chickens, ducks, sheep and horses. Easthill Farm B&B and Scandinavian Lodges have hens to feed, and also guinea pigs and rabbits to make friends with. The award-winning Beech Farm Holiday Cottages even have a paddock with Llamas (Llucy & Mimi), "Polly" the stable cat, chickens, ducks, & koi carp.
But for a true escape to nature:
Wolds Edge Cabins, close to Malton, range from indulgent snug Shepherd Huts to private ‘villa’ lodges with rose petals scattered on super-kingsize beds, hot tubs and mirror glass! But they’re a haven for wildlife as well as humans – your holiday includes a donation to the local wildlife trust, and you can even purchase artworks that fundraise for wildlife. Local birds are encouraged to visit with feeders by every cabin (alongside the free-range hens, with fresh eggs available to holidaymakers daily), and some of the lodges even have a bird box camera-feed to the TV set to catch birds nesting in spring. For something a little different, you can even enjoy a safari on horse-back, or try Nordic walking…
Wilderness and indulgence go hand in hand at Studford Lodges in Ampleforth – designer tree houses with in-built saunas and hot tubs, designer furnishings, the latest in-built digital sound, a chauffeur service, yet built to the highest eco-standards with sustainable timber and heating provided by a biomass boiler.
Artists Go Wild
The area is a magnet for some of the UK’s leading artists and craftspeople, who have been inspired by the local wildlife and spectacular landscapes. Their work might be in demand around the world but in Ryedale, visitors can encounter artists in their natural habitat – their workshops! Highlights include:
International wildlife artist, Robert Fuller can be seen regularly in his gallery workshop in Thixendale, near Malton, where he loves talking to visitors about painting, photography and the local wildlife. He’s a passionate protector of wildlife: his back garden has been transformed into a mini nature reserve, while his workshop has live feeds from cameras set up across the local countryside to observe the antics and magic of wild creatures, which he then paints in stunningly observed detail. His gallery also has a packed calendar or wild-watching events and family activities.
With so much woodland, the region is famed for woodcrafts, from the famous carved mice of Kilburn’s ‘Mouseman’ hidden amongst Ryedale’s historic houses and churches, to Helmsley’s Keith the Stickman handcrafting walking sticks with exquisite animal heads (and also bishop’s crooks and magic wands…) At Greenwood Crafts, a gallery near Kirkbymoorside, visitors can also try their hand at traditional crafts using natural materials like wood.
Joe Cornish is a British photographer of the area’s iconic ‘wild’ landscapes, with an international reputation. As a ‘local’, he’s a regular exhibitor in the area’s galleries, with his base in nearby Northallerton.
Visitors enjoying an elegant promenade along the National Trust’s Rievaulx Terrace near Helmsley, have been known to encounter an array of strange beasts brought to life through art, during the annual outdoor exhibition, Terrace Treasures, showcasing the region’s creativity.
Wildlife in Art can also be seen in the region’s art galleries, including the Saltbox in Helmsley - one of the north’s leading fine art and craft galleries, with ever-changing exhibitions from over 150 artists at any one time, many using locally-sourced materials and traditional rural crafts, or inspired by the local landscape and wildlife.
The UK’s Natural Supermarket
York & Ryedale are a foodie paradise – its farmers supplying a wealth of produce of such high quality, that it creates a natural supermarket, attracting Britain’s top chefs and gathering a golden harvest of awards and plaudits including Britain’s Best Market Town (Helmsley) and Yorkshire’s Food Capital (Malton). The secret behind their success? Care for the countryside. The region’s award-winning restaurants and farm shops champion produce that makes room for wildlife and a return to less intensive farming methods: slow-grown, free-range, locally-sourced (so no hiding!) and full of taste.
Where to sample wildlife-friendly food:
Environmental stewardship is at the heart of the 6000-acre Castle Howard estate, including the regeneration of hedgerows and field margins to encourage biodiversity, with areas set aside for wildlife and habitat benefits. The results can be sampled at the Castle Howard Farm Shop near Malton, which specialises in estate-reared meat, poultry and game, with beef from estate farmer Mike Fargher’s beloved Aberdeen Angus herd being the centrepiece of the estate’s Farm Shop. The shop has shelves overflowing with local produce: cheese, bread, home-baking, wines, honey, fruit and veggies.
SLOEmotion, in Barton le Willows near Malton harvests the hedgerow sustainably to produce their multi-award winning fruit liqueurs, such as sloe gin, vodka, brandy and whisky. They use traditional techniques with high concentrations of hand-picked wild fruit to create fabulous flavours, and nothing goes to waste, with the spent fruit used to produce chocolate truffles and chutneys.
Raisthorpe Manor’s award-winning gins and liqueurs are home-made from the finest, locally sourced ingredients and even water distilled from the chalk stream running beneath the garden. They might start their life humbly in the farmhouse kitchen, but two of their liqueurs are currently being used in the cocktail bars of Harvey Nichols nationwide.
Goodness Growing Farm Shop near York grows a wide range of organic vegetables, salads and herbs on their 7-acre farm, and also supplies local farm shops, restaurants and cafes - like nearby Quarmbys at Sheriff Hutton. They grow using environmentally and animal friendly farming methods, including green manure instead of spray chemicals, and natural pest control - planting flowers amongst vegetable crops to create mini-beast paradises.
York Brewery’s ‘Moor-ish Ale’ is brewed using heather from the North York Moors National Park, and donates 2p from every pint to pay for the planting of oak trees.
With England’s largest expanse of heather moorland, wildflower meadows and restored orchards, Ryedale has some of the UK’s happiest honeybees. The restored fruit trees of the ‘Orchard of the North’ produces an astonishing variety of award-winning juices, ciders, and liqueurs, including those of Orchards of Husthwaite and Ampleforth Abbey.
The area also boasts the most northerly commercial vineyard Ryedale Vineyard, where the award-winning wines, juice and cider from the family’s orchards have received international plaudits (and the vines even provide homes for nesting birds!). These, and many other excellent examples of wildlife-friendly local produce can be sampled at the region’s award-winning Farm Shops, including:
The Balloon Tree at Gate Helmsley near York (which has a PYO, and also stocks over 30 fruit & vegetables grown on their own farm)
Beadlam Grange Farm Shop near Helmsley is a multi-award winning farm shop specialising in beef, lamb and pork from the family’s surrounding farm, and also smoked fish from the nearby Yoadwath Mill Trout Farm.
The Whole Hogg Farm Shop between Malton & Pickering, is a traditional working farm with its own butchery, delicatessen and farmhouse produce including organic vegetables, jams, chutneys, bread and home-baking, alongside a tea-room and animal paddock with friendly pygmy goats, llamas, Shetland ponies and ducks.
Cedarbarn Farm Shop, PYO and café near Pickering is famed for its home-reared Aberdeen Angus beef and lamb, and home-grown asparagus and strawberries.
For a whole hamper of foodie treats head for York’s Shambles and Markets, or explore Ryedale’s Market Towns, like Helmsley (Britain’s Best Market Town) or Malton (Yorkshire’s Food Capital), with row upon row of independent shops, bakeries and breweries selling the highest-quality produce - fresh-picked, hand-crafted, home-baked, home-grown. The area’s historic towns and villages are not just picturesque, they’re still the lifeblood of their local communities, with centuries-old farmers’ markets and vibrant food and beer festivals celebrating the seasonal produce of land and sea. No struggling high streets here… As a starting point, try:
Malton is Yorkshire’s Food Capital, attracting Europe’s favourite chefs and food writers to its regular Food Festivals and Farmer’s Markets. The entire market-place – and especially the neighbouring Talbot Yard food court - is a foodie heaven, with the very best of Yorkshire on offer – in fact, the town has produced a Food Map and Artisan Trail to help you find your way around. For a little taste of Malton, watch the video.
Helmsley is Britain’s Best Market Town (2015), and also boasts Britain’s Best Small Shop – Hunters of Helmsley, a delicatessen, grocers, and Aladdin’s Cave of local gourmet. Helmsley’s ancient market-square is packed with independent stores specialising in local food and drink, which is proving irresistible to some of Britain’s leading chefs. Perhaps this is why Helmsley is becoming Yorkshire’s epicentre of fine dining, with:
two Michelin-star gastropubs, both combining British menus with the best of local produce: The Star Inn at Harome owned by top British chef, Andrew Pern, a local food hero; and the Black Swan at Oldstead (which also has 4AA Rosettes), run by brothers Tommy and James Banks.
A 3AA rosette restaurant at the Black Swan in Helmsley (and also a tea-room with the nation’s favourite Afternoon Teas!)
Yorkshire’s restaurant of the year, The Hare at Scawton (2015, as voted by the public)
The multi-award-winning Mannion & Co has just opened an artisan food kitchen & eatery in the town – home of ‘real bread’ and real Yorkshire pies!
Pickering is a busy market town, boasting the Organic Food Shop, with the widest selection of organic produce in Yorkshire including locally grown fruit and vegetables, bread, meat and eggs; the Feast Deli and Cafe have the very best of Yorkshire produce and local delicacies, from Black Pudding Scotch Eggs and Trout and Horseradish Quiches, to local cheeses and beers, freshly baked bread and cakes, and bacon and sausages from the Ginger Pig farm (which you can otherwise only find in the most exclusive London boutiques!)