Yesterday I gave in to my itching feet and set out for a stroll on the moors. The initial object of my walk was to track down a fine-looking swimming spot which Christian and I glimpsed from the window of a North York Moors Railway train last summer, and though I failed completely in this task, I did find lots of other interesting things.
The moors are at their most alluring round this time of year, when the flowering heather dapples the landscape with purple and sweetens the air with its honeyed scent. I had half a mind to walk a circuit of the Hole of Horcum, that deep glacial-looking punchbowl bordered by Levisham Moor on one side and Horcum Dyke (along with the busy A169) on the other, but the search for my elusive swimming pool took me up to the northwest instead, dropping down the deep moorland gully above Havern Beck and disappearing into the wooded valley behind.
I love Newtondale, partly because there’s no easy way to get there. Like all the best places, it’s more or less inaccessible by road, and in fact the simplest way in is to take the old steam railway south from Goathland, and get off at Newtondale Halt, a short stretch of platform in the middle of the woods with an open-fronted shelter and a poster warning you to beware of adders.
Every feature in country like this has a name, and they’re all brilliant. You climb steeply up the far side of the wooded valley through a narrow track called Needle Eye, finally emerging into the daylight again at Needle Point, a lookout post towards the dark green shadow of Yewtree Scar, with the moors stretching out beyond. Below you, a steep cliff drops into Beulah Wood, and you follow it west along Killing Nab Scar, detouring a little to avoid a damp channel into the cliff called Yaul Sike Slack. Tolkien couldn’t have dreamed this stuff up if he’d tried.
This pocket of woodland deep in the moors has always been remote, and the tough people who lived here have left their names on the landscape too. From Killing Nab Scar you can see a steep track descending from a junction on the moor called Hudson’s Cross, skirting the edge of Huggitt’s Scar. I wonder who Hudson and Huggitt were, and whether they lived at either of the ruined farmsteads I found hidden in the trees? One of these, Beulah House, looked like it had been abandoned sometime in the mid-20th century, its kitchen range still rusting away in the chimney breast and the remnants of a few wide stone steps crumbling into the nettles [edit: be sure to read the comments below for some fascinating insights into Beulah House]. The other one was so dilapidated it wasn’t even on the map, just the shapes of buildings among the dense fir trunks of Pifelhead Wood, a deer bolting away from me into the undergrowth.
Of course there are folk still living round here, just as there always have been. Some intrepid souls have a smallholding right by the railway line at Kidstye Farm, and a little further down the valley you start to encounter the odd cottage or farmhouse. The first one you come across is the wonderfully-named Kale Pot Hole. As I passed, watching the breeze lift clouds of shimmering thistledown off the paddock, with the ruins of Skelton Tower silhouetted in the sunshine up on the crest of the valley, I considered that it wouldn’t be a bad place to hang your hat.
Crossing back over the valley bottom and climbing up onto the moor again, I was obliged to share the national park with quite a few other walkers doing the Hole of Horcum circuit, but the views were lovely enough that I didn’t hold it against them (too much). My attempt to take a more interesting route back to the car was foiled by a herd of cows blocking my way (I’m still a total coward when it comes to tackling large groups of cattle on my own), but I did find a lot of bilberry bushes lining the steep-sided channel of Dundale Griff. No berries though. Have I missed the season, I wonder?
Anyway. I never did find my swimming pool, but the hunt is not over. I have merely narrowed my search area. In the meantime, I came across a bench at a rather beautiful viewpoint on the cliff above Killing Nab Scar. It was dedicated to one Professor Frederick Allin Goldsworthy, who Wikipedia informs me was the father of the artist Andy Goldsworthy. It was inscribed with the sentence, ‘life is not about the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away’.
If you want to try the route yourself, I’ve put it on OS Getamap here. It’s about 16km, so allow four hours(ish).