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Review: A Walk at Sutton Bank National Park

Sutton Bank Visitor Centre

The good folk of Yorkshire are never short of a grand claim or two, from the size and magnificence of the county to our Olympic medal record and the life-changing properties of a properly made Yorkshire pudding and a carefully crafted cup of Yorkshire Tea. So perhaps it should be no surprise that God’s Own Country also lays claim to ‘the finest view in England’. No, it’s not the view from of the rooftops from the top of York Minster or the North Sea from Scarborough Castle (both incredible vistas, by the way), but the view of the rolling countryside from Sutton Bank.

Sutton Bank National Park Centre

We headed out to Sutton Bank on a quiet Sunday before lockdown for some fresh air and to introduce the kids to the famous view. Just a half-hour drive from home, we hadn’t been in the car long before the kids started pointing out the sheep and then, even more excitedly, the White Horse at Kilburn. Rather than start our walk at the White Horse, we drove up Sutton Bank to the Visitor Centre with its promise of loos, a cafe and an outdoor play area. The small natural play area was a huge hit with the kids (10, 7 and 5) with just one drawback: they didn’t want to leave. With trees to climb, places to hide and lots of balancing challenges, the appeal is obvious. 

Sutton Bank birdwatching

No sooner had we managed to lure them out of the play area than we got stuck inside the visitor centre’s Bird Buffet: a dedicated bird-spotting area where you can use a pair of binoculars to spot the many species of birds that have come to dine on seeds. The kids ticked off the ones they’d seen and even had a go and drawing a couple of them. There are a number of walking trails that are available online, but we picked one up from the Visitor Centre for a small donation. 

A certain amount of encouragement later (thankfully we’d gone equipped with a box full of flapjacks that proved a good incentive), we headed out on the short circular White Horse Walk as we had a birthday party to get back for in York that afternoon. Once we had worked out where the trail starts (across the main road from the Visitor Centre, as it turns out), it was a very clear route all the way around. Had we not had a map, we could have just followed the many other families, dog walkers and couples making the most of the glorious day. 

Sutton Bank glider

With three children to keep happy, there’s always a fairly high risk that one, two or all of them will decide that walking’s boring and they’d rather be at home nagging for screen time. Not this time, though. Whether it was the incredible views, the entertainment of watching the gliders take off and land or the novelty of actually being able to chat to each other without any distractions, everyone enjoyed themselves and nobody complained. The White Horse was a bit of a disappointment for them because the route we took us to the top of it, so we could just see a corner of it rather than the whole thing, but that’s a good reason for us to go back and do another route next time.

By the time we got back to the Visitor Centre, we all felt that we’d had a good walk and a really good morning together. The cake we’d promised the kids from the cafe didn’t materialize because the queues were huge, but they were in such a positive mood that they didn’t kick off (amazing). Besides, they know I keep a not-so-secret stash of snacks in the car for exactly this purpose: you don’t get through a decade of parenting without learning a peacekeeping trick or two. 

Incredibly, ‘the finest view in England’ wasn’t any of those that we’d seen on our walk, but one that’s a short distance from the car park. We took a quick detour for a look and, yes, it’s stunning. Well done, Yorkshire – you win. Again.

Sutton Bank trip essentials

Address: Sutton Bank National Park Centre, Sutton Bank, Thirsk YO7 2EH

Distance from York: 45 mins (approx)

Opening hours: Visitor Centre hours vary by season; check the website for current hours

PS – Click here to find our collection of the best walks in and around York in our handy guide

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