Bilsdale and Bransdale (North York Moors)

A week before setting off to walk the Yorkshire Wolds Way we paid another visit to beautiful Bilsdale in the North York Moors National Park.  A lack of time prevented me from blogging about this prior to our Wolds Way walk, and so what follows is a short step back in time to a weekend in mid May.  Our base for the weekend was the Buck Inn at Chop Gate, which is rapidly becoming a firm favourite.  Aware of the fact that we needed a "Wolds Way Warm-up", I planned two consecutive days of walking around 12 miles each day. 
I've decided only to write about the first day's walk because, to be honest, the second day contained little of interest.  It was basically a day of following a large circuit over open moorland which, apart from the occasional grouse butt, was featureless.  Day one, however, was a different matter.

Leaving our car in the pub's car park, we set off along the main road northwards, as far as the hamlet of Seave Green where we turned to cross a stream before following a farm track uphill.  

Seave Green Ford

The track passed through a small wooded area which was carpeted with bluebells - a glorious sight in the late spring sunshine.  Then, after passing by a farmyard, we entered an area of coniferous woodland at East Bank Plantation, following a path which climbed steeply towards the edge of Urra Moor.

Through a bluebell wood

It was hot work but thankfully, once at the top, a refreshing breeze cooled us as we took in the view over Chop Gate and Bilsdale. 

View over Bilsdale

Our route then followed a sandy track, along the edge of the moor, with views across to the Wain Stones and beyond to the Cleveland plain.

On the edge of Urra Moor

It was such a wonderful view and the track was broad and level, so I wasn't exactly watching where I was treading, when suddenly I became aware of movement by my feet.  I had almost stepped on a red grouse chick, nestling in the grassy centre of the track.  The tiny bird was well camouflaged in the dappled sunlight.  I picked up my camera and zoomed in for a close-up just before it scurried away, chirruping for its mother who was calling out from the heather.  This was the height of the grouse breeding season and we spotted many more chicks during the course of the day.  

Red Grouse Chick

We continued to follow the sandy track as it turned eastwards to join the Cleveland Way, taking one last look over towards the Cleveland Hills escarpment.

A wonderful view

As the Cleveland Way gradually ascended, we passed the first of two unusual standing stones.   This was a waymarker, possibly erected in the early eighteenth century and crudely carved with a hand indicating a route across the moors.  Below the hand it was just possible to make out lettering, which reads "This is the way to Kirbie" (Kirbymoorside) and on the opposite side "This is the way to Stoxla" (Stokesley). 

The Hand Stone

Urra Moor is the highest point on the North York Moors and the summit, known as Round Hill, can be found close by the Hand Stone.  We left the track to climb the final few feet up to the trig point which, at 1,454 feet above sea level, not only provided us with an excellent view but also a very pleasant breeze.

Round Hill - The highest point on the North York Moors

A short distance further along the Cleveland Way we passed by another intriguing standing stone, this one carved with a crude face.  Both the age and purpose of this stone are uncertain, although it is believed to be much older than the Hand Stone, possibly dating from the medieval period and it may have been erected as a boundary marker.  The earliest mention of the Face Stone can be found in an estate boundary document dating from 1642 where it's referred to as "the bounder call Faceston".

The Face Stone

From Round Hill we continued eastwards, following the Cleveland Way to Bloworth Crossing.  Here we were to turn south to follow the old coaching road which ran from Kirbymoorside to Stokesley.  Known as the Waingate, its name derives from the Anglo-Saxon word for a wagon, the wain (as in "haywain" or "wainwright") and this ancient isolated track was once busy with packhorses, wagons and stagecoaches transporting food, wool, timber and passengers.  Bloworth Crossing is the point where the former Rosedale Ironstone Railway crossed the Waingate as it headed towards Ingleby Incline above the village of Ingleby Greenhow.    Today the only evidence of the railway are the remains of some sleepers at the crossing point.

Bloworth Crossing

We followed the Waingate southwards along Rudland Rigg for almost two miles.  It was a dry, dusty route across open moorland which, typically of the high moors, is practically featureless and looks much nicer later in the year, when the heather is in full flower.

Rudland Rigg

Eventually we reached the head of Bransdale, with a lovely view down into the valley and beyond to the hillside we would be climbing later, to take us back across the moors to Bilsdale. 

First glimpse of Bransdale

Our route now took us steeply downhill along the side of the southern end of Bloworth Wood and onto grassy pastureland as we approached the little settlement of Cockayne.


At the foot of the hill we followed a quiet lane for a little way before crossing a stile and walking downhill to Bransdale Mill.  Currently in the ownership of the National Trust, the former  watermill is now used as a bunkhouse for volunteers working in the area.  It was built in 1811 by one William Strickland of Farndale whose initials are displayed in large iron letters on the front of the building .   It was very peaceful down in the hollow by the mill and we sat on a bench by the old millstream to eat our packed lunch.

Bransdale Mill

From the valley bottom at Bransdale Mill we were faced with a long, slow ascent to the top of Bilsdale East Moor.  A short distance from the buildings, in a field overlooking the mill, can be found a sundial bearing the inscription "Time and life move swiftly".   This had been placed there by William Strickland's  son Emmanuel, who for a short time was the Curate at Ingleby Greenhow.

Bransdale Mill Sundial

The climb back up to Bilsdale Moor was hot work and about half way up I paused to take in the view across Bransdale, looking over to Rudland Rigg and picking out features in the landscape we had passed a little earlier.  I could clearly see our path down the side of Bloworth Wood and could just make out Bransdale Mill, nestling among the trees in the valley bottom.

View of Bransdale

While studying my OS map, I had noticed a feature marked as "Stump Cross" and, as we reached the top of the hill, this was an instantly recognisable feature.  At this point the path follows the route of an ancient road known as the Thurkilsti Track.  Stump Cross is the remains of one of the old wayside crosses which were erected along the side of tracks from early days of  Christianity in England.  The tradition of erecting crosses at junctions continued until at least the 15th century.  However, many were damaged during the Reformation or the Commonwealth periods, which may have been the reason this one is much reduced in size and missing its crosspiece. 

Stump Cross

From this point we could see across to the moors above the western side of Bilsdale, and Chop Gate didn't seem so very far away.  It was the day of the FA Cup Final and, although not a football fan myself, one of the teams was from Yorkshire so we had decided to try and get back to the Buck Inn for the late afternoon kick-off.  There was just a short hike across the moors, or so I thought, to be followed by a descent, and then we'd be back with time to spare.  As we walked along the top of Bilsdale East Moor we passed a couple of shelters used by grouse shooters, and these provided a rare focal point in an otherwise featureless landscape.

Bilsdale East Moor

I have to confess that many times when I look at a map I fail to properly study the contours.  I seem to have developed the habit of just looking at the footpaths, landmarks and place names, without really paying attention to those little wiggly lines that delineate the gradients.  This can often result in a bit of a surprise, as was the case at this point on our walk, when suddenly we found ourselves faced with an entire valley to cross.  We had reached the beautiful and isolated moorland valley of Tripsdale, a tributary valley of Bilsdale with some intriguing rock formations, the most well-known being the "Ship Stone".  Sadly, we had neither the time nor the energy to explore Tripsdale on this occasion, but I made a mental note to return and investigate at a later date.  Any excuse for another stay at the Buck!

We continued out of the valley, following a dusty road which snaked its way up the side of the hill and, looking back, we had a view over Tripsdale and across to the route we had just taken.

Above Tripsdale

Presently the road brought us to the escarpment above Bilsdale from where we followed a path downhill and back to Seave Green.  This route took us along the opposite side of the wooded area which we had passed through at the beginning of the walk and, suddenly, I was met with a sight which almost took my breath away.  There were bluebells.  Acres and acres of bluebells, growing wild along the bank which descended to a stream and then up among the trees.  They were growing in such profusion that the land all around me was almost entirely blue.  It was the most spectacular display of these lovely flowers that I've ever seen and I spent a lot longer than I should have done, just happily taking photographs in the afternoon sunshine.

So many bluebells!

Eventually the lure of good food and beer got the better of me and I left the bluebells to return to the pub.  Later that evening we spent a happy hour or so chatting to two lady walkers who had travelled all the way from Australia to walk the Coast to Coast.  At Chop Gate they were nearing the end of their epic 192 mile walk and they told us they had loved every minute of it.  I had been getting a little anxious about own impending long distance walk which, at 79 miles, was less than half the distance of the Coast to Coast, and talking to the two Australian ladies certainly helped to dispel some of my concerns.  There was now just one week to go to our departure on the Yorkshire Wolds Way and I couldn't wait to get started!

The Buck Inn, Chop Gate

Directions for this walk:
From Chop Gate follow the B1257 for about half a mile to Seave Green then cross the road and walk along the lane for a short distance to a ford.  Cross the stream and take the public footpath which leads up a farm track to East Bank Plantation.  Follow the path which climbs up through the woodland and onto the edge of Urra Moor.  At the top of the hill turn left and follow the dusty moorland track which eventually turns right and leads to the Cleveland Way and Round Hill.  Continue along the Cleveland Way to Bloworth Crossing and here turn right and walk along Rudland Rigg for approximately two miles.  After passing above Bloworth Wood a track leads downhill to the lane which leads to Cockayne.  Turn left and walk along the lane for a short distance until a stile leads into a grassy field where the path takes you downhill to Bransdale Mill.

From Bransdale take the path uphill, past the sundial and across a couple of fields and crossing two quiet country lanes before climbing uphill onto the moors.  Take the moorland track all the way to Tripsdale, down the valley and up the other side and along to Stonehouse Cote where a farm track will lead you back to Seave Green, the B1257 and Chop Gate.

Total distance - 12.5 miles.

Coming soon...We return to the Cleveland Hills to walk from the town of Guisborough, visiting two iconic sites - the Captain Cook Monument and Roseberry Topping.


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