Hambleton Hills – A Walk and a Sonnet

cleveland 1I’VE been delving into Wordsworth again – and like last time I’m going to set him tentatively aside. Despite the pertinent fact he wrote a sonnet entitled Composed After a Journey Across the Hambleton Hills – and that’s where I am – I’ve decided his dreamy lines about cloud formations looming in the west like Indian citadels and temples of Greece do not portray Yorkshire on a cold Monday . . .

Besides, the locals had already scrawled their own poetry on the landscape before Wordsworth and his sister set foot on the moors.

I park my car at Square Corner, near the top of an empty hill above Osmotherley. Why is it called Square Corner? Because the single-track road goes in a straightish line across the moor then suddenly veers left at a very sharp angle. Square Corner. That’s a great descriptive name and proper Yorkshire logic. “We’ll call it Square Corner, ’appen, because that’s wharrit is an’ it’ll cost us nowt.”

cleveland 2 cleveland 3 cleveland 4I take a look at the map for more earthy names, because they never fail to entertain. I have a theory that the bleaker the landscape becomes, the more colourful the names of topographical features. And like the Cheviots to the north, the Hambleton Hills appear to conform to this rule.

A few hundred yards to the east is Snilesworth Moor. And where on earth did Skelbeast Crag originate? Skelbeast for heaven’s sake. I wouldn’t spend the night there in a tent. Not under a full moon anyway. And definitely no Van Morrison.

Scotgrave Ridge; there must be untold history lurking there. Faber’s Stone; Solomon’s Temple; Rookhaw; Black Hill; Hanging Stone; Cow Keld Spring; Nun House; Hagg Wood; Creak Hill; Butcher’s Wood; Noddle End Windypit – who needs imagined citadels and temples when the landscape talks to you in language like this?

So where and what are the Hambleton Hills? The short answer is the North York Moors: the Hambleton Hills form the western escarpment, directly south of the Cleveland Hills. They are not too high, not too spectacular and not particularly popular with visitors – but they offer excellent walking and harbour some little surprises.

I take an oblique angle from Square Corner and follow the Cleveland Way long-distance footpath onto Black Hambleton and Arden Great Moor along an old drove road.

cleveland 5 cleveland 6 cleveland 7 cleveland 9A few short words about the Cleveland Way. It is absolutely one of the best LDPs in the country. I walked it about ten years ago simply because I was looking for something to do and felt obliged to have a go because I can see the hills from my attic window.

It’s an eye-opener from beginning to end, with views from lofty escarpments above the Vale of York, fascinating vistas across industrial Teesside, and magnificent seascapes from some of Britain’s tallest cliffs. And there’s a chip shop at the end in Filey.

cleveland 8cleveland 11Today there’s a dusting of snow and the air is freezing. I plod south for a slice of the morning, then on the far side of Boltby Forest follow a path north-east across a grouse moor and drop down into the deep defile of Thorodale.

Here’s a tip for anyone planning to walk the Cleveland Way. Thorodale is a secret valley and the perfect place to spend a night after a long first day. Its upper reaches are empty and perfectly peaceful. I’ve visited it several times over the years but spent the night there only once. Wild camping at its finest.

The head of Thorodale, just east of the Cleveland Way

The head of Thorodale, just east of the Cleveland Way

I leave Thorodale by a slanting path onto Arden Great Moor and follow a track along its eastern escarpment back to the trig point on Black Hambleton. The views across the hills and valleys to the east are interesting because they form an unfamiliar sort of landscape. Unfamiliar to me, anyway. They look sort of storybook English, with their sloping green meadows and low moors – like countryside on old railway posters.

cleveland 13 cleveland 14 cleveland 15 cleveland 16Back at the car and rain is beginning to fall as the gloom gathers. Night’s approaching fast. In fact, it’s just like the opening of Wordsworth’s sonnet Composed After a Journey Across the Hambleton Hills. Oh well. Here we go.

Dark and more dark the shades of evening fell;
The wished-for point was reached – but at an hour
When little could be gained from that rich dower
Of prospect, whereof many thousands tell.
Yet did the glowing west with marvellous power
Salute us; there stood Indian citadel,
Temple of Greece, and minster with its tower
Substantially expressed—a place for bell
Or clock to toll from! Many a tempting isle,
With groves that never were imagined, lay
‘Mid seas how steadfast! objects all for the eye
Of silent rapture; but we felt the while
We should forget them; they are of the sky,
And from our earthly memory fade away.

  • Read variants of the poem and notes from sister Dorothy here.

Click on an image for high-res versions of the pictures:

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About McEff

Alen McFadzean. Journalist (recently made redundant from The Northern Echo when my job and the jobs of my colleagues were transferred to Wales to be done by people on lower wages), former shipyard electrician, former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still.
This entry was posted in Camping, Climbing, Drove roads, Environment, Hiking, History, Mountains, Walking, William Wordsworth and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Hambleton Hills – A Walk and a Sonnet

  1. Paul says:

    Hi Alen,

    I often yearn for places like the Hambleton Hill & the Thorndale Valley, the low slung valley paths are very appealing with the wide open vistas – this wont be the first time you’ve inspired me to leave the Lake District (I just need to get there!) thanks for the post, fantastic as always.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Paul. Thanks for that. The North York Moors are great walking country, but despite living within sight of them for 16 years I don’t know them very intimately at all. Big fault on my part, I think. Bit of a drive from Lancashire though – but certainly worth an excursion one long summer day.
      Cheers, Alen

  2. Agree with Paul,a great post.I`d struggle to write a walk like that up but you make it come alive.
    On the subject of weird place names have you heard of Pendicles of Collymoon ? It`s just north of Buchlyvie in Stirlingshire and if ever an unknown rich relation dies and sets me up for life I intend buying a house there.I`d smile every time I filled out an online form :)
    Finally booked up for Madeira at the end of January on the basis of your posts on the island for which I thank you once again :)

    • McEff says:

      Alex, if I didn’t have access to Google I’d say you made that up about Pendicles of Collymoon. What a splendid name. One of my favourites is Shank of Drumfollow, the ridge ascending from Glen Clova to Driesh (which I recall means Thorn Bush but there’s not a scrap of vegetation in sight), and the Shank of Drumwallow down the other side.
      Hope your unexpected inheritance comes through, and I also hope you have a great time in Madeira. Should be a bit warmer than Scotland.
      Cheers, Alen

  3. rthepotter says:

    Thanks for more high tops and big skies to imagine … but goodness that looks cold.

    • McEff says:

      It’s a pleasure, Mrs P. And yes, the temperature remained well below freezing all day, with a bit of wind-chill factor thrown in. Winter woollies were called for.
      Cheers, Alen

  4. rthepotter says:

    PS In the great names competition, can I enter Ryme Intrinseca?

    • McEff says:

      I’ve just spent a pleasant 15 minutes hopping around the Dorset countryside courtesy of Bing Maps. Ryme Intrinseca would look splendid in anyone’s address. I also like Beer Hackett, which is just across the fields.

  5. Jo Woolf says:

    Superb post once again – I love the 5th photo especially. What wonderful place names! They seem to have some long-lost connection with folklore that even Wordsworth didn’t really tap into, although he loved the landscapes very much.

    • McEff says:

      Thanks for that, Jo. I recall reading a long time ago that some of the names up there are associated with the droving road and the inns situated along it, all of which have disappeared. Some must be far older and have murkier origins. It all adds to the enjoyment of walking.
      What impresses me about Wordsworth is his sheer enthusiasm. Travelling must have been a cold and uncomfortable activity in those days and with no hot shower at the end, but he thrived on it. I have nothing but admiration for him.
      Cheers, Alen

  6. Greg. says:

    Ecker Secker Beck near Sedbergh, another good name.

  7. David says:

    I have often looked at names on the map and wondered how they came to be. “Willie Wife Moor” in the lakes is one that springs to mind. One address I would not be keen on can be found a km or so NE of High Force. The farm is called “Dirt Pit” and I assume it has a link to the mines that are in the area.
    David

    • McEff says:

      Hi David. Willie Wife Moor has a jolly ring to it. Despite having trod up the side of it and over the top to Dollywagon Pike several times I’ve never noticed the name before. So much for my skills as a map reader and observer.
      The word Wife in a place name must have a significance because I was reading Paul Sharkey’s blog a while back and he ascended a Fisher’s Wife’s Rake on Clough Head in the Lakes. There’s also a Tatham Wife Hole above Ingleton, which I set off down with a mate once but my light conked out on the second pitch. Good old days.
      I share your misgivings about having Dirt Pit in an address. That’s another new one on me. It looks a lovely place to live on Google images, though. Must have a walk up there sometime.
      Cheers, Alen

  8. Hanna says:

    Hi Alen. I see myself unable to compete with your horror location names, and yet, Gribskov has a road called the hanged way, it’s a start.
    I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
    Many Christmas greetings
    Hanna

    • McEff says:

      The Hanged Way – I like that one. There must be some gory history tucked away in that name Hanna.
      Thank you very much, and all the season’s greetings to you and your family as well.
      All the best, Alen

  9. Tracey says:

    Beautiful photographs of one of my favourite areas. Thank you. Like you I have lived within sight of the hils for most of my adult life, I just never walked up there enough.

    • McEff says:

      Hi Tracey. It’s a great area, and I am guilty of neglect. I intend to make a New Year’s resolution to get up there more. A few years ago I did quite a lot of walking up there, but without a camera and without recording details. Time to dust of the maps, I think.
      Cheers, Alen

  10. The ‘beast’ in Skelbeast possibly referred to no more than a cow – they were referred to as ‘beasts’ in older times… But, for evocative names, I don’t think you can beat Dumfries & Galloway’s hills – some superb names there – my favourite is ‘The Range of the Awful Hand’!

    My brother lives in the Vale of York and, when we visit him, we sometimes stop off for a stroll on the North York Moors. They’d be really nice in snow I’m sure. I once had an embarrassing incident on a walk there. I’d got dropped off one side of a hill and set off to walk to the other side while my Mum drove round to pick me up. I was using an old 1930s map we had and it was a touch out of date. I got to where I’d dropped into a valley and had to go through a forest/woods but the old ‘right of way’ was now marked ‘Private’. I had no choice but to continue as it would have been too far to go round so I did.

    As I walked through the woodland, I heard a vehicle approaching from behind so dashed down the track,hurriedly took a side track, and hid behind a tree. I wasn’t sure whether they’d seen me or not… they had! They drove to the point on the track where I was trying to bend to the same shape as the tree I was hiding behind and, to my embarrassment (as they had a group of ‘clients’ with them) shouted out, “Are you hiding?”. I should have just shouted, “Yes, pretend you can’t see me” but didn’t think of it at the time so I had to slope out from my hiding place and admit to the trespass. I showed him my old map and that it used to be a right of way. Luckily, when they all stopped laughing, he was okay about it and told me the best way through the rest of the wood.

    • McEff says:

      Great story! I hate confrontations like that – not that I’ve been caught hiding behind a tree. But I always think of the perfect thing to say long after the event, which is not a bit of use.
      The Range of the Awful Hand – what an absolutely fantastic name. I’m going to get on Bing Maps right now and look it up.
      Cheers, Alen

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