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A trip to the Moors...

...Goathland, March 19, 2010.

My term paper was due by noon on Friday the 19th and, having finished the paper with minimal stress, I decided I deserved a really good hike as a reward. As I said in my post on Illuminating Hadrian's Wall, I haven't been on a real hike since leaving New Mexico. The reasons are fairly simple. York, despite it's beauty and picturesque quality, is still a city. Getting away from the people and the traffic and the noise is not an easy task. I've found a few nice walking places near by, where the concrete and pavement give way to soft marshy turf and open field, but these places are naturally also the favorites of all the other walkers from the city. Strolling there, while nice, is not quite the balm to my soul that a long, solitary hike is. In addition, finding enough time to travel away from the city is next to impossible during the craziness of term. So, by the time spring term was finishing up I needed, desperately, to get away from people and the city, and I knew exactly where I wanted to go to do this.

Along the bus route to the coastal town of Whitby is a tiny farming village called Goathland. It sits in the middle of the North Yorkshire Moors, and although still quaint, it became a bit of a tourist destination as the filming site for fictional town of Aidensfield's in the British television drama Heartbeat. More important than the village's television links, for my interest, is the fact that there are plenty of access trails out of Goathland into the moors. So, as soon as I had turned my paper in, to Goathland I went and I had a blast! 

The first thing to know is that the best time to hike the moors, so I am told, is in the summer. In June and July, the heather is in bloom and the naturally grandeur of the landscape is amplified by the contrast between its color--ranging from almost white to deep violet--and that of the short, springy and bright green highland grass and mosses. Nevertheless, the area was still absolutely gorgeous, and I cannot wait to go back and see it in its full glory.

My trip began with a good deal of confusion (considering this is me, we shouldn't be shocked). Ignoring every single lesson on wilderness survival my father has beaten into my head since I was a wee babe, I started out on a trip that was very poorly planned. I didn't have a clue what the landscape was going to be like, and until right before I actually left York, I didn't even have a map. A quick stop to the Tourist Information building near King's Manor fixed this latter problem at least, and although I still didn't have a plan and I would be hiking alone (another thing my father has told me time and again not to do, for obvious reasons), at least I had those few maps and gorgeous weather on my side. I caught the Yorkshire Coastliner bus out of York, settled myself into the upper deck of the double-decker so that I could watch the scenery flash by, and cracked open the freshly purchased maps to plot out something like a route. Along with a general road and trail map, I had picked up a little booklet, '50 Walks in North Yorkshire,' and in its section on Goathland it had what seemed to be an ideal route all mapped out. Starting from the centre of the village, I could walk through farming land and moors, wind my way along what is thought to be the remainder of a Roman road, and then follow a straight line back to the village, a total of about 6 miles. Perfect!

Unfortunately, things went awry right from the get-go, as they so often do with poor planning. As soon as we were through the stop before Goathland, I pressed the button to signal the driver and headed down the stairs in anticipation of getting off. As soon as I got there, the driver hailed me to the front,
'Sorry I missed that one, love, but you pushed the button too late.'
'Huh?' I said in typically articulate American form,
'I say, I'm sorry I missed your stop, but I'll just pull over here, it's not too far of a walk. Okay?' I blinked at the nice man in confusion for a moment. Missed my stop? We had passed the village already?
'Okay, yeah, okay. That's fine. No worries!' I said a little too enthusiastically. True to his word, he pulled over at the next place he could and let me off...right in the middle of freaking no where. We had not, I am sure you realize, passed the village. We hadn't even reached the village, but my ringing the bell early had made the poor man think I wanted to get off at the isolated stop we had just passed. Sweet man that he was, he tried to oblige me, and the end result was me standing atop the North Yorkshire Moors next to a large road sign that said simply 'Roman Road' pointing off into the hinterland. Still, that was better than nothing. I had wanted to reach the Roman road eventually, so with my confidence only a little deflated, I set off, keeping the big road to my right and following the winding sheep paths. Despite a little hesitancy about my chances of finding the village in time to make the last bus back--I had just over three hours to play--the views were absolutely worth the worry.

Despite a guilty feeling for not being on a true trail, I began to explore the many sheep paths, picking my way carefully so as not to step on the heather. Although hardy enough to grow in the rugged climb of the moors, it's still a delicate plant. The North Moors boasts the largest heather growth south of Scotland, and I didn't want to be accidentally responsible for harming it with my big clodhoppers.  My first fun discovery was this:

what was left of a sheep who hadn't quite made it through the winter.


As you can see, the landscape was magnificent...and this is with the heather dormant!


You can see the main road that I was following the direction of, and down in the valley below, the collection of farms and houses that I was guessing was Goathland village:



A holly tree growing up out of the heather.
The thing I saw the most of, naturally enough, were sheep. Although domestic, they are left to themselves for much of the year and are generally quick to scoot out of the way when a person approaches.


This one eyed me warily as I came closer, trying to decide exactly how close was enough for her. Here you can see she's chewing it over (*snerk*).

A few giant stones resting in the distance.


Eventually the road descended into the valley below, where a few houses clustered together just past the river. I had to stop a few moments and enjoy the water:

I love the rope hanging down from the trees. Obviously I had stumbled across someone's play area.

Decided I just had to get this shot, despite the fact that I had to stand in the middle of the stream to do so. I balanced between two *very* slick stones, expecting at any moment that my camera and I were going to pitch forward into the water.


Eventually I came to a open path marked 'Pubic Bridleway.' I was absolutely sure I had seen that listed in the trail notes in my guide book. A quick search through showed me that, in fact, I hadn't. Still it was an honest-to-gosh pathway, so I decided to head down it.



This I found entertaining. It stood right next to the bridleway. Obviously, someone's favorite spot once upon their lifetime.



The colors here were so amazing, even though spring growth was only just beginning.

Occasionally I took more exploratory strolls up through the heather:

A sheep path through the heather. You can just make out the lighter-colored remains of last year's blooms.

Finally, finally, I got a sign that I was headed in the right direction.

Oh, you thought I was speaking metaphorically? No, really, I got a sign!




A little good luck beside the trail...um, well maybe not for the rider who's horse threw this shoe, but still...
And speaking of horses, I met this guy along the way:

Despite enjoying them from afar, I have almost no practical experience with horses and I tend to get nervous around them. Still, when this guy strolled up to the fence, I couldn't resist saying hello and offering my hand for a few kisses. He gave those quite willingly, but was much more interested in my granola bar.


The bridleway curved lower down into the valley, and I again felt like I had read about the spot. I checked my guide book and, although it was hard to be certain, I was pretty sure I was going on the recommended trail, only in exactly the opposite direction. It was a good feeling, that just maybe, despite the drop-off confusion, I was seeing exactly the same landscape I had been hoping to see...and, of course, heading in the direction of Goathland.


Over the river once via stepping stones, and then again by foot bridge:


Since I was in the heart of farmlands, the wildlife I saw was mostly of the winged variety. Here is a little red grouse as it scurried away from my on coming footfalls:

Although these grouse were popping up all over the place, this was the only one who stayed on the ground long enough for me to photograph. In addition to the grouse, there were plenty of pheasants (only saw males, but then again, they're pretty darn easy to spot. Show offs...), and of course the typical robins and songbirds, including my favorite little blackbirds.

I kept along the trail, making turns that seemed the most reasonable. Some of those crossed right over open fields, where there was nothing along the way to mark a trail and I just had to trust my instincts. Occasionally I would come across the little blue arrows that verified that I was, indeed, still on the public trail and not just trespassing across someone's private land. This was a nice relief: although every person I have ever met in the Yorkshire countryside has been lovely and sweet, I still didn't want to accidentally push some farmer's buttons by trespassing.
Other than the birds and the sheep, there seemed to be no other moving creatures around until finally I crossed paths with other hikers. Two other couples, both older, passed me headed in the opposite direction, and part of me wondered if they happened to have the same trail guide I did, but had started in the right spot!

Eventually the trail led down a particularly steep slope and up to the edge of the village of Goathland! I was there, exactly where I needed to be...but with an hour to spare before the bus arrived. So, it was back out on the trail to see what else I could find. What that was was another gorgeous chunk of countryside, strolling with the village down the valley to my left, and the moorland and the sheep spreading on before me and to my right.

Came across this house toward the end of my little trek and had to take a picture because, seriously, could it be any prettier? I have garden envy.


A look down into the valley through which I came. To the right you can see the railroad tracks where I was told the steam engine they used for the Harry Potter films runs. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of that but, alas!, it wasn't running that day.

I kept going until I reached the next little village, where I took a picture of sheep doing what they do best:

then turned around and headed back into Goathland just in time to catch my bus back home.

All in all, I couldn't have asked for a nicer hike. It was an easy adventure, gave me a day away from York, and gave me a better feel for what to expect while treking in this country. Here are a few of the basics:

Hiking in England can never be like hiking in the wilder parts of North America. There is simply not enough room (technically I knew this before I set out, the trip just confirmed it). Trails seem to run just at the edge of, or in the unpopulated area between, the many little villages that dot the English countryside. The good news is that there is nearly always a pub or tea room to visit after a trek, and that's great consolation to the reality that it's hard to get 'away from it all' out here. That being said, the landscape, and that includes the farmscape, is gorgeous, making the trips totally rewarding.
Trails in the UK may not be marked the way trails in the States tend to be. My hiking guide note that sometimes a 'trail' isn't really one at all; a trail can very often be just a portion of field designated as public, so you have to keep a sharp eye out for small trail markers or cairns--for example, in the case of this hike, the blue arrows I was following--that show you what direction to go.
Finally, coming home with a bit of wind burn was a nice reminder that the elements present themselves a little differently out here than they do back home, and being prepared doesn't just mean water and protection from the cold and wet, but also from strong winds.

Now, having finally gotten my boots muddy with something other than city dirt, I have only to decide which trail I'm going to try next. After all, I've got forty-nine to go :)


Comments

gnalkue
Mar. 21st, 2010 10:15 pm (UTC)
Awesome adventure...
Those are definitely the best kind; when you get lost and some how end up being exactly where you need or want to be. And the pictures were great. Ah, I am developing a love for heather.

Oh, and I really liked the last bit. Good job!