Sutton Bank is a hill on the edge of the North York Moors National Park, and one of the highest points in the Hambleton Hills. It is perhaps best known for James Herriot’s proclamation that the top of Sutton Bank offers ‘The Finest View in England’, or if you are a motorist, for the hellishly steep road that has many a 1.2 driver breaking out in a cold sweat! This barely scratches the surface of all that Sutton Bank has to offer – there is an abundance of history, nature and adventure all waiting to be discovered!
The Finest View in England
Visitors to the Sutton Bank National Park Centre can take a short walk from the car park to ‘the Finest View in England’. From the viewing platform you get extensive views over the Vales of York and Mowbray for absolutely no effort walking. While I’m not sure that I would agree with Herriot’s declaration (in my opinion there are better views elsewhere in the Moors and Dales), I can’t deny that the view is without a doubt very fine, extending for miles as far as the eye can see. ‘
Among the landmarks the you can see from the bank are Roulston Scar, Hood Hill and Gormire Lake. Roulston Scar was discovered to hold the remains of one of the largest Iron Age hillforts in the North of England and is one of a series of promontary forts in the area. Gormire Lake is one of only three natural lakes in North Yorkshire, the other two being Malham Tarn and Semerwater in the Dales, and Hood Hill was the site of a medieval Motte and Bailey castle.
There is a pay and display car park by the main building with plenty of spaces, although this can fill up quickly. The visitor centre has a cafe, bike hire station and a lovely shop, which is the perfect place to pick up a gift for friends or family (or yourself!). It has a wonderful selection of walking books, art and homeware, with lots of Yorkshire themed merchandise available!
By strolling just a little way along the bank you can reach the White Horse of Kilburn, a famous local landmark which many have driven past, but few stop to investigate more closely.
The White Horse
In the 19th century a gentleman named Thomas Taylor travelled to the South, and while he was there, saw the famous chalk hill figures. He decided, on his return to North Yorkshire, that he wanted his home village to have a drawing of its own. His idea was taken up by a local schoolmaster, and thus in 1857, the White Horse of Kilburn was born.
The White Horse was outlined by the schoolmaster and local school children, then a group of volunteers did the cutting, before finally spreading 6 tons of lime onto the rock to whiten it. To this day regular maintenance is required to keep the horse looking white, as the limestone beneath is naturally grey. The horse is visible for miles around (some say as far as north Leeds) and a well loved local landmark, although it was covered over during the Second World War, as the authorities were worried that it would be a target for German bombers!
If you don’t want to walk up any hills to reach the White Horse you can park at Sutton Bank National Park Centre and follow this 3 mile walk. Alternatively, if you don’t want to pay for parking, you can park at the Forestry England car park and follow the slightly shorter way marked White Horse trail.
It is worth pointing out that from the top of the bank you can’t actually see much of the White Horse itself due to your position at the top of it! You will however get a good view driving into Kilburn and there is a lay-by where you can stop and take a photo if you like.
The White Horse trail from the Forestry car park is very easy to follow. It starts with a steep climb up 151 steps(!), before continuing on a flat and level path along the top of the bank. This path gives you wonderful views and was much quieter than the section of path close by the visitor centre. You will also pass the Yorkshire Gliding Club, which is one of the oldest in the world. Your return to the car park is through mixed woodland which was practically deserted when I visited, but I was there very early in the morning, so it might get busier later.
Dog friendly rating – 3/5. The first half of this walk definitely requires dogs to be on leads – there is a steep drop to the left and the airfield is on the right, which your dog should absolutely not be allowed to run on to, as planes are active and your dog could cause a serious accident. You can however let your dog off in the woods, where there are plenty of exciting smells to explore, as well as enough room to have a good zoom around!
Gormire Lake and Garbutt Wood
The only true lake in the North York Moors, Gormire Lake is said to have been created when a village was swallowed by an earthquake, with the chimneys of the lost houses supposedly still visible at the bottom of the lake on a clear summer’s night.
The walk to Gormire Lake from the National Park Centre takes you steeply down through Garbutt Wood Nature Reserve, which is home to species such as blackcaps, redstarts and bullfinches. The walk I followed was from my constantly recommended Pocket Mountains book, but a similar walk can be found on Walking Britain.
The walk back up to the National Park Centre, whichever route you take, is diabolically steep. This was made worse by the fact that it had rained a lot the week before I visited so the path had turned into a bog in places! Once I had managed to haul myself back up to the top of the bank though I was rewarded with a cracking view of Roulston Scar and the fields below Sutton Bank.
This walk was surprisingly quiet given how busy the area around the National Park Centre can get. I only saw one other walker away from the main path at the top, although I suppose most people don’t fancy having to climb up a steep hill first thing on a Sunday morning!
I actually enjoyed this walk a lot more than I expected to. The total stillness in the woods on the way to and from the lake was a little unnerving at first, but I soon found myself hearing bird calls and songs that I’d never heard before, and probably wouldn’t have heard at all if many other people ventured away from the top of the bank to walk through the reserve.
Dog friendly rating – 2/5. Dogs should be on a lead for the entirety of this walk due to the sensitive nature of the site, and Gormire Lake is privately owned, with a sign stating no swimming or fishing is allowed. However, this is still a nice walk to do with your dog, and there are normally water bowls for your dog to drink from at the National Park Centre. There is plenty of shade from the trees, so this might be one to consider on a warmer day.
I didn’t realise you could walk around Hood Hill until I parked at the Forestry England car park to do the White Horse trail and saw that there was a Hood Hill trail also available from this starting point. The 5km trail is pretty much all through woodland and is definitely my favourite of the three walks in this blog! The woods were completely and utterly peaceful and, while there weren’t panoramic views like those in the previous walks, I have never seen quite so many different shades of green.
The woods are thick enough to make you feel like you are somewhere totally wild, but still allow plenty of light in, so they aren’t dark or oppressive. The path is way marked but the way markers are often hidden behind overgrown ferns, so you will need to keep your eyes peeled if you want to spot them! There were a few sections where it wasn’t clear which way you needed to go, but we stuck to the rule that we went straight on unless sign posted otherwise, and we got all the way around without having to turn back.
The path was often very muddy, and I think the ground here must be quite wet all the time, so this is probably best saved for a sunny day unless you don’t mind a bit of mud! There was one section where the path was very overgrown with nettles and brambles but it wasn’t impassable – long sleeves and trousers recommended for this reason. Speaking of brambles, take a Tupperware box with you if you head here in blackberry season, as there was a section of the path with plenty of blackberry bushes.
The way markers did stop close to the end of the trail when you reach a small parking area by the road. If you cross the road and take the path on the edge of the trees running parallel to the road, this will take you back to the main car park without having to walk along the road, which has lots of hair pin bends.
Dog friendly rating – 5/5. I had Coal off the lead all the way on this walk and he had an absolute ball! Merry was relegated to on lead only as there were just far too many interesting smells for him to come back when he was called. The trail is absolutely perfect for dog owners who want to be able to let their dog off the lead to let off a bit of steam. The trees are also perfect for keeping you out of the sun on a hot day, not that we experienced this in classic British Summer weather! We will definitely be making this one of our local go to walks as it was wonderful to be able to let the dogs off without having to worry about any sheep popping up around the corner!
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