FOR perhaps a final fix of the purple heather this season we took ourselves off to Hawnby Moor. North we walked, three abreast, a mile and a half along a dusty track that penetrates and bisects the moor.

Part of the territory looks fortified by turret-like grouse butts. The grouse were tame as if they had not yet been shot at this year.

Other life included a family of German walkers, a mountain biker, and a flock of racing pigeons that skimmed the heather to mitigate a strong south-westerly. A military transport plane flew low and slow between Coomb Hill and Hawnby Hill.

Just before we got to Sour Milk Hills we stopped for sandwiches at an isolated tumbledown farmstead where there were sheep boxed in one small field and cattle in another and a clump of trees. Our next task was to cross the moor east to west and given the state of paths through heather these days I set my compass. There were a couple of cairns but typically no guide posts.

With some pleasure we got across and on target. So we celebrated with a little feast of bilberries and then sank on to the comfortable cushions of these shrubs for a celebratory snooze in the sunshine. Bilberries leave marks on pale trousers like blood from bullet holes.

One was touched to see a waymark as one entered the woods, and then another. Though the trees are mostly pines this is a very atmospheric place with a fairy tale clearing around the remnants of a farmstead, mostly knee-high walls, some soft with turf. Luckily there were none of the freshly released pheasants that have ruined the ambience of many a wood in the last week or so. A rustling in the trees made me turn for deer but it was sheep. But there are the most wonderful ants. They are large reddish wood ants, Formica rufa, the Formica referring to the formic acid they squirt at intruders. Have no fear, they only go fly-about in early summer and have no sting. The rest of the time they spend in and about their very obvious nests. The biggest nest we saw, of the half a dozen we passed, it was conical in shape, three foot high and the same in diameter, there can be 250,000 residents.

None of us got ants in our pants (tuck in socks if paranoid) and we reached the back road, which was covered in a sand-drift from a recent downpour. Off to the right of the woods is the place where the River Rye first acquires that name.

Look out for the tempting sign on a Hawnby Estate gate, which reads "genuinely interested visitors...". I checked this out when I got home and hit a bull's-eye with an Inland Revenue site so shall be back soon to open access roam around Hawnby Estate. Today's asphalt finished over open country and provides, for a finale, a good view of open access Hawnby Hill.

Fact file:

Distance: Four and a half miles

Time: Two to three hours

General Location: Western edge of North York Moors National Park

Start: Moorgate, the gates and cattlegrid just over a mile north of Hawnby, at the northern end of Hawnby Hill. Grid reference 539917.

Right of way: The complete route is along public rights of way.

Date walked: Saturday, August 31, 2002.

Road Route: Via Osmotherley or via Helmsley

Car Parking: Free parking area.

Lavatories: None.

Refreshments: Inn and shop at Hawnby.

Tourist & Public Transport Information: Helmsley TIC 01439 770173.

Map: Based on OS Explorer OL 26 North York Moors western area.

Terrain: Moorland and forest.

Points of interest: On the narrow lanes be patient with farmers at harvest time.

Difficulty: Moderate, but take a compass.

Dogs: Suitable.

Weather Forecast: Evening Press and recorded forecast 0891 500 418.

Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers set out at their own risk.


When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed.

1. From cattlegrid, track north uphill across moor (signed Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles).

2. Fork left at Y-junction to track.

3. At fieldgate on right (to farm ruin), left to faint path/track across heather, passing quarry after 50 yards, ignore right forks. Path comes and goes, compass bearing is 255 degrees magnetic. As you progress watch out for highest field across valley, almost opposite of "diamond" shape. Keep heading for its right-hand point. Use area of short/burnt heather to the right if you have a problem.

4. Cairn on hillside before descent. Now you can see wood we are heading for on hillside on left and path enters about a third of the way up. After cairn, five yards, path forks, either way - faint paths gently descend (right fork goes to another cairn 100 yards away). Follow path round edge of valley that drops away to right, don't descend into bracken-filled valley and pass first farm on right on opposite side of valley. Path curves round through bilberries and enters wood 50 yards above ruined barn.

5. Track/path into wood, through ruins and keep straight on.

6. At T-junction right to track, 50 yards, right to grassy track, 25 yards, track curves left downhill, S-bend then 100 yards to road. NB This is not as on the new OS map.

7. Left to road (becomes open moorland road) and back to parking area.

Click here to view a map of the walk

Updated: 10:55 Saturday, September 07, 2002