A Weekend in the Yorkshire Dales: A Family Guide to Bolton Abbey and Beyond

The Yorkshire Dales is a beautiful region of England and ideal for a family trip away. With stunning scenery, charming villages, living history, and rolling fells, there are boundless opportunities to make some memories together. We spent a happy few days camping with the kids at the wonderful Catgil Farm, enjoying everything the local area offers, so here is our family guide to Bolton Abbey and beyond.

Bolton Abbey

We are so fortunate in the UK to have so much history on our doorstep, and Bolton Abbey has to be one of the most enthralling places to visit. The contrast of tumbled-down and immaculately preserved in such a beautiful setting is quite unique. 

The Abbey dates back to 1154 and was in use until 1539, when the armies of Henry VIII swept through and forcefully disbanded the monastery while acquiring its money and lands. As the attahced Priory was also used as a local church, it was spared the ransacking and remains a site of Christian worship to the present day, surviving Scottish raids and even Black Death.

A wide angle shot of Bolton Abbey and surrounding lands taken by drone
You can see why they decided to build it here.

Getting to the Abbey by car is straight forwards; it is just a short drive up some fairly narrow lanes once you turn off the A59. When you arrive at the Abbey, you can only park at the car park (£12.50 per car/motorbike pre-booked, £15.00 on the day). All around the Abbey, great effort has been put into blocking any other parking spots with every grass verge defended by large rocks and all pavements marked with double yellow lines. 

If you are coming by public transport, Skipton is the nearest major train station, and the 873 Skipton to Ilkley bus runs directly past the Abbey.

Once you have arrived and parked up, it is just a short walk to the Abbey through the ‘hole in the wall’.  Unusually for an iconic landmark in the UK, there is no charge to enter the Abbey grounds. Once you leave the car park, there are no cafe or toilet facilities at the Abbey. The only refreshments available is a moderately overpriced ice cream stand that sells locally made sweet treats and soft drinks. 

For a family day out, the Abbey has so much to offer. Exploring the ruins and church will fill a happy hour, plus the rolling fields around the Abbey are perfect for running off some energy and enjoying a picnic. The river flows gently and is easily accessible if you or your little ones want to take a paddle. The only dangerous wildlife to keep an eye on is the odd errant duck who seem to psychically know when your picnic is about to be served! 

Two young children stand on a rock near Boltin Abbey - A Family Guide to Bolton Abbey and Beyond
Eva and Lilly exploring the ruins. We have no idea where Eva got those glasses from.

We know from our previous visits the stepping stones are great fun; sadly, on our most recent trip, a tree had recently damaged some of them, so they were closed off and awaiting repair.  It is also worth mentioning that after periods of heavy rain, the flow can be very fast, and the stepping stones can be quite treacherous.

A shot of Bolton Abbey through the trees from the Welly Walk. A Family Guide to Bolton Abbey and Beyond

There is a short walk from the Abbey, which is perfect for children and is pram friendly if a little steep, called the Welly Walk. The walk goes from the stepping stones to the Cavendish Pavilion cafe (reasonably priced with toilets but prone to being very busy!) and back. The walk has several activities, including tunnel scrambles and rope climbs along the way, to make it more engaging for the little ones. 

The Abbey probably isn’t a full-day destination but is certainly worth a lazy afternoon to visit with a picnic, and if the weather is good, you could eek out into a full day with exploring and paddling. Failing that, there are several other attractions nearby worth a visit.

Hesketh Farm

Just up the road from CatGil campsite, where we stayed, Hesketh Farm is a fun-filled adventure farm that holds great memories for us from when the girls were younger. The family-run working farm is only 1 mile away from Bolton Abbey and 5 miles away from Skipton town. Access to the farm is a little tricky as it is down some quite narrow roads that see a lot of traffic due to its close proximity to the Abbey. Once you arrive, there is a large car park which is free of charge. 

Georgia and Eva playing in the straw bales at Hesketh Farm
A very young Eva and Georgia are kippering about in the maze!

We first visited back in 2020 when our girls were a bit younger and had a brilliant time that we still remember today. It costs £7.50 per adult or child and, with the exception of a small charge for the tractor ride of £1.50 each, there are no additional charges once you are in.

Although many activities are outdoors, there is plenty to do indoors so it is worth a visit even if the weather is not great. When the girls were smaller, we lost the best part of an hour alone in the straw bale maze.  They loved peeping around corners to see if we were going to catch them!  The giant sandpit with a wooden tractor to explore is another great activity protected from the great British elements. 

They also really enjoyed the interaction with the animals.  There are all sorts of furry and feather animals which you can get up close to in clean and spacious enclosures and all the animals looked happy and well cared for.  We particularly enjoyed the opportunity to feed the lambs and scratch the pigs with a bristly broom.  From the cute and cuddly guinea pigs to the fascinating giant tortoises, there is something for everyone.  You may even be lucky enough to see chicks hatching in the incubators and there is even the opportunity to handle day-old fluffy chicks. 

Georgia and Eva feeding the calfes at Hesketh Farm

Outside, as well as some more animals there is a large play area with all the usual stuff to climb, swing and crawl around.  The fun yet bumpy tractor ride around the fields is well worth the £1.50 as you get to see some more animals and take in the glorious setting of the Yorkshire Dales.   On this trip to the Dales, we didn’t actually visit Hesketh Farm, but we did do a couple of walks which took us through the fields surrounding the farm and we loved to see last year’s inquisitive calves and lambs out enjoying grass and space in their natural environment.

If you are looking to bring your own food and have a picnic, there are plenty of tables dotted around the play area.  However, the onsite cafe is very reasonably priced, offering and array of coffee, sandwiches, and cakes. 

Eva playing on the spider ropes at  Hesketh Farm

Overall, Hesketh Farm is a great, reasonably priced day out with lots to keep the kids entertained with slightly different and unique experiences.  The family-run business has really worked hard to diversify to sustain their working farm.  You absolutely don’t get the feeling that you are being rinsed for every penny, and the animal interactions are really fun and educational.  

Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway 

Volunteer-run steam trains are one of those peculiarly British idiosyncrasies. The fact a group of people came together to raise money and run these incredible machines successfully is truly remarkable!

The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway runs between the two stations, and a family ticket (2 Adults, 2 Children) costs £35 return. Both stations are just off the A59 and are very easy to get to by car. If you are coming by public transport, from Skipton Railway Station you can take the number 14 bus to Embsay and then it is a short walk to the station. 

The experience starts as you arrive at the beautifully preserved station, which is like stepping back to the 1930s, complete with a picture of King George VI on the wall and the cigarette machine selling for 12p!

The highlight for the children was seeing the engine on the platform. The engine is spectacular, and you have to take a moment to appreciate what a triumph of engineering they are. In a time before computers and digital calculators, they were designed by slide rule and brain power.

The girls were invited into the cab with the great warning: “Don’t touch anything; everything is either greasy or red hot and greasy”

Young children in the cab of a steam train at Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway 

In truth, the actual journey is underwhelming. The views are not the most spectacular, and the train never seems to get above 10 mph. The trip between the two stations takes about 20 mins. 

To make a day of it, we took the 11.15 service from Bolton Abbey to Embassy on the steam Train and then walked through the woods into Skipton for a milkshake. The walk took a little over an hour. 

We then walked a more direct route back to catch the 15.00 train back to Bolton Abbey station, which took about 25 mins with the girls. 

The steam train is well worth a visit and will take maybe an hour if you do a simple there-and-back journey, or you can take the walk into Skipton to make it a full-day adventure.


Skipton is a charming town that would not look out of place in the Lake District. The centre is a mixture of interesting local shops and cafes and an assortment of outdoor shops, which the girls had great fun exploring to spend their pocket money. 

Family highlights for us were The Chocolate Works, where we had an incredible milkshake and Ragged Dragon, where the girls bought some pretty gems and crystals. The only bit of the town we didn’t get to see was the castle due to a lack of time, but it looks to be well worth a visit!

The Chocolate Works really does do amazing milkshakes!

Adrian also frequented the outdoor shops attempting to replace the shoes that were wrecked at the Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival, and although all quite small, they seemed to carry a good range of waterproofs and other bits needed. 

Before this trip, we had a great (if rather wet) weekend at The Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival – check our review here:

A Wonderful Washout: Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival With Kids – 2023 Review

Before this trip, we had a great (if rather wet) weekend at The Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival – check our review here: A Wonderful Washout: Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival With Kids – 2023 Review

A wide angle drone shot of a family walking down a farm track on a sunny day - A Family Guide to Bolton Abbey and Beyond
There is plenty of fun to be had with the drone as well!

Local Walks

If you are looking for slightly longer, more adventurous walks, then there are several that start and finish at the Abbey.

The Strid River Wharfe Loop

This longer version of the Welly Trail featured above covers a beautiful section of the River Wharfe and is replete with photo opportunities.

Eva was in charge of navigating!

Bolton Abbey Loop to Barden Moor

A rugged moorland route that is perfect for getting away from it all, the route takes some truly stunning scenery as you walk high above Bolton Abbey, looking down the Wharfe Valley. It starts with a modest but consistent climb until you cross the “three hares” and make your way back down.

A group of children and parents hold hands as they walk up Barden Moor.

So there we have our family guide to Bolton Abbey and beyond. If you think we have missed anything we should check out on our next visit, then please leave us a comment below.

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About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

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