Put your passports away: with the Yorkshire Dales on our doorstep, who needs beaches and palm trees? With caves, waterfalls, rolling hills and steam railways, castles and coves, there’s loads to see and do. For our first camping trip of the year, we headed over to Bolton Abbey for a weekend of fresh Yorkshire air and plenty of outdoor adventures.
Getting to the Yorkshire Dales from York
It was just over an hour by car down the A59 from our house in York to Catgill Campsite, our home for the weekend. It can get busy at weekends but we didn’t encounter much traffic, in spite of it being a sunny Friday afternoon.
Camping at Catgill Campsite
This was our first camping trip of the year, and pitched our tent at Catgill Campsite (visit the Catgill website for info), just outside Bolton Abbey. It’s a friendly, family-run site with beautiful views that’s a short walk to the attractions of Bolton Abbey. Get there early for the best pitches: we arrived late and had to set up camp on a slope, meaning a lot of rolling around during the night. Fresh coffee and croissants from their breakfast coffee shop made us feel more human the following morning. If you prefer four solid walls, there are plenty of hotels nearby, including the rather smart Devonshire Arms (possibly one for a child-free weekend) and family-friendly Premier Inns within a 20 minute drive.
A family day out at Bolton Abbey
Aside from the usual camping antics – sitting around the fire toasting marshmallows, letting the kids run wild and getting bitten by mosquitoes – we had a fantastic day at Bolton Abbey. It’s a stunning place with lots of things to do for active families: embark on a riverside walk, have a picnic by the river Wharfe and check out the abbey ruins. We played in the river for ages, paddling and throwing stones, and then walked up to the old priory where there’s a children’s quiz to keep them interested. The highlight for many children, especially during the warmer months, is the ‘beach’ area – just take some nets and clothes you don’t mind getting soaked. There are ice cream vans dotted about for an additional seaside vibe too.
Bolton Abbey Welly Walk & Stepping Stones
We walked back down to the river to the stepping stones (really fun but not one for little legs) and then embarked on the Welly Walk, a free walk through the woods for families with slightly older children. We managed it fine with our three kids but it’s not suitable for buggies or wheelchairs as it’s uneven and steep in places. It’s a fantastic walk with various activities dotted along the route: climb the ladder and slide down the snake; climb through the spider’s web, make your way out of the maze and walk the slackline. Our children loved all the climbing, sliding and balancing so much that they forgot to complain about the fact that they were walking. Reward yourselves at the end with a treat from the tearoom or a picnic by the river. It would be hard to find a more picturesque place to rest and it’s all free, just pay to park (£10 per car).
Lunch at Billy Bob’s Parlour
Believe it or not, the sun doesn’t always shine in Yorkshire, but when the heavens open there are still things to do. Having seen the forecast, we planned ahead and booked a table at the legendary Billy Bob’s Parlour (billybobsparlour.com), just outside Bolton Abbey. It’s an all-singing, all-dancing 1950s American diner in the heart of the Dales where you can eat, play and pretend to be extras from Happy Days. We had lunch – a hearty all-American feast of ribs, nachos and pancakes – and then headed to the undercover play area to run some of it off (there’s an admission fee per child and you must be dining in the restaurant).
There are two areas: one for under 7s and one for older kids, which means nobody’s left out. Two hours later and all three of our children were hot, sweaty and happy (and asking for ice cream, made on the premises). Hesketh Farm Park looks like another good rainy day option, but we’d be tempted to suggest that you just put on your waterproofs and get exploring as there’s so much to see and do. As always, we ran out of time to do everything we wanted to – the perfect excuse to go back this summer. See you there?
Good to know – Car parking must currently be booked online before you visit. Tables at Billy Bob’s need pre-booking too, and it gets very booked up during peak times so it pays to be organised.