WHEN is the Hole of Horcum not the whole of Horcum?

My three walking companions - youngest brother Will, regular co-walker Richard and border collie cross Barney - and I set out with the best of intentions.

The plan was for a 12.5 mile wander around the rim of the Hole of Horcum, through the villages of Levisham and Lockton, and along Stain Dale to the Bridestones before skirting back round Newgate Brow to our starting point.

Unfortunately, the hospitality at The Horseshoe Inn in Levisham and then a warmer than expected welcome from John, a friend in Lockton, intervened.

Having been waylaid for far too long by Cropton Brewery's Yorkshire Moors ale, Stain Dale was shelved in favour of a return along the bottom of the Hole of Horcum before a final pull back up to the car park.

The 12.5 miles were trimmed to about eight miles, but the lost miles were a fair trade off for the splendour of a stroll in the bowl of Horcum, one of the undoubted highlights of the North York Moors National Park.

This was Will's maiden visit to the awesome amphitheatre and he was highly sceptical when told of the tall tales attached to the so-called Devil's Punchbowl.

Legend has it that Wade the Giant created the 'Hole' when he scooped up a handful of earth to throw at his wife during an argument. The missile supposedly formed nearby Blakey Topping when it landed.

Will found it more plausible that the bowl was created by spring-sapping - water welling up from the hillside over thousands of years to turn a once narrow valley into the cauldron you see today.

We set out from a busy car park on the A169 in the company of several other walking groups but, such is the variety of walks in these parts, the crowds quickly dispersed on their chosen routes.

It was a cracking late June day, hotter than forecast with crystal clear skies affording superb views in all directions as we made our way along the obvious track over Levisham Moor.

Seavy Pond is an incongruous sight after a mile or so, an oasis in the dry landscape, particularly for Barney, who took a suspicious sip at its contents.

The Moor harbours a rich history. National Park guides describe it as the largest ancient monument on the North York Moors. Hidden in the heather - well hidden from the uninitiated, like us - is apparently evidence of thousands of years of human activity, including Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age dykes.

However, our minds were refocused on the present at Dundale Pond, a meeting of the ways at the end of Levisham Moor, and today a meeting place for a sizeable herd of Highland cattle.

Barney, on a short lead, was extremely well behaved until he decided to get vocal with the last of the herd, causing Will and Richard to rapidly up the pace at the rear of our little group.

After Barney's impromptu chat, talk quickly turned to refreshment as Limpsey Gate Lane delivered us into the busy beer garden of The Horseshoe Inn.

As the chauffeur, I was left to nurse my watch and an orange squash, as the others sampled the local brew. Again, and again.

The rollercoaster road between Levisham and Lockton, coupled with the heat, was instant pay back for those pints, but there was more refreshment in sight at the latter village's tea room.

With a consignment of tea loaf on board, next on the agenda was to pay John a surprise visit. Hiding childishly behind his garden wall and goading him was mischief and mind games too far, in his eyes.

Two Speckled Hens and a cup of tea later, we were turned back out onto the street, with the realisation that our original 12.5 mile goal would interfere with Richard's plans for the evening.

Improvisation is often a useful walker's tool. Close to Lockton's cemetery, we chose a path on the left which dropped us down to Wedland Slack - a route I had followed in reverse several years earlier.

The way was more overgrown than I remembered, but we managed to navigate our way around below Lockton, past St Robert's Well, and up to a path that doubles back around Levisham Brow.

As we skirted the Brow, picking our way along the narrow, overgrown path, Barney demonstrated just why he's not welcome on long-distance, multi-day treks.

After barging his way to the front, he would stop dead in his tracks, forcing us all, in turn, to pull up behind him, hurdle him, nudge him and curse him. Finding himself at the rear of the line again, the determined dog would bundle his way back to the front to repeat the irritating process.

Richard's patience was frayed three-quarters of a mile into this performance, so it was a relief to take a tea break (complete with Lockton tea loaf) next to Levisham Beck at the foot of Dundale Griff.

Refreshed, we resumed the walk, the scale of the Hole of Horcum gradually and dramatically revealed as the way opens up into grassy meadows and meanders towards the abandoned Low Horcum farm building.

The steep climb back up to the road is a hot one, making Barney and I glad we aren't having to carry the ale weighing down our fellow walkers.

Will had arrived in Yorkshire with two walking requests - "anywhere as long as it is over 11 miles and includes at least one pub".

Not quite the whole walk, but top Hole nonetheless.

ROUTE DETAILS * From car park, cross road and turn right. Follow path towards bend in road. Go through gate ahead and follow clear path as it curves around top of Levisham Moor for about two miles to Dundale Pond.

* At the signpost, follow the sign for Levisham and a gate into Limpsey Gate Lane. On reaching Levisham in one mile, keep ahead down main street.

* At the bottom of the village the road bends sharply right. Follow the road for one mile as it winds to Lockton (or take a footpath to left to avoid road and miss out Lockton loop).

* On entering Lockton, with tea room ahead, turn left. Keep ahead for about half a mile, then look out for footpath sign on left under trees. In field, go downhill and left to pick up path into wooded valley. Reaching a stream, bear left.

* Keep ahead for about a mile, as the path gradually rises through trees. When you reach another path, turn sharp right and follow sign for Horcum. Path contours around Levisham Brow for another mile.

* Keep ahead through gate and, at fingerpost, follow sign for Horcum. Cross stream and follow wall. Through gate, keep ahead on clear path across open meadow. Keep left of abandoned farm building at Low Horcum.

* Ignore a gate on the right, keeping left and dropping down to another gate. The path ahead gently rises, before a steeper climb up to road level. Go through a gate, turn right and return to the car park.

FACTFILE Distance: eight miles Parking: Pay and display car park on A169 above Saltergate Bank Refreshments: The Horseshoe Inn, Levisham, and Lockton tea room Map: Ordinance Survey Explorer OL27 - North York Moors (Eastern Area)