The North York Moors

No visit to Yorkshire would be complete without a visit to the North York Moors. This is a vast tract of land consisting mostly of bleak stretches of high ground at 1000 feet or more above sea level, interspersed with deep valleys in which rivers flow. Hundreds of years ago the area was mostly forest but, with the discovery of iron ore, trees were felled to fuel furnaces in which the ore was smelted and gradually the forests were removed to leave a bare landscape on which little but heather and grass could grow. Nowadays the purple heather is a major feature of the moors and is maintained by annual burning. If it were not burned, the heather would grow to shoulder height. But this land earns its money from grouse shooting during the months of August to December. Grouse feed on the young shoots of heather. If the heather grows too high, the grouse will move away and the land owners' income will be lost. Grouse can not be reared artificially like pheasants so the heatherland habitat is essential.

In addition, the roads were put in for the convenience of the grouse shoots. Take away the grouse and the roads will no longer be maintained. So the land that you see is not really "natural" at all. It was man-made by tree felling and heather burning and continues to be maintained in this way. Nevertheless it has a beauty of its own, which is appreciated by all who visit.

The remaining woodlands also earn an income, both from the timber which is systematically felled and replanted, and from the pheasant shoots which run from November to February. The pheasants are mostly reared by hand and released into the forests before the season begins. Game keepers are employed to tend to the birds and, during the shoots, beaters are employed to chase the birds into the air. The shoots most favoured are those in which the hunters can stand in the valley and shoot at birds which fly high overhead. If you want to take part in a top pheasant shoot it will cost you around £20,000 per day for 8 shooters. No, that's not a misprint.

Many moorland roads are narrow with few passing places. A large car may be inappropriate on such roads. Hills can be steep so good brakes and gears are essential. Remember that other road users may not be interested in the view so let them past when it is safe to pull over. Do not park on bends or blind brows or block field entrances. Many roads have gates to prevent animals from passing. Open and close all gates carefully. Sheep are a particular danger. They have no road sense and are guaranteed to run in front of your vehicle as you approach. Slow right down!

A good base for visiting the moors is Helmsley. The picture shows the start of the "Cleveland Way" - a very long walk that takes you around the edge of the North York Moors, ending near Whitby on the coast. The main 'Long-stay' car park is on the left, but you can drive along the stone road on the right to reach "The Stick Man" at the Walled garden complex.

Forest in Winter

This is Beckdale, a wooded valley north of Helmsley. Borobeck, the small stream that runs through the town, begins here from a multitude of small springs. Just south of the town the beck joins the river Rye.

Helmsley castle in melting snow

The photo is taken just inside the entrance to Duncombe Park - home of Lord and Lady Feversham. The parkland, house, gardens and tea rooms are popular visitor attractions - see the website at

Borobeck Ducks

The white ducks that live on Borobeck in the town are popular photographic subjects and will eagerly accept offerings of bread from tourists. Please don't disturb them in springtime when they nest among the daffodills or allow your dog to chase them! Every year some of the ducks are killed by dogs whose owners think they are perfect pets - remember, the hunting instinct is in every dog and these semi-tame ducks can test their training to the limit.

Borobeck daffodils

©1999 Martin Pickering

Return to the Stickman