The North York Moors is (are?) the largest area of heather moorland left anywhere in England and Wales today. They look their very best when all the heather is in full bloom in late August and early September – just imagine 192 square miles of purple all around you…
A plateau at about 300 metres (1,000 feet) above sea level, the moors are intersected by many deep and steep-sided dales (valleys), each with its own beck (stream). Moorland wildlife has to be specialised to survive and the Red Grouse is a good example of this – a species so specialised that it is the only bird to spend the entire year on the moortop.
The North York Moors was declared a National Park in the 1950s and covers a total of 553 square miles. In 2001 all moorland within the National Park was declared an SSSI (a Site of Special Scientific Interest) because of it’s unique flora and fauna. On a global scale, heather moorland is even less common than tropical rain forest.
In the olden days the only way to reach Whitby by land was to walk the 20 miles across the moors – a journey so frightening that few would attempt it. Medieval stone crosses and guide stones were erected to help guide the traveller across the wide open moortop. Many of these still survive today and one, Young Ralphs Cross, is now the logo for the whole of the North York Moors National Park.
Today the moors can be crossed much more easily on a small number of modern roads, but large tracts are still accessible only to walkers using the hundreds of miles of traditional public footpaths and bridleways. The Moors Centre at the village of Danby, some 15 miles from Sleights, is an ideal place to find out all about the National Park.
At Hutton-le-Hole, a chocolate box village if ever there was one, the Ryedale Folk Museum contains many reconstructed local buildings, etc. Some of the cottages there even have the original medieval Witch Post made of Rowan wood, to guard the home against any evil visitors!
The Esk Valley Line (owned by Network Rail) runs from Whitby to Middlesbrough and passes through many different villages, including Sleights – the station is about 400 metres from Groves Dyke Holiday Cottage. This means that it IS possible (but not very easy!) to get here by diesel train from anywhere in the UK. It also means that if you arrive by car you can leave your car parked at Groves Dyke, take one of the 4 return diesel trains per day to one of the many villages, walk along the Esk Valley Walk to another village and then catch the train back to Sleights.
The next village up the Esk Valley is Grosmont (no, we don’t pronounce the ‘s’ – we just say ‘Grow-mont’), where the Esk Valley Line has a junction with the steam trains of the North Yorkshire Moors [steam] Railway. Change trains here for a ride on a steam train via Goathland (‘Aidensfield’ in Yorkshire Television’s ‘Heartbeat’) and Levisham to the bustling market town of Pickering.
A day on the steam trains is a good activity to keep for a rainy day – but come to think of it, we don’t get many of those because the North York Moors National Park is the driest National Park in the UK. What a nice change from the Lake District!