Yorkshire’s Howardian Hills: Discover WWII secrets, glorious castles and a hidden foodie hotspot


A toast to Yorkshire at its finest: Visit the Howardian Hills and you’ll discover WWII secrets, glorious castles, a hidden foodie hotspot and idyllic pubs

  • The Howardian Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, spans 80 square miles of land in North Yorkshire  
  • Steeped in history, the area witnessed key events in Henry VII’s reign and was home to a secret base in WII
  • Gourmands flock to the town of Malton – hailed as the food capital of the county

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The Dales and Moors always steal the show in Yorkshire — but true cognoscenti will champion the Howardian Hills.

This lesser-known Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers 80 square miles, sandwiched between the North York Moors National Park, the Yorkshire Wolds and the Vale of York.

It gives you Yorkshire at its most bucolic, with woods, rivers, cattle and swathes of barley and wheat sitting atop Jurassic limestone dappled with enchanting villages.

Castle Howard, the grand stately home in North Yorkshire, was the backdrop to the Netflix hit Bridgerton 

The Romans passed this way, expanding north from what is now York. For much of history the Howardian Hills have been an area of tranquil farmland, although the Battle of Stamford Bridge was fought a few miles to the south in 1066 when Saxon King Harold Godwinson defeated Viking Harald Hardrada. The former wouldn’t be as lucky three weeks later at Hastings against Norman challenger William the Conqueror.

The year 1539 brought more turmoil, when more than four centuries of religious life came to an end at Kirkham Abbey, in King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. Much of its stone was carted off to be used locally, and by the 19th century its ruins were a tourist attraction thanks to the railways. In World War II, it was used as a top-secret base for testing equipment prior to D-Day.

Mind you, life here today seems pretty idyllic as I sit outside the Fairfax Arms in Gilling East with a steak, plump chips and a pint of Black Sheep bitter.

I eavesdrop on the matey banter of a golf club outing at one table and parents of pupils from a local private school at another, visiting from London and opining that the area is prettier than the Cotswolds. A shiny Range Rover is parked behind a mud-splattered tractor.

Kirkham Abbey fell into disrepair after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1500s, only to enjoy a revival as a tourist destination in the 19th century. Later, it became a secret testing base during World War II.

Kirkham Abbey fell into disrepair after Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1500s, only to enjoy a revival as a tourist destination in the 19th century. Later, it became a secret testing base during World War II.

The River Derwent runs through the town of Malton, which is recognised as the food capital of Yorkshire thanks to its mouth-watering monthly market

The River Derwent runs through the town of Malton, which is recognised as the food capital of Yorkshire thanks to its mouth-watering monthly market  

The next day I head to Castle Howard, the grandest stately home in the north.

Dating from the late 17th century, it is most recently famous to viewers of the Netflix TV series Bridgerton (and before that Brideshead Revisited) as the residence of the fictional Duke of Hastings. The grounds and gardens can take half a day to explore and it has a busy calendar of events, such as PE with Joe Wicks on August 12; and a Proms and fireworks night on August 21.

Just outside the AONB is Malton. In the 1840s Charles Dickens visited and based Scrooge’s office on one there.

Now it’s the food capital of Yorkshire, with an acclaimed monthly market offering everything from gin and macarons to gelato and Yorkshire pudding-infused beer.

Prue Leith has declared Malton her ‘favourite foodie town’. In September, it hosts the annual 10km Marathon du Malton, when participants run through the centre to the Howardian Hills, stopping off for food and drink.

If that sounds too much effort, don’t worry, there’s a category for walkers and their dogs. After all, in such a charming corner of Yorkshire, who wants to rush?



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