North York Moors CAM

Tuesday 21st March 2000

Today's walk: Rosedale Railway and Ironstone Mines ( 8 miles )


The beautiful valley of Rosedale extends nearly eight miles - The River Seven flows through the dale from its source at Rosedale Head (near where this photo was taken today) to join the River Rye in the Vale of Pickering. About 3 miles south-east of Rosedale Head lies the village of Rosedale Abbey. Nowadays the villagers and the dalesmen depend on farming, forestry and tourism for their livelihood. In the peace and quiet of Rosedale today it's difficult to believe it hasn't been like this since time began . . . . but for a period in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was a totally different story . . .

. . . on today's walk we will see some remaining evidence of that dramatic period in Rosedale's history


We begin our walk at the isolated Lion Inn (Grid Ref: 679 997) on Blakey Ridge which lies midway between the villages of Castleton, 6 miles to the north and Hutton-le-Hole, 6 miles south

This popular inn is a welcome sight and drinking place for hikers on the 'Coast to Coast' and 'Lyke Wake Walks' as well as for the thousands of passing motorists who flock to this area in the summer months

Visit The Lion Inn for more information on the pub's facilities and to enjoy its fascinating history and old photographs


After carefully crossing the road we follow the signed footpath to the right of the cottage and stone walls opposite the pub and walk down the side of the moor until soon reaching the old North East Railway Rosedale Branch trackbed - turn right and continue to follow the cinder track in a south-westerly direction

We've mentioned on previous walks how useful these old trackbeds have become to walkers - none more so than today


We soon arrive at this point (Grid Ref: 685 988) where Blakey Junction once stood - the view here is looking back north-west

Nowadays, apart from some bits of rubble, very little evidence of any buildings exist, but at one time a small community of seven railwaymen's cottages, known as Little Blakey, was established here - the last surviving house was inhabited until 1955

A fascinating comparison can be seen on an old black and white photograph taken from near this same point in the Picture Galleries section of Rosedale on the Railways through Ingleby website along with many other nostalgic photos of the railway and mines

Another fine and recommended source of reference is the booklet 'Rosedale Mines and Railway' by RH Hayes & JG Rutter published by Scarborough Archaeological and Historical Society and cheaply available in most good bookshops in this area - the booklet contains details of the history of the industry as well as many old photographs and diagrams of the track routes


As we continue on ahead we enjoy superb views across the valley and here we can clearly see the ruins of the calcination kilns and the railway track a mile or so away on the east side of Rosedale - our walk should take us there in about 1 hours time


About 2 miles from the start of the walk we arrive at the ruins of Sherrif's Pit (Grid Ref: 698 983)

This last remaining standing structure is part of the gable end of the Pit Manager's house - it has defied the storms over the years, standing in this fragile condition for as long as I can remember and can be seen for miles around

Sherrif's Pit was worked as far back as 1857 - a 270 ft deep vertical shaft, which can still be seen fenced off close by these ruins, was sunk alongside the NER track. Horizontal drifts were driven into the dale side near Thorgill, east of the shaft. One of the drifts extended 1500 ft to the base of the shaft from where the ironstone was hauled to the top and tipped directly into wagons without undergoing the calcination process which was introduced to the East Side Mines

Sherrif's Pit continued in operation until 1911 when difficulties with underground haulage and infiltrating water finally brought about the closure of the mine


At Sherrif's Pit we leave the railway track and turn left heading east across the moor towards the valley following a track which soon reaches a wood and wire fence - after crossing the stile you'll notice the path peters out to almost nothing but if you continue ahead and slightly right from the stile you will soon see a prominent holly tree ahead - head for that and you'll soon arrive at an old stile


Cross the stile and continue ahead keeping the old stone wall to your left and go past a ruined farm building - just beyond the ruin the path descends steeply towards some more derelict farm buildings at Gill Bank


A pleasant surprise on our walk today were these daffodils, now growing wild near the ruins of the farm at Gill Bank


Continuing downhill, we soon reach the sheltered hamlet of Thorgill

A couple of farms, a few houses and a holiday cottage dotted here and there - I find Thorgill peaceful and idyllic and the birds always seem to sing louder here than anywhere else - they certainly did today

On reaching the road, which in the hamlet is little more than a track, we turn right and follow it until about 100 yards past the last cottage, 'Crag Hill View', we turn left down the access road to Low Thorgill Farm

Continue through the farmyard, bracing yourself for the barking but harmless sheepdogs that appear from nowhere, then go through the metal farm gate and across a small field down to a footbridge just to the right of a caravan - cross the footbridge and continue on a stone trod across the first field. Cross the second small footbridge and head straight up the next two fields to a gate at the top


Here we look back south from the gate towards Thorgill and Low Thorgill Farm with Thorgill Crag above

From the gate follow the track uphill and through another gate until emerging near a couple of rows of houses - Hill Cottages

These houses were built in the 19th century to house the miners who flocked to the area from local villages and from as far away as Ireland and Scotland - at one time overcrowding was so acute that it is said that "beds were never cold" as shift replaced shift


On reaching the narrow road that runs between the two rows of houses, go straight across and up a track leading to a white-painted farmhouse - passing through the farmyard, with its little duckpond, and continue up and round to the left until reaching this access gate which takes us onto the east side railway line of Rosedale Mines


It soon becomes apparent we are back among the 'ghosts' of our industrial ancestors


Shortly after we arrive at the ruins of 'calcination kilns' which we saw earlier from the west side of the dale - the buildings are now under the care of The North York Moors National Park Authority and English Heritage but are still dangerous if entered beyond the wooden fence

The ventilation chimney seen above the kilns drew 'foul air' from the drift mines which were driven into the hillside on this side of the valley. The kilns were used to 'roast' the ironstone and remove water and carbonic acid gas resulting in a purer final product which was more economical to transport to the steelworks at Teesside some 30 or so miles away - the 'roasted' ore was transported direct from the kilns in a hot condition which made metal-bodied wagons necessary


We continue along the track soon passing a second set of kilns


Here we look back at the ruins of both sets of kilns and the ventilation chimney


Leaving the ruined buildings behind we continue for the last three miles of our walk following the old track and marvelling at the skill of the railway engineers who constructed the line - as it follows the contours of the hillsides of Rosedale, massive embankments and deep cuttings being made necessary to enable the trains to carry their loads of ironstone to Blakey Junction and then across 7 more miles of exposed moorland to the top of Ingleby Incline before their descent to Battersby Junction and then on to the steelworks at Teesside

Our walk continues round the head of Rosedale with splendid views south down the valley - (see top photo)

After rounding the northern end of the dale, the track continues up a slight gradient for about another mile - a mile past a red brick ruin leave the track on your right and climb a path up over the moor and back to the starting point - The Lion Inn

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Postscript: At the height of the Rosedale mining era in 1871, the population of the dale had risen from 548 to 2839. Rosedale ironstone was once described as 'the richest ore in North Yorkshire'. Over of a million tons per year were produced at the mines' peak but as production costs rose and competition with low-priced foreign ore became acute, their days soon became numbered. The final blow was the General Strike of 1926, from which time the ironstone mines of Rosedale were never re-opened

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