First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Who’d have guessed it? – another in a succession of beautiful sunny days over the North York Moors, a breeze to cool our brows, and the prospect of sensational views from the edge of the moors.
In Newgate Bank forest the larches drooped in the sunshine and the silver birch leaves shivered in their millions. Forget-me-nots and speedwell dotted the grassy verges of this track with blue. Clover and yellow rattle showed where old hay meadows had been before the conifer plantations gobbled them up.
A gate led onto open moorland, a wide spread of heather whose sombre brown was just beginning to blush with purple. The unbroken blue of the sky fitted over Rievaulx Moor like a lid, the moor itself rimmed by the dark green of dense plantations.
Grouse butts stood in orderly ranks in the heather. A red grouse sprang up under our feet and clattered off with a panicky shriek, while her chick, an impossibly sweet-looking ball of fluff, went scuttling away into the shelter of the tough old heather sprigs.
Patches of heather had been burned to black wires, but in among the muted hues of the moor and its dark brown peat soil, bright green patches of bilberry and the nodding white heads of bog cotton made a cheerful contrast.
We turned aside across a shallow ravine at the edge of Helmsley Moor, where water scouring had unearthed the burnt orange colour of the iron-rich sandstone underlying peat and heather. Black wood ants went scurrying across the stony track, intent on unfathomable projects in their inscrutable way.
Now the path ran through more forest, its sandy surface glinting with mica between the banks of bracken and bilberry. Wrens gave out their whirring songs and goldcrests squeaked in the pine tops. There was a seductive humming of flies among the trees, soporific and redolent of a warm summer afternoon. Figwort with dark green leaves and solid purple stems of square section grew beside the forest track.
A moor road led north into open country again, with brown cattle grazing the pasture. Broom in full flower flecked the roadside with gold. At the crest of the road the land suddenly dropped and a view opened northwards to humpy hills lining the far horizon.
The homeward path took us along the northern brow of the moor, with a wide vista over farms and green farmland far below. Hasty Bank, Cringle Moor and Cold Moor stood out on the northern horizon in long whalebacks.
A big bird of prey went sailing out across the valley, its wingtips uptilted. A hen harrier, rarest raptor of the moors, turning and flashing in the afternoon sunlight.
How hard is it? 6¼ miles; easy; moorland tracks
Start: Newgate Bank forest car park, near Helmsley YO62 5LZ (OS ref SE 565889)
Getting there: Newgate Bank is signed off B1257 (Helmsley–Stokesley)
Walk (OS Explorer OL26): From parking space turn back towards road. Near entrance, left past barrier (fingerpost) up forest track. In ½ mile, through gate (570892); in 50m right on moorland track. In ¾ mile, just before track enters trees at wooden gateposts, left (580887) on track across valley, through plantation, out across moor and on into forest (586889). Left on forest road just inside trees. In a little over a mile, left along road (597891). In ¾ mile at summit (594903, benches), left on track past trig pillar (589905) and around moor edge for 2 miles to gate (570892) where you rejoin outward route to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: TBC – The Owl at Hawnby, near Helmsley YO62 5QS (01904-208000, theowlhawnby.co.uk) is the preferred option, but may still not have its new landlord in place. Re-opening contact: email@example.com.