The Rosedale Railway is one of the most remarkable industrial monuments of the North York Moors. Completed between 1861 and 1865 it crossed Farndale and High Blakey Moors to link the valuable iron mines in Rosedale with the furnaces of Stockton and Ferryhill.
It is estimated that around 10 million tons of treated ore were carried in the line's 65 years' existence. The peak year was 1873 when more than half a million tons of ironstone were mined. Comprising some 20 miles of track, the line is still in good condition and offers excellent high level walking.
Distance: short walk 4.5 miles, main walk 8 miles, via Rosedale Abbey 10 miles
Time: 2, 4 or 5 hours
Conditions: all rights of way well signed and firm
Refreshments: Lion Inn, Dale Head Farm, Rosedale Abbey
OS Explorer Map OL26
Originally published: 28 May 2010
Our 8 mile route follows the branch of the railway around the head of Rosedale as it descends gradually to the extensive remains of the East Mines. The return samples the pastoral delights of the valley floor.
We start from the Blakey Lion. There's been a hostelry here since at least 1553 and, at 1293ft., it must rank as one of the highest inns in the country. It once catered for local iron miners, railwaymen and colliers who dug for coal and created the shallow pits scattered over the surrounding moors.
Cross the road and head uphill for a few paces past High Blakey House before turning right on a signed path down across the heather to the railway.
Turn left and follow the line for the next 4 miles. Shortly you will pass the remains of a building which once supported a water tank fed by a small nearby reservoir.
The line then begins its long curve round the head of Rosedale. As you progress there are ever changing views of the valley to enjoy as well as time to reflect on those who built and maintained the track often in arduous conditions. Today most of the cuttings are flooded, (the path follows the drier edges), but they are intact, as are the impressive embankments which carry the line over the culverted streams which feed into Rosedale. Only the calls of lapwing and curlew can be heard.
After about 2 and a half miles the line crosses a bridleway linking the dale with Fryupdale. You could shorten the walk here by some 4 miles by going right for about 500 yards down to Dale Head Farm where there's a tea garden, (open 10-3, May-Nov., closed Mondays). From there continue across the valley to Hollin Bush Farm to rejoin the main walk, (mapped).
The main route continues along the railway for a further mile to the impressive remains of East Mines. Keep to the right when the track divides and you will soon pass two large rows of kilns where the ore was calcined to make it less heavy for transporting. The second row is overlooked by a chimney used to ventilate the mines.
The track then bends to the left to its terminus where there was a depot for the Durham coal used to fire the kilns. 150 years ago many of the dale's population of nearly 3,000 must have worked in the mines or on the railway. Today there are some 300 inhabitants in the valley and the scenes of industrial activity have long vanished.
Our walk continues to a gate at the end of the line and descends to Hill Cottages, built, together with a chapel, a school and a shop, for the mining families. Cross straight over the road down a track which bends to the left past Bracken Bank. At the end a path goes right, down across the fields to the River Seven with views ahead to the crags above Thorgill. In the last field you follow the line of a stone causeway.
At the footbridge you could add two miles to the main walk by taking a very pretty path left, along the left bank of the river into Rosedale Abbey village with its opportunities for refreshment. The return should be made on a path which leaves the village to the left of the Old Police House, close to the church with its sparse remains of the medieval nunnery. The path then crosses the river at White Bridge and joins Daleside Road. Go right, along the road and then left in about 400 yards across the fields into Thorgill, (mapped).
The main 8 mile walk crosses the above footbridge and passes through Low Thorgill Farm to join Daleside Road. Turn right and follow the road through the tranquil hamlet of Thorgill, a collection of stone cottages, most of which pre-date the industrial activity which would have engulfed them on both sides of the valley in the 19th century.
Beyond the houses the road becomes a track as it threads the valley floor. Traces of a stone causeway emphasise the antiquity of the route. In a mile the track swings to the right of High House Farm and reverts to its original rutted, stony surface.
In another 300 yards, by a small wood, the right of way forks. I took the shorter path to the left which, after a wall stile, crosses open fields to Moorlands Farm.Turn right and then almost immediately left to Hollin Bush Farm where the short route from Dale Head Farm is joined.
We now continue along a farm lane to Overend, the last farm in the dale. Turn left through the farmyard. A gate on the right gives immediate access to a green track on to the open moor. It zig zags up for some 400 yards to a metalled track coming up from the left. Turn right along it to reach our railway in another 200 yards.
Follow the line, right, for about 100 yards to where a path bears left up over the heather to the Lion Inn.