Explore The North York Moors National Park
From Gothic buildings to wooded valleys and heather-clad estates, discover the North York Moors National Park to celebrate its 60th anniversary
The best way to set eyes upon one of the most extraordinary and romantic monuments in North Yorkshire is by following the Cleveland Way. From its starting point in Helmsley, the footpath crosses fields and woodland for two miles before joining a road that curves to the left around a steep wooded bank. As the trees recede from view, the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey appear, framed by hills that “encircle it like a crown”, as the 12th-century observer Walter Daniel wrote in 1167. Close up, the building is even more enchanting, its tall lancet windows sending shafts of sunlight across the grass and limestone foundations, the intact piers and moulded arches so evocative that you can almost sense the ghosts of white-robed monks entering the presbytery for morning prayer.
Rievaulx was the first Cistercian monastery in the north of England, founded in 1132 by French monks who sought an isolated spot in which to practise communal prayer, poverty and hard work. They chose the Rye (Rie) valley (vaulx) in the south-west corner of the North York Moors, creating a sanctuary described by the third abbot, Aelred, as “everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world”. Such tranquillity can still be relished on the moors and dales bounded by the Cleveland Hills and North Sea coast that make up the North York Moors National Park. Often described as a wilderness, the moors are actually scattered with signs of industry, from iron-age hill forts to defunct mines. It was this mix of natural beauty and built heritage that led to the designation of the National Park 60 years ago. As well as around 3,000 listed buildings – more than any other National Park – the moors contain our largest area of heather moorland outside Scotland, which is criss-crossed by paths and roads that plunge into wooded valleys.
Helmsley is the handsome heart of the western moors and a good base for exploring. The footpath to Rievaulx starts beside Helmsley Walled Garden (01439 771427; www.helmsleywalledgarden.org.uk) with its five acres of colourful borders, wildflower meadow, orchards and vegetarian café, overlooked by the ruins of Helmsley Castle (01439 770442). Like Rievaulx (01439 798228), the property is cared for by English Heritage (www.english-heritage.org.uk) which also manages the early Gothic Byland Abbey nearby (01347 868614).
Arts and crafts past and present
The road beyond Byland Abbey bends sharply left and right towards Kilburn, offering a hazardously diverting view of the White Horse that was etched into the hillside above the village in 1857. Kilburn’s other signature animal is the tiny mouse carved into furniture made by Robert ‘Mouseman’ Thompson, born here in 1876 and commemorated at the Mouseman Visitor Centre and museum (01347 869100; www.robertthompsons.co.uk). His work can be seen all over the Moors, including The Star Inn at Harome (just outside the park). Diners at The Star may admire more local craftsmanship. The striking blue-and-white star-patterned glass bowls on the tables are the work of Stephen Gillies and Kate Jones (01751 417550; www.gilliesjones.com). A 60th-anniversary exhibition at the National Park’s visitor centre at Danby (01439 772737; www.northyorkmoors.co.uk), 13 May-17 July, will feature their work alongside photography by Joe Cornish and seascapes by Len Tabner, among others.
Hills of treasure
Stephen Gillies’ furnace is now the closest thing to industry in the isolated village of Rosedale Abbey. It is hard to believe that 150 years ago, this place (named after a now-vanished Cistercian priory) was the centre of an ironstone-mining industry that employed more than 5,000 workers. The old railway that carried the ore around the head of the valley is now a high-level footpath with soaring views of the great flat-bottomed valley far below.
The road from Rosedale Abbey to Egton Bridge is one of several exhilarating routes across the moor tops. Egton Bridge is part of a string of pretty villages along the river Esk, all joined by the Esk Valley Walk. A stroll through the fairytale woodlands speckled with wild flowers provides a contrast to the adventure of a moorland hike. From Beggar’s Bridge at Glaisdale – built in 1619 by a local lad turned wealthy merchant in memory of his thwarted first love – the walk follows an old trade route through East Arncliff Wood towards Egton Bridge, the path wending its way through the bluebell woods that rise above the river. From Egton Bridge you can return by train (01947 601987; www.eskvalleyrailway.co.uk), but if you expect to pass through Hogsmeade you’ll be disappointed. The station that appears in the Harry Potter films – otherwise known as Goathland – lies on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (01751 472508; www.nymr.co.uk) which runs between Pickering and the village of Grosmont. The sight of its gleaming steam engines streaking across the wooded valleys that cut through the moors is a thrilling reminder of the human enterprise that has shaped this glorious landscape. D Welcome to Yorkshire (0113 322 3500; www.yorkshire.com)
The Hayloft at Flamborough Rigg
A light, contemporary two-bedroom cottage with woodburning stove and delightful garden. From £275 for three nights (01751 475263; www.thehayloftatflamboroughrigg.co.uk).
The Pheasant Hotel
Harome Harome is a gastro hotspot thanks to The Star Inn (01439 770397; www.thestaratharome.co.uk) and sister venue, The Pheasant. This elegant hotel is a peaceful base for sampling the locally sourced food on offer at both restaurants. The Star has a bohemian feel and The Pheasant is chic country house in style. Double B&B from £155 per night (01439 771241; www.thepheasanthotel.com).
The Wheatsheaf, Egton
The charming cottage next to one of the Esk Valley’s best-loved pubs can be rented as a self-catered whole or as three B&B rooms. Head next door to enjoy Elaine Pulling’s wonderful cooking. From £484 for two nights; double B&B from £85 per night (01947 895271; www.wheatsheafegton.com).
Beadlam Grange, Helmsley
Well-stocked farm shop and tearoom selling fresh produce, handmade ready meals including casseroles and stews and locally sourced groceries and meat (01439 770303; www.beadlamgrange.co.uk).
The Hare, Scawton
A 13th-century dining pub renowned for its soufflés and Sunday lunches. It’s pricey but popular, so if you plan to call in after a walk to Rievaulx Abbey it is best to book ahead (01845 597769; www.thehareinn.co.uk).
Stonehouse Bakery, Danby
Stop for homemade soup or a freshly baked Yorkshire curd tart from this shop and tearoom near the National Park visitor centre on Danby Moor (01287 660006); then pick up a jar of heather honey from nearby Westerdale Apiaries (01287 669060).
Our national parks need you!
The Campaign for National Parks is Country Living’s Charity of the Year. For 75 years it has been dedicated to ‘keeping beautiful places safe’ and in the North York Moors it could be fighting one of the largest developments proposed in a National Park. Boreholes are being sunk to discover how much potash lies underground and a mining application could be put forward; visit www.cnp.org.uk/content/latest-appeal to find out more.
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