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Through Scarborough's Raincliffe Woods

Just outside Scarborough, a walk through woodland to the rare remains of a glacial lake.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 584ft (175m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Field tracks, woodland paths, some steep, 2 stiles

Landscape Farmland and hillside woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 27 North York Moors - Eastern

Start/finish SE 984875

Dog friendliness Can be off lead in most of woodland

Parking Hazelhead picnic site on Mowthorpe Road, near road junction

Public toilets None on route

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1 From the picnic site, walk on to the road and turn left, downhill. After the woodland ends, pass houses on the right, then opposite a bungalow, No 5, turn right down a track to Thorn Park Farm. Follow the track as it bends left by the farm buildings, then right past a cottage to a metal gate. Continue to follow the track, which bends left then right, then through two gateways.

2 Just before the next gateway turn right and walk up the field side to a stile beside a gateway, which takes you on a short path to the road. Turn left. Follow the road to the next car park on the right.

3 Go up through the car park towards the gate and uphill on the path ahead. Where the main path bends right, go straight ahead, more steeply, to reach a crossing, grassy track. Turn left through a gate and follow the path. Where it forks, take the right hand path.

4 Look out for a path on the left, which immediately bends right over a drainage runnel. The path goes down into a small valley. Turn left, downhill, then follow the path as it bends right again, past an old quarry. The path descends to reach Throxenby Mere. Turn right along the edge of the Mere - part of the path is on boardwalks.

5 Just before you reach a picnic place, turn right through an area bare of undergrowth to take a path which goes up steeply until it reaches a grassy track at the top of the hill.

6 Turn right and go through a metal gate, then follow the path for a mile (1.6km), parallel with the wall. It passes through a gateway with a stile by it and eventually reaches a gate with a public bridleway sign.

7 Do not go through this gate out into fields, but turn right and continue in the woodland. Where the main path swings left and another goes right, go straight ahead, steeply downhill. When the path joins another go left, down steps and along a boardwalk to meet a crossing path.

8 Turn right and go down to a gate into a car park. Turn left on to the road, and left again to reach a road junction. Turn right, following the Harwood Dale sign, for Hazelhead picnic site.

The steep hillside of Raincliffe Woods overlooks a deep valley carved out in the Ice Ages. Although mostly replanted in the 1950s and 60s, the woods in places retain remnants of ancient oak and heather woodland - look out for the heather and bilberry bushes beneath oak trees that will show you where.

The woods have long been open to the public, though in the 19th century they were privately owned by the 1st Earl of Londesborough, and some of the roads and tracks were named after his family - Lady Edith's Drive after his wife and Lady Mildred's Ride after her sister. Lord Londesborough was the grandfather of Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell. Osbert recalled in his autobiography Left Hand Right Hand! how he and Edith were taken in the early years of the 20th century on hair-raising drives by their grandfather in his buckboard through Raincliffe Woods. They would then walk up the steep hillsides through columbine and honeysuckle. Unfortunately, they often became lost, and the Earl's language was, for a time, immoderate, until he remembered the children's presence.

Beetle enthusiasts wax lyrical about Throxenby Mere. The last vestiges of the huge glacial lake that formed more than 15,000 years ago, after the Ice Age, it contains species of rare water-beetles, and is one of the places in the North of England to which coleopterists (beetle students to the layman) make tracks. You will also find the distinctive pinky-purple flowers and wide leaves of the broad-leaved willow-herb on its fringes.

Throughout the walk you will come upon humps and banks, depressions and pits that show that this hillside has been a hive of human activity in the past. As the path approaches Throxenby Mere it crosses part of a Bronze Age dyke system, while elsewhere are medieval banks and the remains of pits for charcoal burning. You will also pass a small quarry which was used for local building stone.

In the valley below Raincliffe Woods is the Sea Cut, or North Back Drain, a flood relief channel that runs 3 miles (4.8km) from the River Derwent to Scalby Beck. Engineered in 1806 by local man Sir George Caley, it takes excess water from the Derwent to the sea at Scalby to prevent flooding in the Vale of Pickering. Operation is by means of a sluice gate (now remotely-controlled) 825yds (750m) west of Mowthorpe Bridge near the beginning of the walk. When in operation, it restores the Derwent's link to the sea that was lost when glacial deposits blocked its original route.

While you're there

Visit Wood End Natural History Museum in The Crescent in Scarborough, where the eccentric Sir George and Lady Ida Sitwell lived in the second haf of the 19th century. At the centre of the house is a large conservatory where, in their day, exotic birds used to fly freely and terrify the visitors. A museum since 1951, alongside the displays on local geology and natural history, there is also a collection of first editions of works by their remarkable children, Dame Edith, Sir Osbert and Sir Sacheverell.

Where to eat and drink

There is nowhere on the route, although there may occasionally be an ice cream van at Throxenby Mere. The Ox Pasture Country House Hotel, a little further along the road from Point 3 on the walk, offers dinner in the evenings and a good-value Sunday Lunch. Otherwise, Scarborough, with its vast choice of eating places, is nearby.

What to look for

Keep your eyes open in Raincliffe Woods for Moschatel (Adoxa moschatellina), colloquially known as Town Hall Clock. It has heads with five yellow-green flowers on each, four of them arranged like a clock face and a fifth pointing upwards - hence the name. The flowers, which are around 6 inches (15cm) high, appear in April and May, but although in warmer countries each will then produce a berry, that seldom happens here; it propagates by underground stems instead. When the weather is damp you may catch its faint musk-like scent.

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