Exploring the North Yorkshire Dales – A Week at Merok Cottage

As we’ve discussed in previous posts on Travel Ideaz the Yorkshire Dales is one of my favourite spots in the whole of the UK. With so many great family walks, historic buildings and so much beautiful and quite spectacular scenery to enjoy, a holiday in this region of the country can be very fulfilling. One thing I’ve always been a little ashamed of until recently however is that I’d never really ventured into the far North of the Dales, at least not for a holiday anyway. That all changed last week when we booked a lovely holiday cottage called Merok Cottage situated in a quaint little village called Newsham, which lies in close proximity to the more well-known towns of Richmond and Barnard Castle. From this base we finally got the chance to have a week long exploration of the area, visiting many well-known places and attractions. Here are some of the highlights of our week in North Yorkshire.

Day One – Ullswater

Now it might seem strange that on our first full day in the area we would choose to drive for almost an hour to nip over into the Lake District, but we did have good reasons for this.


Firstly, it was because Ullswater in particular is one of my favourite lakes in the Lake District and when I realised that it wasn’t all that far away from the cottage, I just had to take time out for a visit. The second reason is that I thought that it would be a good way to get a gauge of the area. It seemed from our research that many of the places we wanted to visit in the area would involve some kind of trip along the A66, so I thought it would be a good idea to travel down this road and find out where each of these places were situated. Finally my wife and kids had unfortunately had a sickness bug just before we went away and weren’t up to anything too strenuous on the first day, so the peace and serenity of Ullswater seemed like a good idea, and it certainly was.

Ullswater is an absolutely beautiful place and although the actual village is quite small, the shops that are there sell some very nice local items and we found a lovely pub with a large outdoor wooden castle for the kids to play on while my wife and I enjoyed a drink. I have to say that when I went into the pub to order our drinks, the roaring log fire and the game of Six Nations rugby on the television seemed much more appealing but you know how it is, the kids must come first. 😉



We spent a couple of hours in Ullswater sitting out on the pier enjoying a coffee and hot chocolate next to this spectacular lake and we also explored the lakeside where the children could paddle, all be it in their wellies as the February temperatures could have led to some severely frozen feet!


If you’re interested in taking a boat trip out onto the water then you can do so from the pier where the ‘Ullswater Steamers’ run daily. It’s worth checking the costs and journey times before you go though, especially in winter as they do run less frequently and I seem to remember the lady who was operating the café mentioning that they only run once a day during this time. You can find out more information on prices and journey times on the Ullswater ‘Steamers’ website. There are many more attractions around Ullswater Lake and if you have the time you can even walk around the lake, but this could take up most of your day if walking with children and taking some time out to admire the scenery. Unfortunately we didn’t have the time to do this but it is certainly something I would love to do the next time we’re visiting the Lakes.

Day 2 – Mainsgill Farm and Family Fun at the Cottage

As most of my wife’s family live in the Darlington Area, we decided to meet up at the much acclaimed Mainsgill Farm to let the kids have a play and explore the farm shop and café – we also picked up some extra wood for the woodburner in the cottage from here which was quite handy. We had been to Mainsgill Farm a couple of years ago and the huge outdoor play area with toys tractors, zip wires, climbing frames and more were a great hit with the kids.mainsgill-farm-tractor

mainsgill farm

This time around though, we were also able to enjoy exploring the huge extension which had been added to the farm shop and café area, which included a second floor, so if you have been here in the past then it would be well worth your time to pay this place another visit.

Mainsgill Farm Shop and Tearoom

Mainsgill Farm camel

Armed with our wood and food we then returned to the cottage to get the woodburner going and enjoy some family time. There was plenty of room in the cottage to have visitors around and the kids really enjoyed a bit of bird spotting from the back yard area. My wife’s favourite bird of the week was the sighting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker clinging to a tree in the woodland area at the back of the cottage.


Day 3 – Bolton Castle

When you’re a father of two young excitable boys, it’s pretty much a given that you’re going to need to visit a castle or two while you’re on your travels. We’ve been to Bolton Castle once before but our boys were a little younger, so I don’t think they could appreciate it all that much at the time. When we revisited on our recent holiday though, the boys were amazed by this truly historic place.

Bolton Castle


Bolton Castle is located in Wensleydale, Yorkshire and there are many exciting things to see and do. From battlements to dungeons and mazes to birds of prey displays, there really is something for everyone here. The castle has been restored as closely as possible to how it would originally have been laid out and there is a real education on offer as you make your way around the rooms of the castle. Bolton Castle is one of the country’s best preserved medieval castles but it still bears the scars of more than 600 years of what is arguably England’s most fascinating historical period. The castle is still privately owned by Lord Bolton who is a direct descendant of the castle’s original occupier Sir Richard le Scrope.



On top of all of this there’s a lovely little gift shop and a large café area if you fancy some food or just a coffee to break up your visit. The highlight of the day for me was the bird of prey show where you can really get up close and personal with hawks, owls and even more of these fabulous birds. If we’d have gotten to the castle a little earlier then we could have also had a go at archery with the children which would have been great fun, something for our next visit to this place.

You can see more details of what’s on offer and entry prices on the Bolton Castle Website.

Day 4 – A Lovely Pub, Barnard Castle & Richmond

I don’t know about you but every now and then I like to head out for a drive just to see where I end up, especially when exploring a new area. When I do this, I almost always seem to come across a little countryside gem and the same thing happened on Day 4 of our holiday. At the bottom of the street on which our cottage was located you would ordinarily turn right to head towards the A66 – as we mentioned earlier, most attractions are reached from this road. Today though, we decided to head left following signposts for Reeth.

The CB Inn

The countryside that we came across on our drive was beautiful, even stunning in spots. When we headed up over the high moors it reminded me of the drive up to Malham Tarn, with vast areas of peaceful space around us. On our drive we came across a pub/restaurant called ‘The CB Inn’ which had a nice little outdoor play area for the kids.

North Yorkshire Countryside CB Inn



It was a fairly cold day but we were wrapped up enough to enjoy a coffee outside, but the inside of this place looked very inviting too. We wanted to explore the area a little more today, so we didn’t stay for food but the menu looked enticing and if we return to the area anytime soon then I’m sure we’ll be paying ‘The CB Inn’ another visit with a little fine dining in mind.

From here we then headed on over to Barnard Castle. I really had no idea what to expect from this place. I’d heard the name many times but I wasn’t sure what kind of place it was. If I were to describe it now that we have visited the town, I would probably say that it was the Skipton of the North East as I felt that it had a similar feel. The Castle was obviously the focal point of the town and although the gates were shut (I think this was just a seasonal thing), from the outside it looked very impressive.

barnard castle from the river

barnard castle tower

Once again we found a park for the kids to play in and had it been a busier time of year, there would have also been mini golf on offer. My wife enjoyed a good look around the shops picking up a few cushions from an interiors shop called ‘niche’ and we also spent some time looking around an independent art gallery/café called ‘Nest’. This place was great as it had a small play area with toys and a chalk board coffee table for the kids to enjoy, allowing us to relax a little while my wife and I took it in turns to view the art on sale. There was also a nice riverside walk you could take from the bottom end of the castle which we plan to do if we’re in the area again.


The trip to Barnard Castle also inspired us to see what Richmond had to offer, another prominent town in the area which also has its own castle. If you like exploring quaint and interesting shops then Richmond is well worth a visit too. Again it had a similar feel to places like Skipton or Thirsk. It didn’t seem quite as big or as busy as Barnard Castle but this may just have been due to the fact that we got there quite late on in the day. It was the right time of day to pick up some nice fish and chips though. 🙂 There was also a Curry Takeaway place here that looked quite nice from the outside, but it was fish and chips for us on this particular day.

Day 5 – High Force

When researching the North Yorkshire Dales and the Teesdales before going away, I came across some information about the High Force Waterfall, which is apparently the highest unbroken waterfall in the UK. I love a good waterfall so this was very ‘high’ on my list of places to visit, please forgive the cheesy pun. 🙂


When we arrived I mentioned this place to my father-in-law and was almost put off the idea as he said it was quite a way out but when leaving Barnard Castle in the afternoon – we’d nipped back in to buy some artwork from ‘Nest’ – I once again noticed the signs for High Force, so we decided to have a drive out and I’m really glad that we made the effort. Apparently we’d parked at the top end of the waterfall – my father-in-law could tell from the angle of the photos – and made the 10-15 minute walk down to the waterfall. It was a truly beautiful walk. My wife and I both commented on the fact that it almost felt like we could have been in a US national park, with huge trees and rock faces around us. The walk down to the waterfall was an easy one, with a lightly gravelled path etched out of the countryside, meaning it was very family friendly with a large fence to ensure your family’s safety.

The waterfall itself didn’t disappoint either. It was a real spectacle to watch all of that water come crashing down over the cliff edge. The video above which I took on my phone doesn’t really do it justice, but I can promise you that you won’t regret your visit High Force. If you fancy a bit of a longer walk using a different route than the one we took, then apparently there is an option to park at a place called ‘Low Force’ and walk further up to the ‘High Force’ waterfall.

If – like me – you are a lover of the outdoors, then I would really recommend High Force as a great place to visit. With both parking and ticket entry coming in at around only £6 combined, this is a spectacular and affordable activity for all of the family.

On the way back to the cottage we stopped off in Barnard Castle once more to pick up a takeaway and I would recommend ‘Pizza Cottage’ for pizza, parmo’s (A North East Delight) and kebabs. Not great for the cholesterol but we’re all allowed a holiday treat, aren’t we?

Day 6 – York Railway Museum

One of the other main outings we’d planned before going away was a trip to The National Railway Museum in York. Now, ordinarily I wouldn’t travel for around an hour to see some antique trains, at least not while on holiday but as this was half term week they had a special ‘Paddington Week’ going on, with lots of fun things for the kids to do. We had taken the kids to watch the Paddington Movie at the Cinema just a few weeks earlier and they absolutely loved it, so this day just couldn’t be missed for us. The kids got to meet Paddington and they had a really fun time searching around the trains, looking for clues to a little Paddington quiz they had been set as part of the day.

Meeting Paddington

Would I go to the Museum again if there hadn’t been the added attraction of the theme day? I probably would to be honest. I think I would make it a full day out in York though, perhaps heading into York centre for a spell and also visiting some of the other great museums York has to offer, including the Jorvik Viking Centre.

York National Railway Museum

York National Railway Museum Steam Train

All in all, the Railway museum was a fun place to visit and it really was interesting to see some of the grand trains of the past and to watch some steam engines in action on the tracks. On top of all of this, entry to the Museum was free, though they do have donation boxes which you can contribute to if you want to help support their work. You can also purchase some items from the gift shop to help with the cause too.

Day 7 – Home Time

And sadly that spelled the end of our trip; it was time to head home. 🙁 Our time in the North Yorkshire Dales and Teesdales was fun and interesting and there was no shortage of things to do for all of the family. Merok Cottage was a lovely base to explore from and it added a relaxing element to the trip. If you like nature and walking then you wouldn’t really even need to get in your car to enjoy these hobbies, as there are plenty of nice walks right on the doorstep of Newsham. For us, it was just that the kids required a little more entertaining. Happily, there was plenty around us to keep them well entertained.

Can you recommend other great places to visit when visiting North Yorkshire?

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