In an almost unbroken stretch from Teesside down to Thirsk, the Hambleton Hills form the western edge of the North York Moors. Merging with the Cleveland Hills in the north and Howardian Hills in the south, they overlook the wide plains of the Vale of Mowbray, the River Rye Valley and the Vale of York. Along the edge of the hills are a series of limestone cliffs. Sutton Bank is often referred to as one of the most spectacular inland cliffs in Britain and with its near vertical drop from top to bottom of more than 450 feet, you can enjoy extensive views over the Vale of York and the Vale of Mowbray, and gliding and flying enthusiasts often make use of the spot as their take off point. Roulston Scar reaches over 900 feet and Whitestone cliff over 1,000 feet, and both overlook the mysterious (and reputedly bottomless) Lake Gormire. But, it’s Black Hambleton that marks the Hambleton Hill’s tallest point, rising to more than 1,300 feet at the northern end of the range.
The White Horse carved into the hills is perhaps one of the area’s most notable landmarks. Designed and funded by Thomas Taylor, a Victorian businessman, it was created in 1857 by 31 volunteers who deposited six tons of limestone in the shape of a horse on the naturally greyish rock beneath to whiten it. Having previously worked for a London merchant, Thomas had spotted famous chalk hill figures across southern England and wanted to create something similar for his home village, Kilburn. During the war, the horse had to be covered to prevent it from becoming a target for German bombers.
Where to Walk
There are a number of peaks to summit here. If it’s a real challenge you’re after then head for the trig point of the tallest, Black Hambleton – it’s a ninemile route with an almost-400-metre ascent. For something more leisurely, seek inspiration from the National Trail. Their Hambleton Drove Road trail is short (around two miles), and follows the path which would have been used in the 18th Century by Scottish cattle drovers, who drove their herds of cattle from Scotland down south to various market towns – hence the name Drove Road.
The North Pennines is the northernmost section of the Pennine range of hills which run from north to south through northern England. The area is the second largest designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, was Britain’s first UNESCO European and Global Geopark, and is made up of open heather-clad moorland, peatland, hay meadows and upland rivers tumbling over rocky outcrops. It’s home to England’s highest waterfall, High Force in Upper Teesdale, and more than 80 percent of Britain’s remaining population of black grouse.
The North Pennines was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty AONB in 1988, thanks to its vast stretches of moorland interspersed with traces of long-ago inhabitants who left their mark on the landscape through centuries of farming and lead mining. Cow Green, a two mile long reservoir built between 1967 and 1971, was built to supply the industries of Teesside, although not without opposition from local conservationists who wanted to protect the area’s rare Alpine plant species, including the unique Teesdale violet. The small North Pennines village of Nenthead is England’s highest village, at over 450 metres, and lays claim as one of the first purpose-built industrial villages in Britain. It was a major centre for lead and silver mining, and was once home to the most productive lead mine in the country – The London Lead Company. The area incorporates much of the Durham Dales, and at the eastern edge lies Stanhope. This small market town owes most of its former wealth to the lead mining era – quarrying and coal mining made significant contributions to the employment opportunities here. Lead mining was the dominant industry in Stanhope for more than 200 years, and as such it created employment and wealth that transformed it into ‘the richest living in England’ due to the rent paid to the Rectors of Stanhope in return for the rights to explore and dig for lead.
Where to Walk
Such a vast, expansive landscape naturally comes with ample opportunity to explore as much, or as little, as you please. The Pennine Way National Trail follows the mountain tops which form the rugged backbone of England – from the Scottish Borders and over Hadrian’s Wall, through the Yorkshire Dales and down into the Peak District. It offers 268 miles of the finest upland walking in England. Though for those looking for something less physically demanding, there are many gentle riverside rambles, circular walks and large areas of open access land all waiting to be explored too. The historic Tan Hill Inn occupies an isolated site on the southern edge of the area. Dating back to the 17th century, it is the highest inn in Britain at 1,732 feet. Originally opened as a hostelry for local miners, it was once surrounded by miners’ cottages, which were demolished in the 1930s. Now standing in splendid isolation, the inn still remains hugely popular with walkers, hikers and bikers who come to enjoy its hospitality and unique, remote setting
Bordering the Yorkshire Dales National Park to the east and the south, quiet and undisturbed, Nidderdale is a protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The valley, which spans over 200 square miles, contains the wind-weathered gritstone sculptures of Brimham Rocks alongside its highest point Great Whernside, which stands at 704 metres above sea level, and How Stean Gorge, a spectacular limestone ravine carved out over thousands of years and now hugely popular for abseiling, rock climbing and caving.
Nidderdale has an extraordinarily rich industrial heritage. The area was mainly known for its agriculture, and was also of importance in the linen and lead mining industries. Although there are many small settlements here, the only town in this dale is Pateley Bridge, which has seen considerable change over the past 200 years. What was, in AngloSaxon times, just a series of scattered farms had a series of disastrous harvests in the 14th Century, and Pateley Bridge set up a regular market and annual fair to stimulate trade. The market was held weekly, on a Tuesday, while the fair fell on the 8th September, and is still held, to this day, around a similar time in the Bewerley Park Showground. The Metcalfe family were responsible for much of the development of Pateley Bridge and Nidderdale as they made investments in mills, quarries and breweries. George Metcalfe held a stake in the Scot Gate Ash Quarry, and was instrumental in bringing the railways to Nidderdale – he built an inclined railway from the quarry above the town to allow for quick and efficient transhipment of the stone used for many major building projects. Much of the stone from the Scot Gate Ash
Quarry went on to be used in many notable public buildings, including Victoria Station and the National Gallery in London. Throughout the 19th century Pateley Bridge was a highly industrialised small town, but by the 1880s when the lead mines began to decline, and the 1900s when the quarries and linen mills began to fold too, a period of recession hit the town. It was actually due to a rise in tourism to the area that a period of regeneration was triggered, turning the town into what it is today.
Where to Walk
The Nidderdale Way is a 53-mile low-level route which climbs the flanks of the valley for rewarding views over the dale. It’s traditionally walked in four stages: Pateley Bridge to Middlesmoor, Middlesmoor to Bewerley, Bewerley to Ripley and Ripley to Pateley Bridge, none of which are longer than 15 miles. It’s recommended that the route be enjoyed over four
days, which allows for plenty of time to stop off and take in the features along the way, including Ripley Castle, Brimham Rocks and How Stean Gorge.
These woods are one of Leeds’ best kept secrets. Just a 20-minute drive out of the city, West Wood is a seven-hectare site in the Aire Valley, between Shipley and Pudsey. Close to the village of Calverley, it links with the more expansive Calverley Wood and, together with Lodge Wood, forms a large area of woodland peppered with pathways, which are carpeted by bluebells in spring. With little tree cover in the surrounding area, the site is a nparticularly important local habitat for woodland birds. And in the summer the wood echoes with the songs of the willow warbler and wood warbler.
Formerly the garden of the impressive Champion House, a Victorian property situated on the southern edge of the wood and once owned by the Garnett family, West Wood is a site with many secrets
to uncover. You’ll find the remains of a walled kitchen garden, a cottage, a large pond that was used as a swimming pool, and many hidden grottoes too. Although the area is ancient woodland, it has
changed significantly over the centuries, having been planted as a woodland garden specifically for the house. Luckily, many of the trees planted were native species and there are many beautiful mature oaks here. Over the years, the wood has served as site for more unusual purposes – it was used as a training area for troops preparing to take part in D-day and was briefly the site of an Italian prisoner of war camp, the remains of which can still be seen today. More recently however, in the 1950s, the wood was home to a firework factory, which ultimately and ironically came to an
end in the ’60s following a large explosion.
Where to Walk
The 62-mile Leeds Country Way, a circular long-distance foot path which passes through West Wood, takes in much more of the beautiful and varied countryside of West Yorkshire. You’ll find that the route, split up into four- to six-mile sections, can be attempted as individual walks or taken on a few sections at a time. If you’re looking for a long-term challenge, then try taking on the whole 62-mile route over a number of weeks. Experienced runners might like to sign up to the annual Leeds Country Way Relay, now in its 30th year, which takes in a total of 64 miles between six runners who seek to complete the route within a total time of around seven hours.
Part of the National Park, a sense of space and solitude defines the North York Moors, where ridge upon ridge of heather-covered moorland extends as far as the eye can see, all dissected by more than 2,300 km of paths and tracks – perfect for walkers and cyclists. A fire raged here in 2003 which burned back the heather and unexpectedly revealed ancient rock art – some of the most important prehistoric archaeology found in Britain.
The fire of 2003 burned for six days and stripped away an area of peat and heather the size of 500 football pitches. The tragedy however did have an upside, in that once burned out, the fire revealed long-hidden archaeological remains, including prehistoric burial mounds, long-forgotten reservoirs and even relics of a World War II battle training site with shell craters and tank tracks. RAF Fylingdales on the moor is a radar base and part of the early warning and space-tracking system. Its landmark space station-style pyramids are well known in the area, and to the south is Blakey Topping, a sacred hill worshipped in prehistoric times, although little is known of its real purpose.
Where to Walk
Choose a clear day for the four-mile walk between Howdale Moor and Brow Moor to be able to enjoy the amazing views of two very different Yorkshire landscapes – sweeping moorland and the dramatic Ravenscar coastline looking towards Robin Hood’s Bay. Or try the circular Hole of Horcum walk over Levisham Moor. At just over 11 km it is a fairly easy walk across wild moorland (although there is a climb at the end) and you should be able to catch sight of Fylingdale’s famous wild birds of prey, including the merlin, Britain’s smallest falcon, and the short-eared owl.