Travel blog aimed at mature, independent travellers who like to plan their own holidays. The blog is based on our own travels and walking holidays in beautiful places such as Iceland, The Azores and Peru, and contains accounts of our experiences, advice, links to resources and lots of photography.
Easy islands to visit in the beautiful and relaxed Stockholm Archipelago The post The Stockholm Archipelago – Easy Islands to Visit appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
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Stockholm is a great city to visit. But sometimes it is nice to get out of a busy city for a few hours and experience some peace, quiet and beautiful scenery. And this is so easy to do in Stockholm, because just offshore is a magical archipelago of literally thousands of islands.
The islands vary enormously. Some have well developed resorts, some have just a few summer cabins, and some are no more than isolated lumps of rock covered in pine trees. You could spend months exploring, but most tourists only have a few days available at most.
Two islands that are very close to Stockholm, and particularly easy to reach, are Fjäderholmarna and Vaxholm (see more about these later). But if you have a few hours or more to spare, we suggest visiting islands further out. This way you get to see not only the island you are visiting, but also the multitude of other islands, islets and rocks you will pass on the way.
Add to this the lovely properties on the islands, boats from tiny craft to huge ferries, and the numerous swans and cormorants that live amongst the islands, and the journey could well be the best part of your trip. It allows you to appreciate the full scale and beauty of the Archipelago.
On a recent short stay we visited two very different islands, both of which we highly recommend for a visit. We also saw hundreds more on boat trips and ferry journeys through the Archipelago (see Exploring the Baltic Sea by Ferry) Here are our observations and suggestions based on the islands we visited and saw on our journeys.
We absolutely loved Grinda. This quiet little island is a world apart from busy Stockholm, and a perfect place to relax for a couple of hours in beautiful countryside.
The boat drops you off at a tiny landing stage, and when the boat departs you feel as though you have been abandoned in the middle of nowhere. There is an information board about the island, which is a nature reserve, and a single track leading inland.
There is no need to worry, though. You soon come to the excellent hotel Grinda Wärdshus, which has a lovely terrace where you can enjoy a very good lunch. The view from the terrace over the guest harbour to the Baltic is beautiful.
There is another restaurant at the pier, as well as a shop and cafe.
There are easy trails through lovely woodland and meadows to enjoy, with information about the fauna and flora on the island. There is also a farm with various animals, and the rocky coast has secluded bays and places to bathe.
If you fancy staying a night or two, and enjoying even more solitude when the day-trippers have left, Grinda Wärdhuss has simple double and twin rooms as well as great food – see this page at booking.com.
There are regular daily trips to Grinda in the summer. Our boat departed from Strandvägen in Stockholm (see Cinderella Boats for timetables and further details). The journey time was 1 hour and 50 minutes, and we had over three hours on the island.
Sandhamn is actually the name of the attractive small town on Sandon Island. About 90 people live here permanently, and the island is a popular sailing centre. It therefore has a choice of restaurants and shops, making it an ideal destination for a day trip (or perhaps longer).
As well as exploring the town and having a relaxing lunch, you can stroll along the rocky coastline. There are lovely views over the Baltic Sea to neighbouring islands.
Behind the town there is some attractive woodland with scattered cabins and gardens, where we had a pleasant walk.
The highly scenic boat trip to Sandhamn takes around 2.25 hours. There are daily trips in the summer from Strandvägen in Stockholm (see Cinderella Boats for timetables and further details). Our trip allowed us over 3 hours on the island, so there was plenty of time for lunch and a bit of exploring.
Vaxholm is only 50 minutes from Stockholm, and is easily be reached by boat or bus (it is linked by bridges). We didn’t actually visit Vaxholm, but sailed past it several times during our stay.
The proximity and ease of access mean that it is less secluded than Grinda and Sandhamn, and has less of an ‘island’ feel. But the harbour and waterside properties look very attractive.
We think it would be great to stay a few nights in the Waxholms Hotell shown in the photo above, and use this as a base to visit other islands. You could then enjoy Vaxholm in the evenings when the crowds have left.
Vaxholm also has a fortress on a separate little island, visited by a tiny ferry.
Fjäderholmarna is a true island that is very close to Stockholm. It is often considered the first island of the Archipelago, and the boat trip takes about 30 minutes. Because of its proximity to the city it tends to get busy, and of course you don’t get to see much more of the Archipelago on your journey. But if time is limited the island has a lovely coastline, good restaurants, and would be well worth a visit.
There are regular boats run by Stromma.com – just follow this link to see the timetable.
Other islands that can easily be visited on day trips include Finnhamn, Möja, Svartsö and Gällnö, as well as many more. Follow this link to Stromma.com to see timetables for independent trips and also their range of organised excursions.
Waxholmsbolaget run many ferry services to and within the Archipelago – follow the link to see their timetables, which can be downloaded as PDFs.
For many more organised tours in and from Stockholm (including some in the Archipelago) try Viator. With Viator you can choose from a wide variety of tours and excursions and book online in advance. If you change your plans most excursions can be cancelled with a full refund up to 24 hours before the start of the tour.
For a wide choice of accommodation in Stockholm, and options in the Archipelago, see this page at booking.com.
Not all ferries and excursions run all year (the Archipelago may freeze in winter). Check carefully with the companies who run the services before making any firm plans.
Study the timetables carefully – they can be a little confusing (some journeys involve links with bus services and more than one boat).
Some islands that have regular boat services cannot really be visited in a day trip – the journey takes so long that you would have to return immediately (if it is even possible to return the same day). Of course you can always arrange to stay a night or two….
The boats we went on were very comfortable with indoor and outdoor seating areas. Refreshments and toilets were available. Again check with the companies running the trips to see exactly what is included.
Make sure you take a camera and, if possible, binoculars. There is a lot to see!
If you have a Kindle (or free Kindle App), a useful guide is Stockholm & the Swedish Archipelago.
A great way to explore Stockholm city is with a hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing Bus Tour – follow the link for more details, timetables and online tickets.
(Please remember that this site is based purely on our own holiday experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.)
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in North Yorkshire are beautiful to visit at any time of year The post Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens near Ripon in North Yorkshire make a great day out at any time of year. The properties are cared for by the National Trust and have UNESCO World Heritage status.
The ruins of Fountains Abbey are hugely impressive and atmospheric. They are the largest monastic ruins in the country, situated in the beautiful, sheltered valley of the River Skell, with limestone outcrops and beautiful trees.
The photos here are from a couple of winter visits, one of which was on a particularly snowy day.
You can easily spend an hour or two exploring the ruins, and wondering what life would have been like for the Cistercian monks who lived here.
The cloisters and undercroft are particularly atmospheric, especially when bathed in golden afternoon light.
The river valley surrounding the abbey is very beautiful, with limestone outcrops and lots of beautiful old trees.
Studley Royal Water Gardens and Park, in which the abbey is situated, are great for stretching the legs. Well constructed paths allow you to wander around the beautiful Georgian water gardens. There are lovely views of the abbey and surrounding hills and woods.
The excellent paths around the gardens and parkland make this a great place to visit at any time of year.
Being lovers of nature and trees, we particularly like to explore the paths through the ancient woodland. There are some magnificent old trees.
Some of the trees look decidedly precarious, as the slope they are growing on has been gradually eroded.
There are also some interesting follies to discover within the gardens and woods.
If you are in the North of England it is definitely worth spending a day exploring Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. And if you have only visited during the summer, remember that the abbey and gardens are equally beautiful on a frosty or snowy winter’s day.
The visitor centre at Fountains Abbey has a large restaurant and excellent gift shop.
For an interesting display showing the history of the abbey and the Cistercian monks who lived and worked there, it is worth visiting the Porter’s Lodge situated near the ruins. This also contains a lovely model showing how the abbey would have looked before it became ruined.
In addition to the main restaurant, there is also a charming tea room situated by a lake in the Studley Royal Water Gardens, and another smaller tea room which is open in the summer.
If you like to visit National Trust properties regularly, membership makes a lot of sense.
As a member you get free access to over 500 National Trust properties (including National Trust for Scotland), and free parking in many NT car parks. Just a few visits will recover the membership fee and you will then be saving money. You can visit as often as you like, and you will be contributing towards the care and maintenance of these very special places.
For information on how to get to Fountains Abbey, opening times, access and prices for non-members see this page.
If you would like to stay in North Yorkshire, you can search for accommodation using this page at booking.com.
For more ideas for places to visit we recommend the Rough Guide to Yorkshire.
Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.
A short winter break exploring the lovely canals and parks in Utrecht, The Netherlands The post Snapshots from a Winter Trip to Utrecht appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
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Matt and I spent Christmas in Utrecht in The Netherlands. Utrecht is so easy to reach. Regular direct trains from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport only take just over 20 minutes – see the Practicalities section at the end of this post for more information. And the City Centre is compact and really easy to explore on foot.
Because it was Christmas when we visited, many shops, restaurants and museums were of course closed. But we were incredibly lucky with the weather, and Utrecht has interesting canals and lovely parks to explore. Sometimes it is great just to stroll around a city you haven’t visited before, with no set agenda or itinerary.
Utrecht is known for the split-level canals in the city centre. In the summer the lower levels are apparently filled with restaurants and bars, but in the winter they provided a convenient escape from the traffic (predominantly cycles) in the narrow streets above.
The incredibly calm weather and blue skies made for some amazing reflections in the canal waters.
Taking a boat trip of the canals must be a lovely way to see the city, but most of these were not operating during the Christmas period. We only saw this one almost empty boat during our trip – perhaps another time…..
Utrecht has several lovely parks, and these were lovely to stroll around on a bright winter’s day. The parks we visited were wonderfully quiet – probably because it was Christmas. Just the way we like it!
Our hotel was located in Voorveldse Polder City Park (see the end of this post for more details about our hotel). We had a great view over the lake from the hotel window, and there are plenty of paths for strolling, jogging, cycling or even horseriding.
There are marked trails through Voorveldse Polder City Park to the adjacent Park Bloeyendael. This is again a lovely park to stroll around, with lots of wooden bridges over waterways and an interesting area of allotments. We saw many birds in the park, including grebes, ducks, geese, coots, treecreepers, wild parakeets and an incredibly tame heron.
Another lovely small park to stroll through is Wilhelminapark, closer to the centre of Utrecht. The colours here on a bright winter’s day were absolutely splendid. Again we saw wild parakeets in the park (alerted to their presence by their shrill calls), as well as geese, ducks, coots and many others.
In the park there is also the fantastic Wilhelminapark Restaurant. We had a wonderful seven course dinner here on Christmas Day night, and can highly recommend it. Both the food and service were absolutely excellent, and if you visit is summer you will also have lovely views over the lake.
We stayed in the Hotel Mitland, which is beautifully located beside a lake in Voorveldse Polder City Park, (see Parks, above). This is quite a distance from the centre of Utrecht, but once you get your bearings it is an easy and pleasant stroll of a couple of km or so (the easiest route is along Biltstraat).
Because we arrived late in the evening, we got a taxi to the hotel from Utrecht Central Station. But there are also regular buses along Biltstraat, and Bus 28 stops at Fort de Biltstraat which is close to the hotel. On our return journey we found it easy to walk back to the station, even with our cases.
There are hotels which are more convenient for the station and city centre (see booking.com for a huge range of accommodation in Utrecht). But we really enjoyed the location of Hotel Mitland. We had a lovely view over the lake from our balcony, with lots of trees and water birds to watch. The hotel’s restaurant and bistro were convenient and good, and in summer they have tables outside directly beside the lake, which must be lovely. We would happily stay there again.
Utrecht is incredibly easy to reach. Just get any flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, and then get a direct train straight from the airport to Utrecht. Trains are regular (at least two per hour), and the journey only takes just over 20 minutes.
To look for convenient flights to Schiphol try using Skyscanner.
To check train timetables, prices, and (if you wish) purchase your tickets online, try RailEurope.
For a useful map of the city we recommend the Travel Like a Local map.
Please note that this post is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.
The lovely city of Tallinn is surrounded by green parks, gardens and coastal paths. The post Outdoor Spaces in Tallinn appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
Tallinn, the capital city of Estonia, is a wonderful city to visit. The Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is immensely attractive. It feels like being in a fairytale with its cobbled streets, old city walls, and turrets and towers at every turn.
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There are plenty of varied shops and good museums to keep you busy. And there are restaurants everywhere you turn, from medieval-themed eateries to slick and modern establishments. It’s all very touristy, but still absolutely magical. If you get a chance to visit, don’t miss it!
The Old Town is small and easy to stroll around and explore. For a useful guidebook we recommend the DK Eyewitness Top 10 Tallinn.
But there is much more to Tallinn. Outside the Old Town is an attractive bustling city with all the usual facilities. And if, like, us you enjoy being outdoors, there are some fantastic parks and walks to enjoy. Here are our suggestions, based on a recent short visit.
Kadriorg Park, situated east of the Old Town, is a wonderful place to spend a few hours. The park covers around 70 hectares, and contains the beautiful baroque Kadriorg Palace shown above, surrounded by formal gardens. The palace houses the Kadriorg Art Museum, and there are a number of other museums and monuments to discover within the park.
There are excellent criss-crossing paths for strolling around and exploring this lovely place. The park contains some fantastic old trees, ponds, sculptures and an evolving Japanese garden with water features. There are also several cafes to choose from, or plenty of seats for a picnic.
We found it an easy walk from the Old Town (less than half an hour to the entrance to the park). If you prefer to use public transport there is a tram station near the entrance, and several bus stops around the park area. For timetables and information about tickets see the useful Public Transport page at Visit Tallinn.
For more information about the park see the website.
If you want to do a longer walk you can follow easy paths east and then north to Pirita. If you wish you can then continue towards Viimsi. To see the route on a map just search ‘Walk Tallinn to Viimsi’ on Google).
The great thing about this walk is that a regular bus route runs parallel to your paths. So you can go as far as you feel comfortable with, and then go slightly inland to the major road to find the nearest bus stop. The buses are very regular (see Public Transport – Route 1A).
A great place to start is at the impressive Russalka Monument, built as a memorial to those who lost their lives due to the sinking of a Russian warship. The Monument is just north of Kadriorg Park, and can easily be reached on foot (search on Google maps to see its location).
The path is at first an excellent promenade beside the sea wall. You can watch the big ferries coming and going, and there are some interesting sculptures to see.
On reaching Pirita there is a marina and convenient places to stop for lunch. You can also head inland here to see the ruins of the Pirita convent.
If you decide to walk further towards Viimsi you can choose from paths beside the sea or through some lovely shady pine forest.
Just walk as far as you wish, and then find a convenient bus stop to take you back to the city (for timetables see Public Transport – Route 1A). We really enjoyed the contrasts between the busy city centre, the seaside promenade and the shady pine forests.
Another great way to spend a few hours is to explore the lovey Botanic Garden. This is situated a few miles north east of the city, and can easily be reached by bus (Route 34A – get off at Kloostrimetsa Tee – for timetables see Public Transport).
The gardens are extensive and a great place to stroll. A large part of the site consists of an arboretum, and there is a network of paths through the lovely collection of trees.
There is a large and interesting glasshouse to visit, which contains a small cafe. Then there is a large rose garden with many varieties, some of which have been bred in Estonia, Other areas include a Garden of the Senses, areas showcasing grassland plants and mountain plants, various ponds and a really interesting display on fungi.
For more information about the gardens including opening times and entrance fees see http://botaanikaaed.ee/. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Adjacent to the Botanic Garden is the Tallinn TV tower, which can easily be combined with a visit to the garden.
The tower has a viewing platform and a good restaurant with fantastic views over the gardens, forest, Baltic Sea and Tallinn city. There is also an interactive display about the tower’s history. For more information see Tallinna Teletorn.
These are just a few suggestions based on our own (way too short) visit to this lovely city. There are many other parks and gardens within easy reach of the Old Town. Here are some suggestions, together with links for more information.
There are flights to Tallinn from many airports. To search for the best option near you try Skyscanner.
There are regular buses and trams from the airport to the city centre.
We incorporated our visit to Tallinn into a tour of the Baltic by ferry (see Exploring the Baltic Sea by Ferry. The ferries are really good value, so if you can get a flight to Stockholm or Helsinki this is a great alternative way to arrive. And by booking an overnight ferry from Stockholm you can reduce the cost of staying in a Stockholm hotel for a night. To check timetables and compare prices, try Aferry.
For accommodation, there is a very large choice available. We stayed in the Taanilinna Hotel, a characterful and quiet old hotel just off a street in the Old Town. The hotel has individually designed rooms and a good breakfast. It doesn’t have a restaurant, but it is right in the Old Town and there are loads of restaurants all around. We would happily stay there again.
To search the vast choice of accommodation options in Tallinn see this page at booking.com.
If your time is limited, a great way of seeing the city and its surroundings is by a City Sightseeing bus tour. The hop-on hop-off service has three routes and over 20 stops in Tallinn, and you can choose between them as you wish. Three-day tickets are also available. Follow the link for more information.
For a wide range of guided tours in Tallinn, and excursions further afield, see Viator.
A short break to visit gardens and nature reserves in South Cumbria The post A Short Break in South Cumbria – For Lovers of the Gentle Outdoors appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
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Matt and I recently spent a lovely three-night break in the countryside near Cartmel in southern Cumbria.
There was a time when visiting Cumbria was, for us, all about hill walking in the Lakeland fells and conquering every summit. But now we are older, heavier, and (perhaps) a little wiser, we like to enjoy the great outdoors in a more gentle manner.
We are discovering all the great places we missed when getting up high was the only objective! If you love nature and wildlife, the best places are often in lower lying and sometimes remote locations. You don’t have to push yourself to the limit to enjoy being in fantastic surroundings, and to discover great countryside, gardens and wildlife.
If, like us, you love being outdoors in great countryside and love nature reserves and gardens, here are some ideas in a less frequented area of Cumbria.
We passed close to the National Trust property Sizergh Castle on our journey to Cartmel, so this seemed like an excellent place to visit on our first day.
Because our short break was in November, the house itself was closed (as were many other stately homes and gardens in the area). But the gardens and parkland were open, as well as the excellent cafe with a great outdoor terrace.
The gardens, which include a national collection of ferns, were absolutely splendid in their autumn colours. Don’t be put off visiting because the house is closed – it is still a great place for a stroll. Here are some pictures.
In addition to the gardens, there are several laid out trails in the surrounding parkland. Unfortunately there had been recent rain when we visited, and the trails were boggy. We didn’t want to arrive at our hotel covered in mud, so we saved the trails for another day.
If you regularly visit National Trust properties, membership makes a lot of sense. Follow the link above for full details.
For more information about Sizergh Castle’s location, opening times, admission costs for non-members and facilities follow this link to Sizergh.
It is a bit of a trek to get to Walney Island, which is right at the southernmost tip of Cumbria, connected to Barrow in Furness by a bridge. If you like remote places, it is so worth the trip. When you get to Ulverston choose the scenic coastal route to Barrow in Furness – the views are stunningly beautiful.
We went to visit Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s South Walney Nature Reserve, which is an absolute gem. To visit the reserve you follow a long, narrow track to the southern point of the island. This takes you through a wonderful landscape of salt marsh and tidal creeks. There are lots of gulls, ducks, herons and other wading birds, depending on the tide. Speaking of the tide it is worth checking a tide table before you set off, because the track can occasionally be inundated in very high tides or bad weather.
The reserve itself has a car park, a small visitor centre, and good toilets. There are excellent tracks around the reserve, and a lot of very good hides. You can walk for several miles if you wish, or just have gentle stroll. Depending on where you are on the reserve there are fantastic views to the offshore wind farm, the Cumbrian hills, Piel Castle and across Morecambe Bay.
The coastal habitats attract many birds, and the reserve is particularly known for its grey seal colony. The seals are regularly seen around high tide. We didn’t see any seals hauled out on the shore, but got great views of them playing in the sea as the tide went out. We absolutely loved the reserve, and hope to return.
A fantastic way to get to Leighton Moss from the southern Lake District, is to take the train over the Kent Viaduct. You park at the station in Grange over Sands, and get a train to Silverdale. From Silverdale Station, it is only 250m to the entrance to the reserve.
Trains run regularly (approximately once an hour – timetables), and tickets only cost just over three pounds. Make sure you ask for a return ticket because they are hardly any more expensive than singles. The journey takes around 10 minutes (much less than driving), and is very scenic.
Leighton Moss is actually just outside the Cumbrian boundary, in Lancashire. It is a wonderful reserve, with extensive reed beds, wetlands, and loads of wildlife. There are also great visitor facilities including a cafe, shop, binocular sales, information, play areas for children and regular events.
There is always something to see here. The garden and woodland birds are incredibly tame, and there are regular sightings of otters, bearded tits and marsh harriers. We had fantastic repeated views of the marsh harriers, and had a great day roaming around the excellent paths and hides. After a short shower the afternoon light gave the reeds a lovely golden glow, and we saw the rainbow in the photo below.
Follow the links for more places to visit (note some places have limited opening hours in winter months).
We stayed in the charming Aynsome Manor hotel, which is situated just outside the lovely (but busy) village of Cartmel. The hotel has an attractive restaurant room with a great view over the surrounding hills. Breakfasts were excellent, and there was a daily changing menu with good choice for evening meals. Our room was very comfortable, and the staff were great. The hotel appeals more to older guests, but note that they do not have a lift.
Other good places to stay would be Grange over Sands or Ulverston To search a vast range of accommodation options in Cumbria see booking.com.
For a general guide book of places to visit in Cumbria we recommend the AA Guide
For a detailed map of the area we recommend the OS Landranger
The post A Short Break in South Cumbria – For Lovers of the Gentle Outdoors appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
A review of some excellent nature reserves to visit in Yorkshire The post Yorkshire Nature Reserves appeared first on Self Arranged Journeys.
Matt and I have recently been exploring nature reserves in the region around our Yorkshire home. I can’t believe we have lived here for over 30 years, and explored so much, but never realised how many excellent reserves there are within easy reach of York.
(This post contains some affiliate links which help us to fund the site – for more information please see the Disclosure.)
Here are photos and information about our favourites. My skills as a wildlife photographer are limited, but I hope the photos will give you an idea of how excellent these reserves are. All are definitely worth a visit, whether you are a keen birdwatcher, a plant lover, or just enjoy a good walk surrounded by wonderful nature. Now we have discovered them, we will be returning again and again.
If you are interested in membership of the RSPB or the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, just follow the links. Hopefully I will add more reserves to this page in the near future, so do keep checking back. And if you know of others worthy of inclusion, please do let us know!
Blacktoft Sands is just within the Yorkshire county boundary. It is situated on the south bank of the River Ouse, just before the Ouse joins the Humber, close to Goole and Scunthorpe.
Blacktoft Sands is one of the largest tidal reed beds in the UK, and is a fantastic reserve. There are six excellent hides, with great views over the tidal pools and reeds. Good paths link the hides, and the distances between them are quite small.
The bird life varies with the tides and seasons, but there is always something to see here. And you get great close up views from the hides.
On a recent visit we saw numerous black-tailed godwits, redshanks, wigeon, teal, herons, lapwings and many more. There is a resident population of tree sparrows, which is easy to observe at a well-placed feeder. We also got a great view of a marsh harrier, and were able to watch this lovely snipe feeding right in front of one of the hides.
For more information, and charges for non-RSPB members, see Blacktoft Sands.
Fairburn Ings is one of our favourite reserves. The reserve contains a number of lakes and ponds on different levels, in what used to be a coal face. The lakes are connected by good paths through beautiful woodland. From higher ground there are great views over the reserve and the surrounding countryside.
The paths are suitable for all seasons and abilities. There are excellent hides and screens to watch the wildlife, and plenty of benches when you want a picnic. The reserve is large enough to walk for several miles if you wish.
There is always wildlife to be seen here, particularly wildfowl and waders at the lakes. On recent visits we saw great white egret, little egret, grey heron, curlew, wigeon, teal, shoveler, great crested grebe, little grebe, merganser, marsh harrier, buzzard, kestrel, and many others. We also saw dragonflies, butterflies, and on one of our visits impressive numbers of ladybirds!
Other species regularly recorded on the reserve include kingfishers, bitterns, sparrow hawks, red kites and otters – we will definitely keep returning!
For more information see Fairburn Ings.
St Aidan’s Nature Park, like nearby Fairburn Ings, occupies a disused coal mining site close to the River Aire near Leeds. As at Fairburn, there are numerous lakes and ponds connected by an extensive network of good paths.
However, despite the proximity to Fairburn, the two reserves are very different in character. St Aidan’s is much more open and exposed, with big wide views over the wetlands and reed beds.
The wetlands are a hive of activity with various water birds, and there is always something to see. You can walk for several miles here using the paths on the reserve and also the adjacent path beside the River Aire.
However be aware that there are no hides or shelters on the reserve, so it is very exposed. If you plan to visit on a wet or windy day, go prepared! The reserve is quite new, and hides are being planned for the future.
There are some benches around the site that are suitable for picnic stops.
For more information see St Aidan’s Nature Park.
Barlow Common nature reserve is situated just south of Selby, off the A1041. It is literally in the shadow of Drax Power Station, but it is a haven of peace and tranquility.
The reserve is glorious in autumn, as you can see from the photos. On a recent visit we were treated to stunning colours, and a great display by an obliging buzzard.
The reserve consists of lakes, meadows and beautiful mature woodland. It has good paths to enable an easy circular walk with plenty of benches and a picnic area.
There are teasels everywhere. We will definitely visit again in the spring and summer – this must be a fantastic place for bees and butterflies as well as birds.
It is also a fantastic place to see fungi. There are lots of tree branches and trunks which have been left to decay, and as well as being perfect for insects to breed these are covered in an impressive array of lichens and fungi. If you visit, be sure to look out for them as you walk around the reserve.
If you visit, be sure not to miss a second circular route through oak and birch woodland. It is a short and very easy circuit through beautiful trees, and definitely worthwhile – see the map in the reserve to find the entrance.
For more information see Barlow Common.
North Cave Wetlands is a fantastic reserve, which will become even better in the near future. The reserve has been created from a former quarry. A further 100 hectares, which is currently still in use as a quarry, is going to be added to the reserve within the next few years. It will then be a huge area of deep and shallow lakes, meadow and paths.
When we visited in late summer we saw lots of dragonflies and butterflies, as well as many birds on the lakes.
Amongst the birds were many little egrets on the islands, as can be seen in the photo below.
In autumn the reserve is particularly beautiful, with fantastic colours in early morning or afternoon light.
For more information see North Cave Wetlands.
Potteric Carr is a large reserve just south of Doncaster consisting of extensive wetlands and reed beds connected by a network of paths. It has a large number of excellent hides, and you can easily spend an entire day here going from hide to hide. There is a visitor centre and cafe, and regular events and activities for families.
The reserve is particularly known for its wetland birds, including bitterns, and it is a great place to get close views of marsh harriers.
Matt and I recently had a short break near Doncaster specifically to visit Potteric Carr and some other local reserves. Coming from the quieter north part of Yorkshire, we were surprised by the fact that the reserve is surrounded by constantly busy main roads, and is criss crossed by major railway lines. Therefore you can constantly see and hear the traffic – something we like to escape from when we visit nature reserves!
But then it was encouraging to see just how much wildlife is thriving here. The lakes were constantly busy with wildfowl, and the hedgerows were alive with birdsong. And we not only got a quick glimpse of two bitterns, but also clearly heard booming – something I have wanted to hear for many years. What a wonderful sound!
Potteric Carr and several other nearby reserves prove that wildlife can thrive even near our busy roads and overcrowded cities, as long as suitable habitat is available. Providing spaces like these, and corridors between them, is so important. I think the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and RSPB are doing a great job!
For more information including directions, opening hours and admission charges for non-YWT members, see Potteric Carr.
Spurn Point is a unique reserve, consisting of a vulnerable spit of land jutting out from the Holderness coast to the mouth of the Humber Estuary. There used to be a road to the end of the point, but part of this was washed away in a tidal surge in December 2013. Access is now on foot or cycle, and is not safe during very high tides, when part of the route may become inundated.
It is a bit of a trek to get there, so if you plan to visit make sure you check the ‘Do not cross’ times on the Spurn Point website before you set off.
From the car park you can walk as far as you wish along the point, and there are various side trails to explore. It is around 4 miles to the lighthouse (which you can visit at certain times), and a little further to the tip of the point. No matter how far you walk, it is always exhilerating being here, with wide open views on both sides.
There are good chances of seeing wildlife on the shore and in the dunes. Spurn is well known for its migrating birds, and is also a great place to see various insects and mammals. On a recent visit we saw a roe deer in the dunes, a seal just offshore, and this interesting convolvulus hawk moth caterpillar which was crossing the main path.
For more information see Spurn Point.
Staveley, situated close to Boroughbridge, is another lovely reserve to visit. It is quite a large site, with wetlands, grassland and good paths and hides.
Otters, barn owls and red kites are often seen here. There are several orchid species flowering in summer, and lots of butterflies and dragonflies. Even if you are not lucky enough to see the star species, there is always something to see on the various ponds and lakes.
On recent visits we enjoyed great views of herons, and large flocks of lapwings catching the light as they flocked above the lakes.
We also got fantastic views (but not photos!) of a beautiful barn owl, and have had several sightings of a marsh harrier. It is definitely one of our favourite reserves, and we will continue to visit regularly.
For more information see Staveley Nature Reserve
Wheldrake Ings is located just outside Wheldrake village close to the A19 between York and Selby. This wonderful reserve changes throughout the year. In spring and summer there are vast meadows full of wild flowers which attract insects and birds. In late summer the meadows are cut for hay and then grazed.
But the real change occurs in late autumn when the meadows begin to flood from the nearby River Derwent. The reserve is part of the Lower Derwent Valley, and in winter the whole area is used by literally thousands of ducks, geese and waders. These in turn attract predators like peregrines and marsh harriers.
A raised path through the reserve and good hides make it possible to view the birds, though be aware that the path can sometimes get muddy in wet weather. In times of very high flooding the path will be inaccessible.
Wheldrake Ings also has one of the highest densities of barn owls in Europe. It is a great place to visit at dusk when the chances of spotting one are high. We have also heard tawny owls calling here – a wonderful sound to hear just after dark!
Another rather eerie sound on the reserve (especially if it is dark) is the creaking of an old wind pump. We got a bit of shock one visit when a breeze caused it to suddenly start turning – fortunately we soon realised where the sound was coming from!
For more information see Wheldrake Ings.
I will be adding more reserves to this list in the future, so please do keep checking back!
For reserves and country parks on both sides of the Humber Bridge, please see our post Humber Bridge.
If you would like to stay in Yorkshire, you can search for accommodation using this link to booking.com.
For more ideas for places to visit in Yorkshire we recommend the Rough Guide to Yorkshire.
And just a quick final request – we are always saddened at how much litter we see, even on nature reserves. PLEASE, PLEASE – take your litter home!
Please remember that this site is based purely on our own experiences – therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.
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