The perfect trip: Yorkshire
North York Moors: Best for wild views
A sheen of hazy mist hangs over the fields as Simon Bassindale’s truck trundles along a track high on the North York Moors. ‘I love this kind of weather. It’s one of the best things about the job,’ he says, tapping the ranger’s badge pinned to his chest. ‘When everyone else is indoors, I have this place pretty much to myself.’
He stops the truck, pulls out a pair of binoculars and scans the landscape, steadying his elbows against the bonnet. Around him, empty moorland stretches in every direction, dotted with shrubs and swathes of purple heather. ‘Not a bad view, eh?’ Simon says, as birds dart and weave over the heather-tops, and the honk of a wild grouse blares out from the undergrowth.
It might not be as well known as some of Britain’s National Parks, but the landscapes of the North York Moors are every bit as precious. Covering 554 sq miles of heath, valley, gorge, copse and pasture, it’s home to England’s largest remaining expanses of heather moorland – an increasingly scarce habitat that supports a huge number of native species, from butterflies, birds, mammals and reptiles to rare plants such as sphagnum moss, cotton-grass and bog rosemary.
But while the moors might seem like an untouched wilderness, in fact they’re one of the nation’s oldest managed landscapes. Prehistoric people cleared the trees and founded settlements; medieval monks built abbeys in the valleys and grazed sheep on the uplands; Victorian industrialists mined the area for minerals such as alum, jet and ironstone. But the days of heavy industry are long since past: the North York Moors became a national park in 1952, and these days they’re largely the preserve of hikers and wildlife spotters, who come to wander the trails and visit panoramic viewpoints such as Roseberry Topping, Blakey Ridge and Sutton Bank.
‘Many of the rights of way can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and some were probably established long before that,’ Simon explains, as he strides along a rutted path, surrounded by a carpet of tangled heather. ‘But it’s important to remember that this is still fundamentally working country – and we should do everything we can to respect that.’
Where to eat
The Michelin-starred Black Swan at Oldstead, on the southern side of the moors, ranks among the best dining pubs in Yorkshire (mains from £23).
Where to stay
The Black Swan Hotel in Helmsley is about as traditional as they come. This venerable inn has been a focus for village life for more than five centuries, and its lounges and upmarket dining rooms are still a favourite for shooting meets. Parts of the building date back to Elizabethan times, so expect higgledy-piggledy rooms, squeaky floorboards and wonky corridors (rooms from £142).