Despite its name, Danby Low Moor rises to almost 900ft on the north side of Eskdale. However, from the river the climb is gradual and is rewarded by panoramic views in every direction across the national park. A clear day, preferably sunny, is recommended for this moor and valley walk of some eight miles.
Distance: 6 or 8 miles
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Conditions: good, but inadvisable in mist
Refreshments: Castleton and Commondale
Originally published: 3 March 2006
We start from Castleton station on the Esk Valley line, turning left on to the road to Guisborough. This climbs steeply past the tennis courts, built where volcanic whinstone was once quarried. In a few yards, go right on a track bearing the leaping salmon sign of the Esk Valley Walk. This contours along the valley side past several houses. After the third house, we pass the steep incline which once bridged the path. It carried sandstone from a site on the moor above to a crusher close to the station. The crushed stone, rich in silica, was taken by train to Middlesbrough to make bricks for furnace linings.
Beyond the last house, look right. Prominent on a ridge is Castleton. The tallest trees shelter the motte of the castle built by the de Brus family in 1089, and abandoned in 1216. The de Brus lords hunted in Danby Park which our path now crosses. The trees, mainly birches, are the latest in a long line which must have flourished here for over 1,000 years.
Just after leaving the wood by a gate, go left on a faint track up across common land. In about 200yds this links with a path coming in from the right. The joint path skirts a wall and, after a gate, enters a hollow way. We are now following the Pannierman's Causeway, an ancient packhorse route between Castleton and Staithes. Along it was carried lime from the south, fish from the coast and coal from the many pits that were dug on the nearby moors.
The causeway is easy to follow as it alternates between tongues of Danby Low Moor and field enclosures, or intakes, made from the moor in the 19th century. After three gates from the hollow way; ignore a gated path, sharp right, and instead go half right to the trees growing alongside Ewe Crag Beck. Our path crosses the beck by stepping stones before climbing to Rosedale Intake, a farm that still marks the boundary between cultivated land and the moor.
Our walk now takes to the moor for the next 3½ miles. Follow the line of white and blue tipped posts above the farm. At the eighth, the last, remnants of a stone trod appear. After about ten paces along these great slabs, go half left off the causeway on a path which climbs gently across open moorland.
Our target is Siss Cross, seen as a pimple on the hillside just over half a mile distant. In places, the path is a little feint but the cross is always in view and a couple of groups of grouse butts en route act as check points. The many crosses that are to be found on the moors were probably erected as boundary or right of way markers, Siss Cross, the third we shall pass today, though a recent replacement of an earlier pillar, certainly makes its mark on the landscape. From the cross there are outstanding views back southwards into Eskdale and to Danby Dale beyond.
Continue from the cross on a little used four-wheel drive trail which for about a quarter of a mile winds across a vast expanse of heather to a hard surfaced track at two bridleway signs.
Turn left on the track which in the 18th century was the main route between Stokesley and Whitby. On a fine day, the next two miles make an exhilarating walk. The route is almost flat and unmistakable and the views to the right to the conical Freeborough Hill and the sea are unmissable. Our target ahead is the ridge on which the Bronze Age round barrows known as the Three Howes are prominent.
After about l ½ miles look out for Job Cross, l00yds away on the right in the heather.
The ridge is reached at White Cross where you can make a two-mile short cut, left, to Castleton. Our main walk continues along the old Stokesley road, here tarred, with vistas ahead into upper Eskdale and, to the left, across to Westerdale. At the first footpath sign in about half a mile, go left across to a wall where you will pick up another stone trod which leads to Commondale (if you wish to cut half a mile off the walk, then after about l00yds of the trod, go left through a gate and downhill, keeping to the left of an electric power pole in the first field).
The one feature you will notice as you descend across fields into Commondale is that the church, the Alfred Crossley Memorial Institute of 1923 and most of the houses are built of brick, rather than the local sandstone. In fact some of the houses have some very fancy terracotta decoration too. The village was well-known for its tile and brick works which flourished from 1860 to 1940. The site can be seen in the valley away on the right.
Go left when you reach the junction outside the Cleveland Inn and in a quarter of a mile at Foul Green go left past Fowle Green House. The quiet, well-surfaced lane that leads from here down the valley to Castleton is in complete contrast with the stark scenery of the moors. There is a pretty wood with two picnic areas, intimate views at every turn in the track, the interesting 18th century Box Hall and glimpses of Commondale Beck. Only the passing of the rare train will disturb your tranquillity.
At the end of this two-mile stretch turn right at the main road for the descent to Castleton station.