Wellness breaks are not a new concept, but asked to describe what one is, many people would refer you to a spa catalogue and think of massages. Since the pandemic, the popularity of time spent in nature presents a different option. For those who live in cities, towns or in any circumstance that creates a busyness that is hard to get away from, nature can allow us some time to really connect to the moment. It can allow the opportunity to not have to rush and experience a sense of slow travel. Tucked away in the Northeast of England, the North York Moors National Park covers an area of 554 square miles with 26 miles of coastline. Containing one of the largest expanses of moorland in England and Wales, as well as 23% of the park being covered by woodland and forest, it has a plentitude of opportunities for time spent in nature. Fay Doyle discovers how to reconnect, refresh, and focus on slow travel and wellbeing in the National Park.
Image Description. A landscape format image. Matt walks along a winding path through heather in the North York Moors. There are rolling, tree-covered hills in the background.
After a long drive from home to the North York Moors, Matt and I were ready to press pause on the stresses of our daily lives. We’d been made aware of a café called The Green Apple in the small market town of Stokesley just Northwest of the National Park to check out for lunch. As a vegan, sometimes the plant-based options can be thin on the ground, so I was surprised when we parked up outside an unassuming building to find the interior to be a plant-based café bustling with life. The relaxed atmosphere of The Green Apple set up our time in the national park in a special way. ‘Most of our customers aren’t vegan, they just enjoy the food…and we’ve been coined the number one place to eat in Stokesley’ offered our server. The Green Apple Café is working proof that lively and modern plant-based eating can exist everywhere and anywhere and can present a vibrant and sustainable option for local communities and visitors alike.
As the dark clouds that had hovered for the morning so far started to lift, we left The Green Apple and found our way to our first hike of the trip. A short drive revealed one of the beauties about the National Park so far – you don’t have to travel long distances to get to amazingly connected experiences. Our first trail would take us to an interesting rock formation set high in the moors. The 13km Wainstones Walk really rewarded us for our efforts and we experienced pretty much complete solitude. It was challenging to say the least, but we came back from the hike wishing it wasn’t over – we were really starting to feel a sense of relaxation and restoration that comes from a big day in the outdoors.
Image Description. A landscape format image. A landscape of fields, lush forests and small lakes stretches out into the distance beneath an early evening sky.
Driving through the countryside as we watched the hills roll by felt all that more precious after hours spend ambling through the moors and reconnecting with a sense of peace I hadn’t felt in a while. Even though I spend a lot of my time in nature, I realised that I often don’t fully arrive at the place I’m in. There is something quite special about devoting a pocket of time to the purpose of your wellbeing, whilst you mindfully disconnect to reconnect. The short drive from the end of the trail to the small village of Hawnby took us through rolling moorland and dense wooded areas where glimpses of quintessential English countryside glistened in the afternoon sun like a welcome treat.
Arriving at The Owl, our home for the next two nights, we were immediately greeted with a sense of comfortable luxury. The Four Star hotel boasts nine luxury en-suite rooms with views that you’d be wanting to trade a city skyline for in seconds. A small door led us to a warm and earthly toned bar with hand painted maps of walks in the area peering longingly for your attention. With endless tree views on one side of the cosy restaurant area, to hills and cottages on the other, it was clear that The Owl was a gem of relaxation, taking great advantage of the bountiful beauty that surrounded it. The Owl also boasts the ability to further connect with nature with outside dining in the summer months between June and September, and won an award for best outside dining area in the UK in 2021. After collecting our keys – which came in the form of a shire horse brass bridle rosette that certainly felt emblematic of the area – we checked into our room. As we closed the door and sat on the large, inviting and ridiculously comfortable bed, I remembered what true quiet really sounds like. Where I live in London, there is a hum of traffic at all times, and whilst I have come to be used to it, I realise when I am somewhere with actual quiet that it feels like a very different baseline entirely.
Image Description. A landscape format image. Fay hikes through a green field in the North York Moors. A dry-stone wall runs through the centre of the images and there are rolling hills in the background.
After an incredibly restorative sleep at The Owl I felt a little bit more like myself in a way I hadn’t for a while. There’s something about the combination of long days spent out in nature and quiet surroundings that’ll do that. No hustle and bustle, just gentle living. After breakfast spent staring longingly at trees teaming with life and squirrel watching, we got ready for an experience I’d been really looking forward to: A mindfulness walk with Alison Goodwin, founder of Adventures for the Soul. Driving a few short miles to our meeting point at the iconic Rievaulx Abbey, I became even more excited. Driving up from Hawnby, you’re greeted by endless views of the countryside around you. On this particular day, though – the cloud masked a lot of that, but it was still undeniably beautiful. It reminded me that even when things aren’t so sunny, we can often find a place of calm and acceptance of where we are. It might not look its most picture postcard worthy, but it can be every bit as memorable.
Looking for some more walking inspiration in the United Kingdom? You might enjoy reading out guide to the best walks in Essex.
As someone who practises mindfulness as an ongoing concept, I foolishly went into our walk thinking I knew everything already. I thankfully allowed myself to get swept along with the experience and come to it with an attitude of curiosity as a beginner again. As soon as we arrived and introduced ourselves, I could feel a sense of warmth and down to earth compassion in Alison that immediately made me feel soothed. Her calming voice felt somewhat therapeutic, as did putting my phone on Airplane mode. Alison guided us to the start of our walk at a relaxed pace and sat us down on the banks of the river Rye. She explained that throughout our time together, we’d be focusing on reconnecting with various senses in the aim to get into the moment. That sounded great to me and I was ready to go all in! We were asked to close our eyes and ‘land’ as Alison explained it. As we closed our eyes, we were guided to check in with ourselves where we were today – both mentally and physically. We were drawn to focus on what we could hear, what we could smell, and I started to feel a sense of emotion come over me. I realised just how much I needed to do this more often – to check in with where I was and what I might need on a more regular basis.
Image Description. A landscape format image. Alison Goodwin from Adventures for the Soul stands on a forest path by a bank of flowering wild garlic.
Image Description. A landscape format image. Sheep graze in a field. Behind this we can see stone farm buildings nestling in the trees. Densely wooded hills shrouded in a cold haze fill the background.
Image Description. A collage of four images showing details from Adventures For the Soul’s mindfulness walk. Fay’s fingers run through soft moss. A butterfly with white and green wings sits on a lilac flower. A cluster of English Bluebells. Water droplets on blades of grass
As we left the brook and set off through farmland which quickly gave way to a path through ancient hillside forest, we were asked to spend a little time in silence. I’m never one to mind a bit of peace and quiet, but I was surprised by just how much being intentional about it allowed me to really experience what was going on around me. The misty start of the day was starting to lift and as the day got warmer, it felt close. I was not just aware of my surroundings and the singing birds around us, but also aware of the sensation of the warming air on my arms as we walked uphill. Focusing on different types of trees, birds and plant life, Alison had us stop multiple times to really take in where we were. Cornering off various senses to become hyper aware of others felt like a process of natural relaxation and I started to feel like I was walking through a dream world. In talking to Alison, a seasoned outdoors lover, I sensed passion for the environment that I found refreshing. Having started her career in environmental sciences, conservation was clearly important to her and formed a large part of what she offers her clients now. ‘I think when people spend some time really enjoying, slowing down, getting back to who they are in nature, they can start to really appreciate what it can do for us. When we’re feeling in sense with ourselves, we can start to make a bigger impact on how we treat the environment’. As we hiked across the undulating landscape on what was turning out to be golden day, I realised I hadn’t worried for the last two and a half hours, to which Alison smiled and replied ‘well my work is done’.
Image Description. A landscape format image. A typical landscape. A hilltop is covered in heather. Beneath this are green fields and wooded areas with tall pine trees in the foreground. Some stone farm buildings are just visible through the trees.
Image Description. A landscape format image. Matt looks out at the landscape. In the distance, we can see densely wooded hillsides beneath a moody sky.
Feeling refreshed from our morning spent reconnecting with ourselves, we set off for our second hike of the day, tucked in just up the hill from Hawnby where we were staying. In the context of our morning spent with Alison, this felt somewhat different to how we would normally experience nature; we were abjectly aware of everything – it felt sort of overwhelming, in a good way. Something was truly starting to shift here, a sense of coming back to an understanding of the incredible benefits that focusing on our wellbeing whilst we travel can have. Not only did we agree that we felt more at ease, more relaxed and able to breathe, but we also felt we were gaining a deeper appreciation for the landscape around us. I was able to affirm what I’ve come to believe for a long time – that our bass level sense of wellbeing and our compassion for the people and places around us are intrinsically connected.
Image Description. A landscape format image. Lucy from Wild Roots Foraging collects wild garlic leaves and flower heads on a hillside in a forest.
Image Description. A collage of two images from our foraging walk with Wild Roots Foraging. Lucy from Wild Roots Foraging couches with a basket and a cut stem of a wild plant. A close-up of Lucy’s hand holding an edible daisy flower and leaf.
Our last day in the national park saw us embarking on an experience that I was really curious about – an introduction to foraging. I’ve a lot of experience picking elderberries and sloe berries to make tonics, cordials and the likes, but I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect. When we met Lucy, the founder of Wild Roots Foraging, who was dressed in pretty much all green, I was instantly inspired by her back story and her connection to the plants that grow in abundance all around us. ‘Foraging is such a core part of who we are as humans. Since the beginning of human existence, around 5-7 million years ago, we have hunted and gathered our food from the earth we lived on. It is only the last 10,000 years, or so, that we have been farming as a means of sourcing our food and resources.’ Said Lucy, enthusiastically reaching down to the patch of what looked like weeds and wildflowers around us, nipping the bud from a daisy for us to eat. Lucy believes that foraging could be a seriously impactful way for us to get access to more local, organic and accessible food stuffs whilst also getting closer to nature. Of course, foraging is to be taken with a lot of thought, checking and education as many plants are not what Lucy would describe as a ‘beginner plant’, but there are so many ways to get into foraging in a more easy going way – even if that is simply getting more of an understanding of the plants you see when you’re out in nature and how these could be used, without over picking for your needs and seeking permission from the land owner where necessary.Here is a useful articleto help you consider and understand more about how to forage responsibly.
Image Description. A collage of two images from our foraging walk with Wild Roots Foraging showing cakes made with foraged ingredients. A wild garlic scone. An iced nettle cupcake decorated with edible flowers and jam tarts.
As we walked further down the path from our meeting point in the woodland, Lucy stopped us almost every few seconds and excitedly introduced us to a new plant that we may only have viewed as a weed before. I could clearly see just how passionate she is about helping people to see what is around them in a different light. I was absolutely amazed by how many uses there are for Nettles, Dandelion heads, leaves and Herb Roberts. The foraging walk brought out something in me that really connected to a sense of exploration I used to have as a child – a want to try things and I really loved this feeling. I started to really visualise many of the areas I have around me in a different way and how I could start to use some of the many plants that otherwise would just rot around me within a whole variety of ways of cooking – from Nettle tea to a fermented Dandelion drink. Towards the end of our foraging session, we sat down and as Lucy opened up a picnic blanket, she started to explain that she’d made a picnic for us with baked good from items she’d foraged. The Nettles and Daisies we’d collected earlier were soon whipped up into teabags and covered with hot water to steep away. The bright green cupcakes Lucy had made from Nettles were stunning and the Wild Garlic scones really showed just what is possible with a little bit of thought and understanding of how to get creative with produce.
As we left our session with Lucy, I felt inspired to take more notice of what was around me, and as we headed to our last hike of the trip, The White Horse from Sutton Bank, I noticed that I was paying more attention to the plants that were growing around me with an eagerness to look at incorporating some of them into my diet. As well as enjoying the views I felt like I was really encapsulating everything that we’d experienced in the national park over the last few days. It felt like a culmination – a bringing together of the whole experience. Spending time in the peace and quiet had really helped me to feel a better sense of grounding in myself. All the hikes we’d been on had really allowed me to connect with nature and have a bit of a step away from the stresses and anxieties I was experiencing before. Our mindfulness walk with Alison had an impact on every moment I’d spent in nature since – and had allowed me to really feel connected to my senses. Then our foraging walk with Lucy had got me excited about what was around me and become even more enthusiastic about just what a wonderful place our world and local landscapes can be. It really became clear to me just how important trips and experiences like this can be for our mind and soul. When we travel, we often get sucked into wanting to do everything and be everywhere at once that we forget about why we travel in the first place. Deep rooted in the moment, I had a second of clarity – This is why our wellbeing is so important to take seriously! It allows us to feel better connected to ourselves and the world around us.
Image Description. A landscape format image. The ruins of the iconic Rievaulx Abbey emerge from the trees. Cattle graze in a field in the foreground.
Image Description. A landscape format image. Fay sits on a bench commanding a high view out over the North York Moors. A landscape of fields and a forested hill stretches out into the distance.
Hikes we tried
Of course, the Wainstones themselves are a highlight of this hike, but there is so much to it and a lot more to catch your eye. Rolling pastoral land turns into high moor tops with uncontrollably beautiful vistas which, on a clear day, stretch further than you’ll be able to see. This hike has it all – hills, rocky trails, forests, the sound of trickling water and views to write home about. Out of the trails we hiked, this was our favourite.
Good to know: If looking to complete this hike in winter, due to its location, it could become quite boggy so we’d strongly advise on waterproof boots.
This route can be downloaded as a pdf from the 2022 addition of Out and About in the North York Moors free visitor guide. The route is on page 16.
A quick hike that packs a punch through a varied landscape. Following the Rye you’ll explore endless forests, rolling hills, gorgeous views and hill climbs that allow you to feel like you’ve had a good hike when you’ve got little time available. Suitable for families with young children.
Good to know: Some care is needed in keeping to the trail, as it can become indistinct at times.
Sutton Bank and the White Horse
The path is directly above the White Horse so you can’t see much of the horse itself, but the trail is one of the National Park’s accessible walks and takes you to one of the most stunning views of the surrounding areas from a ridge high up on the bank. The trail itself is mostly flat from start to finish. Not only are the views breath-taking, but a hike along the ridge is relatively short, so could even be fitted in with another activity on the same day.
Good to know: The trail is also wheelchair accessible – but please check the National Park’s website for more information on this, where you can also find more information about Trampers (all terrain mobility scooters) that can be booked from the visitor centre at Sutton Bank.
Where we stayed
Formally a Drovers’ Inn, the premises date back to the 19th century. The inn offers roaring fires, real ales and comforting food with a seasonally changing menu developed in house.
Rooms from 95 GBP per night.
Where we ate
The Green Apple Café, Stokesley
Experiences we had
Where Monks Trod Mindfulness Walk – Adventures for the Soul
Introduction to foraging – Wild Roots Foraging