I am a huge advocate of getting out and exploring Great Britain on foot and, as such, enjoy singing the praises of hiking in any and all of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In this post I want to introduce the rather glorious North York Moors National Park to you – way up in the north of England, it provides an amazing moorland experience for anyone looking to get lost in nature and enjoy some truly fine trails. In fact, it contains one of the largest expanses of heather moorland in the United Kingdom.
There are some fantastic and genuinely classic hikes inside the National Park, all of which are worth the time and effort. If you want something that would challenge pretty much any hiker, then the 40 mile Lyke Wake Walk crosses the entire North York Moors National Park from west to east in what is basically a straight line. But there are a huge number of shorter hikes that will interest anyone who just enjoys putting one foot in front of the other. There’s the iconic hillside landmark the White Horse or Kilburn, the best daffodil show at Farndale, the tranquil ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, Roseberry Topping – also known as the “Yorkshire Matterhorn”, and the beautiful rocky crags of the Wainstones.
And of course, who can forget the Hole of Horcum? This walk through grand landscapes with panoramic views is an absolute must.
The Hole of Horcum is an absolute classic of a moorland hike. The well-trodden scenic loop has views and terrain as you would expect from this part of the country. Most choose to start at the Saltergate car park on the A169 from Pickering to Whitby. The viewpoint here is stunning it itself, there is no need to walk further than across the road for some great scenery if you’ve only got a minute or two. But as is most often the case, when you put in a bit of effort you are treated to something even more special – views away from cars and the noise of traffic.
The route I took earlier this year took me from the Hole of Horcum viewpoint, across moorland down to Dundale Pond, over to Skelton Tower, back to Dundale Pond, to Levisham, around to Levisham Beck, and then through the Hole and back out to the viewpoint again. I walked 9.5 miles or so – the circular bit was 7.5, with a two mile there-and-back diversion to check out the views from Skelton Tower. You’ll need half a day to do the basic loop, but I always recommend that people walk slower and allow time to take in the views – and for a picnic, of course.
The Hole of Horcum, a crater like hollow, is 400 feet deep and just under a mile wide – very significant and noticeable on the landscape. Otherwise known as the “Devil’s Punchbowl”, local legend suggests the amphitheatre was formed suddenly when a Giant scooped up some earth to throw at his wife during an argument. The reality is that this is an example of spring-sapping, where water flowing inside the hill has eroded the landscape from the inside; the once narrow valley widened and deepened over thousands of years, and it is still getting bigger by the same process even now.
I love walking across moorland, it’s just so exposed and rugged, with thick heather on both sides, sheep grazing (with spring lambs at the right time of year), slightly bouncy grassy paths, and skies as far as the eyes can see. Seriously big skies; my favourite kind. Once on the far side of the Hole, the well-defined path sweeps down the hill to Dundale Pond, where there is a finger board with several route options.
This is where you can deviate from the loop to take a short diversion over to Skelton Tower – or rather the ruins of – for what are spectacular views over the North York Moors and out into the distance. I can see why someone would want to live here, or at least come here to write; the views in all directions are stunning, I imagine the seasonal changes would be enough to inspire anyone to paint or write poems. If you time your walk well (or choose this as your picnic spot…), you’ll be treated to the sound and sight of the North York Moors Railway in the valley below.
Back at that finger board at Dundale Pond, there are more options depending on how long you have. There’s a more-or-less direct route through the Hole of Horcum if you don’t have a lot of time to spare, but I was hankering after a pub lunch and so took the path to Levisham, a beautifully preened little village inside the National Park with the walker-friendly Horseshoe Inn that provided a lovely spot for a cup of tea.
Another reason to walk via Levisham is that the route from there back to the car park takes walkers through even more varied terrain; you’ve got to love a walk that provide all kinds of footpaths and views. A narrow single-file woodland track, muddy and rooty at times, winds down through the trees into the valley to meet Levisham Beck. This provided another beautiful spot with a different kind of view to those seen earlier in the hike, and who can resist a sit down by a pretty babbling brook?
The final couple of miles takes you gradually uphill across meadow, passed a large derelict farmhouse, and through the Hole of Horcum itself before climbing up and out onto the top to and back to the viewpoint to complete the loop. The final ascent up and out of the hole will most likely make you pant, but it’s nothing that the promise of an ice cream when you get back to the car park won’t motivate you to scale with ease.
The Hole of Horcum walk, with or without the diversion to Skelton Tower, is a really excellent one. If you’ve never explored the North York Moors National Park on foot before, it’s a great place to start.
You can find more about Zoe over at Splodz Blogs where she writes about all things adventure and fitting it into a 'normal' everyday life.