About the North York Moors

The North York Moors are a vast area of east Yorkshire with excellent walking through the deep valleys, pretty villages and moors. On the coast the smugglers villages and rolling coastline attract large numbers.

The Moors, Coast & Wolds of Yorkshire

Looking north east to Roseberry Topping
Looking north east to Roseberry Topping

The backdrop to the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Coast is spectacular wherever you are. The gods have been kind in offering a wonderful contrast between the best area of upland moorland in the country, riven with deep valleys and dales, and a glorious coastline of towering cliffs and hidden bays. However when you can get to the villages they are charming, full of character and many with an interesting history to tell. The more you explore the more you find out.

Map of the North York Moors

North York Moors map

Geology of the North York Moors

Walking the North York Moors has often given me a feeling of being on a slope. The land is falling away from me and I am being pulled by some unknown force way to the south. Pleased to find I was not yet going mad I discovered that 30 million years ago a large upheavel to the north raised the famous North York Moors escarpment. From the line of the Cleveland Way and Lyke Wake Walk overlooking Teesside the land does fall to the south.

Steam train near Pickering

The oldest rocks of the Jurassic Period are exposed on the higher moors to the north. Further south the less hardy limestone has remained. This is best seen on the Tabular Hills area near Helmsley. Where the limestone has been weathered away to the North the hardier sandstone remains. In places this has been weathered down to iron and shales which have tempted the miners of the past. Due to the nature of the coast and the steep cliffs these differing levels of rock can be examined by experts to give one of the more accurate pictures of geology in the country.

Glaciation and the passage of water from north to south created the deep valleys of Farndale, Hawnby and many others as the water forced its way in the only direction it could.

History of the North York Moors

Whitby harbour
Whitby harbour

History has dabbled with the North York Moors. Nowhere is it most noticeable than in the castles and abbeys of the area. The Normans established castles at Helmsley, Pickering and Scarborough. These are still well preserved. Little remains though at Dalby, Mulgrave and Ayton. Only a 100 years or so later the great Abbeys of North Yorkshire were built (Whitby, Rievaulx, Mount Grace and Byland) by the local monks, establishing themselves as one of the first great land owners of the area. A visit to one or more of these exceptional buildings is a must for anyone visiting the area. However any visit to the abbeys come with a sense of melancholy. Can you imagine how impressive they would be today if they had not been dissolved and fallen in to disrepair.


Despite these grand ruins history has been based upon agriculture and mining. Sheep and more latterly cattle have dominated agriculture since the 18th century. The industry though is declining these days, cheap imports and the decline in meat eating contributing and it is only subsidies that keep most farms going.


Mining is also not significant these days (unless fracking and the controversial potash mine are taken in to account) but it was at the end of the 19th century. Rosedale and the moors near Blakey Top are the best example of the iron mines which dominated the area at the time. Rosedale’s population grew six fold over a 20 year period. The remains of the railway used to transport the iron to industrial Teesside is one of the main sites of the area. The old routes are clearly seen on the northern escarpment and on the ridges above Rosedale.

Jet, used for jewelry, was mined here as was poor quality coal. However the industry died in the early 20th century. Now tourism and agriculture are the main employers.

Dalby Forest
Dalby Forest


A word too about the beautiful Yorkshire Coast from Saltburn to Scarborough and Filey. Fishing has sustained the population near the coast for a thousand years with working ports still established in Whitby, Scarborough and some of the smaller villages. The North Sea provided the playground for the many boats who used to leave early in the morning. However a normal catch was not enough for some of the locals who established quite an illegal industry bringing in goods from abroad. Sit near the beach in Robin Hood’s Bay or Runswick Bay as the light fades and it is not difficult to imagine the smugglers bringing in their own illicit wares.

Captain Cook

Finally a mention for the most famous resident of these parts, Captain James Cook. The man who ‘discovered ‘ Australia was born in Great Ayton. He found his love of the sea at nearby Staithes and plied his trade from Whitby before heading further afield. There is a monument near Great Ayton and a heritage centre in Staithes to remember possibly the greatest explorer of them all.

See Also

About the Lake District

About the Yorkshire Dales

Extra Information on the North York Moors

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