Dolphins frolicking in the stormy seas off Whitby harbour! What an amazing start to my HF Holidays self-guided walking break. I’d been heading for a bracing clifftop walk to Robin Hood’s Bay, but the lure of a boat trip had proved too much (I was missing my cruises!). Such is the beauty of HF self-guided: the freedom to plan your own day and then abandon all plans to seize the moment.
My short break was based at Larpool Hall on the North York Moors, one of HF Holidays’ 17 country houses in stunning locations across the UK and a perfect location for wild moorland hikes, verdant river valley trails, coastal walks and Whitby wanderings. I’d chosen self-guided as I generally prefer walking alone, stopping to take photos, birdwatch, wander around a gallery or hop on a boat! With little time to plan, I was grateful for the advice and information from knowledgeable experts (house staff and walk leaders) and the extensive resources of the Discovery Point – the treasure trove of varied laminated local walking routes and maps held at each of HF Holidays ‘Country Houses.
Fuelled up by a hearty breakfast and armed with a detailed route map and the renowned HF Holidays ‘build your own’ picnic, I set off for my first adventure. The scenic route through Larpool Hall’s attractive grounds, recommended by the friendly breakfast waitress, took me across the River Esk viaduct into Whitby avoiding main roads. I’d planned to follow the coastal path to Robin Hood’s Bay, but a lucky impulse saw me jumping on Dash II for a 20-minute voyage with an informative skipper, a former trawlerman. As we approached the mouth of the Esk, right on cue, a pod of dolphins began playing in the waves. What a treat!
Back on dry land and with thunderclouds rolling in, I made a quick dash up the iconic 199 steps to the clifftop ruins of Whitby Abbey, magnificent in the dying rays of sunshine. Eyed by greedy gulls, I wolfed down my sumptuous picnic. As I wandered back through St Mary’s church graveyard to spot pirate graves, lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, and I could see how Bram Stoker found inspiration for his tale of Count Dracula. Dodging downpours, I continued my Whitby wanderings along beaches and harbour walls, visiting jet- and fossil-filled museums. Robin Hood would have to wait.
By the time I returned to Larpool Hall I’d walked 13 km (8 miles). I gratefully placed my soggy boots in the drying room – another feature of all HF Holidays’ country houses – and I was ready for a hot shower in my well-equipped and spacious ‘best’ room. With its sofa, modern décor, and far-reaching views across the Esk Valley it compares well with a 5-star hotel, but one that warmly welcomes windswept and muddy-booted walkers.
In the bar, two of the guided walks group leaders circulated amongst guests, cheerfully offering information and advice on walks and weather. In a typical week, the 3, 4 or 7-night HF Holidays Guided Walking breaks offer a choice of 3 graded guided walks. At Larpool Hall these were:
Easier walks – up to 7 ½ miles a day and up to 1,100 feet of ascent.
Medium walks – up to 9 ½ miles a day with up to 1,700 feet of ascent.
Harder walks – up to 13 miles a day with up to 2,100 feet of ascent.
I was able to sample one of HF Holidays guided walks* and spent a pleasant day following the Esk Valley trail under the expert guidance of walk leader Louise. The surroundings certainly came alive under her fact-filled commentary and whenever the path split, often with no visible signage, Louise kept us on the correct route. We also made some welcome detours for public toilets and to spot the steam train that had kept us company as it puffed and tooted through the Esk Valley. I can see the appeal of guided walking, particularly in some of the more remote terrains where getting lost might prove perilous.
On arrival back at Larpool my FitBit told me I’d walked 23 km (14 miles) that day and climbed the equivalent of 64 floors. My three-course meal that night was most welcome!
During the meals at shared tables, I’d learnt that most of my fellow guests were veteran HF Holiday walkers and members, often booking several Country House holidays a year. Many travelled solo, and those with partners enjoyed the chance to join separate walks each day according to their level of walking ability and interest. Several had also joined the overseas walking holidays, including the Camino de Santiago, and were eyeing the latest HF Holidays walking in Japan trip with interest. I am now leafing through the latest HF Holidays brochure with renewed interest.
*Self-guided guests are able to join at least one guided walk during their stay, subject to availability, with a fee payable for subsequent guided walks.
Carole was hosted by HF Holidays on a 4-night Self-Guided Walking break at Larpool Hall, North York Moors. 3, 4 and 7-night self-guided holidays start from £269 pp full board with en-suite accommodation. Guided holidays from £339 pp full board with a choice of easier, medium and harder grade guided walks available
There are also new Tread Lightly walks that start from the country houses and involve no transport; sightseeing holidays that combine walking with visits to local attractions and experiences, and special interest holidays such as photography, dancing or playing bridge.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends HF Holidays.