Low lying agricultural landscape contained by the
escarpment of the North Yorkshire Moors and Cleveland
Hills to the east and the undulating slopes and
valleys of the Yorkshire Dales to the west.
Divided from the Tees Lowlands to the north
by glacial deposits forming a minor watershed.
Underlying Triassic sandstones and mudstones, blanketed
by thick layers of glacial boulder clay (till) with
subdued moraines and ridges of sand and gravel.
More varied topography than the Vale of York with
areas of rolling, undulating hills as well as flatter
Fertile agricultural land used for arable
crops and permanent grassland.
Fields of medium scale enclosed by low hedgerows
with scattered, small areas of woodland and some
Low lying river valleys meandering through
flood plains which become broader to the south whey
they traverse flat glacial lake deposits.
Villages situated on higher ground, with
an often linear form along a wide main street, and
churches providing local landmarks.
Buildings generally of brick of varying colour
with pantiles for roofs.
Influence of military installations and major
transport routes, especially the A1 and the A19
and the York to Edinburgh main railway line.
Vale of Mowbray is similar to the Vale of York but
is distinguished by the relative containment offered
by the prominent scarp of the North Yorkshire Moors
and Cleveland Hills to the east, and the more gentle
foothills of the Pennine Dales to the west. From
within the vale there are always views out to these
masses of higher ground. At the Vale fringes the
hills also offer a real sense of enclosure.
Within the Vale the landscape is essentially flat,
or gently undulating. There is slightly more varied
land form to the east, where the land begins to
rise to the moors, and in the low undulations between
river valleys. Low ridges and knolls occur in places
and appear quite prominent above the flatter land
around them. They are formed from fault-bounded
outcrops of the underlying rocks morainic material
or ridges of sand and gravel. The soils of the Vale,
formed from glacial deposits, are generally quite
fertile and now support predominantly arable farming,
although there is also permanent pasture. Fields
are medium in size, but become larger towards the
south and west.
There is variation in the character of the farmed
landscape resulting from both changes in topography
and differences in land cover. Some areas have significant
woodland cover, and substantial hedgerows, many
of which are thick and well maintained. These landscapes
appear quite enclosed, especially when combined
with more varied topography. Elsewhere fields are
large, woodland limited, hedges low cut and gappy
with fences increasingly taking their place, and
hedgerow and field trees are widely scattered. This
creates a much more open, simple landscape especially
in the flat areas of the vale.
The Vale of Mowbray is crossed by the River Swale
and its tributaries the Wiske and the Cod Beck.
The valleys of these watercourses are quite narrow
in the north of the vale but are nevertheless significant
in the landscape. Characteristically they are tree
lined and fringed by a belt of rough pasture or
scrub. Further south the flood plains open out and
are intensively cultivated. The rivers themselves
are here often contained within embankments although
sometimes the river meanders naturally within its
channel, depositing gravel banks and having a fringe
of riverine vegetation. These more southerly stretches
of river are sometimes cultivated right up to the
bank and sometimes fringed by trees and scrub.
Other more scattered elements also contribute significantly
to the overall character of the Vale. Parkland landscapes
occur in a number of locations and contribute to
the extent of tree cover especially where they coincide
with areas which still retain moderate hedge, hedgerow
tree and woodland cover. There are also both active
and redundant airfields. They are usually in quite
open areas and the associated structures of roads,
runways, fences, sheds, hangars, control towers,
and new industrial uses can be highly visible. Finally
the Vale provides a major transport corridor and
contains a section of the A1, the A19 from Thirsk
to Teesside and the main London to York to Edinburgh
Triassic sandstones and mudstones form the main
bedrock to the Vale of Mowbray, but Jurassic mudstones
and sandstones are present in isolated faulted ridges
in the east and where the ground rises to the foot
of the North York Moors. At the margin of the North
York Moors, Lake Gormire, one of the few lakes in
Yorkshire is impounded in a glacial hollow formed
in the surrounding rock by erosion marginal to the
Vale of York ice-sheet.
Glacial deposits, dating mainly from the last glaciation,
are the main influence on the landscape of the Vale.
Thick glacial till blankets the area and forms a
slightly elevated bench when it laps onto the lower
flanks of the moors to the east. Subdued ridges
of glacial till form weak arcuate moraines and lines
of drumlinoid hills across the Vale. Well-developed
ridges of sand and gravel (eskers) occur with a
trend parallel to the Vale especially in the southern
part of the area. Here, glacial lake deposits fill
in around the glacial topography and present large
flat expanses of heavy clay soil punctuated with
flat expanses of light sandy soil. The glacial topography
controlled the courses of the present river drainage,
restricting the rivers to narrow floodplains in
the north and allowing them to meander widely across
the flat area of lake deposits in the south.
and Cultural Influences
of the intensive agriculture in the area archaeological
remains are not as apparent in the Vale as they
are in the surrounding uplands. It is also likely
that the clay soils supported dense forest and that
the rivers were prone to widespread and regular
flooding, so this would not have been a favoured
area for settlement in the earliest times. Nevertheless,
like the other vale areas to the south it is probable
that the Vale of Mowbray was, before the 18th century,
a mix of common pastures, open fields and earlier
enclosure. Drainage, flood control and parliamentary
enclosure then shaped much of the present agricultural
landscape, and introduced the pattern of scattered,
imposing brick built farmsteads and shelter belts.
The position of the Vale between two prominent areas
of upland has meant that it has always been an important
transport corridor. The Romans constructed north
south roads through the Vale and these routes are
on the approximate line of the modern trunk roads
linking the north and south. The main towns have
also evolved in response to this transport role,
Northallerton for example has Roman origins, but
developed substantially to service coaching routes
in the 18th and early 19th century, and then expanded
with the opening of the railway in the 19th century.
Other key influences have included hunting and field
sports, which led to the introduction of numerous
small blocks of woodland, planted as game coverts,
many of which still make an important contribution
to the landscape today. Defence requirements in
the Second World War led to the establishment of
the large number of airfields in the Vale, notably
Leeming, Sandhutton, Topcliffe and Dishforth. They
are prominent within the Vale and, as some become
redundant, the alternative uses to which they are
put are bringing change to the rural surroundings.
the county town of North Yorkshire, and Thirsk are
the main towns in the Vale of Mowbray. Beyond these,
settlement is generally concentrated on the high
ground, out of reach of the floods which would once
have affected the river valleys. Villages are often
of a linear form, running along roads often with
buildings facing each other, set back behind wide
grass verges across a wide main street. It is common
for long rear plots to be associated with the houses
in these villages, with access provided via back
lanes. Village greens are common, though they do
not occur in all villages, All these features, combined
with mature trees and other traditional features,
create very attractive rural villages with an unmistakable
vale character. Churches within the villages have
either towers or spires which provide prominent
landmarks visible for miles around in this generally
Farmsteads are dispersed throughout the vale with
many dating from the Parliamentary enclosure period.
They stand prominently in open country, sometimes
contained by planted shelter belts.
The buildings in the vale are constructed mainly
of brick and pantile and indeed the underlying clays
have supported brickworks in the area at various
times. Earlier bricks, made up to the early 17th
century, are a warm red colour, while those from
the later 17th century onwards become lighter red,
or red brown. Bricks from the 19th and early 20th
century have a distinctive mottled pink and light
brown appearance and are apparent in many buildings
in the area. Minor variations in traditional building
styles occur where the brick is rendered, mainly
in the north of the area, and where brick courses
are mixed with cobbles from the glacial deposits
and from rivers.
within the Vale is relatively simple. A great deal
of the agricultural land is in arable production,
although substantial areas of grassland remain.
There are also riverine meadows along the main river
corridors, sometimes narrow, unmanaged and scrubby,
but broader where the valleys open out to the south.
Farming systems are quite mixed with dairy farming
and cropping most common, but some mixed farms,
pig farms and poultry farms are also present. Woodland
cover is more prominent here than in the more open
vales to the south, though even here much has been
lost. Many are small game coverts, shelter belts
around farms and plantations. Semi-natural deciduous
woodland is limited but there are some areas alongside
the rivers, for example Landmoth Wood above the
Cod Beck east of Northallerton. Parkland landscapes
contribute to the tree cover in some local areas,
and in some parts of the vale, especially along
the ridges to the east, hedgerows and hedgerow trees
are reasonably intact and create a relatively enclosed
The Vale of Mowbray has changed substantially as
a result of intensification of agriculture, with
the overall effect that it is becoming more similar
to the very open arable landscape of the Vale of
York to the south. Hedges and hedgerow trees have
been lost and grassland converted to arable use.
Losses may have slowed but the overall trend seems
likely to continue.
With large areas of arable land present set-aside
is also now beginning to have an effect on the farmed
Where parklands contribute to local character
change in estate management practices has an effect,
sometimes leading to decline in the condition of
Development pressures have also affected
the Vale and continue to do so.
Pressures for housing and industry around
towns and along main road corridors.
Requirements for new housing in rural villages
leading to the introduction of non-vernacular buildings
and the loss of the traditional village plan.
Alternative, often industrial uses of redundant
airfields, affecting open landscapes.
Road improvements to major trunk roads, and
development of service areas.
Introduction of a new pylon line across the
Enhancement opportunities may arise in relation
to restoration of the limited areas of sand and
gravel working in the river valleys, and from schemes
to introduce moresympathetic river management, or
possibly to restore more natural river character
in areas which have been highly engineered.
There is scope for a comprehensive approach
to securing active management of the many areas
of small woodland.
Where hedges and hedgerow trees have declined,
hedgerow restoration and planting may be appropriate
to improve wildlife habitat and strengthen landscape
Integrated approaches to management of areas
around important heritage sites which are popular
with visitors may also be appropriate.
To reverse the loss of grassland in the vale,
opportunities need to be explored to encourage the
conservation of existing grassland, and the reversion
of arable land to pasture.
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Kent, P. 1980. British Regional Geology: Eastern
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Pevsner, N (1985), The Buildings of England: Yorkshire
- The North Riding, Penguin Books.
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Robert Hale, London
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