Around the Purple Heather

When I travelled in Tasmania as a teenager I experienced an interesting illusion that derived from my having grown up in Western Australia’s vast distances. I relived it in and around the North York Moors National Park, surprisingly, England’s most wooded national park.

Looking at the map, I would estimate the time it would take to get from one town to the next. I no sooner looked up from the map, than we were upon that next town – fifteen minutes early. Prior to leaving Australia, I discovered it’s only about  forty-five minutes north-south along the moors. My brain was curiously resistant to this information. It’s as if there was a little section off to the side in there having its own conversation, rather like a coffee room of insubordinate gossips: “There’s a whole green patch there on the map with lots of towns in it and some big open spaces. It must take longer than forty-five minutes. We’ll take no notice of what the local bloke says. We’ve never been there but we know better.”

Robin Hood’s Bay, therefore, appeared quite quickly after leaving Bempton Cliffs. I brimmed with pleasure as I surveyed the area. (Get a feel for it from the ‘banner’ at the top of the English posts.) The town carparks were full of tourists who had come to imbibe the beauty.

The BB and I passed through the gate  below the top section of the town and wandered down towards the cove, along the ugly but utilitarian, protective wall and into something like a cross between a dolls house, a seaside village and a movie set of a seaside village. ‘Quaint’ hardly touches the sides.

Steep, one-lane streets are bounded by tall, narrow houses, inns and shops. Plastic fishing scoops (possibly cheap at the wholesaler the previous week, judging by the number of shops selling them) stood outside in bright buckets next to racks of sturdy fabric handbags and other tourist necessities. Peeking through paned windows we glimpsed Yorkshire icecream, carved wooden animals, creative jewellery and artworks, real wooden benches, tiny spaces crammed with wares, sandalled feet and children ferreting in purses.

Whitby (one must say that with the accent of a Heartbeat policeman for maximum pleasure) was, for us, unfortunately just an inviting jumble of tawny  roofs on either side of the river Esk, some graceful, eerie ruins on a hilltop and a note to ourselves to visit someday. We were headed inland.

The railway station at Goathland looked oddly familiar. Then we realised: Hogsmead, Harry; Aidensfield, Heartbeat. The town seems proud of its role in the latter. One of the stores, which dedicates a corner to the post office, stocks a variety of memorabilia from the series. But our goal was a hike.

On the far side of the village we passed through the ‘kissing gate’ next to the Mallyan Spout Hotel, onto the public footpath, wended our way down to the waterfall and back to the village in a large loop through paddocks and, rather intrusively, someone’s front yard. The English must be used to it, and it’s little different from traipsing an urban footpath in terms of proximity, but being on someone’s property is a challenging oddness for me.

Rievaulx Abbey

Onto Hutton-le-Hole, heralded as one of the prettiest villages in England. I concur. Hutton Beck trickles along the  length of the village green. Buildings sit haphazardly around and in the grass. ‘The village green’: what an effective way to promote Community, like the Italian piazza. Some Australia city planners are attempting to reproduce this idea in their developing ‘burbs and inner city areas. I wonder if they’ll embrace the (rubber) duck race held annually in Hutton-le-Hole.

One of North Yorkshire’s top tourist attractions sits unassumingly in this village.
The live music and historical costumes were still happening in the gardens of the Rydale Folk Museum as The BB and I set off through the fields for a delicious dinner at The Blacksmith’s Arms in nearby Lastingham. (Bookings essential due to popularity).

Drinks outside in the evening sun with the sound of family cricket wafting up from a meadow, and a visit to the crypt of St Mary’s church afterwards, made the evening a creation of peace, small delights and activity. As we poked around the church I realised I would not have been surprised to discover a body laid out on the floor under the organ or in the pastor’s dressing room. Such is the effect of British rural crime series.

And the hiking! For some distance, the road from Hutton-le-Hole to Castleton, apparently one of the most spectacular on the moors, cleaves the land so that the west falls away to bucolic farmland and the east presents the bronzed, stumpy growth of the moor. Decision time. ‘Pretty’ is nice but we’d had plenty of that. We were there for the moors. The weather was perfect – a dull, clouded sky; wind; the possibility of rain. Bright sun wouldn’t have done for a hike on the moors.

Joan Baez set up concert in my head. Unfortunately she got stuck on a few lines. “All around the purple heather, Will you go, laddie, go?” Then they are all going together to do something I have never been able to determine. When I later checked the lyrics, I discovered she was in the mountains pulling wild thyme. Unaware of her geography, I strode through the mauving heather of the moors singing repetitively but happily.

The North York Moors National Park is a strange warp of space – smaller than it appears on a map but filled with beauties various.


Porridge enjoyed roaming Hutton-le-Hole and Robin Hood’s Bay too.

See I Spy, I Hear I Smell, I Taste for related posts.


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