Places: Danby and the Moors Centre

It’s funny how sometimes life does you a favour. I’d been planning to go to Whitby yesterday, but I overslept and missed my train. When I did wake up, I checked my email only to find that the friend I’d been planning to meet wouldn’t be available anyway, so I’d have had a wasted trip!

But since it was definitely too good a day to spend indoors, I decided instead to go out for a walk to Danby, Castleton’s next-door village, to visit the Moors National Park Centre there. While there is a bridleway covering part of the distance, after a winter as wet as this one has been I wasn’t sure it would have dried out yet so I took the shorter of the two available road routes, along the bottom of Esk Dale. It’s no more than a mile or so from Castleton to Danby village, though the road is steep in places and since there’s no pavement you have to keep your wits about you – there are some awkward blind bends where cars can come up on you very suddenly. Still, in glorious spring sunshine it’s a joy to walk:

Esk Dale

View over Esk Dale.

Ash tree

Huge ash tree in the sun just outside Castleton.

Danby village

The approach to Danby village from the west.

The Moors Centre is another half-mile beyond Danby itself. The North York Moors National Park’s flagship visitor centre, it has a permanent exhibition of Moors nature and wildlife, a gift shop, and the Woolly Sheep tea room (whose amazing butterscotch cake has to be eaten to be believed), all housed in a converted row of beautiful old buildings:

The Moors Centre

The Moors Centre.

It’s also home to the “Inspired by…” gallery, which hosts a regularly changing programme of work by local Moors artists in all kinds of media. This month’s exhibitors included artist blacksmith David Stephenson ( and landscape painter Sue Slack ( in the main gallery, while a side room contained a set of remarkable photographs by Charles Twist ( For this exhibition Charles made use of vintage camera equipment and lenses, with the result that his photos of the high moors are eerie, sepia-tinted things that could have come from a hundred years ago rather than today. I found them especially evocative as I love the moors at their most foreboding, and Charles definitely captures that side of their nature perfectly. For copyright reasons you aren’t allowed to take photographs in the gallery itself, but please do take a look at the links to see what I was browsing through!

I did, however, snatch a picture through the glass roof of the gallery’s side corridor when a brief summer squall hit while I was inside. It was actually a surprisingly lovely experience, even though it only lasted a couple of minutes; the sound of the rain on the gallery’s roof made it feel almost like being in a tent, and there’s a sense of primitive magic about looking up to see rain falling on you and then stopping only a couple of feet above your head:

Rain on glass roof

Rain on the roof.

My next port of call was the permanent Moors exhibit, which offers simple info boards about the animals, plants, and life of the Moors, various interactive exhibits for the kids, and a selection of stuffed animals:

Stuffed otter and hare.

Stuffed otter and hare.

Carved wooden birds

Particularly enchanting were these carved wooden curlew, meadow pipit and golden plover, who had little motion sensors in their backs: stroke them, and they would play recordings of their songs for you.

Stuffed pipistrelle bat

Stuffed pipistrelle bat – like the ones which roost in the Centre itself.

I went back out via the gift shop, stopping to pick up a pack of Kendal Mint Cake. Not actually a Moors delicacy but a Lake District one, this mint and sugar confectionary is sold all over the North and is hugely popular as walker’s trail rations – so much so, in fact, that a batch of it went all the way to the summit of Mount Everest, in the pockets of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on the first ever successful ascent of the mountain in 1953. And indeed Romney’s, who supplied the Everest expedition, are still making the stuff today:

Romney's Kendal mint cake

Romney’s Kendal Mint Cake.

Back in Danby, I stopped off for a quick drink in the Duke of Wellington; a classic English rural pub, complete with Land Rover on the forecourt and a selection of antlers on the walls. In this case the antlers were more interesting than usual, though, as the set over the fire in the front room belonged to an elk shot in 1996 by the royal hunt of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden:

Elk antlers

The royal elk.

Window view

The view from my seat in the “Duke”.

The Duke of Wellington pub

The Duke of Wellington – exterior.

As I was the only person in there, it didn’t take too long for me to end up chatting with the barman, who it turned out was also a former Castleton resident (this is another lovely thing about the Moors, everyone invariably turns out to be from somewhere relevant and to know someone you’ve already met), for half an hour or so before walking back home. Not bad for a completely accidental day out, even if the weather was on the turn as I got back:

Clouds over Castleton

Clouds gathering over Castleton.

Next time I go this way, though, I’m planning something a little more challenging: a hike to the top of nearby Beacon Hill to visit Danby Beacon. Stay tuned…

Beacon Hill road

The road not taken (this time): the lonely and windswept way up to the Beacon.


3 thoughts on “Places: Danby and the Moors Centre

  1. First things first– butterscotch cake sounds lovely, but mint cake? I am trying and failing to comprehend mint cake. Is it like peppermint? Vanilla mint? Mint julep?

    Second, the art you linked to is really pretty– i especially like the brilliant colors of the landscapes by Sue Slack.

    Third– does being shot by a king automatically make you royalty? 😉

    • Mint cake is only really “cake” in a rather different sense of the word to the one you’re thinking of! It’s essentially pressed sugar in a hard tablet form, flavoured with peppermint essence, and when you nibble on it, it dissolves as much as it actually chews. Being purely sugar based you can get it in white or brown forms, too, though I prefer the white. It’s a glorious thing though – would you like me to send you some, sometime?

      And I’m not sure if being shot by a king makes you royalty but it certainly makes you ornamental as a rule… 😉

  2. Pingback: Walks: Danby Beacon | Daughter of the North

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