In his famous 'Forty Years in a Moorland Parish' the renowned Canon John C Atkinson, for 53 years vicar of Danby, described his first sight of his new parish as "one of the loveliest scenes it had ever been my lot to behold, the long valley" of Eskdale, "running east and west and with dale after dale opening into it from its southern side".
This description of Danby Dale and the two Fryup Dales still holds today and it's from the capacious car park of the canon's church of St. Hilda, (GR 696064), that we begin our 10 mile walk to explore the valleys he was admiring 150 years ago. (His tombstone can be found 35 paces to the west of the church's main south door).
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed, two short steep hills, no stiles
Refreshments: Botton, Danby, Castleton
OS Explorer Map OL26 & OL27
Originally published: 5 September 2008
From the entrance to the car park take the footpath signed through a gate. Go down one field before making a steep descent through trees to cross a tiny beck. From there the path rises as a well worn stone causeway to the lane that runs the length of Danby Dale. Turn right.
Follow the lane for about three quarters of a mile to where it turns sharp right. Continue ahead up the main drive of Botton Village which was set up by the Camphill Trust in 1955 to cater for young people with special needs.
Visitors are welcome to use the well paved network of paths linking the community's scattered estate. Follow the drive to the village store, (there's a public cafe close by), and then continue along the main drive over a beck to a junction by the modern church.
Next follow the sign pointing ahead on a path to the Doll Shop. When you reach another tarred lane continue ahead. In about 100 yards, and just past a large barn on the right, go right through a gate on another paved path signed to the delightfully-named Honey Bee Nest Farm. The path drops to the valley floor where go left across Danby Beck and up to the farm at the far end of the track, about 150 yards beyond a sign to Camphill Press.
From the farm we climb by a rough field track to the road running along Castleton Rigg. It's less than half a mile but easy to follow as a hollow way which, as you approach the road, passes a worked out quarry which must have provided the sandstone for some of the sturdy
farmhouses below. The views from the top and for the next 3 miles are outstanding, with Roseberry Topping, Freebrough Hill and the sea all in sight.
Turn left at the road and in 50 yards go left again on a path which follows a line of white tipped boundary stones across Danby High Moor. The Bronze Age Western Howes stand out prominently on the right just before you reach the road from Westerdale to Rosedale at the stone White Cross, affectionately known as Fat Betty for its squat base topped by the head of a wheelhead cross. Our route turns left here away from the lure of the Blakey Lion Inn temptingly seen on its ridge over a mile away.
You may have company for the next two miles as you are following the Coast to Coast long distance walk from St. Bees Head to Robin Hood's Bay. In less than a mile look out for a signed path on the left which cuts off a corner and connects with the road running across the moor and down into Danby. It could be used as a short cut, saving two miles and rejoining the main walk at the foot of Danby Rigg.
We follow this road left for about 400 yards before turning right past a gate on a bridleway signed to Glaisdale. Beyond Trough House the moorland on the left is scarred with coal pits, worked in the 19th century. A little further and the whole of Great Fryup Dale down to its junction with Eskdale comes in view.
Shortly afterwards, at a post, we intersect with the George Gap Causeway, the ancient packhorse route from Rosedale to Staithes. It's a staggered junction, our way into the dale below branching left at a large cairn 100 yards further on.
There's a steep descent to an idyllic picnic spot by Trough House Beck, where there's little to disturb the peace except the tumbling of half a dozen tiny waterfalls from the surrounding crags. From the beck the way is easy to follow, at first below The Heads, a series of rounded hillocks protected from erosion by a top layer of hard sandstone, and then gently down across fields to Raven Hill Farm. If you look back you may see walkers silhouetted high up on the Coast to Coast, trudging across the moors, seemingly oblivious to this tranquil valley below.
There's a short cut left across the last field before the farm, but whichever path you take turn left when you reach the quiet valley road. This leads in less than a mile to a junction. Go left here uphill over Fairy Cross Plain, the saddle between the two Fryup dales.
The lane continues past the handsome 18th century Stonebeck Gate Farm to a T junction where there's a welcome seat before you tackle the heights of Danby Rigg.
For the second of our steep climbs ignore the bridleway signed to Ainthorpe and instead take the unsigned path slightly to its left. This heads directly for the steep slope before turning right for a more gradual ascent. At the summit you pass a concrete trig point before continuing over the rigg along a line of stone markers.
Upper Eskdale unfolds before you with each step until Castleton is fully revealed on its ridge ahead. St. Hilda's then comes into view on its well sited little hill in the centre of Danby Dale.
The path soon descends to North End from where the farm lane is followed to join a road close to the church. Turn left.