Thornton le Dale on Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route

Alighting at Thornton le Dale, you’ll find your self literally in the heart of the village itself. You’ll see the village green as well as the market cross. Some of the Coastliner buses continue to Whitby whereas some terminate at Thornton le Dale and return to Leeds. There is generally a timetable in position at the bus stop and they are also available onboard. This bus is now departing for Whitby via Goathland and heading up Whitbygate. 

Village Square Thornton le Dale

Aforementioned, you will have noticed the Market Cross by now. Markets no longer take place in Thornton le Dale but in 1281 King Edward I granted John De Easton, who owned Thornton Manor a weekly market here. 

The stocks that you see here were last used for punishment in 1874 and are no longer used today.   Stocks were used as corporal punishment, restraining the criminal and exposing them to public shame. Who would you like to see there?

Market Cross and Stocks aside, you’ve more than likely noticed that the village is like a small township as it has shops, public houses and eateries around the perimeter of the green. Therefore if you would like to fortify yourself with a meal and or drink, you’re not short of places to go. 

There are two public houses, a fish and chip shop, a bike shop, a newsagents, a chemist as well as Balderson’s who run a gift shop, bakery, ice-cream shop and cafe. 

Lakeside Car Park Thornton le Dale

We’re going to begin our 6-7 mile tour and walk to Low Dalby perhaps in a way that you wouldn’t expect. We are going to follow Thornton Beck which is a continuation of Eller Beck that originates from the North York Moors. You’ll notice that the water is very clear. 

It is recommended to carefully cross the road here and you’ll notice the Methodist Church as well as Thornton le Dale Parish Council building with an overhanging clock. 

Thornton gets its name from thorn bushes as it was established when the area was covered in dense woodland. However, it is believed that the village derives from the Neolithic period.

Our route however takes us by the duck pond and up the high street and along wolds view. We will then drop downwards to Ellerburn Road and make our way to Low Dalby with some stunning countryside and forest en route. The main thing to remember is to follow the beck, then you won’t get lost.

On the opposite side of the road you will see some unique stone cottages yet typical of the area. Many of these will be grade ii listed buildings meaning they have refurbishment restrictions to preserve these historic buildings. 

We’re now going to cross the road carefully again to walk along the grass verge up to the Lakeside Car Park. Public conveniences are also available here if you require them. 

Thornton le Dale is situated at the foot of the North York Moors and therefore under the care of the National Park Authority. 

As you cross the bridge you will notice a weir on your left hand side. Weirs are manmade waterfalls, typically made from concrete, in order to regulate water flow to power mills. These mills will have had waterwheels to power the machinery inside the mill. Many of the mills no longer exist but the weirs still remain.  You will find many weirs in and around Thornton le Dale, and indeed much of the country.

Around the corner you will see another weir beside a picnic area near the lakeside. 

Village Duck Pond Thornton le Dale

The lakeside or village duck pond is a large body of water that attracts all kinds of waterfowl. It is also adorned with some wood carvings which have been recently introduced. It is an idyllic setting to take advantage of the picnic benches especially if you have a packed lunch. 

You will most likely see moorhen which have dark brown feathers and an unusual bright orange-red bill. They have a wing span of 50 to 55cm and eat plants, seeds, fruit, grasses, insects, worms and fish.

Everyone knows a duck when they see one and the pond attracts all types of duck including mallard and tufted ducks too.

We are now going to head to the village square past the carved owl overlooking a footbridge over Thornton Beck. 

Upon the footbridge and to your right you’ll notice another one of Thornton le Dale’s many weirs. Weaving was common between 14th to the 18th centuries so it is not surprising that they exist here.

However, we now turn right where you will see Balderson’s gift shop, ice-cream parlour, cafe and bakery at the opposite side of the road. It is recommended to cross the road where there is an island in the middle. 

Alms Houses at Thornton le Dale

You will see a series of Alms houses on the left which were built by in a way, Lady Lumley. When she died in 1657 aged 80 she bequeathed here estates to create a school and the alms houses you see here. In fact, they are supported by the Lady Lumley’s Charitable Trust even today. Alms houses are not uncommon around the country and they were built to house the poorer communities, often were built by the more wealthy. There are 12 alms houses in the village today as well as a Grammar School. 

Alms houses in Thornton le Dale
Alms houses in Thornton le Dale

After a guest house you will meet a stone bridge with a path to your left. Here you will see the 17th century thatched cottage that is the most photographed in England. However, we are going to walk further up the high street where we encounter All Saint’s Church. 

The main road continues in the direction of Scarborough. Coastliner also run services to Scarborough but along the A64, the Leeds to Scarborough road. However, East Yorkshire buses operate between Thornton and Scarborough on this route. 

All Saints Church & Wolds View Thornton le Dale

All Saint’s Church cannot be missed because it is situated on a hill overlooking the village. Again it is a grade ii listed building. It is assumed that the church dates back to the 12th century owing to the Norman font bowl and there was a parson in the village around that time.

Along this stretch of the village are many cottages made of local stone and are common in the area. It is no wonder Thornton le Dale is a desirable place to live.

All Saint's Church Thornton le Dale
All Saint’s Church Thornton le Dale

On the left of the church, you will see Church Lane in which is our route today. You can also follow the main road which takes us to the same area but this way is quieter. 

At the opposite end to Church Lane is Wolds View in which we take a leisurely climb to high ground. As the name suggests, we can see the Yorkshire wolds from the summit. 

Achieving this walk anti-clockwise is a wise choice because it is much steeper the opposite direction. The last thing we want is you to reach the summit in a coma as it would be difficult to admire the views. 

Unfortunately, it is not so clear today, but on a clear day the view is magnificent. You can typically see the silo at Knapton and beyond. The A64 as well the Scarborough railway line is situated along this stretch of countryside.

However, on the opposite side of the road you will see a Yorkshire Water site as well as a valley. You will also see a Public Footpath sign in which route we take and descend to Ellerburn Road.

Ellerburn Road to Low Dalby

You will notice a large trout farm at the foot of the valley in which we pass later. At this stage however, we will descend with ease to High Paper Mill Farm, realising that doing the walk clockwise is more difficult. 

You will typically see grazing sheep and cattle here, so if you have a dog you will need to keep him or her on a lead. Today we see quite a few lambs as it is mid-April which are also vulnerable to dogs. 

However, it’s somewhat of a misnomer to call it Ellerburn Road because it is a track that for a time becomes a path to Low Dalby.  There is a metal gate at Low Dalby that prevents vehicle access. 

At the foot of the hill turn right and walk towards High Paper Mill Farm. You can turn left back to Thornton if you desire a shorter walk.

You might consider High Paper Mill Farm to be an unusual name for a farm. This is because the building has not always been a farm but was once a paper mill. In fact, the mill once produced hymn books for York Minster. As most mills, it is situated alongside a beck that powered the machinery inside the mill. 

Walking further along you will probably hear the sounds of gushing water that falls over the large weir on the left hand side. You can generally see it from the road unless the trees are dense with leaves in summer. 

Again we have to maintain the walkers code by shutting more gates than we open and sticking to the path or bridleway. Again a reminder to keep dogs on leads where there are livestock. In winter particularly, Ellerburn road can get somewhat muddy so wear sensible shoes and clothing for the climate. You know Yorkshire weather as well as I do, so carry something waterproof! Having some water at hand is also recommended as this walk is quite lengthy with a rest at Low Dalby. Today I’ve brought a bottle of Lucozade which makes me somewhat of a hypocrite with type 2 diabetes apparently.

Another caution, is do not wear shorts. I repeat, do not wear shorts. They may not be around every corner but adders do exist in the North York Moors and are venimous. They tend to be found in warm, dry weather. Another thing to keep in mind is ticks which can cause lime disease. Therefore it is important to stick to the path and not brush against trees and bushes. You may also encounter Slow Worms that are a form of snake but less of a risk. Look at the bright side, at least there aren’t any crocodiles in Thornton Beck – or are they?

It won’t be too long before Ellerburn Road turns from pasture ground to woodland, subtly indicating that we are approaching Dalby Forest. You’ll notice that the track turns into a path for a short while. However, once you could drive down the track from Low Dalby to Ellerburn and car rally’s have been held here. 

You’ll encounter some further junctions heading left or right, but just keep straight on with the beck to your left hand side. Remember today’s rule, stick to the beck so that you do not get lost in the forest.

One of the ponds on Ellerburn Road
One of the ponds on Ellerburn Road

Thornton Beck is not the only source of water as you will notice some small ponds at either side of the track. So if you have children with you they may need supervision, but also they provide a nature trail of pond life. These ponds are also accompanied by watercourses from the hills above.

Dalby Forest

Dalby Forest is found at the southern side of the North York Moors stretched out over 8,000 acres, the largest forest in Yorkshire. It is one of the best places in the UK to star gaze owing to the dark skies above the forest.  Along with Cropton and Langdale Forests it forms the North Riding Forest Park. 

Ellerburn Road through Dalby Forest
Ellerburn Road through Dalby Forest

If you are really lucky and eagle eyed, you might see roe deer, nightjars and even a badger. What you’re sure to see is oak, beech, ash, alder and hazel trees. 

Evidence exists that people have been living in Dalby Forest since the Bronze Age, and it is not hard to understand why as the beck as a water source and plenty of wood for housing and warm camp fires.

During the thirties the unemployed were sent to work in Dalby Forest for breaking ground, establishing tracks as well as other heavy labour. By 1939 unemployment declined and the work clamps were closed down.  You can see remaining evidence of such today.

The forest these days is popular to visitors because it offers an array of varying activities such as walking, cycling, running, bird and wildlife spotting, photography as well as play and picnic areas, Go Ape tree top adventure and more.  You can, if you have any energy left, hire bikes to explore the forest further. 

Low Dalby

Low Dalby is unmistakable with its creamy white houses set against the shady backdrop of tall forest tree’s and surrounded by bird song. Thornton Beck has now become Dalby Beck upstream although it is the same watercourse fetching crystal clear water directly from the moors further north. Low Dalby is a visitor favourite and so is Thornton le Dale, but there is an enormous difference between the two villages in terms of attractions.

Creamy white houses in Low Dalby
Creamy white houses in Low Dalby

By and large, the village of Low Dalby housed forestry workers for the Forestry Commission and many of the houses are tied houses. Today, although Dalby Forest is still maintained by the Forestry Commission, Low Dalby is very much connected with tourism. Yet it has a rural feel with agriculture and even the eye pleasing novelty animal or two such as this miniature horse. Obviously this giant hen doesn’t pose a danger to human life.

You also might find the classic red phone box a novelty too, but not so much when you check the signal on your phone. Low Dalby has a poor connection as far as today’s mobile networks are concerned. No checking your Twitter feed here! 

Dalby Forest attracts so much attention that Low Dalby has a large visitor centre, bike hire as well as Go Ape which is a tree top adventure course. There are also special events throughout the year including live music concerts. There are also guided walks available and holiday activities too. 

It should be noted that you can alight the Coastliner bus at Dalby Lane end just prior to the junction for the A169, the Pickering to Whitby road, but again its quite a lengthy walk this way.

Low Dalby does have public conveniences as well as a cafe which makes it the perfect place to take a breather before your return journey to Thornton le Dale. There are also some picnic benches if you have brought your own lunch. 

Unlike our walk, the visitor complex is good for those with mobility issues and use a scooter or wheelchair. The walk from Thornton le Dale to Low Dalby along Ellerburn Road isn’t suitable for wheelchairs and you may struggle with a pushchair or pram if you’re taking children with you. Of course, Coastliner buses like most modern buses, have wheelchair access. 

Returning to Thornton le Dale

Now we’ve discovered Low Dalby and the surrounding forest, we can now return to Thornton le Dale through the same valley, but the other side of the beck. You’ll find a right turn on Ellerburn Road that takes you across a wooden footbridge. Following the path takes you through a valley full of grassy pasture land with some small holdings above you on the right hand side. There are splits in the path that take you across the beck, but we should ignore these and continue until you reach a bridleway close to the forest at the top of the bank. Remember the rule to follow the beck with it being on your left until you reach Ellerburn!

It is strongly recommended to turn around regularly to capture the view down the valley because it is extremely scenic. If you’re a landscape photographer you’ll benefit greatly along this route because it is stunning throughout the year. 

Our footage here is taken in April so some of the daffodils are still about although looking tired. However, they still add a splash of vibrance throughout the journey. 

At times you feel as if you are in another country with the scenic forestry, white houses, the sound of trickling water and grazing sheep upon the greenest of grass. You wouldn’t be wrong to label the area a paradise because all that is missing is a bottle of Sangria. 

The remainder of the walk takes us through another forested area and around the opposite side of High Paper Mill Farm by a private fishing lake. It also takes us around the opposite side of the trout farm and into the hamlet of Ellerburn. We then leave Ellerburn road and follow a path through grassy pastures back into Thornton le Dale via the thatched cottage we encountered earlier. 

The path winds and gradually ascends uphill until you reach a bridleway that takes you to a wooded path by the forest.  Of course, if want to adapt the walk there is nothing to stop you crossing the bridge over the beck and returning the way we came.

In any case, absorb the clean air, the scenery, the tranquility and think of the calories you’re burning and how you can replace them when you reach Thornton le Dale. 

When you reach the bridleway, carry on walking until the bridleway comes to a narrower forested footpath. It was here last year I encountered a snake so please go steady. Well, actually it was a harmless slow worm and it was dead. Still, it serves as a reminder that adders are out there somewhere and people have been bitten in Dalby Forest, so keep to the path. 

As you walk through this area, you will eventually see the end of the woodland and a style into a grass field. Keeping to the left of the field you will see a large lake for private fishing belonging to Welham Park Trout Farms. 

The large green field tends to be adorned with livestock, typically sheep or cows. High Paper Mill Farm is a dairy farm as well as specialising in agriculture, so you will be overwhelmed with friendly livestock. Cows are generally timid unless they have young calves and then they become more protective. 

It is a good idea to periodically look behind you as the scenery is stunning within the valley. As you continue however,  you will eventually reach a track with a path to the right of it. Please use the path as it is a public right of way. 

Ellerburn & Welham Trout Farm

You will walk alongside the trout farm that we were able to see from the hills vantage point earlier. You will often see trout leaping out of the water and as every trout farm does, attracts fish devouring birds such as heron. Swan’s are oftentimes found here too.  The trout farm belongs to Welham Park Trout Farms who specialise in aquaculture. 

St Hilda's Church Ellerburn
St Hilda’s Church Ellerburn

When you reach the gate, continue walking along Ellerburn Road to the small hamlet of Ellerburn. 

Ellerburn in days gone by was a very industrial area, although you more than likely would not expect so. High Paper Mill Farm was the site of a paper mill, as was Low Paper Mill Farm which is now the trout farm. However, the valley not only produced paper but also contained a large quarry as well. 

Today however, it’s main commercial interests is agricultural farming, fish farming, caravan and camping and more recently holiday accommodation.  There is typically a tearoom in Ellerburn for campers and walkers alike. The tearoom is closed for 2019, but the farm opposite is now serving refreshments instead. 

You will soon enough encounter St Hilda’s Church which is a grade II listed building as you’d expect. It dates back to Norman times and has had some questionable vicars. One stole stones to repair the church and another kept falling into the beck opposite and giving his sermons soaking wet! Of course, neither events are recent, but the church serves as a landmark in the valley as churches often do.

It’s at St Hilda’s Church we turn across a small bridge towards Low Farm and follow the yellow arrows provided by the National Park Authority. It may seem that you’re trespassing on private property but in actual fact serves as the public footpath back to Thornton le Dale. 

As you head through the gate beside some outbuildings, once again you are introduced to some grassy pastures adorned with sheep, and at this time of year lambs. The beck is now on your right hand side, and the path winds along with it back to the village. This is the final stage of the walk before entering Thornton le Dale. It is a good idea to look out for birdlife as the beck attracts kingfisher, grey wagtails and other species.  Ducks of course are also not uncommon in the area and can often be seen floating aimlessly. 

Burgess Mill and Weir Thornton le Dale

Eventually you will come to a more woodier section and the tree’s are situated in a grassy area which looks super stunning particularly in the summer. The path will curve to the left and by this time you will be hearing the sound of gushing water. This is owing to the somewhat unusual weir that was belonging to Burgess Mill. The water from the beck is forced into a criss-cross to regulate the flow of water beneath the weir. At one time there would have been a waterwheel in the vicinity. 

Burgess Mill Weir Thornton le Dale
Burgess Mill Weir Thornton le Dale

At the end of the public footpath we turn right but you will also see the former mill on the left that is now domestic accommodation. The mill was rebuilt and enlarged in 1919 by Squire G.F.G. and labelled it the Victory Mill. Of course in 1919, this was the year after the first world war had ended. However, just two years later, the Burgess family from Northallerton took over the mill. They were famous for their brand Gold Medal Plain Flour. However, still belonging to Burgess the mill was adapted for the manufacture and distribution of animal feeds in 1963.

Beck Isle & Thatched Cottage Thornton le Dale

You will see a pedestrian footbridge on your right hand side in which we follow to Beck Isle. Beck Isle is where our thatched cottage that we encountered earlier is situated. This fantastic cottage attracts thousands of visitors yearly and dates back to the 17th century. It has a cruck frame as well as the obvious thatched roof. It is one of the most photographed cottages in the country, and to be honest, I’ve more than likely doubled the figure, and you will see it on chocolate boxes, jigsaws, calendars and biscuit tins. 

Most photographed thatched cottage in England
Most photographed thatched cottage in England

At the end of this path, it will be obvious where you are heading. However, you might want to have a look at the Motor Museum on Pickering road that features classic and vintage cars, as well as auctions them. 

On the other hand, you’ll be desperate for refreshments by now and there’s a varied choice. The bus is caught at the same stop you alighted. Well, this ice cream isn’t going to eat itself. Until next time.