Places: Christ Church, Westerdale

Westerdale is a tiny village a couple of miles to the west – logically – of Castleton. Even quieter than Castleton, I’m not sure it even has a pub and at least a couple of the roads leading there have grass growing through the middle of the tarmac. Despite or perhaps because of this it’s a lovely little place, a quintessential sleepy Moors village. I decided to walk out there and explore a couple of weeks ago and found the beautiful Christ Church, hiding behind its trees and hedges, to be Westerdale’s best kept secret. So here we go, I thought I’d share!

The Castleton-Westerdale road. Looks like it leads nowhere, doesn’t it?

Castleton-Westerdale road.

But actually, hiding away at the far end, you find this:

Christ Church, Westerdale

The church itself is screened from the main road by a series of hedges and trees, some of which are gorgeously overgrown with creepers:

Christ Church gate.

westerdale 02

Natural garland on the hedge.

Natural garland.

This railed grave buried in rhododendrons touched my heart. I love rhododendrons, I’d rather like my own grave one day to look like this:

westerdale 17

Venturing inside the church, there’s a porch which contains a few very, very old-looking gravestones:

westerdale 04

westerdale 05

In most English country churches the porch opens straight into the main body of the church, but here there’s a tiny additional room that houses the bell ropes; cool and shadowy, almost like some sort of spiritual airlock to protect the atmosphere of the church. As I walked in, there was just one patch of truly vivid light:

westerdale 06

My cameraphone hasn’t done full justice to the colours, sadly, or the texture of the light: truly jewel-like, subtly patterned by the weave of the carpet on which it was lying. But you can get an idea of it, and this is one of the only times I’ve ever seen stained glass really project the kind of colours and light that it’s always described as doing in novels. Here’s the little window that was casting it:

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Why a fish? Who knows. I have no idea of the story behind this, but I’m sure there is one.

I also took a few pictures of the bigger windows in the main church:

Above the altar.

Above the altar.

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Detail of the window above. There were little Zodiac astrological symbols in each quarter of the window.

Detail of the glass above. There were little zodiac astrological symbols in each quarter of the window.

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A few other fixtures and fittings:

The altar, draped in its cloth.

The altar, draped in its cloth.

Memorial brass in the form of a Calvary cross.

Memorial brass in the form of a Calvary cross.

I had to look up the significance of this next item, not being particularly familiar with Christian liturgy, but I learned that this is a Paschal candle, lit as part of the Easter services. This one is from 2012:

Paschal candle.

Paschal candle.

On the way out of the church, I spotted this little text written out and pinned to the noticeboard:

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Finally, a couple of photos from the walk home, as I found another route back down a road even more unfrequented than the one I came in by. Sadly I didn’t get photos of the weasel whom I spotted nosing around in the grass verge – he/she was too quick and wary by far to let me get that close! – but I did find a wild rose-briar, and a row of foxgloves growing by a dry stone wall, so I took pictures of those instead:

Wild roses.

Wild roses.

Foxgloves, wall, grass and sky. What more could you want?

Foxgloves, wall, grass and sky. Perfect.

All in all, a wonderful day. Hope you enjoyed these – thanks for reading, as ever!






Walks: Danby Beacon

A few weeks ago in this post I mentioned wanting to go up to Danby Beacon, and since it was the Easter bank holiday last weekend, I took advantage of an unexpectedly sunny bank holiday Monday to do just that. The result was a five-and-a-half-mile circular walk which is absolutely beautiful and well worth doing, so I’m writing it up here for anyone who might like to try.

This is a round walk starting and ending outside the Duke of Wellington pub in Danby, taking you up to the landmark Danby Beacon and across the top of Danby Low Moor. For the sake of argument I’ve assumed you’ll be arriving from the direction of Danby station, but of course you can get there by any means you like. Here’s Google’s map of the route:


Distance: 5.5 miles
Time: 2-3 hours
Difficulty: Medium (steep sections with long level stretches)
Terrain: Tarmac road throughout (caution: no pavements)
Take with you: A bottle of water, a warm jumper, and a windproof jacket – even on a warm day, the wind can make the high moors a very cold place!

Coming out of Danby station gate, turn left and head up the road towards the crossroads, alongside the beck. At the crossroads, turn right up the side of the Duke of Wellington onto Briar Hill:

Danby crossroads looking uphill towards the Duke: turn right here.

Danby crossroads looking uphill towards the Duke: turn right here.

Continue as Briar Hill turns into Lodge Lane and follow for about half a mile, when you’ll find yourself at this junction:

Park branching off from Lodge Lane: turn left here.

Park Bank branching off from Lodge Lane: turn left here.

If you follow the road round to the right, you’ll find yourself at the Moors Centre just around the corner (facilities include cafe and toilets) so if you want to pause and fortify yourself, here’s where to do it. Otherwise, bear left onto Park Bank:

Looking up Park Bank.

Looking up Park Bank.

This first, uphill stretch is the most demanding part of the route, so by all means take it slowly and look around you. The fields here are small and separated by some beautiful traditional drystone walling:

wm 06 walls

After a little under half a mile, you’ll reach a cattle grid; cross over this, and take the immediate left turn:

Cattle grid at the top of Park Bank: turn left just past here.

Cattle grid, Park Bank: turn left just past here.

You’re now up on the the flank of Beacon Hill, and will find the terrain around you changing from fields to open heather moor and turf:

wm 08 scenery

Follow the road, carrying straight on past this turnoff:

This right-hand turn actually takes you back the way you came: keep straight on.

This right-hand turn actually takes you back the way you came: keep straight on.

As you come up the moor, you’ll be able to see Danby Beacon itself in the distance:

wm 11 beacon approach

The current Beacon is a modern work of art erected in 2008 (though it is also a functional beacon and has been lit!), but there has been a beacon on this site since the 1600s when one was placed to act as an early warning in case the French invaded England. During the 1930s-1960s this was also the site of the RAF Danby Beacon radar station, though there are no immediately obvious traces of the station remaining. The road takes you to a T-junction just by the Beacon, and at this point, turn left; taking as much time as you like of course to explore the Beacon and its surroundings:

The junction at the foot of the Beacon: turn left here.

The junction at the foot of the Beacon: turn left here.

Worth a look are the white Ordnance Survey marker, part of the UK’s official mapping grid; the standing stone with a directional rose on top of it indicating the distance and directions to various nearby settlements and landmarks; and, of course, the magnificent Beacon itself:

wm 13 survey point

This Ordnance Survey triangulation point marks the summit of Beacon Hill.

wm 16 map disc

This stone has a flat top with an engraved disc showing directions and distances to places of note.

wm 14 beacon

The present-day Danby Beacon.

wm 15 beacon closeup

The Beacon basket against the sky.

Once you’re done with that, rejoin the road heading northwest across Danby Low Moor:

wm 17 moor road

This next stretch of the walk is mostly level going for about a mile and a half, and offers spectacular views in every direction, from Esk Dale on your left to the long view over to the coast on your right – on a clear day you can see the sea from here, though I couldn’t on this particular occasion owing to a mist over the coast. You may also notice a number of low mounds dotting the landscape – these are “howes”, prehistoric burial mounds erected to honour the dead of our distant ancestors and a fascinating reminder of just how old this landscape, and the human presence in it, is.

[] Howe


This road terminates in a T-junction: turn left and head downhill, being careful as this is now a two-lane road that carries considerably more traffic than the single-track roads over the moor top:

The junction back towards Danby: turn left here.

The junction back towards Danby: turn left here.

Follow the road for another mile and a half until you come back into Danby from the top, passing over another cattle grid:

wm 27 cattle grid

You’ll come down to the crossroads from this perspective, and will find the Duke of Wellington on your left to bring you back out where you started:

wm 29 corner view

You can, of course, always nip into the Duke for a drink at this point; but for a non-pub alternative, I’d highly recommend turning left and going round the corner, because just past the Duke on Briar Hill is the Danby Stonehouse Bakery and Cafe, suppliers of traditional baked goods to what seems like every tea room from here to the North Sea and makers of some of the best cakes and buns you’ll ever eat anywhere:


Danby Stonehouse Bakery and Cafe.

Danby Stonehouse Bakery and Cafe.

I cannot recommend this establishment highly enough – particularly since when I went in there myself at the end of this walk on Monday and plaintively asked “Are you still serving?” the lady at the counter took one look at my windswept state and very kindly said “Go on, then…” Bless you, Danby Stonehouse staff, and thank you from the bottom of my heart if you happen to read this.

I can vouch for the quality of the hot chocolate, too:

Easter bun and hot chocolate!

Easter bun and hot chocolate!

Of course, if you wanted to you could always do this walk in the opposite direction, going north out of Danby and coming round to the Beacon from the other side. I’d recommend doing it as I’ve described simply because my version results in you spending more time walking downhill than up once the first steep stretch on Park Bank is cleared, but if you’d prefer the alternative you can of course simply reverse my directions. Either way this is a beautiful route, and a great walk if you just want to stretch your legs and get a good sense of the scenery without getting caught up in any of the Moors’ more challenging terrain. Have fun!

Places: Church of St Michael and St George, Castleton

In any English village, you can usually guarantee the presence of two establishments at minimum: a pub and a church. Castleton is no exception, and indeed boasts two pubs, the Downe Arms in the village centre and the Eskdale Inn out by the railway station. Church-wise, though, it’s surprisingly impoverished. There’s the Wesleyan Chapel, which keeps the neighbourhood supplied with coffee mornings and musical interludes, but there’s only one traditional-style parish church.

That one church, though, is worth a visit. So a few days ago, during a brief break in the foggy weather of the last two weeks, that’s precisely what I did. Welcome to the parish church of St Michael and St George, Castleton:

Church of St Michael and St George, Castleton

Daffodils and silver birch outside the church

To find St Michael and St George’s, you go downhill from Castleton’s centre, following the road signs for Danby; the church is on your left as you head out of the village, set back amid trees, daffodils and a thick carpet of green grass. It was built in the 1920s to honour the fallen of WWI, consecrated on 28 July 1926, and replaced an older “tin tabernacle” – a prefabricated, corrugated-iron church that dated back to 1863. Architecturally it’s plain by comparison with the glory of many older English parish churches, with almost nothing in the way of stained glass or ornamental stonework. The porch is a small, unassuming entrance, given an extra rustic touch by the broken wooden rake that hangs in one corner:

The church porch

Wooden rake

A rake in the rafters.

It does also contain this tiny stained-glass window, the only one in the church, which is partially assembled from fragments of what looks like a much older window:

Stained-glass window

Stained-glass window detail

Detail of the window; below the shield with the three lions of England, fragments of older, broken stained glass can be seen.

I don’t know but I’m guessing these pieces might be all that remains of a previous church, either on the same site or close by. If I ever find out more I’ll let you know!

There are two other significant piece of ornamentation inside, though. First is the beautiful reredos or painted panel behind the altar, featuring the church’s two patron saints with their respective dragons:

Altar and reredos

Second, there are the oak pews, panelling and fittings, made by a renowned craftsman who was himself a native of the Moors: Robert “Mouseman” Thompson, of Kilburn. Thompson’s nickname came from his trademark: a little wooden mouse that he would carve somewhere on the pieces he made. His work was in high demand and can be found all over the North – his workshop is still in business to this day – and I have fond memories of hunting under tables and along wainscoting for Thompson mice in the library of my own alma mater, Bradford Girls’ Grammar School. St Michael and St George purports to have a total of ten mice:

Card listing the church's carved mice

These cute laminated cards are provided in the church to guide would-be mouse hunters.

I didn’t come close to finding them all, but here are a couple that I did:

Mouse on wood panelling

This mouse is on a panel just to the right of the organist’s seat.

Mouse on wooden pew

This one is on one of the pews.

I also took this shot of the lectern base, which shows the beautiful rough-chiselling technique that’s also characteristic of Thompson’s work:

Base of the lectern

The organ and pulpit show the same simple yet graceful style:

View of the organ pipes

The pulpit

I also noticed, hanging in a corner of the narthex (the area at the western end of the nave), this: a Cradle Roll, showing the births and baptisms for the parish. This one covers a range of dates in the first half of the 1940s:

Cradle Roll

And on the way out, if you’re looking carefully, there’s one final mouse:

Church gate and mouse

Squeak squeak…

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.