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Country walk at Chop Gate
George Wilkinson returns to Chop Gate and enjoys the climb up to the highest point on the North York Moors.
CHOP Gate is popular with walkers. To quote AJ Brown, who wrote Yorkshire walks in the 1930s for Country Life magazine, “immediately opposite Chop Gate the hills fling up to the sky”.
We left the sparkling waters of Bilsdale and took a direct route for the hills. Our first mile was coloured by a Royal Mail van that took a bouncing mile of gated bridleway to deliver something to an isolated house.
Then the slope flung up steeply through mature conifers. We climbed and came across a rock covered, over a few square feet, with a jelly of algae up to a centimetre thick. A sign warned of CCTV and against injuring the wildlife.
We reached the moors and the start of the Tripsdale Site of Special Scientific Interest, that is officially reported as in ‘unfavourable’ condition but ‘recovering’. Grouse butts were four-star affairs: circular and cushioned with bilberry and dry-stone lined. Then our track stopped.
There is a patch of bog asphodel, flowering like "bright yellow stars” and with this a boggy bit that we skirted.
Near Tripsdale Head is the Low Cable Stone, a notable outcrop of nodular sandstone.
A plaque is inset into the rock in memory of the aforementioned AJ Brown, and another plaque for Thomas Scott Burns, also a Yorkshire walks writer, and this carries the line “there must be dales in paradise”. Read more on this at tripsdale.co.uk
On a face of Low Cable Stone is a large recess like an eye socket and one can only guess what prehistoric people made of this, if was so striking then as now. The route takes an ancient earthwork to High Cable Stone; paradise would be pushing it, energetic certainly.
There were no birds in the sky, bar grouse briefly, and low pipits. A fast jet sliced through Bilsdale, and a pair of helicopters thudded. At North Gill Head there has been activity with a line of new, three-star, timber-lined grouse butts and, set against this, some of the area’s notorious grips or drainage ditches have been blocked with bales of heather.
The latter might please somewhat the multitude with houses on the flood plains.
Grips were subsidised in the 1970s. Of gentle water, Joseph Foord built water races from Tripsdale in the 18th century and his biographer, Isabel Anne McLean, describes a nearby enclosure as a “veritable viperopolis in summer”.
This brings us to the information board at the junction with the Cleveland Way that, under the headline ‘Your Safety in Bransdale’, warns of a selection of dangers.
Never mind, for after a thousand feet of climbing, Round Hill is here, with its trig point at 1,490 feet, the highest spot on the moors, for a view all about and down to the flatlands and Teeside.
Then, survivors, it’s steady then steeper for the three miles down to Chop Gate. Hundreds of gorgeous foxgloves lit the slopes. A formation of thirty geese flew high in the late afternoon sky, heading north-east, over the darker blue of the Cleveland Hills.
When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed.
1. From car park, left to pavement by main road, half a mile through village.
2. Road on right (sign St Hilda's Church), 50 yards, bridge, immediately track on right (bridleway sign), ford/footbridge. Uphill, by stream, ignore drive, wood, cattlegrid (waymark), gate (waymark) to field, uphill. At farm, fieldgate (waymark) into yard, fieldgate (waymark) out of yard, track.
3. At bend in track, gate (waymark) on left and immediately right to gate (waymark) into wood, track/path uphill. Left to grass track (fingerpost), ten yards, path on right, uphill. Left to grass track (fingerpost) uphill, left on bend (fingerpost, waymark), 50 yards, gate to moor (small access land sign), path 150 yards.
4. Right to dirt track (post), 200 yards, track on left (old post), half a mile.
5. Track ends. Continue on or near three-foot ridge, skirt bog, ridge ends, aim for nearest and largest outcrop of rocks on edge of valley.
6. From these rocks, head north-northeast for 400 yards along or near the sometimes obvious three foot ridge of ancient earthworks, passing more rocks, no path.
7. At large rock with smaller one on top, head northish, no path, keep stream below to right, valley fades, half a mile in all.
8. At grouse butt join track, north, butts, 400 yards.
9. Right to track, 200 yards, left to track (waymarks/info board), 20 yards, path on left up to trig point. Return to direction Number 9 and go straight on west on the track, one mile.
10. At sharp left-hand track bend (signs) go straight on to path downhill in bracken, ignore right fork, gate (waymark), (waymark post), gateway, fieldgate (waymark), track, fieldgate, fieldgate, left to road, then via outward route to car park.
Distance: Seven miles.
General location: North York Moors.
Start: Chop Gate.
Right of way: Public paths and Open Access Land.
Date walked: July 2012.
Road route: Via Helmsley or Stokesley.
Car parking: Free car park.
Lavatories: Car park.
Refreshments: The Buck Inn at Chop Gate.
Tourist & Public Transport Information: Helmsley TIC 01439 770173.
Map: Drawn from OS Explorer OL27 North York Moors western.
Difficulty: Quite hard.
Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers set out at their own risk.