Sometimes when the daily stresses of work and life are taking its toll, you can get crazy ideas into your head, like deciding to go camping. That is exactly what happened to me and group of friends when we took it upon ourselves to go camping up north when winter was only just beginning to thaw out. I guess we thought it might be nice to get some fresh air and it would be a relatively cheap holiday.
We prepared for the trip by going to Halfords to buy all the necessities we needed for a long weekend sleeping in the great outdoors. My husband and I purchased a double domed tent for £20, a large airbed for £12, a child-sized foldable chair on special for £1, a sleeping bag for £30, an inflatable pillow for £2, two tin cups and a foot pump (to blow up the airbed). We packed the car up on Friday with pillows, warm clothing and drinks as we set off on a four hour drive after work from London to Great Ayton, full of excitement.
We arrived at our reserved campsite at Fletcher’s Farm at around 11.30pm in the evening. It was pitch black outside and we looked to setup camp right at the edge of the grounds. We parked the car and put the headlights on high beam so we could see what we were doing. It took the guys about 40minutes to put up the tents and inflate the airbeds, all by the car headlights and using iPhone torches, but they were incredibly proud of themselves once they achieved it. With the tents up there was just one thing left to do, crack open a few drinks and discuss British literature and politics before calling it a night.
- Happy Campers
- Fletchers Farm
- Roseberry Topping
- Tocketts Bridge Car Boot Sale
- The Cod & Lobster
- Staithes & Port Mulgrave Walk
- Dog and The Hounds Inn
- Whitby Abbey
- Whitby Town Centre
- Spiritual Connections
- The Marine Restaurant
- Runswick Bay
- Robin Hood’s Bay
- Lessons Learnt
THE HAPPY CAMPERS
We were a group five city goers from London to Manchester, ranging from zero to medium camping experience.
DAY 1: HIKING AND BBQ DINNER
The first night sleeping outdoors was surprisingly pleasant, and no doubt it was the abundance of oxygen we were inhaling that made us wake up feeling fresh. We woke up around 10am and made use of the available amenities at the farm to freshen up and tuck into a hearty English breakfast. The great thing about Fletcher’s Farm is it feels very remote and isolated on the campsite but you are only a 15 minute walk away from clean toilets and civilisation. We then headed to Newton under Roseberry for our first hike.
This walk is approximately 1 hour however it is considered one of the more difficult walks in the region due to its sharp ascent up Roseberry Topping, Cleveland’s most famous hill. The summit of Roseberry topping has a distinctive curled top with jagged cliff and it is said to have awakened in James Cook his sense of adventure, when he and his father went walking here when the family lived in Great Ayton.
The walk was indeed a challenge. Fortunately I was fit enough from going to the gym that I was the first in my group to reach the top, securing first place by more than 10 minutes. But it wasn’t easy. The climb is so steep that when you do make it, your legs are hurting and you feel out of breath. At the top we rested whilst enjoying panoramic views of the region, seeing square fields of green and yellow as far as the eye can see.
The climb down was much easier, although a little slippery at times because of the mud, and at one point we were threatened by a group of cows trying to eat the grass on the path. On reaching the end of the trial we treated ourselves to ice creams for accomplishing such an exerting feat.
Next we chanced upon Tocketts Bridge Carboot Sale, or as the locals say, where the booty is on! Most items were selling for around a pound here and we bought an unusual collection of valuables including metal chalice cups and shot glasses (a la Game of Thrones), a framed picture of Whitby and a tennis ball. We had hoped to find a guitar for that night’s entertainment, but they had sold out. It was a pretty cool garage sale as there were lot of interesting military uniforms, camping equipment and music books also on sale, plus a little canteen for buying tea and hot chips.
We then moved on to the fishing village of Staithes for a spot of lunch. Apart from its fishing history, Staithes is most famous for once being home to James Cook, who worked as a grocer’s apprentice here. Today, Staithes is a very quiet town. Most of the houses owned are second homes for city dwellers in nearby Manchester and Leeds and remain unoccupied for a large part of the year. The town is therefore reliant on visitors to bring in business. There is a very small high street with a couple of pubs, a news agency and some art galleries. Beyond that is a grey sea flanked by a little beach and towering cliffs. Because the area is so picturesque it has always attracted its fair share of artists and at one time, was home to the Northern Impressionists a group of artists inspired by the impressionist movement. There are a number of artists who still base themselves in Staines and run artistic workshops and getaways for tourists. There is also the annual Arts and Heritage Festival in Staithes.
We went to a busy pub called The Cod & Lobster, where we were lucky to get a seat! If you go here, you must order their fish and chips with mushy peas, which is not only their specialty but it is one of the best fish and chips you can get in the UK. This fish is very fresh and the batter is golden and crunchy. Their other dishes are okay but nothing to write home about. We had also ordered a seafood platter, which was mostly deep fried stuff, and a salmon and prawn kebab, which was terribly dry and overcooked. In this pub it was very easy to spot who were the locals and who were the tourists. I overheard a group of regulars expressing some discomfort over how busy the pub was and the queue for the bar, but they said they were glad it was making some money over the long weekend as it had been a very quiet winter.
With a full stomach and chill in the air we were ready for our next hike called the Staithes and Port Mulgrave Walk. It is an even and easy walk, approximately 2-3 hours. We started from the Staithes coast and walked up the cliffs and along the cliffs edge, where the grass was green and lush and we we met with some horses grazing. When we had been by the seashore, the sea had looked menacing and grey, but from the clifftops the water now seemed blue and virtuous and the view was worthy of a postcard.
When we reached Port Mulgrave we turned in from the coast and walked inwards through an enchanted forrest until we reached a sloping road.
We passed by a most charming little pub called the Fox and Hounds Inn, where we greeted by a wood carving of said name and we decided to pop in for a refresher. Although it was late spring, the inn had a roaring fire inside, the drinks were cheap and the place was cosy. But something just didn’t sit right. The locals looked at us with cold eyes as we spoke in loud Russian accents and then we noticed the many stickers and tributes promoting Brexit. We were taken aback by the following poem mounted by the door:
If multiculture is the goal
To which we should aspire,
Why are half the Balkans
Ring-fenced with razor-wire?
Normal folk have learned too well,
From Hungary to Sweden,
That open borders are the Road to Hell,
They’re not the Gates of Eden.
Portugal, Italy, Green and Spain,
Four reasons I won’t be voting Remain,
Bankruptcy’s ruined their Euro dreams,
Collateral damage from Merkel’s schemes.
The EU does not want us rocking the boat,
Hence Cameron’s propaganda,
They need all our money to keep it afloat,
It’s like giving bamboo to a panda.
Health and safety is out of hand,
They have to find someone to blame,
Determined to make us claim.
One side effect they didn’t expect
Was an improved education,
Literacy levels are on the deck
But we can all spell compensation.
In a former life in times of strife
There was humour in this nation,
Like they san in 1936
At the Royal Abdication,
‘Hark, the herald angels sing,
Mrs Simpson’s pinched our King.
We drained our glasses and headed back to Great Ayton, were we stopped at the Cooperative Store to pick up supplies for that evenings BBQ back at the campsite. We bought a large disposable BBQ, sausages, garlic bread, corn on the cob, marinated pork chops, litre of vodka, red wine, beer and juices.
Edgar and Vova then dropped us off at the campsite whist they then went in search of some garden torches. We waited almost two hours in the blistering cold winds of Northern Yorkshire for them to come back. When they returned they were empty handed but nonetheless we were delighted to break out the alcohol and light up the BBQ to stay warm. Nothing beats cooking and eating outdoors and we soon became jolly and turned on some music. The disposable BBQ started to dim so we added every scrap of rubbish, paper and plastic we could find to keep the fire going. What a great first day camping.
DAY 2: WHITBY
My airbed had become deflated overnight, so I woke up with a headache and sore back after sleeping on the cold hard ground. Nonetheless we were soon in good spirits after enjoying another full English breakfast to start the day. Today we were heading to Whitby.
Whitby is a 45 minute drive from Great Ayton and we parked just by the Whitby Abbey. As the story goes, this was once an impressive, working abbey brimming with life and run by a community of Benedictine monks until 1540, when it was destroyed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of Monasteries. As part of his plan to divorce his wife and become the Supreme Head of the Church of England, Henry VIII went about destroying all remnants of Catholic worship and stole gold and treasures from many monasteries, priories and convents to fund his wars with France.
Fortunately, the ruins of the Whitby Abbey survived and remain remarkably well intact to this day. They look majestic yet sad as they stand all alone on the top of a hill, overlooking the shore, and remind us that not only has this happy community of worshippers forever gone but so too has the true sense of community abandoned mankind. It costs £7.10 to visit the Abbey and you also get a free audio guide where you can listen to the history and stories from characters who used to live and work here. Be wary of the old man selling tickets though, he is very grumpy and called us miscreants for no good reason.
The abbey happened to be celebrating British beverages during our visit, and had a stand selling lots of interesting alcoholic drinks made in England including flavoured mead and potato vodkas. I bought some elderflower vodka, which came in a beautifully crafted bottle with a special cork top, however the rest of my group quickly pointed out I had been ripped off as it was only 22% alcohol (vodka is normally 40%).
We then walked through the adjoining church and cemetery and made a deep descent into the town centre of Whitby. Whitby is located on the west coast of England and has a beautiful harbour full of boats and ships, and narrow cobbled streets lined with charming little shops. It was just like a British memory, as we purchased cockles from the fishmonger whilst contemplating the lapping waves. We particularly enjoyed visiting the market place here, which sold all sorts of interesting knick knacks from fabric squares and buttons to history books and shells. The market vendors were so trusting here as when they went on break they did not close shop but left a box for people to leave money for their purchases.
We also discovered a really interesting witchcraft shop called Spiritual Connections that had occult and decorative jewellery, clothing, accessories, ornaments and offered tarot readings. Make sure you like their Facebook page here! I was particularly impressed with the manager of the store who enthralled us with his fascination of spiders. He explained that spiders are one of the few living creatures that live by their own will: because they don’t have any organs they need to continuously vibrate to remain alive (even when they are sleeping). The manager said he used to breed tarantula spiders and once had more than 300 living in his home. He made us laugh when he told us the story of a particularly large spider he had, about the size of a football, and who used to sit on his head. Sometimes he would greet people at the door forgetting it was there and inevitably would give his visitor a bit of a surprise!
After pottering around the various shops we dared to visit the Dracula Experience. If you have read the book you will know that Dracula first landed in Whitby when he came to the UK. We paid £3 each to walk through this scary house that pays tribute to the legend of Count Dracula. It wasn’t very scary, but you can watch a YouTube video of it below.
The highlight of our day has to be the late lunch we had here. We dined at The Marine Hotel, which boasts fresh seafood dishes and gourmet recipes. Everything we had here was incredible. I ordered a Virgin Mary to start, followed by oysters. For main course I had the lobster thermidore, my husband had lobster with garlic butter, and we shared sautéed asparagus with oyster mayonnaise. The lobsters were part of a special lunch meal deal, so we only paid £12 each and they came with chips and salad. The taste was amazing and the portion size was generous. Everybody was disappointed when their meal came to an end because they didn’t want to stop eating, it tasted so good! This place was five stars!!
After a long walk back to the car we headed for our campsite. This time we were well stocked to survive a freezing night ahead with plenty of vodka, red wine, torches, firewood and mead. We had learnt a few tips and tricks from Bear Grylls and we created a big bonfire in an aluminium dish using firelights, some twigs, paper and the firewood stacked on top. In less than 20 minutes we had a roaring fire going and were toasting marshmallows and snacking on Sea Salt and Chardonnay crisps.
On the third day we woke up with some hangovers and regret, and we felt sad that the camping trip had come to an end. We began the day with strong coffees and breakfast followed by the thankless task of packing away all the tents and camping equipment. It was lucky that we had burned all the rubbish in the fire on our first night, as it saved us a few trips back and forth to the rubbish tip and we had much more space in our car.
We started the long drive back to London but not without stopping off at a few places along the way.
First stop we made was at Runswick Bay, a small coastal town that is well known for having one of the smallest houses in the UK. We peered into the windows of the house which was one single combined room (kitchen, bedroom, dining) and an adjoining bathroom. It was very well organised and compact and I could see myself living there.We then walked along the beach and costal rocks where we saw groups of people fishing for crabs and prawns.
We also made a stop at Robin Hood’s Bay, which was also on the coast and set on a steep incline so had many interesting little lanes and streets to explore. There are numerous beautiful hikes to take here however we had run out of time as we needed to get back to London.
The outdoors are great however after my first proper camping adventure there were some key lessons learnt:
- Camp where there are clean bathrooms within walking distance. Lack of good plumbing can really spoil the mood.
- Camp when it’s good weather. We spent most of our evenings trying to stay warm by lighting fires and drinking. It would have been more comfortable if the weather was good.
- Blow up your airbed every night as it deflates after you sleep on it
- Bring washing up supplies to clean dirty cups and dishes
- Bring waterproof clothes and shoes for the mornings when everything is wet with dew
- Sleep nude in your sleeping bag, you will feel warmer than sleeping with multiple layers.
- Bring a guitar for campfire songs
- Do a lot of hiking, the more energy you burn during the day the better you will sleep at night
- Don’t leave food out as there are many creatures including rats who will come and eat it!