Rolling moors, coastal views..
Up in the north-east of England rises a plateau of heather moorland, bog and ancient woodland. The North York Moors, at over 500 square miles, is an unmissable wall on the horizon between the Vale of York and the North Sea, and is an excellent area for walking holidays.
The most famous aspect of course is the moorland itself, mainly composed of three species of heather but also home to other important plants and animals. The most spectacular time to visit the moors is towards the end of August, when for a few weeks the whole landscape flowers at once, giving the moors a bright purple colouring that is famous the world over. And as the UK contains most of the world’s heather moorland, this is a sight you really won’t see elsewhere.
Even when not in flower, the moorland is a special place, feeling like the roof of the world as it sits above plains on all sides. And the heather, whether flowering or not, provides an essential centrepiece.
The moors are not a completely natural landscape, and have been managed for sheep grazing and grouse shooting for hundreds of years. If management stopped, the moors would most likely revert to woodland, so it is as much an industrial landscape as a natural one, ever since the forests began to be cleared over 7000 years ago.
I would be hesitant to see this as a downside though, as the observant walker can find interest all around, from the thousands of Bronze Age burial sites to the patchwork pattern of heather burning which still goes on today. It is due to this heritage of management that the moors are crossed with hundreds of paths and tracks, making it an accessible place for walkers.
Much of the soil under the heather is peat bog, an important habitat for storing carbon as the wet acidic soil prevents the breakdown of plant matter. Another advantage of walking on the tracks over the moor is that these are much drier than the adjacent bog, meaning you can admire it without sinking! The moors are visited by multiple long distance trails, several of which are signposted.
As well as the moor, the area has it’s fair share of woodland, much of it ancient, and a wild coastline of high cliffs. Many of the woodlands are open access, and have paths through them, and the whole coast is accessible via the Cleveland Way, some of which acts as the famous ending to Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk, which finishes in Robin Hood’s Bay.
As a region for walkers the North York Moors offers the perfect choice of dales and woodlands to explore, set against the high and airy backdrop of the moors themselves. The network of paths and tracks makes it possible to include multiple sites of interest in a single walk, but beware that each glimpse of the next valley will make you want to come back for more.
It’s a great region for those new to walking, as there are plenty of places to stay and few steep edges to fall off. But it is equally a place where people come back to dozens of times, as each day makes it look different. It isn’t a stretch to say that the sweeping seasonal changes of the woods and heather mean the moors never appear the same set of colours twice.
Author: Alex Kendall
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