Egton is one of the highest villages in Eskdale and from its slopes there are spectacular views of the dale below and the deeply wooded tributary valleys that join it from the south, all to be explored on this 10 mile route.
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed paths, 1 long and 2 short climbs
Refreshments: Egton, Beck Hole, Egton Bridge
OS Explorer Map OL27
Originally published: 12 June 2009
We start from the car park, (GR 808067), 100 yards from the village on the road to Whitby. Go down the village street, past the two pubs and then a thatched cottage on the right, a rarity now in the moors, but common a century ago.
The road soon begins its descent to Egton Bridge. In about half a mile from our start, and just before the school, take a rough track on the left, between School House Farm and Mass House. The latter is named for the martyr Father Nicholas Postgate who in the 1670s acted as itinerant priest for several local Catholic families, using the house as one of his bases. Betrayed to the authorities, he was arrested, stood trial in York and was put to death. In recent times the Postgate Inn in Egton Bridge was renamed in his honour. St. Hedda's church, close by, has some of his relics.
Our rutted, hedged track is easy to follow downhill. Where it ends continue down over two fields to cross the Esk Valley railway to reach Barnard's Road which runs along the valley floor. It is now a private, though permitted bridleway, but its owners once levied charges to the left at the Toll House where a board lists rates ranging from 4d for 1 horse and 2 wheels through to 3 shillings for a motorbus and 6d for a hearse.
Turn right along the road for a few yards and then left on a footpath down the side of a cottage to the Esk. Cross the footbridge and in 50 yards go left on a bridleway. After the first gate turn right and climb through Brow Wood to a tarred lane where go left.
In 20 paces you could turn right via a stile over Lease Rigg and down to Esk Valley, which reduces the length of the walk by half a mile, (mapped). However I was allured by the mournful sound of an invisible steam engine into continuing along the lane beyond Lease Rigg Farm to East Farm. From here a path leads right, offering a bird's eye view of the busy rail junction at Grosmont, After passing two welcome seats look out for the Rail Trail through a gate on the right. In a few yards on the left you will see the workshops of the North York Moors Railway and, hopefully, an engine in steam. I was lucky for 'Sir Nigel Gresley' and 'Tornado' were rivalling one another when I passed by.
For just over a mile we follow the trail which once carried the horse drawn trains of the original line of 1836. The present line to Pickering which superseded it runs close to our route for half a mile before climbing through the trees to Goathland. Beyond the houses of Esk Valley the trail crosses the Murk Esk and you should then stay on the same side of the river to reach Beck Hole. Turn right through this tiny unspoilt hamlet to the Birch Hall Inn set by the bridge over the rushing Eller Beck.
Take the path opposite the inn and in 100 yards, at a crossing of paths, go straight ahead, signed to Thackside. Our path crosses West Beck and climbs a set of worn stone steps through trees to a well preserved stone trod. We follow it for 200 yards to where a bridleway strikes off to the right to Thackside. From the farm take the access track up to a tarred lane where go right.
We now follow the extension of the well known Roman road which crosses Wheeldale Moor some 2 miles to the south. It continues in our direction on to Lease Rigg where a camp was excavated in 1958. In about 500 yards go left on a bridleway which is easy to follow up across In Moor where you skirt the wide water channel of Lady Bridge Slack.
Turn left when you reach a tarred road, marked on the OS map as Roman Road, (though I could find no mention of it in my reference books). Almost immediately go right on a rough track which leads in 150 yards to a copse. Continue beyond it along a wall side for another 400 yards to a stile where there are fine views into the little valley drained by Butter Beck. In the Middle Ages this was one of the 5 hunting parks of the de Maulay family. Today only Park Hole Wood and Butter Park Farm attest to its past.
Walk down the valley slope for about a quarter of a mile to join the track leading to Grange Head Farm, just short of the house. Turn right and follow the track for 1 and a half miles down through this little frequented, tranquil dale where only lapwings disturb the peace.
When you reach a tarred road go right for an easy half mile into Egton Bridge. At the far side of The Horseshoe Hotel a path leads to two sets of stepping stones over the Esk. On the far side is the mill dam and the substantial mill buildings. It's an attractive spot and well worth a pause, or a picnic. Go right when you reach the road by the mill and then left at the road junction in 300 yards. (If the stepping stones are covered then follow the road from The Horseshoe over the imposing bridge rebuilt recently by the county council in local stone in the style of the original bridge of 1758).
From Egton Bridge we climb the bank back to our starting point. It's a steep haul for a mile but there's much to note, including St. Hedda's and the Postgate, both on the left, and the 19th century parish church of St. Hilda, half way up the hill. There are seats too for the weary and the road is bordered for almost its full length by a well maintained, flagged causeway, evidence of the antiquity of this ancient right of way.