From the once-industrial village of Swainby, a walk with fine views from the Moors and a taste of history in Whorlton.
Distance 6 miles (9.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 1,098ft (335m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Tracks and moorland paths, lots of bracken, 11 stiles
Landscape Farmland and moorland, with some woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 26 North York Moors - Western
Start/finish NZ 477020
Dog friendliness Can be off lead on moorland and in woodland
Parking Roadside parking in Swainby village
Public toilets None on route
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1 With the church on your left, walk down the village street to the right of the stream. Continue past a sign 'Unsuitable for Coaches' and straight ahead uphill. As the road bends to the right, follow the bridleway sign to Scugdale, up the track ahead.
2 Go through two gates, turning left after the second to join the waymarks for the the Cleveland Way National Trail. Walk through the woodland, turning left, just after a bench, down to a stile. The footpath goes downhill across the fields to another gate. Cross the stream on the footbridge to reach a lane, with another footbridge, over Scugdale Beck.
3 Follow the lane past Hollin Hill Farm to a T-junction with telephone and post boxes. Cross the lane and go through a Cleveland Way signed gate. Walk up the path beside woodland to a gate with a stile beside it (there's a view of the valley from this ridge).
4 The path turns right to a stile and goes on to a paved track in the wood. Go straight ahead at a crossing track to another stile, and continue to follow the paved path on to the heather moorland. After the first summit, the path descends beyond a cairn into a dip. After the paved path ends, look out for a narrow path off to the left, down through the heather.
5 After about 100yds (91m) you will reach a concrete post where the path forks. Take the left fork and follow the path down the gully to a fence beside a wall. Turn left, forking left again down another gully to a signpost by a wall and fence. Follow the sign left and go over a spoil heap to reach a gate on your right.
6 Through the gate, go straight down the hill through woodland. At the bottom cross a stile by a gate and go down the lane. Just past a drive, where woodland begins, take a footpath over two stiles.
7 Walk up through the woodland on to a grassy track. Turn left, and left again at another track. At a T-junction, turn left again and follow the track downhill to a stile. Go straight ahead through a waymarked gateway.
8 Go over a stile beside a gate and follow the track along the hillside. Over a stile with steps beyond, turn left at the bottom and follow the field edge. Go over a waymarked stile by a gate and along the field. Walk along the field to a gate at the end, then follow the metalled lane past Whorlton church and castle back to Swainby village.
The charming and peaceful village street of Swainby, divided by its tree-lined stream, gives few hints of its dramatic past. It owes its existence to tragedy - the coming of plague - the Black Death - in the 14th century, when the inhabitants of the original village, just up the hill at Whorlton, deserted their homes and moved here. There may already have been a few houses here as Swainby means the village of the land workers, and is recorded in the 13th century. In the 19th century Swainby was shocked out of its peaceful, rural existence by the opening of the ironstone mines in Scugdale. The village took on many of the aspects of an American frontier town, becoming full of miners and their equipment, and awash with their smoke and clatter.
As well as ironstone, jet was mined in the Swainby area in the 19th century, including on Whorl Hill, which you will walk around. Most of the jet pits were small, employing no more than a dozen men, but they could be very profitable, especially during the boom time for jet, encouraged by the example of Queen Victoria's black mourning jewellery. Like coal, jet is fossilised wood. It comes in two types, hard and soft; hard jet was probably formed in sea water and soft jet in fresh water. It has been prized for more than 3,000 years, and was known to the Celts as Freya's Tears. Because it is easy to work and takes a fine polish, jet workshops could turn out large quantities of jewellery relatively quickly. Although some jet objects are still made, especially in Whitby, the industry had virtually died out by the 1920s.
The path from Whorl Hill takes us into the deserted village of Whorlton. Little survived its abandonment after the Black Death except the church and the castle, both now partially ruined. On any but a sunny day, Holy Cross Church can be a disturbing place, with its avenue of yew trees leading to the arches of the nave, now open to the skies. The chancel is roofed, and a flap in the doorway allows you to look inside to see a fine early 14th-century oak figure of a knight. It is probably Nicholas, Lord Maynell, who fought with Edward I in Wales and hunted in the woods here. The gatehouse of the Maynell's castle, just along the road, is the only substantial part left. It was built at the end of the 14th century, and was besieged 250 years later during the Civil War. You can still see the marks of cannon balls from the Parliamentarians' guns on the walls. East of the castle, which occupied more than 6 acres (2.4 ha), are further earthworks, which protected the fortified village.
Spend a moment of solitude at nearby Mount Grace Priory, the best preserved of England's charterhouses - communities of Carthusian monks. There's a reconstructed monk's cell showing how they lived as hermits, coming together rarely except for services in the church. Their isolation was such that even their meals were served through an L-shaped hatch so they couldn't see who brought them.
From the highest part of the walk, which takes you up on to the northern edge of the North York Moors plateau, you are rewarded with extensive northward views over the vast industrial complexes surrounding Middlesbrough. It was the production of iron from the hills which really put Middlesbrough on the map; it had a population of just 40 in 1829, 7,600 in 1851, when the first blast furnace opened, and 20,000 nine years later. Prime Minister Gladstone called the town 'an infant Hercules'. Beyond the River Tees, the area of Seal Sands is home to an oil refinery and chemical works. It's the terminal of the 220 mile (352km) pipeline bringing oil and gas from the Ekofisk field in the North Sea. If you are on the hills at dawn or dusk, you may see the flare stacks glowing on the skyline.
The Blackmith's Arms in Swainby, established in 1775, offers good beer and an extensive menu - though it no longer offers to shoe your horse. The Black Horse in the High Street is also noted for its beer.