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Travel: New normal, old comforts in Yorkshire

The famous 199 steps lead to Whitby Abbey
The famous 199 steps lead to Whitby Abbey

It all started with the confirmation email for our cottage in the pretty market town of Pickering.

There was the usual information about how to get there and what we might like to see amidst the glories of the Yorkshire Moors.

But then there was also a notification about how our check-in had been put back by two hours to allow for an extra-deep clean of the property. We should remember to take face masks, disposable gloves, hand sanitiser and wipes.

Oh, and were we Covid-19-free and fit to travel?

This was life after lockdown, the new stay-safe staycation and it was going to be a different holiday than we were used to. But, having barely popped our heads out of the back door for months, it wasn’t merely a small price to pay, but actually reassuringly comforting.

With foreign breaks a no-no for millions this year, UK holiday cottage bookings have enjoyed a post-lockdown boom. And our Sykes Cottages property was to be a very welcome home from home, a little security blanket bubble.

The ruins of Pickering Castle

The Old Cartway is a 19th Century Grade II listed terrace, minutes from the centre and owner Zak was on hand to give us a – socially distanced – look round.

He apologised for the absence of freshly baked scones and homemade jam as restrictions meant they’d had to replace them with shop-bought packets of biscuits, crumpets and bread. Even the teabags had been put into the jar by his wife with a pair of tweezers.

However, it still had all the hallmarks of love and consideration, as did the cottage itself. Stonemason Zak had used his skills to turn a basic old shell into a cracking, comfortable home sleeping six.

The character, including the original exposed beams and plasterwork, had been retained, but every modern convenience, from great wi-fi to wall-mounted TVs with Netflix, had been tastefully added.

With an enclosed garden, including private car parking, to enjoy sunny breakfasts, we really couldn’t have asked for more.

Pickering is your quintessential market town with a 12th Century Castle and a magnificently spired church, dating back to 270 BC, sitting atop the pretty main shopping street.

It’s a lovely place to while away a few hours but its central location means it’s the perfect stop-off point for everywhere from Whitby and Scarborough to Harrogate and York.

The North Yorks Moors Railway remains a firm favourite with visitors

Not everything was open again and we were too early to get back on board an old favourite, the North Yorks Moors Railway, which has become a familiar sight to millions through Channel 5’s The Yorkshire Steam Railway: All Aboard.

It has now started running shorter trips between Pickering and Levisham and Goathland to Grosmont, in socially distanced carriages, and is still a fabulous way to get up on to the moors.

Even through we couldn’t let the train take the strain, a visit to one of the stops, Goathland, was a must.

The setting for ITVs Heartbeat, it’s an unchanging beauty in an ever-changing world.
Getting there is a real pleasure too, either on the main Whitby road or one of the smaller tracks that snake across the moors, wild and resplendent in heather.

It’s still a Mecca for visitors and, unlike the lockdown days, the sheep that wander freely everywhere were well outnumbered by day trippers.

We discovered a couple of the lesser-known attractions which were well worth doing, though.

The Rail Trail, starting from just behind the car park, follows the route of an earlier railway. And the Centenary Trail, next to the Goathland Hotel, is a lovely walk through the countryside, commemorating the 12 villagers who lost their lives during the First World War.

© Shutterstock
Peasholm Park in Scarborough

A short drive away is Whitby and it, too, had an encouraging air of normality. While there were signs and hand sanitiser stations everywhere, it seemed very much business as usual.

And the famous 199 steps – still a puff but worth it – take you to the headland at St Mary’s church and the old abbey, affording the best possible views of the town and the coast.

Scarborough was also very much back.

The walk from the quieter North Bay to the amusement-mad South Bay was as bracingly enjoyable as ever.

And sitting in the sunshine in Peasholm Park watching families pedal the colourful dragon boats around the lake, it was hard to believe anything was different at all.


Sykes Holiday Cottages has over 17,500 properties across the UK and Ireland.

The Old Cartway is available from £407 per week Visit