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Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

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The video below relates to Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum where we take a 5 mile circuit walk taking us through the Hole of Horcum and down Levisham Valley, walking alongside Levisham Beck until we ascend gradually uphill to Dundale Pond and back across to Saltergate.

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North York Moors Hole of Horcum

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Narrative from Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

In May 2018, the Coastliner bus service from Leeds to Whitby, the 840, became an award winner as it is the most scenic bus route in Great Britain. This is encouraging because bus services have had to struggle with cutbacks over recent years. In any case, we wanted to explore some of the attractive calling points along this route including YorkMaltonPickeringThornton le DaleHole of HorcumGoathland and Whitby. We’ll show you some walking routes, interesting landmarks, historical areas and beauty spots.

Please note that this video is a temporary version until August. In August we are determined to reshoot the area when the heathers are in flower. Occasionally, the following footage may be shaky as the high winds were too strong for the tripod to handle. This serves as a caution that weather can be extreme on the North York Moors, so be prepared with essential clothing, footwear as well as food and drink. 

Alighting the Coastliner Bus at Satlergate Car Park

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

The Coastliner bus stops at the Hole of Horcum at Saltergate viewing area and car park. I would recommend crossing the road carefully and make a note of the bus times for your return journey. There is also an information kiosk for the area within the car park. 

As far as the hole in Hole of Horcum is concerned, you cannot miss it as it is enormous, and today we are going to commit to a 5 mile 9km circuit walk, which has several variations if you want to extend it. You can also walk to Levisham Station and get a steam train back to Pickering and board the bus from there.

Hole of Horcum

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

We start by finding the path and bearing right, heading towards Whitby if you like. This takes us around the top of Hole of Horcum’s caldron. From here, you receive some spectacular views of the Hole of Horcum. 

Hole of Horcum from Saltergate
Hole of Horcum from Saltergate

The Hole of Horcum is a spectacular place where you can really grasp a feeling of depth and space. It resides on what is known as the Tabular Hills which is a stretch of hills from east to west that lies on the southern boundary of the North York Moors. There is actually a walk along this stretch of hills between Scarborough and Black Hambleton. You have probably noticed the Tabular Hills heading towards Pickering on Britain’s most scenic bus route. 

You’ll eventually meet with a Welcome to Levisham Estate information panel and a path downhill into the Hole of Horcum’s basin itself, in which we take. The Whitby Road or A169 if you prefer, heads around a steep s bend descent towards Goathland and was sometimes referred to as the devils elbow. Personally, I find it amazing how the Coastliner bus can cope with these steep hills such as this one, especially when they are full of passengers. No doubt both the bus and driver are relieved when they reach the summit.

From the path at the top overlooking the Hole of Horcum you will notice that you can also see RAF Fylingdales and a great view over the moors, so even when you are not being attentive to it you still get a fantastic view that is 360. 

We feel the force of gravity and head downwards into the Hole of Horcum itself. Of course, like many rural walks such as this, they are far from wheelchair and pushchair friendly. You know me, I like to give you some safety advice, so don’t wear shorts in case you encounter ticks or adders, take some water and food even if its just a bar of chocolate, dress for the climate and bring something waterproof just in case. I am performing this walk on a Monday morning, and for the most part I didn’t see another sole until I reached the path back to Saltergate. So if it is solitude you’re after, this is a special place. 

There is a legend relating to the Hole of Horcum that Wade the Giant had an argument with his spouse and in a fury, scooped up some of the earth and threw it at his better half. In turn, this created the amphitheatre known as the Hole of Horcum. However, it is a little less prosaic than that. In fact, it is all down to spring sapping or alternatively known as headward erosion. Apologies for getting technical but simply put it is groundwater erosion of less resilient materials in the land that is pushed upwards against the more resilient rock and creating a large opening at the top. This occurs over thousands of years and still happens today. When you are approaching the Hole of Horcum from Whitby in particular, you can see the mound of earth that has been pushed up. Therefore Wade the Giant is made to look small in the face of science. Spring sapping in the Hole of Horcum has created an amphitheatre that is 3/4 mile wide and 400ft deep. Thousands of years ago, the so called Hole of Horcum was only a narrow crack that has continued to widen until the present day. Another example of this is the much larger Grand Canyon. 

Hole of Horcum Caldron
Hole of Horcum Caldron

In any case, we have some fantastic views along this walk and I am not just referring to the Hole of Horcum. The walk through the valley beside Levisham beck and meeting the moorland at the top is also equally stunning. It’s great to do this walk any time but the best time is in August when the heathers are in flower turning the moors into a wall to wall purple carpet. 

It’s often a good idea to briefly stop and look behind you and receive a 360 view of the scenery and see how far you’ve walked. The walk is relatively straight forward to follow, there are a couple of points where you might become bemused, but they will be highlighted along the way. 

Of course, as I always remind you, it’s vital to follow the walkers code of conduct and that is to close more gates than you open and stick to the dedicated footpath or bridleway. I bet you thought I was going to walk through the gate didn’t you?

The Hole however large it is, has been filled with sheep so please respect the livestock and if you have a dog with you, best to keep him or her on a lead. If you are committing to the 5 mile or 7 mile circuit walk then it is important to bring some water with you even in winter. This is because in hot weather you will require lots of it, and also if you should have an accident you have something to drink. It is also a great idea to have a First Aid app installed on your phone just in case. 

Low Horcum Farm Wildlife Habitat

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

Amongst all the sheep you will see a derelict farm house but it isn’t as inhabited as it seems. This building is what once was Low Horcum Farm but is now a safe haven for some protected species thanks to volunteers of the North York Moors National Park. The farm was built in 1811 and was last populated with human inhabitants in 1966. Today it is populated with long-eared bats, swallows as well as barn owls. If it wasn’t populated by these creatures the building may have been pulled down by now such as the less fortunate Saltersgate Inn. In spring 2010, plans were drawn up to renovate the building with special windows and ventilation. The windows have letter boxes as it were to allow in and out the wildlife residing there. 

Low Horcum Farm
Low Horcum Farm

Except for the odd footbridge every now and then, it’s more or less the only structure we see on this journey unless you are heading towards Levisham village. You can imagine just isolated this farm must have been in 1811 when it was built. Of course, in snowy weather, the heavy snow fall will have compounded the isolation. The Saltergate Inn, until recently, stood beside Whitby Road and sadly closed. The inn was once the Wagon and Horses Inn and had a history for smuggling. There was also a folk lore about a fire that burned there for 200 years. It was claimed that the landlord exorcised the devil who wanted to visit the inn and burned him with fire. If the fire ever went out, the devil would return. More likley however, the fire was never put out to receive travellers who called in at different times of the day and night. 

Levisham Valley and Beck

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

One place where you might get confused is a split in the path where the left path takes you uphill to a wood. Instead of going uphill, simply continue through the heath that takes you through the foot of the valley. As you walk further it becomes more clear. 

And you’ll be glad you did too. The scenery is stunning as you walk through pasture ground with grazing sheep adorning it. However, every now and then, take a look behind you as it is equally stunning at this point. 

By this time, it is more discernible the direction you’re heading, and we follow Levisham Beck through the valley on your right. Levisham Beck starts its journey on the North York Moors and merges later with Costa Beck at Kirby Misperton where Flamingo Land. Levisham Beck becomes Pickering Beck and runs through the market town.  The beck is approximately 18 miles in length.

Levisham itself is just a small village 5 miles from Pickering. If you watched our Pickering episode you will know that it has a railway station on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. If you are a Heartbeat fan, you might be interested to learn that Lisa Kay who played Carol Cassidy was from Levisham. Of course, the village itself resides in the Ryedale district and during a census in 2011, it was determined that it has a population of 100 people. 

Hole of Horcum Valley and Levisham Beck
Hole of Horcum Valley and Levisham Beck

Looking behind you, you receive an amazing contrast between the grassy pastures and the moorland hills in the distance. If you are a photographer, you can expect to receive some fantastic shots here, and indeed in the rest of the National Park.  If you are a professional photographer or an amateur, the area is a great place for a break away to practice your hobby or career.  

Walking further along the valley you come to a more woody section of the walk and closer to the beck. The path has a wooden board section in places too. The terrain changes suddenly on this circuit walk and this is just one example. The walk includes this enormous, spacious basin, a luscious green valley, attractive woodland, and of course, rolling moorland as far as the eyes can see. It is this sudden change of scene that makes the walk all the more fascinating and enjoyable. 

You’ll eventually meet a mossy dry stone wall on the left. Dry stone walls have no mortar at all, they are simply stones piled up upon each other without any glue to hold them in place. It is an ancient art, and some dry stone walls have been dated back to the Neolithic age. These walls generally exist around fields and churchyards, but can also be found in roomed structures as well such as outbuildings for example. 

At this point in the walk we see Levisham Beck much more clearly and today it is quite shallow. After a great deal of rainfall, like all rivers and streams, Levisham Beck becomes a little more fuller as the water drains into it from the moors. 

Quite typical for the moors are the familiar gold-yellow gorse bushes. They can be found around the country but they are certainly prevalent in the North York Moors national park. You will notice that they differ in thorniness at times because the shoots become modified into thorns of around 1-4 cm. They tend to prefer sandy soils and love places of open sunshine. 

Levisham Beck however is not the only body of water we encounter today on this walk. We also stumble across two ponds which of course promote wildlife of many kinds. 

You will come to a footbridge and just a slight word of warning, I slipped on some mud at this point but I remained upright and considered myself fortunate on this occasion.  The bridge of course is more stable than me, so lets be thankful for small favours. 

There are also some stepping stones at this point too when we cross the beck again. You can approach these in two ways, either using them carefully, or jumping over in a Sonic the Hedgehog fashion. In any case, Levisham Beck is not that wide and it is very easy to cross over. If you do use the stones be careful not to slip. 

Path to Dundale Pond

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

You’ll then have a decision to make, you can head over to Levisham village, return to the Hole of Horcum or follow the path gradually uphill to Dundale Pond. On this occasion we are going to walk uphill to Dundale Pond were we find another crossroads. The walks are quite well signed so it’s difficult to get lost. 

As we try not to scare the sheep, the path starts quite narrow but widens out more later. This is why it is a good idea to commit to this walk clockwise because it avoids the steep ascent at the Hole of Horcum, the path we took downhill into the basin, for want of a better term.

Path up to the Moor Hole of Horcum
Path up to the Moor Hole of Horcum

I won’t need to remind you about the stunning views and scenery, because it would be stating the obvious. This section is uphill but is more gradual and manageable, and again, it is nice just to stop and look around to see the shaded path down. Under the shade is a nice place to stop and have a drink if its a hot day.  It is good practice to stop and have a sip every now and then.

We encountered a sheep skull beside a tree trunk so obviously someone hasn’t followed the advice about bringing water with them. On a serious note however, if you see a sheep stuck on its back or in something else, the farmer will be grateful if you freed it, especially if the sheep is in lamb. 

As we climb further, the scenery feels more rugged than the valley we walked through earlier. Again, changing the scenery at a moments notice. On the right hand side, you will be looking down a small rivine that occasionally stoney. 

Path Back to Saltergate and the Hole of Horcum

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

Eventually we leave the woody section and we find ourselves at the summit. It is here where we find extensive moorland that is adorned in pasture ground with accompanying sheep. This is were we reach the aforementioned crossroads. Heading straight on takes us to Levisham Station, turning left takes us to Levisham itself and turning right, where we’re heading, takes us to Saltergate and the Hole of Horcum. 

The path to Saltergate and Hole of Horcum takes us slightly uphill again for a short time. However, at the top of the hill you can eventually see the Hole of Horcum in the distance as well as the traffic travelling along Whitby Road and the car park.

However, before our last leg of the walk, we want to take a brief look at Dundale Pond. The pond was probably built around 1230 at the time the land was given to the monks of Malton Priory to graze their sheep and other livestock. The pond receives different types of insects and other wildlife including dragonfly.

Ling Heathers

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

At this point you are very much in the vicinity of heather adorned moorland. As the moors are at the mercy of wind, rain and the cold, heather is one of the species that is hardy enough to survive. There are various kinds of heather, but the most common on the moors is the ling variety. These heathers flower during late August and looks spectacular. The pink-purple flowers are small but clustered. The latin name for these are Calluna Vulgaris and this translates to ‘sweep’. These types of heathers were used to form a brush in order to sweep floors often known as a besom. 

The short heathers provide food for sheep and grouse, whereas the taller heathers provide a nesting place for small birds. This is one of the reasons dogs should be kept on a lead to protect the nesting species. Heather plants last around 20 years but during the winter time, some heathers are burned under controlled conditions. This is to encourage new growth as well as keep the ticks down. It is performed in winter because the ground is particularly wet and there are no birds nesting on the ground. New shoots appear the following year.

Dundale Pond North York Moors
Dundale Pond North York Moors

You’ll eventually come to what looks like a split in the path. The path on the right may look like the way to go as it points in the direction of the Hole of Horcum. However, it is actually the left path you want to follow that is wider and more pronounced. 

The path continues across moorland and is slightly up and down hill but without having to draw deep breaths. It is a great idea to keep your eye behind you and admire the rolling hills and countryside. 

Some of the wildlife you might witness here are birds such as golden plover, grouse and merlin. Being in the right place at the right time you might witness a short eared owl on the moors. Snipe and skylark are also seen at times. You may also encounter crowberry and sphagnum which has the white cotton wool effect heads. Almost as common as heather on the moors is bracken which is popular for whinchat a small bird.  

Ancient Iron Age Dike

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route Hole of Horcum

Another point of interest across the Levisham Moor are the many ancient dykes. Along this path we witness an Iron Age dyke with a plaque containing information. The dyke has two banks and was constructed around 2000 years ago, almost as old as we feel after achieving this walk. It also tells of a farmstead in front of the plaque that may have been from the same era.  Of course, you can still see the bronze age and iron age dykes today across the moors, so although they might not look it, they are in fact ancient monuments. 


The further we walk, the closer to the Hole of Horcum and the scenic valley we encountered earlier across Levisham Moor. We are stood north-east of Pickering at this point and you can see a vast distance into the horizon beyond. It is almost like being on Sutton Bank near Thirsk as you attain this high vantage point where the horizon seems to never end. 

The stretch between Thornton le Dale and Whitby is what marks the bus route as the most scenic, and when you are out here it is very easy to understand why. However, the Leeds to Whitby route isn’t just about moorland and scenic dales. From York in particular the tour passes through a walled city, the Howardian Hills, market towns, scenic villages and of course to the coast at Whitby. That’s what makes this route fantastic, there are too many places to alight and enjoy so you could even spend a week on this bus. Let’s also not leave out Flamingo Land and Eden Camp as two major attractions as well.  Even if you don’t want to leave your seat on the bus, it is great to relax in the top deck and just admire the scenery between Leeds and Whitby. 

If you wonder where all the rain water goes from the moors, other than the sea of course, you will notice some water courses that head towards the Hole of Horcum. You probably noticed the brown scars down the hillside earlier in the walk. These of course form streams and rivers before they empty into the North Sea. These streams and rivers are of course essential to support life, regardless if they are human, wildlife and plantlife.  No one could ever accuse the North York Moors of being baron as there is plenty of life situated upon them, and today that includes us too.

On the right hand side, you can view where you have walked today as you can see the Hole of Horcum and valley below. You can also see the almost derelict Low Horcum farmhouse which looks surprising small now. Here comes the moment of shock when you realise just how far you’ve walked and is there going to be an ice-cream at the end of it? Well you’d be pleased to know that there is an ice-cream van at Saltergate Car Park, or at least I was. One thing there isn’t are public toilets, probably because there isn’t much of the way of plumbing here. The nearest toilets are Thornton le Dale and Goathland, depending on which way you are heading on the bus. These are both currently free to use, and at both villages you can get refreshments too. As you’ve just burned more calories than the average athlete you have my permission to go and treat yourself. Another thing that is sadly lacking are benches at the viewing point, so you might have to find a grassy area to sit. However, be careful of ticks. Its always a good idea to check for them on yourself and your dog if you have one a the end of a walk like this. 

Between Thornton le Dale and Whitby, there are 4 buses each way a day which gives you a couple of hours to do this walk before the next bus turns up. It’s a nice idea to achieve the walk then catch the next bus to Whitby to complete the day. If you decide to do this, it gives you typically two hours to do this walk. 

Again on your left you will see the A169 flowing across the moors with RAF Fylingdales overlooking. RAF Fylingdales is a early warning missile detection facility that prevents ballistic missiles from succeeding. It is a large employer consisting of 350 staff from service personnel to civilians. It is one of three detection centres and was well known for it’s iconic golf ball structures when it was built in the 1960’s. 

At this point you will see the s bend on the A169 and meet up with the path we took downhill into the Hole of Horcum. We now follow the same way back using the main path back to the bus stop. Remember however, if you are travelling to Thornton le Dale to stand on the car park side, the Hole of Horcum side for Goathland and Whitby. 

Also on the opposite side of the road is a cycle route to Dalby Forest known as Old Wife’s Way. This takes you in the direction of Blakey Topping, Bridlestones and Dalby Forest.  There are so many great walks upon the North York Moors and they pave the way for further visits to the area. Each of these walks promise stunning views as well a good day out, but unfortunately they don’t promise good weather. 

As my last piece of safety advice for today, stick to the main path because it would be quite a fall, plus it helps to preserve the area. Obviously, if you have a dog he or she will need to be kept on a lead throughout the walk. This preserves the sheep and also serves as a winch when walking uphill, especially if you have a dog like mine. 

For useful information, you will see some in the car park upon display boards. They help you to understand the routes you can take as well as give you advice on what to look out for. Or you could just watch this episode. 

As a last reminder, there are tea rooms and public houses at Thornton le Dale and at Goathland, as well as public conveniences. However, I’ve just spotted an ice-cream van in the car park. Guess who’s heading for a vanilla ice cream with a flake? Until next time!

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