THE North York Moors has many good centres. One of the best is Sutton Bank. It often has interesting displays of art.

There is an excellent caf and shop, and from it you can take two walks well-adapted to the needs of the elderly, along dry paths, surfaced, but not too much tamed, more of less on the level, with lots of seats on the way.

Whether you go north or south, there are spectacular views over the high escarpment edge, towards Thirsk, and far beyond across the Plain of York all the way to the Pennines, in good weather.

You can see the steep road winding down the bank, cars diminished to beetles, making no more than the hum of bees.

Going southwards, again if lucky with the weather, you could watch gliders landing or taking off from the glider club. Looking up, you could see one drop the tow rope attaching it to a light aeroplane, and soar into the clouds, ultimately out of sight. Or there may be one come silently in white against the greyer cloud, like a great swan.

After the glider club, if you feel like walking two miles, you will pass, on your right, the ears or eyes of the White Horse, scarcely recognisable as such from this angle. The more active may go on down the steps to the White Horse car park. I prefer to stop at the seat at the top of the steps. A woman sitting there once told me that on a very clear day you can just see the American observation domes at Menwith Hill, twins of the old Fylingdales ones.

In season, there are bilberries to the side of the path, enough perhaps to make a small pie.

Northwards, there are no man-made activities to watch, but the vegetation is more varied and the path more up and down. The views are just as spectacular.

Either way, you look down on Lake Gormire, North Yorkshire's only natural lake, shining, dark and baleful, as if eyeing you from its deep socket. Traditionally, it is said to be bottomless, impossible of course. I am not sure it is even very deep, though it certainly looks it from above. There are many legends about it, as well as the depth. I don't remember the details, but one is about a chase involving the devil, whose victim fell off the cliff edge into the lake and was drowned.

On the two occasions when I have gone down to it, it did not give an impression of great depth, and indeed looked an ordinary sort of lake, rather pretty, with a grassy edge on one side and coots darting in and out of the reeds, or diving headfirst with a sharp 'qeuk!'

The lake is full of insect life, both in larva form and on the wing - I have read that there are even leeches in it.

You reach it from the north-going cliff-top by a very steep path, not so bad going down, but coming up a very stiff pull indeed, far too taxing for me nowadays. It curves down through trees, thick-growing here, where Sutton Bank is a little less precipitous. It is called Garbett Wood, and is a last remnant of ancient woodlands that once covered the North York Moors. Only 1.9 per cent of it is left today, cared for by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Many of the trees are oaks, not very large. Few of the trees are large. They used to be coppiced, that is, cut down every seven years, to make fencing or supply firewood.

The leaflet supplied by the tourist centre tells you to look out for such trees, recognisable by bushy branches growing out of a stumpy base. It also says you may catch sight of roe deer, if you are quiet, and that the wood is home to a bewildering number of plants and animals. As many as 250 different species of insect may live on a single oak tree.

I have to confess that on the two occasions when I climbed down to the lake and up again, I never saw a roe deer or any other animal. Perhaps my party, about 30 members, of Ryedale Ramblers, was too noisy? I myself was too busy watching my feet, going down, and coming up, catching my breath, to have leisure to look for pollarded trees or other life.

This unique lake is a product of the Ice Age. Ten thousand years ago, much of Britain was covered in sheets of ice. During their presence, and on their partial withdrawal, the ice made drastic changes in the landscape. The North York Moors show many examples, one of them the River Derwent, blocked from its original outlet in the North Sea by a huge glacier that filled the ocean. Water, draining from the moors from ice that intermittently covered them, had to cut another channel for itself, forming what is now Forge Valley, and running into what was originally Lake Pickering, and is now the Vale of Pickering.

Another great glacier, 100 feet thick, covered the Vale of York. Water draining from the moors here ran south, and gouged out the bed of Lake Gormire. Later in the Ice Age, a large chunk of the escarpment slipped down and blocked some of the water.

Thus was Lake Gormire born. No wonder it still glares up like a baleful eye.

From its shores, however, as I said, it looks innocent enough, betraying nothing of its violent origin.

The walk down to its shores, though tough, is less than half a mile. The Sutton Bank leaflet, from which some of the information comes, shows how the walk could be extended for five miles. Turning along the gentler side of the lake, the west bank of which is very steep and covered with trees, you could continue north along the bottom of the escarpment, through several farms, called Southwoods, Tang Hall and Greendale. Turn uphill after about two miles, climb to the top of the escarpment and return along the clifftop, which is part of the long-distance Cleveland Way, to the national park centre.

I wish I had done that five-mile walk in my palmier days. I could not undertake it now, and have only been along the top as far as the Cleveland Way runs. That is fine enough. Sometimes, the escarpment is sheer beneath you, vertical, naked pale limestone; sometimes gentler, clothed with trees, or heather, or bilberries.

I am thankful to be able to still manage this, and to look down on the beady eye of Lake Gormire.

Updated: 14:05 Wednesday, May 18, 2005