English Heritage and National Trust in Yorkshire – My Top Ten Sites

Yorkshire, England’s largest county, is a great place to visit if you are a heritage fan with both English Heritage and the National Trust having a wide range of sites.

Scarborough Castle
Scarborough Castle – Perched on a rocky headland

The many ruined abbeys around the county are testament to its rich agricultural land which proved attractive to monastic communities.

Castles are also well represented reflecting Yorkshire’s turbulent past from Norman times to the Wars of the Roses and beyond, with one facing military attack just a hundred years ago.

Maybe Yorkshire is not as well endowed with stately homes as counties further south like Derbyshire, nevertheless, there are still some impressive examples, three of which I include here.

My Top Ten Favourite Sites in Yorkshire

Out of the fifty or so English Heritage (EH) and National Trust (NT) sites in Yorkshire, these are the ten that I’ve most enjoyed visiting… and revisiting. I’ve listed the abbeys first, followed by castles and finally stately homes.

As a senior traveller, I enjoy sites where there is enough to keep me interested for a few hours, and where there are facilities including refreshments and toilets.

All these sites fit these requirements, although at Helmsley Castle refreshments are only available in the adjacent town centre.

Sometimes I have grandchildren in tow. All of these sites have enough to keep children amused for, well, at least an hour or so!


Fountains Abbey (EH/NT – free entry to members of both organisations) – Near Ripon. North Yorkshire. The well-preserved ruins of the Cistercian monastery are impressive enough, but what draws me back to Fountains Abbey are the walks along the banks of the River Skell past the Studeley Royal Water Garden and along to the deer park. For more information on this UNESCO World Heritage Site and the surrounding area, see: Knaresborough, Nidderdale.

River Kell at Fountains Abbey
River Skell at Fountains Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey (EH) – Near Helmsley, North Yorkshire. Again impressive ruins of a Cistercian monastery, but in this case set in a tranquil valley amid grazing sheep and, in springtime, banks of strong smelling wild garlic. If you are feeling spritely, then I strongly recommend the ancient three-mile walk between Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley.

Whitby Abbey (EH) – The abbey itself is but a Gothic ruin beside a small lake, but much of its fascination and haunting atmosphere relate to its association with Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. And its situation on the cliffs overlooking Whitby town is quite breathtaking – literally if you decide to walk down and back up the 199 steps to the harbour, past the equally interesting Church of St Mary.

(Update July 2018. I’ve just visited Mount Grace Priory (EH/NT) for the first time and was very impressed both with the monastery and the 13th Century manor house and gardens. Maybe it should be included in my Top Ten.)


Rievaulx Abbey
Rievaulx Abbey – Tranquil valley amid grazing sheep

Conisborough Castle (EH) – In South Yorkshire between Doncaster and Rotherham. Although the visitor facilties are fairly limited, this is made up for by the helpful manner of the staff. This is a great place to let the grandchildren roam wild and children’s play packs are on loan which include binoculars for little eyes to scan the views from the top of the keep.

Helmsley Castle (EH) – Dominating the town of Helmsley, North Yorkshire. Helmsley Castle has taken on many roles since its foundation as a medieval fortress and this is well illustrated in an interactive exhibition in the Mansion House. Often when the little market town of Helmsley is bustling with weekend tourists, I find the castle grounds provide a haven of tranquility.

Conisborough Castle
Conisborough Castle

Richmond Castle (EH) – Overlooking the River Swale in Richmond, North Yorkshire. When travelling to the northerly Yorkshire Dales, I always stop along the way at the Norman fortress of Richmond Castle. The sweeping views from the top of the 100 foot high keep provide great introduction to my travels up Swaledale.

Scarborough Castle (EH) – Perched on a rocky headland above Scarborough town. I first visited Scarborough Castle about 60 years ago and have visited many times since. I used to walk up from the seafront, but now, as a senior traveller, I park by St Mary’s Church (where Anne Brontë is buried) and follow the gentle slope to the Castle entrance. Although the displays in the Castle trace its history back to the Iron Age, it last faced conflict in 1914 when it was bombarded by two German warships.

Stately Homes

Beninbrough Hall, Gallery and Gardens (NT) – Eight miles north of York. This is the ‘real McCoy’ as far as stately homes are concerned. A Baroque style Georgian house overlooking the river Ouse with extensive gardens, including a walled kitchen garden. The visitor facilities are excellent and there is a wilderness play area in which to lose the grandchildren. This year it is celebrating 300 years since its foundation.

Beninbrough Hall
Beninbrough Hall

Brodsworth Hall and Gardens (EH) – In South Yorkshire, between Doncaster and Barnsley. I particularly enjoy the rock gardens and fern dell and my grandchildren find plenty to amuse themselves in the play area. The Hall itself is a fine example of a Victorian country house. For information about Brodsworth and the neighbouring Georgian house, Cusworth Hall, see: Brodsworth and Cusworth Halls.

Nostell Priory and Parkland (NT) – Near Wakefield, West Yorkshire. No this is not another ecclestiastical ruin but a fine Palladian stately home with gardens and parkland walks. I particularly enjoy strolling round the Middle Lake but when feeling fit have taken on the 2 mile Obelisk Walk. There are activities to keep the grandchildren happy every holiday weekday.

Gardens at Brodsworth Hall
Gardens at Brodsworth Hall

Detailed information on these sites can be found on the English Heritage or National Trust websites.

Many heritage sites shut up shop between the middle of October and February – quite annoying for senior travellers who are not tied to school holidays. See my article: English Heritage and the National Trust – Winter openings? The good news is that three of these ten sites are open throughout the year – Fountains Abbey, Brodsworth Hall (gardens only) and Nostell Priory – and the other seven sites are open at weekends during the winter period.

If you are not already a member of these heritage organisations, then my article English Heritage versus National Trust – Which to Join? will help you decide between the two and and may help you to save money by, for example, getting senior discounts.

See also some magnificent properties in Yorkshire in the Historic Houses portfolio, including Burton Agnes Hall and Harewood House.