DAVE FLETT takes his family on a day-long minibus trip to Whitby and the North York Moors - in the company of a Mountain Goat

AN over-excited television commentator once exclaimed that top African footballer Jay-Jay Okocha was so good they named him twice.

Following a day with minibus driver, travel guide and Okocha namesake JJ Vilarubbi, however, we were ready to pay the Mountain Goat employee the same tribute.

The Windermere-based company, who have been conducting small group tours in the Lake District since 1972, are in the third year of offering similar trips from York.

There are six different days out now available with my family choosing the North York Moors, Robin Hoods Bay and Whitby excursion.

Other tours include stops at Castle Howard, Aysgarth Falls, Bronte Country and Saltaire while, for those looking to explore further afield, you can also visit the Lakes in a day.

Arriving at Leeman Road for our 9am departure, we were greeted by the genial JJ and were soon travelling out of the city walls and heading for our first stop at Pickering.

Before reaching the ancient market town, we had already learned that North Yorkshire is home to 2.2million sheep and 800 villages, as JJ shared his encyclopaedic knowledge for the county, whilst also demonstrating a Sat-Nav standard familiarity with its roads.

JJ was, indeed, a mine of information throughout the day, treating us to a host of interesting facts and tales, related to Roman and Viking history, geology, archaeology, giant mythology and nature.

We stayed in Pickering for half-an-hour and were advised to visit the church but didn’t want to gatecrash the Wednesday morning holy communion service.

Instead, given the modest temperatures on a rainy start to the summer season in early April, we settled for a quick visit to Costa for coffee and the Yorkshire Trading Company shop, where JJ had helpfully informed us my wife could obtain some woolly socks!

We also had a quick look at the North Moors Railway station before, back in the minibus, we drove through the stunning moorland scenery on the Pickering to Whitby road and headed for the enduringly picturesque Robin Hood’s Bay.

I first visited Robin Hood’s Bay as a child back in the 1980s and, reassuringly, very little has changed with its pretty cottages packed close together, having once allowed smugglers from bygone eras to transport their goods from the shore to the top of the village through a secret network of connecting cellars and attics.

It was also a real threat to tell that story to my eight-year-old daughter (JJ was having lunch at the time) just as my father had me more than 30 years ago.

While my wife and little girl went to look for crabs on the bay, I had a good browse around the interesting Information Centre, which also overlooks the sea, guaranteeing great views at any time of the day.

The four middle-aged ladies from London, sharing our minibus, were certainly charmed by the fishing village, which remains one of England’s best-kept secrets and is rarely teeming with unmanageable numbers of tourists.

We left Robin Hood’s Bay for Whitby, with JJ sharing his legendary tales concerning Bram Stoker, Dracula and Captain Cook.

Having stopped to pose for pictures in front of the famous whale jaw bones, we were dropped off at the top of the Abbey, which you could visit for an extra admission price.

With stomachs rumbling, we decided instead to walk down the 199 steps after a look inside the neighbouring Church of Saint Mary, which JJ informed us was his favourite of the two places of worship and, as a bonus, was free.

More than 900 years old, it has an interesting lay-out with pews more like cubicles, which can be locked shut.

The churchyard – used in a scene for Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel - is also suitably spooky with centuries-old gravestones of perished pirates.

Outside, meanwhile, the views of Whitby, the North Sea and North Yorkshire are spectacular.

We had two hours in Whitby and, right on cue, for the first time in what seemed like months, the sun actually graced us with its presence.

No trip to the seaside, of course, is complete without a trayful of fish and chips.

JJ offered a couple of recommendations we might like to try but added that you can’t really go wrong in Whitby.

You’re certainly spoilt for choice, with that familiarly-seductive smell filling the air at every turn.

We opted for Trenchers close to the harbour and, then, after much deliberation, chose against dining inside and paying double, to sit on a bench and risk divebombing seagulls.

The hesitation mainly came from me as I know, through a haunting previous experience, that those warning signposts shouldn’t be treated with disdain, having once lost my giant-sized Cornish Pasty in St Ives, much to the amusement of those watching on from the nearby beer garden.

I managed to hold on to my scampi, chips and mushy peas, though, which were as tasty as expected.

Leaving Whitby, we then set off back for York via long diversions through the Moors.

It was a nice, leisurely end to the afternoon, with JJ going off the beaten track somewhat and pointing out several little-known landmarks amid the national park’s 3,000 miles of dry-stone wall.

Wildlife wise, we spotted a heron and grouse – even having to stop to let one cross the road.

Perhaps the highlight, though, of the last leg of our trip was breathing some air into our lungs at Danby Beacon and marvelling at another stunning panorama, with 50-mile views possible on a clear day over the moorland including, as pointed out by JJ, clearly visible prehistoric burial mounds.

The beacon is also of historical significance as, due to its lofty location, it was once lighted to warn people of impending attacks.

Now, it has a flame on occasions such as the Queen’s birthday.

Even arriving back at York during rush-hour was, for once, stress-free, with the ever-obliging JJ happy to drop us off outside the Minster, instead of the planned return to Leeman Road.

BLOB For full details of Mountain Goat’s tours, visit their website at www.mountain-goat.com/Yorkshire