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Passing on your pride and heritage; GIFT: English Heritage passes make perfect Christmas present for the family: Bringing the past into the present: HISTORY: So many sites for the family to enjoy with an English heritage pass.

Byline: Graham Young

MAYBE you're wondering what to buy your grown-up children for Christmas - or you're an adult struggling to find the perfect present for your parents.

The easy solution is to think of experiences instead of physical gifts.

While few of us could afford to buy a whole holiday for a close relative, there is an easy, low-cost alternative... an English Heritage pass that will last the whole year long. In the West Midlands region alone there are 30 properties listed on the English Heritage website from Leigh Court Barn in Worcestershire to Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire and Halesowen Abbey.

For those who live on the north side of Birmingham, Shropshire is a particularly rich source of sites including Boscobel House, Buildwas Abbey, Stokesay Castle, Acton Burnell Castle, Wroxeter Roman City, Ironbridge, Clun Castle, Langley Chappel, White Ladies Priory, Old Oswestry Hill Fort and Haughmond Abbey.

Even the most dedicated days out 'activist' would be hard pressed to get round all of these in a single year.

But there's another reason for becoming a member.

Take a holiday in another part of England and you will probably be able to use your pass enough in one week to cover the initial outlay - while at the same time discounting the cost of your vacation.

We recently took a short break in North Yorkshire and on successive days comfortably visited four marvellous attractions where our children were able to listen to audio tour versions of their histories.

Helmsley Castle in Helmsley was first established in the 1120s by prominent nobleman Walter Espec - aka Wood the Woodpecker.

By the 16th century, the chamber block was being converted into a Tudor mansion.

A huge ditch and various gates and towers still exist today and our children were able to dress up for the part, too.

As well as a fine visitor centre, complete with various displays illustrating the castle's social, domestic and military history, the car park is low cost and there are plenty of nearby pubs and cafes, too. Standard castle admission prices are adults pounds 4.50, children pounds 2.30 (family tickets pounds 11.50). More details from 01439 770442. Within easy driving distance are Byland and Rievaulx Abbeys. We visited the latter on a day which, like Helmsley, had very 'atmospheric' weather conditions.

Built 900 years ago, Rievaulx is on a beautifully-still valley hillside. An all-day fog had deterred many other visitors so we almost had the place to ourselves. Gardener Sid Carson was relaying some turf in the near drizzle. "You can bet there would have been a few deaths from workers falling off the primitive scaffolding when they were building it," he mused. Admission is pounds 5 for adults and pounds 2.50 for children, with a refundable pounds 4 car park fee. Details: 014239 798228. Before leaving the Helmsley area, we took advantage of improving visibility by visiting the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

We went on a two-mile return walk along the escarpment where Yorkshire Gliding Society members were being towed off the edge - a fantastic sight. Our next stop was the east coast... via the Vale of Pickering! Scarborough Castle overlooks two bays with dramatic seaside views. Its history spans the Iron Age, Romans, Vikings and even World War Two when it was given a strategic role. In a churchyard nearby, you'll find the gravestone of Anne Bronte, the only one of the sisters not buried at home in Haworth. Standard Scarborough Castle admission is pounds 4.50 for adults, pounds 2.30 for children (family ticket pounds 11.30).

Details: 01723 372451. Our final stop was at wonderful Whitby, where the town's 15th annual goth fest was in full swing for added value. FROM PREVIOUS PAGE English Heritage is very good at arranging historical activities, and, at the foot of the abbey overlooking the harbour into the North Sea, we were just in time for a noon explanation about the techniques of hanging criminals. A monastery was first established at Whitey in AD 657 by Oswy, King of Northumbria. Its history was noted by the Venerable Bede, a monk from Jarrow who wrote what is claimed to be the first work of English history - The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. At this time Whitby was known as Streanaeshalch, meaning 'Bay of the Beacon'.

It is thought the Danes destroyed the first abbey in AD 867, only for one of William the Conqueror's finest knights, Reinfrid, to establish a new monastic order during the 1070s. The second monastery was destroyed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540. The pounds 2.99 guidebook also illustrates how German shelling in 1914 damaged the west front of the abbey compared with how it looked on an engraving by Gibson in 1789. But you can still see today how the local environment and nearby graves of St Mary's Church would have encouraged the fertile imagination of author Bram Stoker to write Dracula. Admission here is pounds 5.50 for adults and pounds 2.80 for children (family ticket pounds 13.80).

We left our car on the English Heritage car park and climbed down the steep 199 steps into Whitby where the narrow streets were really 'heaving' at half-term. There are lots of independent cafes as well as chippies galore and the view back up to the abbey was breathtaking. English Heritage family members would save more than pounds 50 in admission costs at these four sites alone - and there are plenty more in Yorkshire. including Kirkham Priory and castles at Middleham, Pickering Castle, Spofforth and Skipsea. The 18-century house isn't part of English Heritage, but offers members a discount.

You can join English Heritage on site at more than 120 properties nationwide or call 0870 333 1182. By post, make cheques payable to English Heritage and write to English Heritage, Freepost WD214, PO Box 570, Swindon. SN2 2UR Website: www.english-heritage.org.uk If you are buying membership as a present, English Heritage offers flexible delivery options. Adult membership (ages 19-59) is pounds 43 per year, couples pounds 75 - and includes free admission for up to SIX children in your family group. Seniors (60+) and students (under 19 or NUS member) pay pounds 32 per year. Future renewal prices are lower than new member prices. Standard life membership is pounds 920 (single) or pounds 1,380 (couple). Prices valid till March 31, 2010. For our four-day break in Yorkshire., we spent two nights at the Black Swan, Helmsley - which includes one of the country's highest-rated tearooms. Details: www.blackswan-helmsley.co.uk or call 01439 770466 for more information about special offers. Our final two nights were at Scarborough Lodge, Valley Road, Scarborough where we enjoyed a very spacious three-room apartment on the first floor of a huge house. As well as being ten minutes' walk to the south bay seafront, it has free off-road parking in what is a 'disc zone' area for on-street parking. Prices start from pounds 41.95 per room per night. Details: www.scarborough-lodge.co.uk or 01723 363537. GettingThere

CAPTION(S):

Enjoying his country's history: Louie Young prepares to defend Helmsley Castle as part of an English Heritage holiday in Yorkshire. A country steeped in history: Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Nov 25, 2009
Words:1209
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