Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Rosedale, Spaunton Moor and Lastingham (North York Moors) - August 2014

The North York Moors boasts the largest uninterrupted expanse of heather moorland in England.  That's approximately 192 square miles of purple flowering loveliness.  Of the three varieties of heather which grow on the North York Moors the most widespread is Ling Heather, which flowers extensively from mid to late August.  The other two, less common varieties are Bell Heather (which flowers in mid July) and Cross-leaved Heather (which thrives around boggy areas).  

I like to visit the moors at least once during the heather flowering season, and so one sunny Sunday morning towards the end of August I plotted a circular walk across the moors from the village of Rosedale Abbey.  I especially wanted to photograph a particular moorland cross which I knew was surrounded by heather.  On a lovely summer day this area of the moors can be rather crowded with walkers and sightseers and so we had an early start and arrived in Rosedale in time to get a good parking spot.

The walk started with a climb to the top of Rosedale Chimney Bank, so called because of the 100ft high chimney which was a celebrated moorland landmark until its demolition in July 1972.  The chimney had once been part of the boiler house for a steam powered narrow-gauge railway which had hauled tubs of iron ore up the incline from a drift mine to the Rosedale Railway which ran across the moors until its closure in 1929.   Built in 1861, the chimney's builder is said to have danced a jig on the top when it was completed.  Chimney Bank today, however, is best known for its steep road, which winds uphill at a gradient of 1 in 3 (33%) and is infamous among the cycling community, who have nicknamed it the "chain-breaker".    We avoided the road to the top of Chimney Bank and instead opted for a straight climb up (approximately 600 feet) by following a public footpath which left the road at the foot of the hill.  To my surprise, this involved crossing a small nine-hole golf course, located on the side of the hill.  I don't know much about golf, but I could tell that a game here would be rather challenging, in view of the gradient.  The views were lovely, down over the village, and luckily for us there were no golfers around.  I'm always nervous when a path takes us across a golf course!

A golf course with a view

Beyond the golf course the path continued  steeply up the hill, through bracken and ferns, until eventually we caught our first glimpse of purple moorland, on the high ground to the east of the village of Rosedale Abbey nestling in the valley bottom.

Above Rosedale Abbey

At the top of Chimney Bank we passed the ruins of one of the kilns where the ore which had been transported up the incline was calcined (heated in the absence of air as part of the process to extract the iron from the ore). 

Ruined calcining kiln

Before heading off into the heather I walked out to the edge of the bank to admire the view of the lush Rosedale valley below - a patchwork of fields and woodlands in complete contrast to the stark beauty of the higher moorland.

Beautiful Rosedale

We followed the road for a short distance from the top of Chimney Bank before striking out across the moorland, following a well defined sandy track which wound its way through the heather towards raised ground on the horizon.  I could just make out the outline of the next point of interest on our walk, silhouetted against the hazy outline of the distant Howardian Hills. 

Path across the moors

It was surprisingly peaceful for such a lovely, bright Sunday morning and we were only passed once, by a couple of mountain bikers heading towards Chimney Bank and, I expect, an exhilarating downhill ride.  After half a mile or so, I turned to look back along the path we had just taken across the sea of heather, which seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see.  On the horizon I could make out three little dimples which I recognised as a group of Bronze Age round barrows known as the Three Howes.  Tumuli are visible on the higher ground all across the North York Moors, which has led to the theory that they were originally positioned to be territorial boundary markers as well as burial sites.  Perhaps the Bronze Age people who lived here believed their deceased ancestors would act as guardians of their lands?  The name "howe" is used throughout North and East Yorkshire and originates from the old Norse word "haugr", meaning "hill" or "mound".

A sea of heather

A little further along brought us to the moorland cross which I especially wanted to photograph, surrounded by heather in full bloom.  Ana Cross (also known as Ainhowe Cross) is the tallest of all the moorland crosses and currently stands at a height of 3 metres.  The Ana Cross we see today is a nineteenth century replacement for the original, much larger cross, which had stood at a whopping 8 metres high.  I was delighted that we had this spot to ourselves.   I spent a happy few minutes, photographing the cross against the heather from all angles, although the overhead sun meant that if anything the light was a little too harsh.  Sometimes there's just no pleasing us photographers!

Ana Cross

From Ana Cross we continued southwards, across Spaunton Moor for a couple of miles, along a route known as Lastingham Ridge.  The moor ended abruptly at a grassy slope which was to lead us to a road downhill into the village of Lastingham.  Right by the edge of the moor sits the Lastingham Millennium stone, erected to commemorate the new millennium, and also inscribed with the date 654, which is the year when Saint Cedd founded a monastery here.   Cedd was an Anglo Saxon monk and bishop who was born in Northumbria and educated on the island of Lindisfarne.  He was responsible for the foundation of many churches and monasteries including Lastingham, which is where he died of the plague in AD 664.  Originally Saint Cedd was buried within the monastery precincts, but in 1078 Abbot Stephen of Whitby Abbey built a crypt specifically to house the saint's remains, and this still survives beneath the village's Church of St. Mary. 

The Lastingham Millennium Stone

I was keen to take a look round the church's renowned crypt, but first we decided to pay a visit to Lastingham's delightful little pub, the Blacksmith's Arms.  Ordinarily, when one of our walks passes right by a pub, a lovely pint of cask ale is something I especially enjoy.  However, on this occasion I resisted the temptation.  Just a week prior to this walk I had embarked upon a healthy eating programme, necessitated by all the pints and pies I have consumed over the past few months.  If I'd thought that the exertion of a long walk or a climb compensated for the consumption of pies and beer I'd been sadly mistaken and a long overdue check on the scales had given me something of a wake-up call.  Therefore it was a Diet Coke that I was sipping as I sat outside the Blacksmith's Arms, enjoying the early afternoon sunshine.  This wasn't quite the same, somehow, although the pub was lovely and very welcoming, as demonstrated by the sign hanging by its door.

A welcome awaits at the Blacksmith's Arms

Perhaps it was the abstinence, or maybe the fact that time was moving inexorably on, but we didn't spend very long outside the pub and were soon on our feet again, to walk just across the road to St. Mary's Church.

St Mary's Church, Lastingham

It suddenly struck me, as I wandered around the outside of the church, how often I seem to include churches in my blogs.  Even though I'm not religious, churches are so abundant and prominent in the countryside that most of our walks usually pass at least one.  And as a former student of history, archaeology and architectural history, there's nearly always an associated story or feature to attract my interest.  This was certainly the case at St. Mary's Church with its stunning Norman architecture. 

Inside St Mary's Church

I was very pleased to discover that the crypt was open and not crowded with visitors, which meant that I was able to take a photo of this delightful and ancient "church within a church". 

The Lastingham Crypt

From Lastingham our route took us over low-lying farmland, across recently harvested fields...


...and across the middle of a field where the ripened barley had yet to be harvested.


This part of the route, over arable farmland, was a distinct contrast to the higher, moorland sections of our walk.  Eventually we found ourselves edging our way around a crop of very tall plants, some over six feet high.  I'm not sure what these plants were (a kind of corn perhaps?) and these jungle-like conditions seemed incongruous with the rest of our walk.

Jungle-like conditions

Having left the farmland, our return to the moorland began with the fording of a little stream.  Although there were stepping stones of sorts, the stream was very shallow and I opted to wade across and give my dusty boots a bit of a rinse.

Crossing the beck

After the stream the path climbed steeply uphill to a point where the moors took over from pasture land.  I was struck by how the heather seemed to end abruptly at this point in what appeared to be a very clear boundary between agriculture and managed moorland.

The edge of the moors

We were heading northwards again now, back towards Rosedale Abbey, skirting along the eastern edge of Spaunton Moor.  To the right of our path the land sloped away to meet the edge of Cropton Forest.

The return route

The scene was very colourful, with the purple heather and the green and auburn shades of bracken in contrast with the darker greens of the forest beyond.

A riot of colours

Towards the end of this section of the walk we passed by an information sign which explained that in Elizabethan times there had been a glass furnace here.  If there were any visible remains of this furnace then they were covered by a thick blanket of heather, although the sign informed us that the furnace has been reconstructed within the folk museum at nearby Hutton-le-Hole.

Site of an Elizabethan furnace

The final part of our walk was along a peaceful country lane which took us to the White Horse Farm Inn at the foot of Chimney Bank.  Here I "enjoyed" my second Diet Coke of the day before continuing along the road and down into the village.  It had been a most enjoyable walk with lots of interest along the way and, as our journey home took us through the village of Cropton, I felt duty-bound to call in at the New Inn for a glass of their wonderful Yorkshire Blackout.  As I commented at the time, "it would have been rude not to".

Directions for this walk:

Leave the village of Rosedale Abbey by the lane marked with a warning sign for Chimney Bank and after a hundred yards or so, take the public footpath up steps by the side of a stone cottage.  After climbing uphill a short distance, cross a quiet road and follow the footpath signs around the edge of the golf course, emerging onto scrubland which climbs steeply up to the calcining kiln at the top of Chimney Bank.

Follow the road for a couple of hundred yards or so before turning left onto a footpath across the moors to Ana Cross.  The path continues from Ana Cross all the way to the village of Lastingham, emerging onto a lane in the village.  The route continues along a footpath by the side of a cottage on the left at the bottom of this lane, but if you wish to visit the church and/or pub then you will need to turn right at the bottom of the lane and then later retrace your steps to this point.

The footpath will now take you across pastures and arable fields before emerging onto moorland at a beck where there are irregularly shaped stepping stones.  Climb the hill bearing left towards the top and then take the track which will skirt around the easternmost edge of the moorland before emerging onto a single track lane which will eventually take you directly to the White Horse Farm Inn.  To return to Rosedale Abbey, turn right out of the lane and down the hill which will lead you back into the village.

Total distance = 9.5 miles.



Coming soon.....Once again, the Lake District beckons and we return with a visit to Penrith and a wonderful walk from Haweswater, which includes three Wainwright fells - High Street, Mardale Ill Bell and Harter Fell.

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