A couple of weeks ago we packed our bags for a mid-week break in Skipton with Gorgeous Cottages – you can find out what we got up to here. We only had four full days to cram everything in, so before we set off I spent hours researching things to do with young children – mainly via TripAdvisor and There We Go’s Facebook Page – and it turns out there’s absolutely LOADS on offer in this part of North Yorkshire.
Skipton itself is just at the foot of the Yorkshire Dales National Park – look for the huge expanse of green on the map and you’ll find it just underneath. It makes a great base for exploring the Dales, and is within easy reach of small, picturesque towns like Ilkley and Grassington, as well as bustling Harrogate which is just over half an hour’s drive away.
As we weren’t staying for long and the kids aren’t huge fans of long car journeys, we focussed on things to do within a 30-minute drive of Skipton. There are so many more activities we weren’t able to try, so I’ll write a separate post and link it back here when it’s live. We’ll refer to it when we go back to Yorkshire, and if the 3-year-old has anything to do with it, we will be going back. Soon.
Top 5 Family Things To Do In North Yorkshire
For now, though, here are our top 5 things to do for kids and families in North Yorkshire. My children are 1-and-a-half and 3-and-a-half so I can guarantee these are suitable for toddlers and preschoolers, but there were also lots of much older kids at all of these places, too, so they’re by no means limited to that age group. And yes, they’re in order of preference – starting with our absolute favourite…
1. Paddle at Bolton Abbey
An afternoon spent in the grounds of Bolton Abbey was, without doubt, the highlight of our week. It’s a huge blanket of rolling green countryside with the crumbling walls of the 12th-century monastery and the twinkling water of the River Wharfe at its heart. The banks of the river are sandy and pebbly, there’s endless green space for picnics, and there are 80 miles’ worth of footpaths if you fancy a walk (or need a small person to take a nap in the buggy).
I only wish we’d spent the whole day here – we didn’t arrive until around 4pm but car parking is £8 regardless of how long you stay (it’s worth knowing that the ticket is valid for all three car parks, though, if you want to move). We intended to stay until way past bedtime, only to be told the grounds and car park closed at 7pm – turns out it’s only open until 9pm in high season. Still, it was hands-down our favourite place – the kids spent the whole time paddling on the banks of the river and playing in the sand and the weather couldn’t have been better.
If you’re planning a visit, pack a picnic and bring buckets and spades, towels and swimmers, and wellies or jelly shoes – it’s pretty rocky. It gets really busy here during the summer holidays, so visit off-season if you’re able to.
Bolton Abbey, Skipton, BD23 6AL. Tel: 01756 718000. £8 for car parking. Open year-round but times vary – take a look here for seasonal info as there are also last admission times.
2. Feed the animals at Hesketh Farm Park
We visited a few different farms while we were in Yorkshire, but Hesketh Farm Park was by far our favourite. It’s in a really beautiful elevated setting with sweeping views of the Dales all the way around – especially from the outdoor picnic area, which is huge. It’s a working farm, with animals both indoors and out, so you can visit whatever the weather (although if you’ve got a choice, go on a nice day to enjoy the views).
We visited on our last morning in Yorkshire and the cost for all 4 of us came to £20 (the £21 family ticket came out more expensive as the youngest is under 2). As you go in to the farm you’re given a little card with times of animal feedings on throughout the day, so you can go and help out if you want to. There’s a nice play area inside with sandpits and ride-on tractors split into toddler areas and zones for bigger kids, plus a straw maze. There’s a lovely café serving the best freshly-baked sausage rolls we’ve ever tasted, too.
Outside there’s a decent playground, more animals, a big tractor to sit on, plus things like go-carts for older kids. What I really like about this place, though, is the fact that bringing your own picnic is absolutely fine, and if the number of picnic benches is anything to go by, it’s positively encouraged. Just pop in to the cafe for a sausage roll if you can – I promise you it’s worth it.
Hesketh Farm Park, Bolton Abbey, Skipton BD23 6HA. Tel: 01756 710444. Under-1s are free, under-2s are £3, children £6 and adults £5.50. Group and family discounts available.
3. Go for ice-cream at Billy Bob’s Parlour
I wasn’t entirely convinced about Billy Bob’s Ice-Cream Parlour before we went – an authentic American diner in the middle of Yorkshire just seemed a bit, well, out of place. But the reviews on TripAdvisor were nothing short of gushing, so we decided we’d give it a shot one morning.
I’m so glad we did. While it is indeed an American diner – and you can have a full meal here if you want to (teens will love the retro interiors) – it also has a huge selection of ice-creams, a big outdoor play area and two huge play barns. The latter are covered over in case of bad weather, separated into under-7s and over-7s areas, and entrance is £1 per child. When the diner gets busy (and it does get very busy during school holidays), priority in the play barns is given to people sitting down to eat, so if you’re just here for an ice-cream it’s worth bearing that in mind.
As we visited out of season we didn’t have any issues using both areas. We arrived at 10.30 to avoid the crowds, spent £10 on ice creams for all 4 of us, plus £2 for both kids to enter the play barns, and left when they finally ran out of steam hours later. I’d definitely recommend coming in the morning, as weird as it is eating ice-cream pre-11am, and if you want to sit down to eat you’ll definitely need to book. Also bear in mind there’s a strict policy that only food and drink bought on the premises is allowed, and there were some building works going on when we went, so it looks like the place will be even bigger by summer 2016.
Billy Bob’s Ice-Cream Parlour, Calm Slate Farm, Bolton Abbey BD23 6EU. Tel: 01756 711826. Prices vary and booking for the diner is essential in summer.
4. Fly a kite on the Dales (and pack a picnic)
Our IKEA kite has been gathering dust in the cupboard for about a year – much to the eldest’s dismay – and we gave it it’s first outing on the Dales. And what a place to learn to fly a kite. The views from our holiday cottage, Higher Scarcliffe, were so beautiful I struggled to do them justice in our photographs (my shoddy camera skills – nothing to do with the scenery).
The ground in the Dales tends to be hilly and uneven so while it’s not ideal territory for things like football, it’s fine for kite-flying. Plus, because the hills are exposed to the elements, you’ve got a high chance of catching some decent wind at some point.
Pack a picnic if you want to make a day of it, with local essentials like parkin – a kind of ginger cake – and Wensleydale cheese from Keelham Farm Shop in Skipton (it’s amazing – we went in for a few nibbles and spent a fortune). This part of the world is so beautiful it’d be wrong not to sit back and enjoy it. Plus – picnic food aside – it’s free.
Yorkshire Dales National Park, free. Take a look at The Walking Englishman for some good local walks.
5. Go for a caterpillar ride at Thornton Hall Farm Country Park
Another farm in the Skipton area, Thornton Hall Farm has a brilliant little caterpillar ride for young kids, and it’s not always easy to find decent rides for under-5s. For £2 a pop, a guy drives a quad bike with a string of shelled-out plastic barrels attached, and circles around a field in loops. The Boy was grinning from ear to ear throughout, so it was worth every penny.
The farm itself makes a nice morning out for little ones in particular as the play area itself feels quite central and contained. We visited in the morning and it was slightly more expensive than Hesketh Farm Park, which is one of the reasons it’s lower down the list – we paid £21.50 plus a pound or two (I can’t actually remember) for some animal feed and £2 for the caterpillar ride. When we visited there was a little area to try out a few circus skills, as well as pony rides and quad bikes for older children, plus an outdoor playground.
Inside there’s a big play barn with a huge multi-lane slide, a straw maze, rope-swing, ride-on tractors and sand pits. There’s also a central area with a few picnic benches, and a cafe that was having some work done when we visited. In fact, it looked like they were building a huge extension at the entrance to the farm, which – although not ideal for our visit due to the noise and dust – does mean it’s likely to be bigger and better just in time for summer.
Thornton Hall Farm Country Park, Thornton-in-Craven, Skipton BD23 3TJ. Tel: 01282 841148. Under-1s are free, under 2s £3.75, children £6.25, adults £5.75. Group and family discounts available.