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Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

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The video below pertains to the Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk where we begin an extremely scenic walking trip starting at the idyllic village of Thornton. We then go over hill looking down on Ellerburn Valley taking the Ellerburn Road to the fringe of Low Dalby. We then leave Dalby Forest and walk through the quiet hamlet of Ellerburn prior to arriving back in Thornton.

Watch Thornton le Dale to Low Dalby Walk

Thornton le Dale to Low Dalby Best North Yorkshire Walks
Thornton le Dale to Low Dalby Best North Yorkshire Walks

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Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

In this episode, we are going to take a circular walk between Thornton le Dale and Low Dalby via Dalby Forest and the idyllic hamlet of Ellerburn which are all undoubtedly popular with visitors. We encounter a lush valley, a dense forestry, amazing views and much more!

Thornton le Dale Lake

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

Just beside Thornton le Dale’s main car park for visitors is a lakeside area which holds a lot of human attention as well as wildlife. You more often than not see many species of aquatic birds such as Moorhen as well as a variety of ducks. These protected birds are unmistakable with their strong orange bills, their dark brown plumage with white markings. They not only feed on water plants, but seeds, fruit, grasses, insects, snails, worms and small fish as well. If you are there at the right time, you may see some of their progeny too.

A great deal has been accomplished on this large body of water and I was told that it contains a rare species of amphibian by a local resident. Initially, this created a problem cleaning the pond but I have since seen individuals literally in the pond carefully keeping the pond weeds down.

Of course, as you’d expect in a North Yorkshire pond, you will see the duck. Although not present today, I have seen both tufted duck as well as white duck on this body of water, so it pays to go and have a look.

The pond is situated very close to Thornton Beck which is one of the village’s prominent features as it runs beside the main streets. It also contains many weirs in the village which were used to regulate the speed of water to power mills. The mills have now sadly gone or been converted but these attractive water features remain. You will also find a not so well known weir behind the stone wall in the car park which is also opposite the main street.

This stream of water is not only a prominent feature in the village, but also in our walk today as well. Locally this is known as Thornton Beck and Dalby Beck further upstream. Originally is is Eller Beck however which derives from the moors.

There are some, I’d say, unique public toilets here because they also contain some bug hotels or refuge if you prefer. This entire area is very much focused on assisting the wildlife which is a good thing of course.

And the wildlife here are sometimes carved into woodland too, and these works of art are admittedly way beyond my capabilities. One of my favourites is the owl just before the footbridge to the market place. From the footbridge, you get to see a further weir which I imagine has been photographed many times.

Beginning Our Walk to Low Dalby

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

We are going to begin our walk from the lake and carpark but we are going to head a direction you may not have expected. Just behind the car park at the entrance side is a path. Turning left takes you towards Dog Kennel Lane and we pass by a stone bridge.

At the top of the hill is a woodland area which we can walk through before arriving at Dog Kennel Lane. This is not part of our route today, but you may want to turn right and just head further down the lane. This is because you will get to see something which I personally thought was amazing.

This model village is situated in a front garden and I have been told that the modeller is a builder who has worked on each of the real versions of these structures. I found these to be incredible and it is worth adding to our stroll.

Returning back to our route, we actually head downhill on Dog Kennel Lane until we reach the main road into Thornton le Dale from Scarborough. Actually, this takes us out at a crossroads and namely at All Saint’s Church.

All Saint’s church is of interest to me as it is where my parents were married, and they have recently celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary. It dates back to the 12th century and has a Norman font bowl inside.

You have a choice here, because you can either walk along Church Lane which is quieter, or along the main road. Today, I am taking the quieter route! The two roads run parallel with each other but you can find some attractive properties down each.

At the end of the lane, we take a left turn uphill where you can find some stunning views over the Yorkshire Wolds. It certainly isn’t a baron lane owing to the plethora of berries here as well as some willowherb a little farther along.

Wold View Thornton le Dale

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

Granted, this section of the walk today will get you out of breath, but you will be pleased to know that it is the only steepish hill to climb, and this is manageable.

It may initially carry some traffic as there is a Yorkshire Water site which entrance heads to the left of you. We walk alongside this site until we reach the top of road. You will receive some views over the wolds for a considerable distance and you may spot the silo out at Knapton. Sadly, today it is quite hazy and the visibility is poor, probably because we are early morning.

When you arrive at the far end of the Yorkshire Water site, namely, Thornton le Dale Service Reservoir, you will see a public footpath sign heading down the other side of the hill. This is a nice gentle walk downwards through a gate or two.

Ellerburn Valley

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

From here you will receive this amazing vista across Ellerburn Valley at this point facing not only Dalby Forest in the distance but also High Paper Mill Farm which once produced paper, and I’m told that it even at one time produced hym books for York Minster.

You will also see Welham Park Trout Farm on your left and we walk by this later on the far side. In any case, that walk up hill is now worth it as you can expect an amazing view from here.

As you head downwards there is a junction and turning right takes you up hill which is very steep. We fortunately head downwards to Ellerburn Road. Of course, as with any walk, please be mindful of closing the gates.

Ellerburn Road

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

Ellerburn Road has been resurfaced recently making it much easier to walk or ride your bike upon. The gates have also been improved by the National Park Authority in the area too, or at least so I thought. We turn right at the junction past High Paper Mill Farm and heading towards Dalby Forest.

If you want a shorter walk back to Thornton le Dale, you can turn left and walk through Ellerburn which we come to later. There are a number of modifications you can make in this walk to make it shorter.

As you pass the farm, you might hear the sound of gushing waters, and this is because of a quite substantial weir which would have given the beck water more momentum to power the machinery at the paper mill. At the opposite side of the beck is a large lake which we also encounter later.

Unknown to me at the time, one of the farm gates was missing which threw new light on advising ramblers to close more gates than they open. Amusingly, the next gate was also missing but I discovered it damaged alongside the road! I have returned since and they are both now back in service!

In any case, the route continues down this extremely stunning valley and we can now see the outer fringes of Dalby Forest. Fortunately, this gate is still intact!

Dalby Forest

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

Although this is technically Ellerburn Road, it now becomes more like a footpath for a short time. Apparently, some sat nav’s erroneously tell you that it is a road through to Low Dalby for vehicles, but unless you are on a bicycle, this is not the case. Cars need to use the main road which can be found heading up Whitbygate from Thornton le Dale, way past the junction for Ellerburn.

The sunlight is coming through the trees this morning and it is oftentimes forests are a much more stunning walk the hour after sunrise. In photographers terms, this is known as Golden Hour when your photos return plenty of yellow and gold colours. The hour before sunrise is Blue Hour when the sky returns a deep, dark blue.

Still, this is an amazing walk at any time of day, especially in the spring and summer. You can still achieve this walk in the winter too, but you may want to stick to the dedicated bridleways and not cross into muddy fields or heaths.

You sometimes notice some very narrow watercourses deriving from the top of the hills which make this walk that little bit more tranquil. No doubt these waterfeatures will run into what is now Dalby Beck at this point. However, you will notice some small ponds as well as a private fishing area as well.

From here, it is important to stay with the beck. There are some turn off’s to the right of you on this route, but we keep going straight along with the beck on our left hand side. Having said that, if you want to shorten this walk you can take one of the earlier footbridges to the opposite side of the beck and turn back the direction you came, omitting Low Dalby.

You will see this disused stone building and I am uncertain what it was used for. 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.

As far as wildlife is concerned, you might see owls, deer, nuthatch, nightjars and all sorts of things. At night of course, you may even witness a badger. The trees are namely oak, beech, ash, alder and hazel trees.

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.

Of course, especially in summer, it is a good thing to take advantage of one of the many benches en-route and just take in some important fluids. It also gives you a moment just absorb the scenery around you too, perhaps even take a photo or two. At this bench, you receive some great views over the beck as well as through the woodland. There are a number of seating areas throughout this walk, and although taking a drink with you is highly recommended, there are cafe and tearoom outlets at Thornton le Dale, Ellerburn and Low Dalby to take advantage of.

Still we shouldn’t get too cosy just yet as we have a little further to walk. It is difficult to place a mileage on this walk so I am going to hazard a guess at 8 miles. As I say, this can be made into a much shorter walk by taking an earlier footbridge across the beck or turning back towards Ellerburn at High Paper Mill Farm.

The main thing to remember is to stay close to the beck so that you do not get lost. Smartphones are not always likely to work owing to a lack of signal albeit I believe connection has improved recently.

In the summer, you receive some contrasting light through the trees on a sunny day, and this is a great walk to do on a hot day owing to the shade. When you consider the height of the trees, they tend to cast a lot of shade too.

Granted there may be some seating for the adults but there is also some recreational activities for the youngsters too, and Go Ape! is just down the road in Low Dalby which is a tree top challenge.

There is something for everyone along this route between Thornton le Dale and Low Dalby, and for me it is the chance to stretch my legs and enjoy the scenery.

At Ellerburn Training Route for cyclists you will find some picnic benches as well. So if you have a sandwich with you, you might want to take advantage of these. Obviously, disposable barbecues are a definite no, no in a forest.

Making our way forward, we are not too far away from Low Dalby at this stage. The densely forested area continues onward with some extremely idyllic views. And this route is hardly for cyclists of the two wheeled variety, I saw these assisted quad cycles en-route which I hadn’t seen before until today.

You still have the winding beck along side you, and the water always seems really fresh and crystal clear in this watercourse. So much so you can see the bottom of the beck as well as the fish from time to time.

Low Dalby

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

In actual fact, Low Dalby isn’t located in our route because we take the footbridge just beforehand across the beck. Still, as we are in this neck of the woods, you might want to have a wander in. Low Dalby is unmistakable with its creamy white houses set against the shady backdrop of tall forest tree’s and surrounded by bird song. The village was mainly to house forestry workers but these days it has its attractions too such as Go Ape! mountain biking as well as a cafe and other amenities. Low Dalby, Ellerburn and Thornton le Dale are popular areas with visitors and yet they all offer something different to each other.

As an alternative, you can walk back the road way, but before the junction there is a public right of way downhill back into Ellerburn alongside St Hilda’s church. However, I recommend walking through the valley instead as it is safer off road.

Back to our route, just before you come into Low Dalby, there is a track that heads downhill towards the beck and over it. This takes us into a very scenic open space within the valley with a very scenic path heading back to Ellerburn.

We still follow the beck back to Thornton le Dale but this time the opposite direction. The scenery along this route is stunning and you will now sense more space though you are still surrounded by dense forestry at both sides of you.

The landscape is more about grazing animals than forestry yet you are amazingly still in a forestry. There are dwellings to the right of you in keeping with the rest of the village.

Of course, sheep are ruminants which are herbivores who digest grass and acquire nutrients through a specialised stomach prior to digestion, typically through a microbial action that causes fermentation. Of course, it is not just sheep that enjoy the fresh green grass, not in Low Dalby anyway.

We enjoy the open space for a little while longer as we follow the established path towards the forestry until we meet a track that takes us alongside the trees. As this is an extremely scenic area, you might want to stop and take a few photos with your smartphone or camera, and there are some seats where you can enjoy a rest and a drink.

As the fresh moors water drifts by you, more than likely at a greater speed than we can walk, the dense forestry begins to look more pronounced. You cannot help but want to sit down a moment and take a breather and absorb some of the scenery.

Walking is a great form of exercise and has many benefits. For instance, it improves your circulation, improves your breathing, assists you to lose weight, strengthens your joints, improves your sleep and lifts your mood, especially with scenery like this. It can also reduce the chances of Alzheimer disease according to one study. All that a side, it just really is an enjoyable and easy thing to do, and unless the weather is bad, it has no hardship. It is often a good idea to set yourself goals and this walk is useful for that as you can regulate the length until you can walk the full circuit. Planning a walking holiday can often be beneficial and in England we are fortunate to have some lengthy routes such as the Cleveland Way, the Ebor Way and the Foss Way just to name a few. Of course, if you have a dog, you can take him or her with you too!

We head slightly uphill now before meeting with a track that runs alongside the forested area. Not only is this route very scenic, but it also has some varying landscapes too that make the walk a lot more interesting and rewarding.

A Short Woodland Walk

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

In summer especially, this short woodland walk is a favourite of mine. As you now walk along a narrow path through the trees, it is almost like being in a tunnel owing to the curvaceous branches and bracken verges. In fact, as a photographer, I look out for light and here you are surrounded by circles of light against contrasting shadows. The leaves are glowing in the shade of the trees making it one of life’s simple pleasures. This spectacular show of light reminds you of the fact that this is a very feature packed walk.

Heading over a stile, we now walk across green pasture land and the scenery now opens out as we head towards the cosy hamlet of Ellerburn. If you have a dog with you, it is often a good idea to keep them on a lead constantly, but especially through fields with livestock present.

A further feature is the large fishing lake to your left and I have seen people fishing from a boat here in the past. In fact, our approach to Ellerburn is all about fish and fields at this stage owing to the trout farm.

Another constant feature is the attractive plumage of the many pheasant you find in this area in particular. You oftentimes find them enjoying the undergrowth as well as the green fields and woods too.

As with every walk that you do, it is always a good idea to look behind you periodically so that you don’t miss anything.

You will see a track that derives from up hill and a farm gate in the distance. On the right of the gate is a path beside the track which is the public right of way. The track actually takes you into the trout farm. You will see a stile here and you will notice Low Paper Mill Farm on the left.


Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

What I really enjoy doing on this path is just to spend a moment of two watching the trout leap out of the water. The best time to watch this is when they are being fed as they all come to the surface. It really is amazing to see.

At the end of the path, you simply walk straight ahead into Ellerburn admiring the stream of water and its adornments beside you on the left. Specifically speaking, this is Eller Beck, but oftentimes becks have a local name owing to the area they run through. Therefore, it now becomes Thornton Beck.

Aforementioned, there is the Tea Cosy Tearoom in Ellerburn which makes an ideal pitstop for us enthusiastic walkers as well as visitors.

Ellerburn is only a quiet, picture-postcard hamlet, yet it is a vital location for visitor accommodation owing to a large caravan and camping site on the opposite side of the beck beside Low Farm.

Additionally, there is a cosy and popular Shepherd Hut as well as The Den which is a new Skandi inspired Cabin at Gumboots and Wellingtons. Both are self contained with a kitchen, shower room as well as a wood burning stove. This makes Ellerburn an ideal place for both visitors and ramblers wishing to stay over and make a holiday.

The Shepherd Hut at Gumboots and Wellingtons in Ellerburn
The Shepherd Hut at Gumboots & Wellingtons in Ellerburn

The Den at Gumboots and Wellingtons in Ellerburn
The Den at Gumboots & Wellingtons in Ellerburn

Ellerburn also has a small but idyllic church known as St Hilda’s and my grandparents have both been laid to rest here.

At Low Farm we head on over this stone bridge which may not seem likely at first. However, we turn right so that we are walking on the opposite side of Thornton Beck. Passing through a small gate, we walk through some amazing pasture land enclosed in a stunning valley along with a bubbling beck. Of course, it is vital to close the gates here owing to the livestock.

This is spectacular especially in spring and summer and you might encounter a kingfisher along this route. Kingfisher tend to be a little nomadic as you can see them in an area one day, but not another. They tend to nest their young in holes made in the bank sides.

The path dips slightly prior to entering Thornton le Dale and we are now approaching the former Burgess Mill area. Again the sunlight is making the leaves glow significantly adding seasoning to our walk today. In summer, this is a great route owing to the shade, but in winter, you might decide to stay on Ellerburn Road to prevent muddy boots.

The mill itself has been converted into apartments, but you will get to see this dynamic weir that sends water criss-crossing from one side to the other. Certainly one of the most aesthetic water features I have seen. The Burgess family were from the Northallerton area prior to establishing the mill here.

Thornton le Dale

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

When the path meets the road, we can turn right towards probably one of Thornton’s most famous areas and certainly most photographed property. Here, we take the footbridge over Thornton Beck for the last time in our walk today.

Beck Isle

Thornton le Dale to Dalby Forest Circular Walk

More than likely, the first place people want to visit when they arrive at Thornton le Dale is the 17th Beck Isle Cottage. This thatched cottage is not only the most photographed in England, but is an historical focal point. Understandably, it is grade II listed and the reason I think it is so popular is owing to the curving beck situated in front of it, making the property biscuit tin and chocolate box material. Simply put, it is stunning.

Turning right into Thornton’s market place you will notice some almshouses on your way. It was not uncommon for wealthy estate owners to build homes for the poorer community and Lady Lumley bequeathed her estate creating these as well as a school.

I have to say, for me, Thornton le Dale serves the best ice cream in the area and I am never without a cherry and amaretto in the summer. In any case, there are eateries and public houses here to replenish burned calories.

You will notice the market cross which originally was royal approval given to the community to hold a market. Also, believe it or not, some village stocks still exist too, which may be here to prevent me purchasing an ice cream.

The Chocolate Factory was established in 2002 which sells hand made chocolates with also an outlet in Hutton le Hole. Way too much of a temptation after a long walk.

Another famous establishment in the village is Matthewson’s Classic Car Auctions which is famous for Bangers and Cash on television.

To the left is the footbridge back to the lake and car park. Buses also run to Thornton le Dale, some terminating here whereas others head on to Whitby operated by Coastliner. Roughly speaking they are hourly but it is best to check timetables.

We have enjoyed our walk today, we hope you enjoy yours too. Until next time.

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