As you may know, I’ve got five kids. Five. That can make taking them places somewhat tricky as the activities on offer have to be suitable for everyone from ages 4 to 14. And as anyone with a teenager knows, keeping them entertained and preventing them from being a happiness-devouring pit of despair is very, very, important indeed.
So, without further preamble, here are 5 things that you can do with your kids in Yorkshire.
Actually, I say “without further preamble” but I should clarify that this is “Yorkshire” as in “The Yorkshire Mostly of My Childhood”. So Ripon, Masham, that sort of place, with occasional forays further afield to York and beyond to the coast.
Get out and run around a lot.
Seriously, this is Yorkshire. There’s a lot of it. And most of it is moorland. There’s a spot not too far from Masham, goes by the name of Druid’s Temple. It’s a folly, nothing to do with Druids (for further information, see Professor Herring’s wonderful book “You’re not a druid, you work in accounts.”) but it’s set on the edge of the moors, has miles of pathways to run around, you can play a fantastic game of hide and seek, take your dog, and finish up at Brymoors’ Ice Cream Parlour for a triple scoop pot with white chocolate sauce.
And that’s definitely a big, shouty, adventurous, “SCIENCE!” just like they’d use it in Atomic Robo. Get thee to Magna, just off the M1 near that big shopping centre outside Sheffield who’s name escapes me.
Magna is an ex-Steel works. The first clue is the sheer size of the place. The second, as you drive into the car park, is the huge steel bull that used to stand guard at the side of the M1. Inside the massive, massive, shed you’re presented with 6 exhibits and a few side-attractions. The first of these side-attractions gets you playing music with some of the old kit in the place – a harp made from bungee cords that stretch up to the ceiling, some 60 feet above you, visualising the sound waves as you pluck and strum. A pendulum made from an old crane, knocking against tuned steel drums below you. And then you’re in to the elements. 4 zones, Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. You must journey through each of these zones, completing mental, physical, skill, or mystery challenges, to win crystals. Each crystal represents 5 seconds of time in the Crystal Maze… Sorry, distracted there. That show’s 25 years old! Man, they need to bring that back.
In “Fire”, you’ll be shown how a forge works, witness – at really close quarters – a fire tornado, watch crystals melt. “Air” demonstrates sound, wind, actual tornados. “Earth” has diggers – actual JCB diggers you can drive! – mines, hydraulics. “Water” is the most interactive, hands-on, of the zones – water cannons, methods of lifting water (pumps, Archimedes’ screw, that kind of thing), a brilliant 3-rise loch system and boats. Definitely the kids’ favourite!
And then there’s The Big Melt. A Yorkshire-accented voice talks you through the process of making steel from the raw materials, complete with son-et-lumiere and fireworks from the old furnace still in-situ. As an aside, you’ve seen this if you saw the last episode of the CBBC show “The Sparticle Mystery” recently.
We had my dad with us, which tends to mean we cover the insides of these places at lightning speed – I’ll never forget the forced march we went on one day through “The Deep” at Hull. Arrived for opening time, out again long before lunch was even considered. But at Magna we’d gone mob-handed so someone was on hand to distract him with something new at all times.
And the highlight of Magna? The playpark outside. Ranges from small sandpit-style stuff near the gates right through to big climbing and bouncing stuff at the far end. Definitely kept all the kids occupied for another hour, and the cafe inside Magna kept Dad supplied with tea through the day. Magna occupied us all for a good 4 or 5 hours, and we finished off at Brymoors’ for some ice cream.
Visit the Sea!
Whitby’s not far, in the grand scheme of things, from Masham. In fact it took us as long to get there as it did for all of us to get to Magna. Parking at the Abbey was free – and will remain so throughout the winter, charges coming back into effect at the end of March. Brilliant idea and one Rutland Water could do to emulate. Hell, the day we went to Rutland they should’ve been paying me to park up!
Things to do in Whitby. Well, the Abbey is the obvious place to start. Huge area of grounds to run around in, cracking visitor center – and with it being half-term, they had an Executioner and his Assistant telling tales and keeping everyone entertained on the hour, every hour. Whitby Abbey’s and English Heritage property, and when you’ve got 5 kids, having an English Heritage membership is nigh-on essential.
Once you’ve run them all ragged at the Abbey, head down the endless stair into Whitby proper. As you’re going down the stairs you can gauge the queues in the fish and chip shops across the bay and work out which one you’re getting your fish from. Oh, and buy kippers. As long as it’s before half-two on a weekday (and probably earlier on a weekend), you can get really good kippers from a store that’s untroubled by technology. Take cash.
Whenever you go to Whitby it’s going to be windy, so dress for an English Summer.
I didn’t know Yorkshire had an Air Museum. It’s on the opposite side of York from Masham, so it’s a fair hike around the ring road to get there. Oh, and when they say “Immediate Right Turn” when you come off the roundabout, they mean immediate! I was following my dad in convoy and we both missed this turn!
It’s basically a Yorkshire version of Duxford, built using the layout and, where possible, the buildings themselves, of the WW2 airfield on the site. There are several hangers of planes, a number of exhibits focussing on gunnery, bomber command, the regimental goat, etc. and a cinema (which was lovely and warm). The food is pretty good, and they’ve Black Sheep beer in the fridge. Not that it should be in the fridge, but it’s still good beer.
Having been to both Duxford and now the Yorkshire Air Museum, I reckon the YAM is actually the better place to visit. For one, it’s smaller, so you can take everything in without being overwhelmed by the amazing tessellation of aircraft you get at Duxford (that space between the Lancaster and the Harrier is actually Concorde, for example). It’s not as well known, so the site was pretty quiet when we visited. Thirdly, there’s a few more hands-on bits of actual plane for the kids to get into and have fun climbing on. No play-park with wooden Lancaster, mind you.
Have I mentioned Brymoors yet? No? Well, head from Masham out into the depths of the moors. Drive towards the wonderful Jerveaux Abbey but just before the sharp right-hander that’ll get you down the hill there, go straight on down the farm lane towards the big, green, shed. Here you will find the most wonderful flavours of ice cream ever imagined. Toffee apple. Mango and banana. St Clements (oranges and lemons, obviously!) And the white chocolate sauce! Amazing. So good, we took a bottle of it home with us. Get there before 5 if you want a nice, warming, cup of tea to go with your ice cream.
So there you go. First off, before visiting Yorkshire, grab yourself an English Heritage family membership. There’s a wealth of stuff around the Masham area that you’ll be in to for nothing – we made our money back by visiting 2 properties. In a year. C’mon, you can do that, easy! Just think of all the knights and jousting you’ll see over the summer! Richmond Castle’s an absolute beast, so’s Middleham. There’s a ton of stuff that’s just not open this time of year – The Forbidden Corner’s my out and out favourite of those attractions – so you’ve a good excuse to come back in the summer.
Food’s excellent – great fish and chips on the marketplace in Masham, the Black Sheep Bistro is always good and I ate at The Blue Lion for the first time this trip. Absolutely stunning food, great wine, superb location.
Long story short, Yorkshire’s brilliant. And although I grew up in this area, the chance to do it as a visitor, to see things through the eyes of a tourist makes it even more special.