Maps: OS Landrangers 100 and 101; Outdoor Leisure 27
Start: Fox and Rabbit pub (845883)
Finish: Hole of Horcum viewpoint (852937)
Distance: 6.7 miles
Going: One steep descent; one short steep ascent; otherwise easy
Natural England NCA: 25 (NY Moors and Cleveland Hills)
Special interest: The Bridestones, Hole of Horcum
From the Fox and Rabbit Inn, retrace steps from the last walk and return east behind the pub down the steep slope through the trees (P) to the path intersection at (O). Bending left, continue to the path junction at (R).
Taking the direction for the Bridestones, do not go right over the bridge but go straight ahead, keeping the stream immediately on the right, and walk to Staindale Lodge (S). After the first gate, go 30m to the ladder stile and turn right. The track to the Bridestones is now obvious.
With Staindale Beck on the right, follow a level waymarked trail, passing to the right of Low Staindale Farm, to the stepping stones across Dovedale Beck (T), a tributary of Staindale Beck.
After crossing the beck, turn immediately left for 50m across the grass to the gate and access to the NT Bridestones Reserve. Follow the stream to the footbridge (U) and, crossing over, continue on a steep stone-laid path up Needle Point to the High Bride Stones. The path is steep at first but later levels off. At the time of writing, heather and invasive bracken are fighting for supremacy in this part of the Reserve.
Don’t be tempted just to look at the first of the High Bride Stones; make sure to carry on to see the rest of them, virtually joined together into a wall of pock-marked, eroded solid rock. Go round the end of the line and return along the path above the stones to the path junction at (V).
Now turn left and go, down and up, across Bridestone Griff and bend right to reach the Low Bride Stones. Ignore a waymark indicating a left turn and instead keep straight on along the stone path. In contrast to the High Stones, the Low Bride Stones do not form a continuous wall but rather appear as single, isolated pillars/features with their different rock layers piled up like giant pancakes.
At the last couple of Low Stones (W), turn sharp left and continue to the track junction at (X). Here bend left. The trail is clear and flat for the rest of the walk. Heather and bilberry assume more prominence and then, after leaving the NT Reserve, we join the Old Wife’s Way and the Tabular Hills Walk (Y). Over on the right, notice the distinctive shape of Blakey Topping and an intriguing Stone Circle at its foot (Z).
The track bends left and then after a mile or so reaches the A169. Turn left for the bus stop and Saltergate car park.
There are a number of places where Bride Stones can be found on the North York Moors. They can be seen at Nab Ridge, Bilsdale; near Silpho; and on Black Brow on Sleights Moor. The ones visited on this walk occur on Grime Moor and are in two sets: the Low and the High Bridestones. They are composed of different layers of Jurassic Age sandstones, some harder and some softer. The less resistant layers have been weathered and eroded more easily, while the more resistant strata stand out, to give the outcrops their present weird but fascinating shapes. The origin of the name ‘Bridestones’ is uncertain but they may be associated with old fertility rites. However, the name perhaps derives from the Old Norse ‘Brink-stones’ or ‘edge stones’.
The Bridestones Nature Reserve is National Trust property and is classed as SSSI because of its dwarf shrub heath (heathers, bilberry, crowberry) and associated plant communities. However, the variety of habitats on the Reserve attracts other uncommon plants as well.
On Bridestones Moor itself, the rock is composed almost entirely of sandstones and limestones. Between the two sets of stones is the valley known as Bridestones Griff – a griff is a steep-sided valley formed by the erosion of running water. This more sheltered habitat encourages different plants from those on the open moorland.
Three types of heather are found on Bridestones Moor: ling, bell heather and cross-leaved heath. Other plants growing on the open moor include bilberry and the much less common cranberry, both of which are related to the heathers. Cowberry looks similar but is not related. Another important plant on the moor is sundew. Sundew is ‘insectivorous’ that is, it has the ability to trap and digest insects that land on its sticky leaves. This is valuable on soils that are low in natural nutrients.
Probably the most spectacular insect seen on the moor is the male emperor moth (the female flies only at night) and its caterpillar. The young caterpillar is orange and black, later changing to green with yellow and black markings, and feeds mainly on heather.
The moor is not burnt to create habitat for grouse shooting or sheep farming and this means that mosses, lichens and invertebrates thrive. On the open moor new tree growth is controlled and cattle are sometimes grazed in order to stop the land returning to woodland.
In the lower valleys Oxford Clay is exposed and this is the reason for the different habitat in the wetter grassland of Dovedale. The clay, often waterlogged, results in a completely different group of plants and animals. Conditions here are more sheltered and several species of butterflies and moths, including the chimney-sweeper moth, can be seen.
A third habitat is that found in Dovedale Wood, a good example of ancient woodland. (Ancient woodland is defined as land with continuous woodland cover since at least 1600 AD.) Sessile oak is one of the main trees and together with larch, holly, rowan, birch and ash gives habitat for birds such as the great-spotted woodpecker.
Hole of Horcum
Numerous websites draw attention to the grandeur of this location and to the possibilities of completing a variety of circular walks from the car park. Although the Coastliner Way does not venture down into the depression, it is one of the National Park’s most spectacular features – a huge natural amphitheatre more than half a mile across.
Depending on your point of view, there are two explanations for its formation.
Sometimes called the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’, one theory says that the Hole of Horcum relates to the story of Wade, a hero once famous as a Saxon chief, traveller and fighter. He features in Chaucer and Thomas Malory. At some point Wade turned into a giant and legend has it that the Hole was formed when he grabbed a handful of earth to throw at his wife during an argument. Missing her, it landed and formed Blakey Ridge.
The more prosaic explanation says that the Hole was created by a process called spring-sapping, whereby water oozing out from the hillside has gradually undermined the slopes above, causing the soil to slump or slip down. Gradually, the spring has eroded back into the hillside and over thousands of years, a once narrow valley has been widened and deepened into an enormous cauldron – and the process still continues today.
As well as being popular with walkers, the Hole of Horcum also attracts kite fliers, paragliders and model aircraft enthusiasts because of the natural uplift.