ON the way to Scarborough, I drove through the lovely countryside of the Howardian Hills, the North York Moors National Park and the Vale of Pickering that lies between: a broad flat plain marked out by the towns of Helmsley, Pickering and Malton.
The Vale of Pickering used to be a lake, thousands of years ago. These days, it is drained by the eastward-flowing river Rye, which becomes the Derwent east of the Vale and turns around to flow southward through Malton and the Howardian Hills via the Kirkham Gorge, where the ruins of Kirkham Abbey and Kirkham Priory stand.
The first stage of my journey was from York City to Malton via the Kirkham Gorge. While still in the Kirkham Gorge I went past Kirkham Priory and Abbey, which a local English Heritage sign described as “stunning Augustinian ruins,” about seven kilometres before Malton.
My photos from the road don’t really do justice to Kirkham Priory and its Abbey. I must come back and have a proper look.
West of Malton you can also visit Castle Howard, after which the Howardian Hills are named. Castle Howard is the great country pile where the 1981 Granada TV series Brideshead Revisited and the 2008 feature film of the same name were both filmed. It’s in a better state of repair than the abbey and priory at Kirkham!
From Malton to Pickering, across the Vale of Pickering, was about 12 km.
There were lots of old stone bridges on these side roads, not rated for modern trucks. Roads without big trucks, yay. The old-time bridge-builders were obviously thinking ahead.
It wasn’t long before I got to Pickering: a town which styles itself as the gateway to the main part of the North York Moors National Park with its forests and coastline.
A few kilometres northeast of Pickering is the Dalby Forest, roughly where the following map says North Riding Forest Park.
Things you can do in the Dalby Forest are described in this short video from the Pickering tourist website, welcometopickering.co.uk.
Dalby Forest was interesting as well. It was strange, for a New Zealander, to see the stoat-weasel family listed as the local endangered species!
Driving up the A169 from Dalby Forest in the direction of Whitby, you soon come to the bleak Levisham Moor and the Hole of Horcum, a strange natural amphitheatre created by numerous springs on the hillsides of an initially V-shaped stream valley, fed by the boggy moorland above. The springs washed the dirt into the valley and filled it up with a flat bottom.
As you can see from the marker pole, there are hiking trails in the area. A hike of several miles right around the Hole of Horcum, across the Levisham Moor, is very popular.
Closer to Whitby is the Falling Foss Tea Garden, where you can have tea and coffee beside a big waterfall. As in Iceland, the word for a waterfall in these parts is foss. For you are in the Danelaw, the part of England that used to be ruled by the Vikings in Jórvík, the city we know today as York.
If you don’t want to drive to Whitby or even to Levisham Moor, there is heritage steam railway that runs from Pickering to Whitby via the Moors, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Its stops are:
You could stay in Scarborough for around 30 to 35 pounds a night, and there is also a caravan and camping site at Dalby Forest, dalby-forest.co.uk. But I decided to double back and spend two nights camping outside the YHA in Helmsley, about 20 km west of Pickering and just east of one of the most famous of England’s ruined abbeys, Rievaulx Abbey, for seven pounds a night.
The YHA had toasty Aga coal range cookers, real classics from back in the day.
The reason I camped out in front of the Helmsley YHA was not purely cheapness, but also because Helmsley is the site of the amazing National Centre for Birds of Prey.
The National Centre for Birds of Prey was opened in 2013 on the grounds of Duncombe Park, a vast country estate of the Downton Abbey type.
You might ask why we should strive to preserve birds of prey, which are a bit mean after all. Check out this fierce-looking falcon. You would not want to be the mouse that had just caught its attention!
Well, the short answer is that birds of prey are often endangered. They are at the top of the food chain. This means that they are quite rare and, for that reason, far more likely to die out than the small mammals that they devour and that would otherwise overrun the place, to the detriment of even the small birds that also get preyed upon. Thus, the birds of prey have their niche and one that needs to be protected.
My favourite at Duncombe Park was the Eurasian eagle-owl, one of the largest owls in the world and certainly one of the most impressive-looking. The Eurasian eagle-owl is very widespread across the mainland of Europe and Asia, whence its name. but for some reason it has long been seen only occasionally in Britain, with most sightings thought to be of stragglers and pairs that probably flew over from Europe. Eurasian eagle-owls have been starting to breed and become more established in Britain over the last few decades, however.
There was a falcon which was tracked to one thousand two hundred feet by GPS. And a little burrowing owl. I saw about fifteen sorts of birds flying. They had kestrels.
I spent the entire day there and shot quite a bit of video. Here is a video I made.
Another favourite of mine, which appears in the video along with the little burrowing owls, is the caracara. The caracara is a type of falcon with feet that have evolved in such a way that it can run on the ground instead of hobbling painfully on its claws like most other birds of prey when they are on the ground. The caracara has a similar way of life to the otherwise unrelated weka in New Zealand, in the sense that it is really mischievous, endlessly running around, and into everything. Though, unlike the weka, the caracara can still fly.
There are several species of caracara which inhabit South and Central America, Mexico and the tip of Florida and as you can hear the Falkland Islands as well.
I met some really interesting English people in Helmsley. The person who managed the place and two older gents in their late fifties. One who owns a house but couldn’t afford a house according to him if he had a car, and another gent who owned a car but not a house. And so, it was really interesting, I mean, the guy who owned the car and rented had a much better life than the guy who couldn’t afford a car and biked everywhere.
National Park Guide: Levisham Moor & Hole of Horcum: North York Moors National Park
A 5-mile walk on Levisham Moor to the Hole of Horcum, in the North York Moors National Park, with downloadable route…www.northyorkmoors.org.uk
UK Ordnance Survey Maps Guide: #GetOutside: do more in the British Outdoors
Sean Conway Discipline: Inspiring beard grower / outdoor adventurer Ben Fogle Discipline: TV presenter, adventurer…getoutside.ordnancesurvey.co.uk
In my next blog post, I will write about crossing the Yorkshire Dales to Cumbria, and climbing Scafell Pike.
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