May Beck Trail

North York Moors National Park, The Old Vicarage, Bondgate, Helmsley, Y06 5BP

H miles off B1416 on unclassified road between Ruswarp and junction with A Map reference: NZ892

4-mile trail around a moor farm, open moorland and a conifer plantation-shows the hard life of the moor farmer and the harmony of forestry, game and farming interests

Trail booklet from National Park and tourist information offices; car park Extending from the Cleveland and Hamble-don Hills for 600 square miles to the high cliffs of Yorkshire’s northern coast, the North York Moors National Park consists in the main of heather-clad moorland. It can be a bleak envi-ronment, but for centuries man has struggled to raise animals here and reclaim land for arable use. May Beck Trail which climbs on to Fylingdales Moor, better known for the 40-foot diameter golf balls of the missile early warning system, explores the hard life of farming the moor fringes.

May Beck Farm lies in a fold of the sombre Fylingdales Moor above the thinly wooded valley of May Beck itself. The farmhouse is of a traditional long-house design with the farmer’s cottage attached to, and in line with, the main animal buildings and cornstore. It is a typical moorland sheep farm on which there are about 300 predominantly pure-bred Swaledale sheep, and a herd of cross-bred cattle (Galloway COWS-N breeding Hereford and Charolais crosses) pro-ducing beef calves for sale. The trail starts at a Forestry Commission car park half a mile past the farm at the point where the road crosses May Beck.

Much of the farmer’s battle is to provide good grass for the animals. On the first part of the walk are grazing enclosures on which poor management of the past has allowed a natural bracken cover to re-establish itself. Today’s tenant on the farm is fighting back the bracken to improve the grazing quality. Some of the land to the right of the road was reclaimed from the moor as recently as 1977 by burning off heather cover, drainage of wet areas, and liberal application of lime to counteract the natural acidity, fertilisers and then grass seed. A heal-thy sward is now established here-but this is a costly means of gaining land.

Some fields are used to grow hay as winter feed for the animals. The hay is rotated with other crops such as barley and turnips (also animal feedstuffs) so that the ground remains both fertile and weed-free. On May Beck Farm, hay is stored for winter in a silage clamp-natural fermentation and the weightof the pile turns the grass into a brown and very odorous, but nutritious, cake. The farmer has bee hives in this lower pasture area-the bees harvest the heather’s nectar producing a honey with a distinctive flavour.

From these lower pastures, the trail climbs on to Shooting House Rigg (ridge) along which a former pack horse and rough coaching road once ran. Called Abbey Road, it once connected Whitby with the regional capital of York. On this high moorland of heather and poor grass, farmers can exercise the right of common grazing for their sheep. Inevitably the sheep mingle with those of other flocks and so a means of identification has to be used. This is a combination of cuts in the ear, paint marks, and horn brands. May Beck’s distinctive Swaledale sheep (both ewes and rams are horned) have the left ear tip removed (stoud), a red paint splash on the right shoulder and the initials JS branded on the right horn. A crown brand is a breed registration mark and the number burned on the opposite horn indicates the year the sheep was born.

While some game interests believe that sheep and gamebirds do not live a complementary existence, on this moor there is cooperation between the grouse breeders and the farmers. Strips of heather are regularly burnt to encourage new growth to feed both birds and sheep. The attractive red grouse is the bird reared on Fylingdales and shooting occurs be-tween August 12th and December 10th.

The woods you see before you in the valley of the Blea Hill Beck were planted around 1968 and are part of a whole new forest of 1400 acres. The trees are mainly lodgepole pine and

Sitka spruce, which are able to give a much quicker economic return than broad-leaved species, especially on the poor-draining and deficient soils of the moor. Trees are not such an incongruous crop here as you would imagine. During man’s prehistoric period, the whole of North Yorkshire is known to have been covered with light forest. Oak, alder, lime, willow, yew and pine pollens have all been found in subsoil sections. Much of the cover disappeared in the Bronze Age, when mass clearance by fire began. Subsequent overgrazing of the heathland has further deteriorated its quality.

The trail returns to the car park down the valley of Blea Hill Beck which contains several coalpits dug for fuel to fire the process of alum-making in nearby Ravenscar. On wetter parts of the path you may find bog myrtle, which is used as a herb for flavouring a locally made brew called gale beer. Just before the car park is regained, the beck tumbles over a series of delightful water falls to join May Beck and the march of the new, young conifers gives way to the older-established woodlands which follow the beck down through Falling Foss.

May Beck’s trail does not only show the struggles and rewards of moorland farming-it deliberately illustrates the growing problems of maintaining leisure amenity in areas where the farming and forestry interests exist with those

of the game breeder. The North York Moors National Park hopes that visitors, by their interest and responsible behaviour in keeping to paths and observing the fire precautions, will prove that leisure uses can also exist in harmony with this cropping of the land.

May Beck, a world away in spirit, is only six miles from the coastal resort and fishing port of Whitby, clinging to the steep sides of the Esk estuary. The town’s unusual blend of sedate turn-of-the-century boarding houses and hotels, brash seafront amusements and a quaint, old town make it an attractive touring centre for the whole of this high-cliffed coast. It is a thriving boat angling centre, drawing anglers from all over the north of England for stirring tussles with big ling, cod and conger. High above the old town, a long climb up interminable steps, is the 13th-century abbey on a site of a 7th-century monastery founded by St Hilda. Captain Cook made his first circumnavigation of the world in a Whitby-built ship and he stayed at No. 16 Grape Lane as a young apprentice.

Campers are well provided for along this coast-on Fylingdales Moor itself is the Grouse Hill Caravan Park and to the west of the town is the moor-edge Burnt House site, Ugthorpe.

To the south of Whitby, over the high tops of Goathland and Lockton moors by the A169 is the little town of Pickering. Rather than take the road, why not discover a hidden valley by the beautiful Moorsrail? Running a combination of diesel and steam trains over former British Rail track through Newtondale, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway travels between Grosmont in the Esk Valley (connections with British Rail) and Pickering eighteen miles away. Much of this route was pioneered by George Stephenson in 1836.