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The North Yorkshire Moors

So last weekend I took a trip to somewhere that’s pretty awesome, and somewhere not too far away from home. The North Yorkshire Moors.

The North York Moors is a special place, forged by nature, shaped over generations – where peace and beauty rub shoulders with a rich history and a warm welcome. Heather moorland is rare on a worldwide scale – there is probably less heather moorland in the world than tropical rainforest. Around 70 percent of the world’s heather moorland is in the UK and the largest continuous expanse of moorland in England and Wales is here in the North York Moors – a sheep could wander from Egton to Bilsdale without leaving the moor. Moorland covers a third of the North York Moors National Park and most of the higher ground is covered in heather.

Unenclosed and unsurpassed, this stunning landscape responds sensitively to the changing seasons and has a quiet drama all of its own.

In early summer you’ll hear the call of the moorland birds, such as the red grouse, curlew and golden plover. Later, as the summer evenings draw in, the flowering heather turns the moors into a purple carpet that stretches for mile after mile. In winter the moors can be exceptionally beautiful, with mist and cloud rising above the sweeping expanses and crisp dustings of frost and snow turning the landscape an ethereal white.

Although it often looks wild and empty, our heather moorland is not a natural environment. The stone crosses and boundary markers remind us of man’s influence on the land, while most of the moors are carefully managed by farmers and landowners so that they can make a living from sheep farming and grouse shooting.

Some areas are managed specifically for landscape and wildlife, such as Levisham Estate, which is owned by the National Park Authority, and Fylingdales Moor, which is managed by the Hawk & Owl Trust on behalf of the Strickland Estate. If the moors were not grazed or managed, trees would appear and much of the moorland would slowly turn into woodland.

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Now the moors are vast, but I took to one of the mapped out trials.

Levisham Moor and the Hole of Horcum

I was met with grand landscapes and big views on this North York Moors classic. Starting with the dramatic panorama from Saltergate over the Hole of Horcum, the 8-mile scenic walk follows a prominent track over Levisham Moor, past important archaeological remains. There is a diversion to the stunning viewpoint of Skelton Tower, after which the route drops into the rocky ravine of Dundale Griff and returns along the valley to the Hole of Horcum, climbing back out at Saltergate.

The Hole of Horcum is one of the most spectacular features in the National Park – a huge natural amphitheatre 400 feet deep and more than half a mile across. Legends hang easily upon a place known as the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ – the best-known says that it was formed when Wade the Giant scooped up a handful of earth to throw at his wife during an argument. Actually, it was created by a process called spring-sapping, whereby water welling up from the hillside has gradually undermined the slopes above, eating the rocks away grain by grain. Over thousands of years, a once narrow valley has widened and deepened into an enormous cauldron – and the process still continues today.

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The track across Levisham Moor runs through a landscape rich in archaeological remains – in fact the moor itself is the largest ancient monument in the North York Moors. Half-hidden in the heather are traces of human occupation stretching back thousands of years, from Bronze Age barrows to late Iron Age boundary dykes. These mounds, ditches, banks and ridges are evidence of burial sites, fortified farmsteads, enclosures and eld systems – hard to spot at first glance but obvious once identified.

In medieval times, a monastic sheep farm (or bercary) was established at the head of Dundale Griff , and the foundations of stone buildings can still be seen. It’s important to keep to the path on the route from Dundale Pond to Skelton Tower, in order to preserve the remains.

Ruined Skelton Tower offers an extraordinary view down into Newtondale and over the track of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Built around 1830 by Robert Skelton, rector
of Levisham, it was used as overnight lodgings after a day’s shooting on the moors. The grassy headland was a wonderful spot where I sat and had my lunch, and I could hear the whistle of the steam train below coming towards me. I had to get my camera out and ready for a snap shot.

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I enjoyed some fantastic views, blustery winds at the top of the moor, and a great new adventure somewhere new. If you’re planning to visit The North York Moors, then all information can be found HERE.

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