Located in North Yorkshire, the North York Moors is a national park regulated by the North York Moors National Park Authority. In contrast to National Parks in some other countries, the North York Moors are not public land; the National Park status, which it received in 1952, prevents inappropriate development.
Displaying a range of stunning landscapes: heather-clad hills, woodland, impressive sea cliffs and secluded beaches; this area is one of the gems of Britain. At 554 square miles and with more than 1,400 miles of paths and tracks to choose from it really is worth a lengthy stay to truly enjoy the many faces of this part of the world. The National Park includes the largest continuous expanse of heather moorland in England while the seaward edge of the National Park is a Heritage Coast, 45 miles of stunning coastline running from Saltburn in the north to the edge of Scarborough in the south and including many traditional fishing villages to visit.
The moors are a plateau of Jurassic sandstone laid down 205 to 142 million years ago. This is poorly permeable to water, so it forms a tableland of bog and heath at about 300-400 m altitude. It lies over softer limestone so it ends in cliffs and bluffs studded with fossils. Where rivers have cut through the sandstone they carve deep dales, but the limestone is mostly covered and doesn't form the karstic scenery found in the Yorkshire Dales further west.
The main deposition of sandstone was early Jurassic, beneath a shallow tropical sea. Also deposited were shale, clay, limestone, ironstone and rocks bearing alum - the iron and alum were mined in modern times. The area then uplifted and became a coastal plain covered in river mud alternating with calcareous sea deposits. Near the end of the Jurassic it submerged again, for a time being shallow enough for corals.
30 million years ago, the area uplifted and tilted from north to south. The uppermost layers eroded so this created a scarp of the oldest rocks to the north, around the Cleveland Hills and above Guisborough. The middle section formed the boggy sandstone tableland, while limestone eroded into low hills at the southern margin.
The area was glaciated during the Ice Ages from 2 million years ago; Eskdale which drains the most northern moors (flowing east to Whitby) was carved into a U-shaped valley. At the end of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago, meltwater had to flow south as it was blocked by ice in other directions, so it carved a gorge from Eskdale through Newtondale, and formed a lake in the Vale of Pickering where Malton now stands. To the east was also a great pile of glacial mud and gravel, the foundations of Scarborough, so when the water overflowed and carved a new course, it went west. This created the odd course of the River Derwent, which arises near the east coast yet flows inland.
Landscape and habitat
Boggy plateau is the predominant terrain, a treeless tableland with poor acid soil. It has dark peaty pools, cotton grass and sphagnum moss, which heaps into a raised bog which becomes colonised by heather, a glorious purple carpet in early summer. Earthworms don't care for such soil, so they and their predators are absent, and others such as the pigmy shrew occupy those niches. Birdlife includes merlin, lapwing, curlew, redshank, sandpiper, wheatear, golden plover and ring ouzel. But these, bluntly, do not pay their way: the money-earner is the red grouse, Lagopus lagopus scotica. These feed on the heather and hide in it, so you hear them before you see them, with a clucking goback, goback, goback then a distinctive whirr as they fly off carving low. The grouse shooting season is 12 Aug to 10 Dec and many tracts of moorland are closed in this period. Yes, despite this being a "national park", the hunting industry's profits come before conservation or the enjoyment of the general public. Heather left to itself gets very woody and "leggy" so it has to be pared back by controlled burning aided by sheep grazing. These also curb the invasion of bracken.
The plateau is higher to the north and west, but the Esk valley on the north flank peels off a lower strip, Gisborough Moor. The high point is Round Hill on Urra Moor at 454 m / 1490 feet; the broad dirt track of the Cleveland Way leads by it. "Round Hill" in practice means "it's around here somewhere" as it's a barely perceptible rise above the expanse of soggy heather. This section is called the Cleveland Hills, with the Hambleton Hills on the west flank of the moors. The plateau to the south is dissected by rivers flowing into the Ryedale and Derwent catchment.
Slopes and woods: the abrupt edges are too steep for farming, even for sheep or forestry conifers, so they have natural deciduous woodlands of great age, with ancient oaks. On the gentler slopes to the south forestry is possible, such as Dalby Forest, which has mountain bike trails and similar recreations. The lower pastures are dotted with farms, with drystone walls around the fields and bawling sheep. The limestone is close to the surface here, and its caverns may swallow up rivers, such as the upper Dove in Farndale. In spring that valley is spectacularly carpeted with daffodils.
|North York Moors|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
It's Yorkshire, bring rainwear. The climate is typical of Yorkshire but modified by the altitude, so it's always cooler than the lowlands, the hills draw clouds and rain, and in winter there can be enough snow or ice to make roads hazardous or even blocked.
- 1 Pickering and 2 Helmsley are small market towns within the moors: you could step out of your car or accommodation here and start hiking.
- With your own car you could base in a lowland centre such as York, 3 Thirsk or 4 Malton. These have good rail connections to the rest of the country, but scanty public transport into the moors. Bike on train would work, but you need train reservations, and be ready for stiff gradients.
- 5 Whitby and 6 Scarborough on the coast have transport into the moors, and alternative amusements for washed-out days.
- At 7 Guisborough all the fun is in getting onto the moors, up the line of bluffs and cliffs. But once up, you're on a monotonous plateau of heath and bog, nothing to see or do but come back down again.
- Leeds Bradford (LBA IATA) is close and has flights across west Europe including London Heathrow, Dublin, Paris CDG and Amsterdam.
- Teesside (MME IATA) near Darlington is closer but has very few flights.
- Newcastle (NCL IATA) has similar flights to Leeds Bradford.
- Manchester (MAN IATA) is best bet for anything beyond west Europe. Hire a car, and the drive might take two and a half hours.
- Trains from London Kings Cross, the Midlands and Manchester Airport all converge on York. Change here for trains that stop at Thirsk or Middlesbrough.
- Transpennine Express trains run from Liverpool Lime Street via Manchester Victoria, Leeds, York and Malton to Scarborough.
- A less frequent service trundles up the coast from Hull via Beverley, Bridlington and Filey to Scarborough.
- Trains wind along the Esk Valley from Middlesbrough via a dozen moorland village halts to Grosmont and Whitby.
- North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs in summer, usually steam-hauled, from Pickering to Grosmont and sometimes extending to Whitby.
- York and Leeds have long-distance coach services, with at least two a day from London Victoria taking 6-7 hours.
- Coastliner 843 runs from Leeds via Tadcaster, York and Malton to Scarborough.
- Coastliner 840 runs from Malton to Pickering and Thornton-le-Dale; two per day continue across the moors to Whitby.
- Buses run up the coast from Hull to Bridlington, change there for buses to Filey, Scarborough and Whitby.
- There are two bus routes from Middlesbrough to Whitby: along the coast via Redcar and Saltburn, or inland via Guisborough.
- Buses run from Scarborough to Pickering and Helmsley. There is no regular service west of Helmsley to Thirsk.
All roads get very congested on summer weekends. From the south take A64 east past York to Malton. Either continue towards Scarborough or branch onto A169 north, which winds across the moors from Pickering to Whitby.
A170 crosses the moors from Thirsk: caravans and heavy vehicles must not attempt Sutton Bank, where the road climbs the western scarp of the moors. A170 continues east through Helmsley, Kirkbymoorside, Pickering and Brompton to Scarborough.
From the north head towards Middlesbrough then be on either A171 or A172 for minor roads leading into the hills.
Fees and permits
- Regular buses: see above for the buses from Malton to Pickering, Thornton-le-Dale and Whitby, from Scarborough to Pickering and Helmsley, and along the coast between Scarborough, Whitby, Guisborough and Middlesbrough.
- The Moorsbus plies several routes at weekends May to Sept. It's always a sparse service, and in 2020 especially so. Beware that the same bus number runs different routes by day of the week. Sundays and Bank Holidays it's:
- M1 Saltburn-by-the-Sea-Redcar-Guisborough
- M2 Darlington-Middlesbrough-Guisborough
- M3 Guisborough-Danby-Pickering
- M4 Guisborough-Helmsley-Sutton Bank-Thirsk and Helmsley-Rievaulx
- M5 Easingwold-Thirsk-Stokesley-Helmsley
- M6 Malton-Rosedale Abbey-Danby
- M7 Pickering-Thornton-le-Dale-Dalby Forest
- Fridays and Saturdays it's:
- M4 Redcar-Guisborough-Helmsley-Danby
- M5 Easingwold-Thirsk-Stokesley-Helmsley Sunday
- M6 Malton-Pickering-Rosedale Abbey-Lion Inn
- M3 / M6 / M8 York-Malton-Pickering-Danby
- For walking the most detailed map coverage is OS Outdoor Leisure series (yellow covers, 1:25,000): OL26 for the western half and OL27 for the east. For motoring and on-road cycling use the Landranger series (maroon covers, 1:50,000): Sheet 100 Pickering, 101 Scarborough and 94 Whitby.
- 1 Castle Howard is a magnificent Baroque 18th C stately home designed by Vanbrugh: see Malton for details.
- Also near Malton are Eden Camp (museum in a former POW camp), Malton Priory, Kirkham Priory, Nunnington Hall and Wharram Percy abandoned medieval village.
- 2 Yorkshire Lavender, Terrington YO60 6PB (3 miles west of Castle Howard), ☏ . Daily 10:00-17:00. 60 hillside acres of lavender farm and parkland, set in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Jun-Aug adult £3, Sept-May free.
- Farndale. Famed for its beautiful wild daffodils and attracts about forty thousand visitors a year just to see them. Generally at their best during the first two weeks of April (weather dependent) it is believed that medieval monks brought the first daffodils to the area. If you visit at this time of year then you must do the daffodil walk, which is about 1½ miles (2½ kilometres) long and runs alongside the River Dove between Low Mill and High Mill. You will find welcome refreshments at the Daffy Caffy and if it has been raining, take your Wellington boots as it can be very muddy.
- Helmsley is a lovely market town at the south-western edge of the park. It is a popular foodie destination, with plenty of places to stay, eat and drink, good shopping, and historic sites including a castle and one of England's finest mediaeval abbeys, Rievaulx Abbey is a few miles outside the town.
- Pickering - a pretty town with a castle and steam railway.
- Rievaulx Abbey is near Helmsley
- Robin Hood's Bay - south of Whitby
- 3 Roseberry Topping. a "mini matterhorn", the last hill of the North York Moors which overlooks industrial Teesside.
- 4 Sutton Bank. Edge of the North York Moors National Park and the Hambleton Hills and a viewpoint for miles around.
- Whitby - delightful seaside town with spectacular cliffs
- North Yorkshire Moors Steam Railway from Pickering 18 miles (29 km) through the Moors to famous coastal town of Whitby. Featured on UK TV series Heartbeat and the Harry Potter film.
- If you are not sure about going out on your own then a great way to see the park in all its glory is with a guide. Guided walks and mountain bike rides can all be booked and with 500 miles (800 km) of bridleways throughout the park, horseback is a fabulous way to see this amazing countryside. If you have your own horse you could spend a week trekking in the area staying at designated B&Bs, or there are plenty of stables dotted around who will happily take you on hacks.
- Go Ape is a tree-top assault course in the Dalby Forest.
- Fossil hunting: the coast has mainly examples from the Jurassic period, but Speeton has the later Cretaceous.
- The best reviews are earned by Star Inn in Harome near Helmsley, White Swan in Pickering, Malton Grill within Talbot Hotel in Malton, Cookfella's in Guisborough, and Buck Inn at Maunby near Thirsk.
- Scarborough and Whitby don't have any outstanding food but score on quantity. You're seldom more than ten paces from fish & chips or similar cheap and cheerful fare, which the seagulls will try to snatch if you eat outdoors.
- Scarborough and Whitby have the greatest concentration of pubs.
- Helmsley has its own brewery, tours available. Malton's brewery is Brass Castle Taphouse, they don't do tours.
- Malt whisky is distilled in nearby Filey, with the first "Yorkshire Spirit" going on sale in Dec 2019. (Mustn't call it "Scotch"!) Distillery tours are available.
- Campers, if you use raw water, just consider for a moment how many hind ends of various species it's likely to have passed through already.
- Wild camping is not permitted in this area.
- There are some 18 camping and caravan sites around the moors. The coast from Scarborough south towards Filey is back-to-back caravan sites but they mostly lack camping pitches.
- Scarborough and Whitby have lots of traditional seaside B&Bs and small hotels, from the spruce to the dilapidated.
- Top reviews are earned by Black Swan at Oldstead and Carpenter's Arms at Felixkirk (both a few miles from Thirsk), the Talbot in Malton, The Windmill and Wrea Head Hall in Scarborough, Raven Hall Hotel south of Whitby, Broom House at Egton Bridge above Whitby, and Gisborough Hall Hotel (sic) at Guisborough.
There is little crime in the Moors except for petty theft from cars so leave valuables hidden. Take precautions against the weather if going out walking.
- York is a remarkable walled city, with many visitor attractions.
- Near Ripon is Fountains Abbey.
- Leeds is the place for big city attractions.
- Durham is a charming old city, and base for exploring County Durham.