Goathland Roman Road & Waterfalls (North York Moors)

Goathland is one of the most popular places in the North York Moors National Park.  It's a pretty, picture-postcard moorland village with hotels, gift shops, tea rooms and a North Yorkshire Moors Railway station which teems with visitors in the summer months.  The beautiful surrounding countryside of heather moorland, rocky streams and cascading waterfalls has been drawing tourists here since at least the nineteenth century.  In more recent years the area has become famed for its screen appearances.  Harry Potter fans may recognise Goathland Station as Hogsmeade, the final destination of the Hogwarts Express, with many of the train journeys to Hogwarts being filmed along the North Yorkshire Moors Railway line. 

The village of Goathland itself starred as the fictional Aidensfield in the popular television series Heartbeat, a crime series set in the 1960s which ran to 372 episodes between 1992 and 2010.  Although it's been over five years since the cameras were rolling in Goathland, the village still refers to itself as "Heartbeat Country" and continues to do a brisk trade on the back of its television stardom. 

At the beginning of March we drove out to Goathland on a bright, cold and blustery Sunday morning, parking in an unusually quiet village car park to embark upon a circular walk around the surrounding moorland.  Even though there were very few visitors about most of the local facilities were open for business, including the village petrol station, still bearing the signs of its "Heartbeat" role as Aidensfield Garage and Scripp's Funeral Services. 

"Aidensfield" Garage

Parked by the side of the garage was an old Ford Anglia police "panda" car, proudly bearing a sheet of paper explaining that this was an original 1960s police car which had been used in many episodes of "Heartbeat".   I have to admit, I haven't watched a single episode of "Heartbeat" all the way through, so the significance was rather lost on me and I do have to wonder how much time will pass before hardly anyone appreciates Goathland's claim to fame as "Heartbeat Country".  Judging by the fact that the few other visitors to the village on this cold, windy morning were all walking over to photograph the car and the garage, that time is still a way off yet.  And the car itself is certainly an interesting item of nostalgia.

Sixties "Panda" Car
Our walking route began by following the course of a dismantled railway line which leaves the village opposite the garage, by the side of the Goathland Hotel, and continues for over a mile to join the road above the village at a place called Moorgates.  It was a pleasant, level path lined with trees which provided us with shelter from the strengthening wind.

Sheltered track

Once we had left the old railway track we turned right to walk along the road back in the direction of the village before locating a public footpath across the moors.  A sign told us that this path had recently been diverted and for a while we became disorientated, trying to find the correct route to rejoin the original path.  Often on moorland we've followed what looks like a clear cut path through the heather only to realise that we haven't been following an actual path at all as the track comes to an abrupt end.    Once we'd climbed a little way onto the higher ground though, we were soon able to locate the original path again.

Looking for the right track

The path was narrow to begin with, but at this point the ground was mostly firm and dry and although there were threatening looking clouds all around us, the gusting wind was doing an excellent job of holding off the rain.  We were heading for the moorland highpoint of Simon Howe and as we gradually ascended the ground became increasingly soggier.  There were some large puddles and boggy areas which were fairly easy to avoid, but even so my boots quickly became heavy with accumulated mud.  Spotting what looked like a clean, shallow puddle I decided I'd give my boots a quick rinse and enthusiastically jumped in only to find myself suddenly immersed almost to the waist in what could best be described as a water-filled bog hole.  Tom turned around as I shrieked and must have been met with a comical sight as I floundered about in a manoeuvre which I was to later describe as "doing a Doctor Foster".  I was soaked to the skin and freezing cold.  Immediately Tom suggested we should turn around and return to the car but I was having none of it.  There was no one else around and so I quickly removed my trousers and in their place put on my waterproof over-trousers and the spare pair of socks I always carry in my rucksack.  I then fastened my soggy trousers to my rucksack where they quickly billowed out like a windsock.  The over-trousers were perhaps a little too ventilated for comfort, but at least they were dry, and thus clad I continued up the hill, trying to show a "couldn't care less" attitude by singing a line from a George Formby song...."I can smile, even when it's not funny....ha ha ha, happy go lucky me" (I doubt I was fooling anyone).

Just before the incident at the bog hole!

The ground was much drier once we had reached the higher ground at Simon Howe where the meeting of four moorland paths is marked with a tall walkers' cairn.  The word "howe" is derived from the old Norse word "haugr", meaning a burial mound or barrow, and the name "Simon Howe" refers to a round cairn and two associated round barrows with an alignment of standing stones, some of which are visible on my photo (below) of the towering, somewhat unstable cairn.  Originally we had planned to break here to eat our packed lunch, but at this elevation the wind was blowing very strongly and so, having taken a few quick photos, we continued on our way.

The cairn at Simon Howe

On our last visit to Simon Howe in October we had approached from the south and turned eastwards to follow the route of the Lyke Wake Walk towards Lilla Cross.  This time, having approached from the north, we turned westwards, the course of the Lyke Wake Walk stretching out before us in the direction of our next destination, Wheeldale Beck.

The Lyke Wake Walk is a long distance route of approximately 40 miles starting at Osmotherley in the west and crossing the entirety of the North York Moors in an easterly direction to the sea at Ravenscar.  Traditionally this walk had to be completed within 24 hours and at the height of its popularity in the 1970s  as many as 10,000 people a year completed the challenge.  Understandably this had a significant environmental impact and although very few people complete the walk these days, the route is still highly prominent in places. 

The "Lyke Wake" route

We continued to follow the course of the Lyke Wake Walk across the higher ground of Howl Moor (an appropriate name for such a windy day) before descending towards Wheeldale Lodge, a former shooting lodge which is now a Youth Hostel.

Wheeldale Lodge

Down in the valley bottom a little sign pointed the way to our next destination, the section of "Roman" road known locally as "Wade's Causeway".

This way to the "Roman" road

Before climbing up to the road, however, we needed to find a sheltered spot to eat our sandwiches.  A set of stepping stones took us over Wheeldale Beck beyond which we found shelter from the wind by the side of a drystone wall.  The sun was still shining and it was pleasantly warm out of the wind.   All the while I'd been walking my trousers had been billowing out from my rucksack and were almost dry.  I'd got used to the over-trousers now though and decided not to change back and instead I bundled my trousers up into a dry bag in my rucksack and sat on a rock, happily watching the stream flow by as I enjoyed my lunch.

Crossing Wheeldale Beck

Wheeldale Roman Road, or "Wade's Causeway" as it's known locally, is a mile long stretch of ancient raised road which cuts across Wheeldale Moor.  Even though locally it is promoted as being a Roman Road,  there are various theories as to the origins of this causeway, which range in date from 4,500 BC to the 15th century.  Local folklore tells the story of Wade, a giant who once lived in this area and built the road for his wife, Bell, so that she had a clear route along which to herd her sheep.  This legend was dismissed by the first antiquarians to explore the site in the 18th century who quickly decided that its origins must be Roman.  Over the ensuing years there have been various theories as to the road's origins, from Neolithic boundary to medieval pannierman's way, leading to English Heritage simply describing it as the "Wheeldale Linear Monument", although all the direction signs still direct visitors to a "Roman road" and a definitive interpretation would still appear to be outstanding.

Wade's Causeway

As I stood by the side of the "linear monument", looking southwards towards Cropton Forest, my own instinctive feeling was that this is indeed a small section of Roman road.  Just beyond the trees, to the south of Cropton Forest, can be found the remains of Cawthorn Camp, the earthwork remains of two Roman forts dating from the early first century AD.  Looking along the line of the causeway, it seemed to me to be heading in the right direction for the forts and it certainly has the appearance of a Roman road, with a raised central earthwork and ditch at either side.  At the corner of the field we found an interpretation panel which cast further doubt on the road's origins.  I'd already made my mind up though.  It's Roman.   And that's that!

Wade's Causeway, looking south towards Cropton Forest

Leaving the area of archaeological uncertainty behind us, we continued on, back in the direction of Goathland and on to an area of open access land.  Here we followed a narrow pathway along the edge of a ravine, looking down onto the lovely little waterfall known as Nelly Ayre Foss.  The path down to the falls was very steep and slippery and so we decided to stay on the higher ground and simply photograph it from above before continuing on our way.

Nelly Ayre Foss

The route I had originally planned was to take us back to Goathland along the banks of West Beck but, as we left the moorland to cross a road, a sign advised us that an alternative route was recommended due to the bad condition of the footpath by the beck.  We followed this diversion, looking down upon West Beck as it flowed through the valley below and to our frustration the path below really didn't look too bad at all.  For a short time I considered retracing our steps but the wind had eased a little and the gathering clouds were threatening rain and so we continued along the higher route.

Looking down on West Beck

On the outskirts of Goathland we found another path downhill, which took us directly to the side of West Beck.  It was very steep and slippery but once down in the valley bottom we were able to rejoin the route we had originally planned, following the beck as it wound its way over rocks and through the trees.

West Beck

This path eventually led us to one of the main focal points of our walk, Mallyan Spout, which at 60 feet is the tallest waterfall in the North York Moors National Park and an impressive sight at any time of year, but particularly so on a day such as this when the water is in full flow.  Our path took us very close to the waterfall and, as it also had started to rain, I put on my waterproof jacket before negotiating the stone steps and slippery rocks around the base of the fall.

Mallyan Spout

After crossing by the waterfall we clambered over a series of rocks, worn smooth by the thousands of visitors who have followed this route, before rejoining the path which led us through the woods to an area known as Beck Hole.

The rocky route by the falls

The rain was falling heavily as we approached the path at Beck Hole, which took us to Incline Cottage and the route of the former Beck Hole cable railway which was once used to haul ironstone from Beck Hole up to the main Whitby to Pickering line at Goathland.  Today the route of this dismantled railway provides a pleasant gravelled path which ascends gradually uphill from Beck Hole to Goathland.

Incline Cottage and the Dismantled Railway, Beck Hol
Once back at the car park in Goathland I paid a quick visit to the toilet block where I was able to complete the drying of my trousers under a hand-dryer before changing for the journey home.  I was only in there for five minutes at the most and when I walked out of the door I was completely taken by surprise with what awaited me.  In that very short time the rain had turned to snow and our car was barely visible at the other end of the car park due to the unexpected blizzard which had developed.  There followed a rather slippery drive out of the village and across the moorland where I briefly paused to take a photo out of the car window.  Thankfully the snow soon stopped and the main road was clear, although it was still reassuring to follow a snow plough as we drove back towards Pickering. 

A snowy end to the day

At just over nine miles, this had been a relatively short walk for us, but even so it had been one packed with interest and incident from soggy start to snowy finish.

Coming soon...Out on the North York Moors again, we set out in an easterly direction from Ravenscar and discover what I came to describe as our own personal wilderness.


  1. FYI Wheeldale Lodge hasn't been a Youth Hostel since 1999


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