A dawn walk round the Hole of Horcum

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The tale of a wonderful misty dawn photography trip to The Hole of Horcum in the North York Moors National Park when the heather was still in flower

Wade the Giant’s marital problems

The Hole of Horcum is an impressive section of the Levisham Beck valley in the North York Moors, upstream of the village of the same name.

There are a couple of theories as to how it was formed. Scientists believe it was formed by a process of erosion called spring-sapping, but what would they know? They’re just experts!

No, much more interesting are the stories of Wade the Giant. Wade crops up in several old tales mentioned by a variety of people, including Chaucer. Sometimes he’s a Saxon chief, sometimes a sea-giant. All the stories agree that Wade, Bell (his wife) and his sons are an argumentative crowd though. Many of the landscape features in the North York Moors are due to the Wade clan. Possibly the best example of this is the Hole of Horcum that was created when Wade scooped up some earth to throw at Bell. I’m not sure what she’d done to provoke that response!

Whatever the truth there is no doubt that the resulting valley is impressive and well worth a visit. Fortunately its easy to get to as the A169 Pickering to Sleights road passes along its eastern rim. And there’s a car park there too – the National Park’s Saltergate car park.

Dawn at the Hole of Horcum

It had been many years since I last visited the Hole of Horcum, thanks mainly to it being a bit of a trek to get there. However, knowing that the heather was in flower and with dawn getting later as autumn approaches, I thought an early start might just be worth it. And so it was that the alarm went off at stupid o’clock one September morning.

The drive over didn’t fill me with any excitement as from a distance the moors looked to be shrouded in cloud. However as I drove along the A169 into the North York Moors towards Saltergate I realised the cloud was actually early morning mist. Things started to look much more promising.

Just before sunrise, when the Hole of Horcum finally came into view, I was pretty chuffed. Not only was the heather still in flower but the bottom of ‘The Hole’ was shrouded in mist: one of the first of this year’s autumn.

Wary that the mist would soon burn off when the sun rose above the horizon, I parked up and skipped over the road keen to start snapping away. This was the first photo of the day.

mist shrouding the Levisham Beck in the Hole of Horcum
My first view of the Hole of Horcum before sunrise

The Hole of Horcum from Gallows Dike

After taking a few minutes to admire the scenery I decided that the best viewpoint was probably from the ancient earthwork of Gallows Dike at the northern end of the Hole of Horcum. The dike was only a couple of minutes walk away along the footpath running along the top of the escarpment’s rim.

Gallows Dike is a cross ridge dike or, put more simply, a ridge flanked by two shallow ditches. To this philistine it isn’t very impressive to be honest but the views from it are!

On such a great dawn I would have been surprised to have the whole place to myself. And as it turned out I wasn’t alone. There was one other photographer who had got up early to fly his drone. Nice chap. As he was here first I let him get on with taking photos while we chatted, secretly hoping he would bloody well move and soon! However much I want to take photos in this situation I would never get in the way of another photographer. If only everyone was as nice as me!

Fortunately he eventually positioned himself where I could take a photo so I set up and took a few. This was the best of that set.

I was happy that I’d managed to get both the mist and heather in one shot. However the eastern bank of the Hole of Horcum was stopping the sun rays striking any of the path. I was pretty sure that by the time the sun had risen high enough for it to do so the mist would have fully disappeared. It was already slowly burning off after all.

Lockton High Moor from Gallows Dike

Realising that staying here wasn’t going to be much more fruitful I climbed to the other side of the bank that faced northwards, away from the Hole of Horcum. This side overlooks Saltergate and Lockton High Moor. Its not for me to big myself up but sometimes I do make great decisions!

The mist to the north of the top of Saltergate Bank was much thicker and there was still plenty to burn off.

From this vantage point the steep sided valley of North Dale can be seen to the north, cutting into the high plateau of the North York Moors.

North Dale cutting into misty North York moors plateau at dawn
The valley of North Dale from Gallows Dike

North Dale contains Eller Beck, a tributary of the River Esk. It is also the route of the North York Moors Railway as it travels between Levisham and Goathland stations. It was way too early in the day to hear any trains on the line though.

Further east is the remote farmhouse of Glebe Farm which was emerging from the dawn mists.

And further east still is the bloody monstrosity that is RAF Fylingdales! I’ve always seen this building as a blot on the landscape. Its used as a radar base that acts as an early warning system for missile strikes. I’m not sure why anyone would ever attack the North York Moors though! Just so local people can sleep at night the RAF also gave the site the latin motto of ‘Vigilamus’ which translates as ‘we are watching’. So reassuring!

Having said all that I will concede that the distinctive shape of Fylingdales does add something to my final image. I think this is favourite photo of the day.

Post Hole of Horcum walk

And that was it. The sun had risen to a point where it was quickly warming up the land. As a result the mist was rapidly disappearing. The best of the dawn had been and gone so it was time to pack up.

My day out wasn’t over yet though. For a start it was only 7am, just an hour after I arrived. Plus having driven this far I wasn’t going to drive home straight away. No, it was time for a good hike as I wanted to make the most of this rare visit. And I wasn’t disappointed as the rest if the day turned out to be a treat too.

I also wasn’t unhappy when I got home and reviewed the photos I had taken. After a few cloudy and wet nights out in my tent this summer this dawn trip was pretty good compensation. As a result my North York Moors photo collection has quite a few new additions.

A dawn walk round the Hole of Horcum was last modified: March 21st, 2021 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • Bluebells and ramsons in Robin Hoods Howl
    May 2016 : Visiting Robin Hoods Howl, a coppiced beech woodland on the edge of the North York Moors National Park that is carpeted with ramsons in springtime

  • The classic Malham Round
    May 2017 : A springtime walk through stunning limestone scenery from Malham in the Yorkshire Dales taking in Janet's Foss, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove

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