I’ve always heard the North York Moors described as an iconic holiday destination. I’d visited as a child before, but naively assumed that such a rural part of the country wouldn’t be a suitable option for my wheelchair-using adult self. Reader, I’m glad to tell you I was mistaken. The countryside not only offered the peaceful haven that my chronic illness craves, but also many incredible things to see and do that spoke to the adventurous part of my soul as well.
Since we were provided with such an incredible itinerary for this trip, I’m going to try something different with this blog post and present it as a travel diary instead. I hope you enjoy hearing about my experiences, and if you too would like to visit this part of the world one day, consider this your nudge to plan your own accessible trip.
My good friend Polly and I visited at the end of September 2022, and here’s what we got up to…
Day One – Adaptive Cycling and Stunning Accommodation
Dalby Forest Cycle Hub and Accessible Trails
We began our trip by heading to Dalby Forest – a destination that’s less than an hour’s drive away from York, and yet feels gloriously rugged and remote. Known as the Great Yorkshire Forest, it spans 8,500 acres in size – so what better way to take in the breathtaking views than on wheels?
The Dalby Forest Cycle Hub offers a range of adapted bikes available to hire, and the friendly on-site team really go above and beyond to find the best fit for you. The models include tandem bikes for people with sight loss, hand crank trikes for those with more strength in their upper body, wheelchair transporter bikes that allow mobility aids to be attached to a large platform at the front of the bike, and plenty more. I tried out the new ICE Recumbent Trike with Electric Assist. I knew going into the activity that my Energy Limiting Condition meant I wouldn’t be able to go too far, but the bike’s electric assist really made up for the lack of strength in my legs and allowed me to spend a blissful few minutes flying through the woodland. Living with a chronic illness for over a decade, I know better than most how to pace myself and manage my activity, so the fact that I wanted nothing more than to simply keep going is a real testament to just how much fun it was.
If adaptive cycling isn’t for you, you can now also rent a Tramper at Dalby Forest to help you explore the area. If you’re not familiar with them already, a Tramper is a kind of off-road mobility scooter that’s purpose-built to help more people get outside and make the most of nature. I’ve spoken many times about why mobility scooters have never felt right for me, so going into the activity I did have some reservations… but within moments, they had gone completely out of the window. The visitor centre staff gave me some quick training, and off we went along the Ellerburn Trail – the first of a few accessible trails that are currently being developed on-site. It was an honour to take my Tramper on its maiden voyage, and I couldn’t believe how comfortable and easy it was to operate.
Although too much motion can aggravate my symptoms, the movement of the Tramper was just enough – there was a very real joy to be found in trundling along over the sometimes uneven terrain and being able to keep pace and travel alongside your companion. Using the Tramper allowed me to see so much more of the forest than I could have achieved on-foot or in my power-chair, and let me tell you, it was *very* hard to give it back and not make a break for it when it was time to move on. A model that robust would be absolutely cracking for the cobbly city centre where I live…
If you’re visiting the North York Moors and interested in hiring a Tramper, Lake District Mobility are the providers you’re looking for. Simply sign up for an account online and choose your membership option, and from there you’re free to book a Tramper at any site with just a couple of clicks. If you’re planning on using them several times, I’d recommend doing your fantastically-named Tramper Training and getting a certification card, as this will reduce the need to be trained at each different site and give you more time to explore. I completed my training on the last day of my trip, because I know with full confidence I’ll be booking again in the future. Even if, like me, you have initial reservations about using a Tramper, I wholeheartedly encourage you to give it a go. It was truly amazing.
Inn On The Moor Hotel, Goathland
Around mid-afternoon, when I was ready for my rest, we set off to our base for the next two nights – Inn On The Moor Hotel in Goathland. Even during the drive there through the countryside, I knew the location was going to be something spectacular. Though the hotel sits within the village that has a lovely community feel about it, you really get the sense that you’re staying somewhere remote and off-grid… somewhere you can just switch off and take a breath.
Our access experience at Inn On The Moor was mixed, and I think it’s important I’m transparent about that. Once you’re inside the building, it’s absolutely awesome – there’s level access all through the communal lounge areas and in the conservatory dining area, running right up to the accessible room on the ground floor. The door to this room is very heavy to open, especially if like me you have noodle arms, but inside is one of the most stunningly decorated adapted rooms I’ve ever seen. The décor was warm and cosy with a huge bed and various comfy seating options, and the showstopper for me was the huge window offering views of the rolling green hills (and resident sheep) outside.
The wet room was jaw-droppingly beautiful too. It was modern and stylishly decorated, with plenty of grab rails aligned with the toilet and sink. There was also a wall-attached shower stool under a waterfall shower that was so divine to use that I almost don’t have the words to describe it. It can take a lot for me to work up the motivation to shower when I’m feeling fatigued, but this was the exception – it genuinely felt like a treat.
For that room alone I’d be keen to recommend the hotel to anybody, and the family-run team were so lovely. For those with similar conditions and mobility aids to my own, though, there are some important things to note. As well as the very heavy door to the accessible room, it was tricky to make it inside the hotel even through the step-free entrance. Though it was technically level access, there was a ridge on the ground that my powerchair couldn’t make it over, meaning I had to stand and wheel it to get inside. And the biggie for people with chronic illness is that even though a ground-floor room comes with the benefits of not having to climb stairs, the walls and floorboards are thin and sound travels easily. Noise sensitivity is one of the symptoms I struggle with the most, and even with noise-cancelling headphones and pain relief, the sound from above was unfortunately hard for me to bear. You may find it helpful to check out Inn On The Moor’s Access Guide ahead of your visit.
These elements won’t be barriers for everybody and let me tell you, it’s been simply amazing to see the team’s response to my feedback. They’re now investigating a door assist package for the accessible room, as well as one for the front entrance and along with a permanent ramp. And best of all, when the room above is next due to be refurbished, they’re investigating improvements that can be added under the floor to make the room more soundproofed. The Inn On The Moor team are a brilliant example of a business that’s receptive to the disability community and working with us to meet their needs, and that alone really means a lot.
Inn On The Moor could well be somewhere I return to in the future, and a great location for your own stay. If you have different access requirements, the North York Moors offers a range of accommodation options that can cater to individual needs. I’ve heard wonderful things about these adapted self-catering holiday cottages in the North York Moors area, so they may also be worth a look into when planning your own accommodation.
Day Two – A Steam Train To The Seaside
North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Our second day began bright and early as we headed to Pickering to board the North York Moors Railway steam train. Our Seaside Special Fuss-Free tickets enabled one disabled traveller and two companions to make the scenic journey from Pickering to Whitby on the Yorkshire Coast, offering a unique way to take in the views.
Naturally, the day we travelled was particularly grey and overcast. Visibility wasn’t on our side, but this didn’t dampen our spirits. The station at Pickering was step-free and the staff were just lovely, and it wasn’t long until we were watching the magnificent train roll into the station.
Off we went to Accessible Carriage C towards the front of the train, where attendants were ready and waiting with a ramp to help me board. If you’re planning on making this journey, don’t panic when you see how elevated the step into the carriage is from the platform – the ramp is excellent and nowhere near as steep as I feared. If my temperamental power-chair can make it up there with a slight push from behind, you’ll be absolutely fine.
Although the origins of our steam locomotive dated back to the 19th century, I was blown away by the access adaptations that had been made. In our carriage there was plenty of room to manoeuvre around, and even a well-equipped accessible toilet on board. It would be challenging to get through to the next carriage where the buffet bar was using a power-chair, but if you’re an ambulatory wheelchair user or you have a companion with you, you can go there to grab a range of drinks and snacks to enjoy on your journey.
As for the journey itself, it was stunning. Even with the dreary weather taking away some of those world-famous sweeping scenic views, there was plenty to see during the two-hour journey. As well as the countryside, the train rolled through many picturesque towns and villages, with stops at Levisham, Goathland and Grosmont before approaching the seaside town of Whitby. We disembarked with zero fuss and a friendly wave off from the conductor, and made our way out of the side exit at Whitby station, a step-free route that brings you out in the heart of the town.
Whitby Seafront and Award-Winning Fish and Chips
From there, the seafront is only a short walk away. Though the weather was still not on our side and it was sometimes tricky to spot the dropped kerbs, it only took us around fifteen minutes to find ourselves at the foot of the pier.
We had a wander as far to the end of the pier as we dared in the weather conditions, and paused for a moment to take in the gorgeous views of the vast beach and the Abbey in the distance, before mutually agreeing it was time for fish and chips and a good sit down.
I’ve paid many visits to Whitby during my lifetime, but somehow Trenchers had never made it onto my radar. Usually I end up getting seaside fish and chips to take away and eat in the car because cafes tend to be inaccessible, so I was over the moon to find that Trenchers Restaurant offered level access, a lift to the top floor, and a very stylishly decorated accessible loo. We warmed up with a hearty meal and hot drinks, served by really lovely staff, and then braced ourselves for the next adventure of the day – Whitby Abbey.
If you’ve ever seen Whitby, I probably don’t need to tell you that if you have mobility issues, it isn’t wise to try and access the Abbey on foot. The ruins have stood at the top of the immense hill for over 1500 years, and if you’re not driving, it may be wise to catch the Whitby Town Tour Bus or take a short taxi ride to reach them rather than attempt the 199 steps.
I was genuinely blown away by the commitment to access we experienced at Whitby Abbey. Gently sloped paths and ramps allow you to access the visitor centre step-free, and from there you can browse in the gift shop, use the accessible toilet, and take a lift to the first floor to explore the museum. There were some really interesting exhibits to look at and engage with (including some interactive features that would definitely appeal to children), and it was amazing to be able to learn more about Bram Stoker and his life outside of his creation of Dracula.
Something I’ve become much more conscious of since becoming disabled is how non-disabled people interact with us, and I could definitely tell that the staff at Whitby Abbey had disability awareness training under their belt. They were warm and friendly, efficiently briefed us about access and offered free audio guides, and sent us on our way. It was also heartening to see that plenty of seating was available for those who don’t use mobility aids, a recognition of the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme for people with less-visible conditions, and I spotted free wheelchairs available to borrow on-site too.
Naturally, gothic architecture stood on grass isn’t going to be universally accessible, but English Heritage have really committed to enabling more people to access more areas of the ruins. A smooth pathway covers some of the grounds, and there are now ramps in place for trickier areas – you can see some of these in this brilliant video. Unfortunately we did have to make a judgement call – what with the wet grass, torrential rain and my unreliable powerchair, I didn’t venture as far outside as I would have liked to. Nevertheless, there was something quite atmospheric about seeing the site in the miserable weather, and as the centre closed to everybody just after we left due to the high winds, I think we made the right call. However, if you choose a good weather day, I’d happily recommend Whitby Abbey as an iconic attraction to see during your visit.
We headed back to Goathland, more appreciative than ever for the warm and cosy vibes throughout Inn On The Moor Hotel. I took a moment to enjoy the burning log fire by the bar, before returning to my room to rest up for what would unexpectedly turn out to be my absolute favourite day of our trip.
Day Three – Enjoying Nature For Wellbeing
Helmsley Walled Garden and The Vine House Cafe
Even as we drove into the small market town of Helmsley, I knew our day was going to be a good one. The sun was shining bright, and we had a whole morning to explore Helmsley Walled Garden. In my head, I was expecting a small patch of land with some pretty plants. In reality, we happily spent a few hours wandering up and down all five acres and taking in the sights.
The gardens are lovingly tended to by over 80 volunteers, and the friendly staff explained to us that the attraction operates as a small charity centred around therapeutic horticulture. The garden brings together the local community to engage in the physical and mental benefits of engaging with the outdoors, and in doing so, creates an incredibly peaceful haven for visitors too. If you have a chronic illness and you’re in search of calm but beautiful places to experience, Helmsley Walled Garden is for you. They even have wheelchairs available to borrow to ensure you can take in as much of the environment as possible.
I was really impressed by how much of the area I could access by wheelchair. There was level access the whole way through, and though the pathway was gravelly and you sometimes had to whack the occasional piece of fallen fruit out of your way, you could do it with ease. We’d often follow an intriguing path and enjoy a sit down on the bench at the end of it, and it truly felt like real life was a million miles away. Our journey took us through beautiful flowers and trees, water fountains, carefully tended fruit and vegetable gardens, and so much more.
A personal highlight for me was getting to feed the on-site chickens, who were so excited by the sight of us and the prospect of some extra treats that watching them all sprint towards us felt like being in a very real live-action remake of Chicken Run. What a time.
To round off our trip, we visited The Vine House Café, adjacent to the garden. Not only was this place an Instagrammer’s heaven, it also had level access and was easy to navigate using a wheelchair, even when full of hungry visitors. The café serves a range of dishes using fresh produce from the gardens next door, as well as tea and cake.
I enjoyed a roasted vegetable and maple syrup pastry, while Polly went for a savoury scone and a slice of chocolate cake that looked so marvellous I could have actually cried. Suitably fuelled up and feeling very zen after our time in nature, we were ready to head off for our final adventure of the trip.
Sutton Bank National Park Centre
Sutton Bank National Park Centre isn’t far out from the town of Thirsk, but the nature trails and views will quickly make you feel as though you’re part of another world. Entry to the centre is free, and I used Lake District Mobility to book an on-site Tramper ahead of our visit. After completing my training, we set off on our walk. We didn’t have enough time to do the White Horse Trail on this occasion, so the staff showed us a shorter accessible route that would still let us take in the view that’s been acclaimed as the ‘finest in England’. And let me tell you, they weren’t wrong.
It didn’t take us long at all to make our way along the wheelchair-accessible path and find the viewing point – something I was pleased to realise, as it means that even those who can only spend reduced hours out of the house due to chronic illness have a chance of accessing this themselves. At the viewing point we found a platform that could be accessed via a ramp, a bench to rest on and some informational signage, but these were barely registered as I was so in awe of the view in front of me. The sun was shining, and for miles all you could see were glorious green rolling hills and vast amounts of countryside. Having the fun of trundling along through nature in the Tramper would have been enough for me, but to be able to experience this view in the same way as non-disabled people was simply the icing on the cake. There are many things from this trip I’m desperate to return to and experience again, but Sutton Bank National Park Centre is currently right at the top of my list. If you can, I urge you to experience that sense of freedom for yourself.
Although I was shattered when returning home after our trip, I was absolutely buzzing. Visiting the North York Moors really exceeded my expectations, not only in terms of accessibility but how it stands as a holiday destination too. It’s such a gorgeous part of the world, definitely worth travelling for, and I feel so privileged to have had this experience.
So if I’ve tempted you and you’re now considering your own trip, here’s some more information to help you along your way.
And finally, my chronic illness-friendly advice:
Chronic Illness-Friendly Tips
- You definitely want a car to make the most of the area in an energy-efficient way. It’s not impossible to get around on public transport (one of these days I’m definitely planning an 840 bus route adventure), but driving also allows you to take in the stunning scenery and make an occasion even of travelling from A to B.
- Many attractions and experiences have online accessibility guides, and these can be an energy-efficient way of making sure they’re suitable for you ahead of your trip. Here’s an example of a comprehensive Accessibility Guide for Pickering Station, where we boarded the steam train.
- Independent pubs and hotels are great at handling dietary requirements and adjusting their dishes to meet your needs. At Inn On The Moor there was always an option (and often multiple options) for me for each course, including dreamy vegan strawberry ice cream that’s the freshest I’ve ever tasted.
- If you’re doing the North Yorkshire Moors Railway steam train and you’re noise-sensitive, take your ear plugs. It’s not bad at all and has very few ‘sharp’ noises (the ones that most affect me), but it’s an old-school locomotive so there’s definitely mechanical noise involved. If you’re travelling in the cooler months, make sure you take plenty of warm clothing too.
- It was amazing to see that social distancing in many of the places we visited was still encouraged and very easy for people to observe. Being outdoors in spacious environments and indoors among respectful customer experience teams meant that I felt really safe all the way through – something that still isn’t to be taken for granted.
- When you visit, you absolutely must try a Tramper. Even if you don’t always get along with traditional mobility scooters, there’s something about these all-terrain ones that just hits different. They’re not too loud, easy to control, and gave me such a memorable experience. Please try it for yourself, because you definitely won’t regret getting out and appreciating this stunning part of the world.
Have you been to the North York Moors? Which experience would you most like to try?