9 Prehistoric sites you can day trip from York

The county of North Yorkshire has some pretty fantastic prehistoric sites. The City of York itself doesn’t really have anything but within an hour’s drive, there’s lots to see. If you want to visit Neolithic monoliths, Iron Age ceremonial mounds, Bronze age stone circles or prehistoric art in the form of cup and ring marks, you’ve found the right article.

I haven’t included most of these in my big list of 54 day trips from York, because I know a lot of people aren’t that interested in prehistory (I don’t understand them at all). The best part is, all of these are free, all you need is petrol money and lunch. If you’re not sure when each time period was, or its key features, you will find info below under the heading, “some dates”.

Because this is a travel article, I haven’t included some key North Yorkshire sites which archaeologists find important, such as Star Carr. This is because what makes these sites important is beneath the ground, while they’re being dug for the 4-12 weeks of digging season once a year. The rest of the time, you can’t see anything except the soil of the farmer’s fields covering them up. They are usually on private land, too. All of this makes it not practical or worthwhile to visit them in a day trip.

Places to see prehistoric stuff

I’ve included the nearest town so you can get an idea for where they are, because isn’t it really annoying when people just rattle off the names of prehistoric sites in the middle of nowhere and one could be in Cornwall while another is in Aberdeen.

Thornborough henge, nr. Ripon: A triple henge of three stone circles close to one another, along with a huge mile-long cursus (two ditches side by side creating a sort of pathway). At one point, it was apparently used for jousting and was known locally as “The Charging Ground.” The site is Neolithic, from at least 4,000BCE. Findable on Google Maps, but be aware extensive quarrying has taken place in the environs and the landscape beyond the stones therefore isn’t safe to free-explore.

Rudston Megalith, nr. Bridlington: I’ve talked about this one in my other article on day trips from York, because if you’re heading out toward Flamborough Head or Bempton, this is well worth a shufty. It’s an 8m tall megalith single-standing stone which is in a churchyard in the village of Rudston. If you’re into megaliths, you might want to make a day of it. Findable on Google Maps.

The Devils Arrows, nr. Boroughbridge: This is a small circle of three tall megalith standing stones. Dating to the late Neolithic, it is thought there were four or five stones originally. The tallest of the three is 7m high, and a Victorian excavation discovered it was buried a further 1.8m below the ground. According to local folklore, these are three actual giant arrows thrown by Old Nick himself in a spectacularly poor attempt at destroying the village of Aldborough. Founded in Roman times, Aldborough didn’t exist until thousands of years after the stones were put here. More likely, the legend sprung up around the superstitious time of the witch hunts and stuck. You can find it on Google maps.

Harwood Dale, nr. Ravenscar/Scarborough, North Yorkshire: Probably the nicest stone circle to photograph on this list, at 14m around you can fit a nice amount of stones into one shot. Bronze Age Harwood Dale is locally known as the Druid’s Circle. It is not, however, a typical circle. It is a Bronze Age burial cist, a stone-built box shape where human remains would have been buried. There are three upright stones in the centre. Two more cup-and-ring marked stones from the vicinity were taken to Scarborough Museum in Victorian times and the rest of the site was seemingly forgotten. More details and a map reference here.

Ramsdale Stone Circle, nr. Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire: Only three stones make up this tiny stone circle, which makes it fascinating and easy to look at in its entirety (unlike gigantic circles such as Long Meg and Her Daughters, in Cumbria, or Avebury, in Avebury). It has been suggested that the three stones once formed part of a burial cairn, or that they were originally a larger stone circle, but the truth is that no one knows. More info and map reference here (not marked on Google maps).

Simon Howe, nr. Goathland, N. Yorks: This visually intriguing stone circle has a more recent addition, in the form of a modern cairn like the ones you see at the top of many mountains frequented by ramblers. It’s due south of Goathland (where you can also find the Mallyan Spout waterfall). I have attempted to add it to Google Maps so hopefully it will be more findable for other people. If not, get the map reference and inspiring photos here.

High Bridestones, nr. Goathland, N. Yorks: While you’re here, the road above Goathland also has two more Bronze Age sites. High Bridestones is four standing stones and they are thought to be what is left of two circles that have been joined together. North of it sits Low Bridestones. Get the deets here.

Brow Moor Carved Stones, nr. Ravenscar, N. Yorks: The rock art at Brow Moor is incredible. These stones were carved in the Bronze age and they are highly striking, speckled with lots of small dots (cups) and some bigger circles (rings) and even concentric circles known as double rings. If you’re into prehistoric rock art, this is a worthwhile day out. Photos and map reference here.

Blakey Topping, nr. Scarborough, N. Yorks: This intriguing and mysterious site has been suggested to be a sacred hill. From the top, you can see another potential sacred hill to the southeast (Howden Hill). A sacred hill is a relatively new class of ancient monument, and there’s no consensus yet on whether they exist or not. Blakey Topping has four standing stones at the top.

Legend has it that Blakey Topping was created by Wade the Giant, who was angry at his wife Bell and scooped up soil from the Hole of Horcum to throw at her. Blakey Topping was created where the soil landed, along with some other local hills. Looking at the shape of the hill and how it fits into the landscape, it is clearly a man-made hill, with a very uniform shape and a flat top typical of Iron Age earthworks, although it could be older. Well worth a look and there are loads of walking guides if you DuckDuckGo Blakey Topping hill. Photos and map reference here.

Some dates:

Neolithic: 4000-2500BCE Britain transitioned from a marine-based diet to livestock farming. Inland settlements became more permanent as the same land could feed people year-round with domesticated cattle. Stone tools still the norm.

Bronze Age: 2500-800BCE Metallurgy was invented and bronze could be forged into shapes to take the place of stone tools. Archaeologists have found many ceremonial burials from this period.

Iron Age: 800BCE to 43AD Iron smelting replaced bronze, allowing metal production to be faster and the tools to be better as iron is harder than bronze. Iron age forts abound in the English landscape but for most of them, all that remains is a big hill with no trace of what it looked like, because stone wasn’t used widely for building until the Romans arrived.

The Romans arrived 43AD, bringing an end to the stone monuments and circle building traditions of the past and eventually blanketing England in Christianity. Also started writing stuff down and calling it “history”.

Review: Visiting Flamingoland Zoo

flamingos at flamingoland

We saw the first road sign for Flamingoland and I got so excited I nearly steered the car off the road. The second sign and I really had to concentrate on driving because I was jumping up and down in my seat and would have been clapping my hands in excitement if I wasn’t holding the steering wheel.

We parked up and I practically ran to the entrance. I may have locked my car. Not that anyone would have done anything to it – Flamingoland just felt totally safe, in the middle of nowhere, in the North Yorkshire countryside, and there weren’t many other cars parked today because it’s the off season. Tickets were £10 for Winter Entry (December to March) – about a third of the usual price – because the combination zoo and theme park only had the zoo open (and possibly one ride). I am really glad that they have started doing this because going in the off season has many advantages –

1. The tickets are affordable.

2. There are no crowds on the walkways, no queues to see the animals and no jostling or other general annoyances that you get in the main season.

3. The screaming from people on rides is vastly reduced – with just the one ride open, and far less people around the park, the screaming noise is an absolute minimum which is great. I used to live near and work at a different theme park and found the screaming noises from people on rides could get quite annoying at times. I don’t think people have any idea how annoying that is or how much noise pollution it causes.

4. I didn’t want to go on the rides anyway – I only wanted to go to the zoo, so it was lovely that they have the winter opening.

Where did I go first? I went to see the giraffes.

These adorable baby giraffes with their mommy were having a nibble in their play area.
These adorable baby giraffes with their mommy were having a nibble in their play area.

giraffes at flamingoland

giraffes at flamingoland

giraffe eating at flamingoland

I probably spent an obscene amount of time around the two separate giraffe enclosures (that’s six giraffes in total), and I really loved that they all had big sized areas to play in – and that some of them were kept close to the zebras.

zebra at flamingoland

The zebras (who are housed with the ostriches) really seemed to love being near the giraffes and they interact with each other through their enclosures which is really adorable.

zebra at flamingoland

I think they don’t house them together though because the giraffes can probably get a bit boisterous and they’re very tall. I got taken to London Zoo when I was about 17 and they had three giraffes but they were all out on loan to another zoo when I went which was very disappointing, I’ve always wanted to see a real giraffe. I wish we’d got to Flamingoland a bit earlier so we could have participated in feeding the giraffes, that would have been the experience to top all zoo experiences, but they only do it once per day and they only let four people do it each day, and we arrived an hour after they’d finished. I’ll have to look forward to next time.

Then there were the Bactrian Camels. They’re the ones with two humps. They seemed to be people watching, and somewhat unaware that the people they were watching were camel watching. It was funny.

bactrian camel

The tigers were chewing on bones, I was very glad that both they and the lions were behind safety glass. The lions were asleep and didn’t make for a very good photo (the tigers didn’t either due to the glass).

tiger at flamingoland

The flamingos were adorable. They were just going about their daily business enjoying life. It was nice to see different hues of flamingoes because naturally they’re not pink it comes from the beta carotene in the shrimp they eat, and a lot of zoos feed them beta carotene additive to make them pink or they have boring white ones as they lose their colour. These ones were the full range of flamingo colours and I think it must be because their diet was pretty much what they ate in the wild.

flamingos at flamingoland

The penguins were also pretty sweet, although I’ve never been that caught up on penguins. The emus were the fluffiest birds I’ve ever seen, and they came to say hello.

penguin at flamingoland

emu at flamingoland

Another special surprise was the red panda – he lives on his own because apparently they’re very solitary but he was the snuggliest little thing I’ve ever seen!

red panda at flamingoland

After all those animals we took a break and had a coffee – I was absolutely astounded that the coffee shop had soya milk for my tea, but it really made the day that little bit better, especially as it was freezing cold outside.  There were also squishy sofas to sit on.

soymilk cafe flamingoland small

In the gift shop we found this six foot tall giraffe that costs £100.  It was very awesome, but we didn’t buy it.

giant giraffe at flamingoland

There were lots of other cool and awesome animals, of the others, the meerkats have to win out as the stars – there were two enclosures for them, and the second one, in the middle of a children’s play area, was teeming with bouncy excitement, as we got there just as feeding time was happening:

meerkat at flamingoland

meerkat at flamingoland

meerkat at flamingoland

meerkats at flamingoland

 I was very proud of myself because the exit was through another gift shop and I left without buying anything – not even a postcard (which I usually get at places where it’s hard to get good pictures, and which has become a bit of a tradition when I go anywhere now).  I am following through on my commitment to not fill my house with clutter, and I felt really good about it as we left.  We then carried on spending the rest of Valentine’s Day celebrating our relationship.

For Valentine’s Day, we have had a five-year history of not doing anything. Every year I’ve gotten really excited, because I’ve always wanted that *one* Valentine’s Day where we went on a romantic date and ate food and stuff. Just the one. Every single year, life has intervened and made sure we couldn’t do anything on February 14th. It was becoming a tradition that we failed to celebrate V-day every year.  I wanted to go to Bempton and see the puffins but they won’t be back again until the end of march (seasonal wild birds are like that) so I thought it was going to be another year where we did nothing.  When my husband suggested Flamingoland I thought it wasn’t open, and that even if it was it would be £30 each to look at some flamingoes.  I was very pleasantly surprised and it turned out to be well worth a visit with the winter opening hours – and even though it’s school half term (a weeklong holiday for kids) there were not many children at Flamingoland either which was great.

Overall, it was a lovely day out as part of a magical Valentine’s day (I’m going against the popular opinion here because I actually really looked forward to Valentines day even though I care nothing for the consumerist trappings, I just wanted to enjoy being with someone I care about). I’m glad we got round to doing something this year because it was really special to just spend time with my husband, have a fun day out, and focus on how much we love each other and celebrate our relationship.

We didn’t bother with cards, flowers or chocolates, and champagne would have been out of place, but the zoo was perfect, followed by a nice meal (at a pub, no Valentines day specials for us), and then we went home and watched Kung Fu Panda 2 followed by the extended version of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring, which was about four and a half hours long (and excellent. I’ve seen it before when it first came out and it hasn’t lost its depth, I highly recommend it if you have the time to watch it, or you could chunk it into two parts).

Have you been to any good zoos lately or seen any exciting wildlife?  Let me know in the comments, and remember to keep ’em clean – this blog gets read by pensioners and children as well as twenty/thirtysomethings!

UPDATE!  I have now finished editing the video footage of my day at the zoo, you can see the first video here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZEX0NV1qNw&feature=youtu.be
The second one will be out once I’ve finished it.