YORKSHIRE MOORS AND CLEVELAND HILLS
Upland plateau landscape underlain mainly by sandstone
and mudstone of Middle Jurassic age, and in the
south, calcareous sandstone and limestone of Upper
Jurassic age, with areas of undulating land arising
from deposits of glacial till, sand and gravel.
Plateaux dissected by a series of dales,
often broad and sweeping, but with steep-sided river
valleys in places, and floored by Lower Jurassic
Extensive areas of heather moorland on plateaux
and hills, creating a sense of space, expansiveness
Arable landscape to south and east, but part
still on elevated, sweeping plateaux and hills.
Sparsely settled, with population concentrated
in the dales and around the fringes.
Valley landscapes characterised by predominantly
pastoral farming with clear demarcation between
the enclosed fields, farms, settlements and the
moorland ridges above. The transition is often marked
by bracken fringes.
Panoramic views over moorland ridges, dales,
surrounding lowland vales and the sea.
Extensive areas of coniferous plantations,
especially on the Tabular Hills in the south-east
and Hackness north of Pickering; with remnant areas
of predominantly ancient semi-natural woodland occurring
mainly on valley side slopes, on escarpments and
Traditional stone walls and hedgerows enclosing
fields in the dales and lower fringing farmland
- now often replaced by fences.
Farms and villages built of predominantly
rubble limestone or dressed sandstone, with red
pantile or slate roofs.
Distinctive and dramatic coastal landscapes
with high cliffs, small coves and bays, coastal
towns and fishing villages.
Rich archaeological heritage from many different
periods, especially on the high moorland plateaux.
North York Moors and Cleveland Hills are a very
clearly demarcated block of high land in the north
east of the counties of Yorkshire and Cleveland.
To the north east the boundary is the North Sea,
while to the north and west there is a steep scarp
slope rising above the Tees valley and the Vale
of Mowbray. Here a curiously shaped, conical outlier
of Lower Jurassic rocks, Roseberry Topping, has
become a distinctive and well known landmark. The
Cleveland Hills are the highest area, but they merge
in to the Hambleton Hills in the south-west, which
in turn drop sharply down to the Vale of York. Along
the south margin the Tabular Hills dip gently to
the south and east, but there is still a distinct
change in slope where the land drops down to the
Vale of Pickering.
The most notable feature of the area is the expansive
sweep of unenclosed, predominantly heather moorland
at a remarkably low altitude, with long and panoramic
views in all directions. This creates a strong feeling
of space, expansiveness, openness and, sometimes,
solitude and wilderness. The sense of remoteness
is enhanced by the relatively few roads and settlements
which are visible on the moorland plateaux. The
upland plateaux contrast with the dales with their
scattered farmsteads and patterns of drystone walls
enclosing small pastures. The central core of moorland
is the watershed, the dales tend to run north south.
The dales running south tend to be broad and sweeping
in their upper reaches, but are narrow and twisting
where the rivers cut through the limestone and calcareous
sandstone of the Tabular Hills; these include Newtondale
and Forge Valley which were cut by pro-glacial meltwater.
Other dales, such as those containing the tributaries
of the Esk and the River Derwent, are narrower,
with fields and settlements contained by the moors,
and rivers winding round shoulders of rock. In some
steep slopes create dramatic narrow gorges often
clothed with woods. However, Eskdale which separates
the North York Moors from the Cleveland Hills is
a much broader valley and lacks the sense of enclosure
of many of the other valleys. It has fine stone
villages and extensive woodland but the limestone
which influences some of the other dales is missing
and the flora is not as rich.
The upland extends eastwards to one of the highest
stretches of cliff along England's North Sea coast.
The close proximity of the sea to the high moors
and the sheltered dales adds greatly to the character
of the area. The coastline itself is dramatic, with
high precipitous cliffs dipping down, in places,
to sandy or rocky bays. Small fishing villages cling
to the steep valley sides in sheltered locations.
The coastline includes some classical areas of British
The highest land, on the moorland plateaux, lacks
any tree cover, so the wooded areas that do exist
are often particularly prominent. In the south and
east extensive conifer plantations cloak stretches
of moorland and valley sides. Elsewhere there are
small broadleaved woodlands on the side slopes of
the dales, many of these have been replanted as
mixed woodland in the Hambleton and Tabular Hills.
The isolated farmsteads in the upper dales are sometimes
sheltered by groups of sycamores. Bracken is an
important landscape feature too, forming a fringe
to the moorland and marking the transition from
moor to valley pastures. Often there are strong
colour contrasts, most notably the purple of the
heather in late summer, the russet of the bracken
through the winter months, the green of the enclosed
grasslands in spring and early summer and the darker
areas of the conifers all year round. All these
complement the grey or sandy colours of the stone
buildings, villages and drystone walls.
The scale of the landscape is generally large and
sweeping and contrasts dramatically with some intimate
views within the dales and wooded areas. In the
south and east, where there are deeper soils, large
fields are devoted to arable and root crops. The
scale of the landform, the extensive views, and
the lack of boundaries, other than occasional fences,
nevertheless continue the feeling of openness from
the moorlands down these lower slopes. The arable
landscape also extends along the coastal strip,
where glacial deposits create good quality soils;
here there is a striking contrast as the farmed
landscape extends right up to the edge of the high
cliffs, which then drop suddenly straight down to
the sea. This coastal strip widens out in the north,
until it meets the East Cleveland Hills, an area
of rough pasture and moorland.
upland area of north east Yorkshire and Cleveland
is underlain by rocks of Jurassic age, which rise
sharply from the adjacent lowland regions. Much
of the raised plateau lies at over 360 metres in
altitude, but it has also been folded, with a major
anticline running east-west, a subsidiary dome which
is revealed at the coast near Robin Hood's Bay.
A syncline contains the Esk valley, with a further
less pronounced east-west anticline to the north,
between the coast and Guisborough. The whole block
tilts gently to the south and east, and erosion
over time has resulted in a singularly simple and
majestic landform. Streams and small rivers have
cut deeply into the plateau, with the Esk running
east to the coast, and the Derwent and its tributaries
draining south. Thick sandstones and thin impure
limestones of Middle Jurassic age underlie most
of the upland area to the north of the Tabular Hills.
It is these rocks that form the dramatic scarp slope
that rises sharply from the vale landscapes in the
north and west, and the precipitous cliffs along
the coast from Kettleness to Scarborough. The fossiliferous
limestone and calcareous sandstone of the Upper
Jurassic Corallian Group create the distinct form
and character of the Tabular Hills in the south,
and the Hambleton Hills in the west/south-west.
The Tabular Hills include scarps that rise impressively
about the moors, but the rocks dip to the south
to drop below the Upper Jurassic clays of the adjacent
Vale of Picking. The Corallian Group also forms
a cap to the hard resistant sandstones which form
the Hambleton Hills, rising some 250 metres above
the vale as a precipitous scarp slope.
Lower Jurassic Lias Group rocks underlie the entire
area and are exposed in the deeper inland dales,
and along the coast. They are predominantly shale
which were exploited for alum, jet and cement stone
concretions but also include seams of ironstone.
Coal was also worked from Middle Jurassic rocks.
These important mineral resources led to industrial
activity over time, especially in the Cleveland
Hills. More recently potash and associated halite
salts have been extracted from Permian Rocks at
great depth at the Boulby mine.
This block of hard rocks resisted the glaciers of
the last glaciation which moved down from the north
and west, deflecting the ice sheet to the west and
east. Glacial action is therefore only revealed
in the deposition of glacial till and sandy gravel
in the north, and along a coastal strip only a few
miles wide. These deposits result in a more undulating
landform in these areas. Vigorous scouring by water
associated with the glaciers has also cut deep valleys,
notably the narrow gorge of Newton Dale which forms
a link between the Esk valley and the Vale of Pickering
to the south.
and Cultural Influences
of settlement and activity from prehistoric times
onwards are still visible, particularly on the moors
where the remains have largely been protected by
the heather moorland. There are barrows dating from
the Neolithic period, but the moors are rich in
cairns, tumuli and stone circles of the Bronze age,
indicating that the area was populated at a time
when the climate was warmer and drier, and these
areas were thinly wooded and easily cultivated.
Later generations seem to have been less inclined
to settle in the area. The most notable Roman artifacts
which have been found are Cawthorn Camps, a training
camp, Wade's Causeway, a track running in a north
to south direction over the moors, and signal stations
along the coast.
Place names indicate extensive settlement and farming
by Angles along the south-facing Tabular Hills,
while the Danes settled in the north-east, and along
the north and west sides of the upland block. Later
Norse settlers moved in over most of the uplands.
Carved stone crosses still remain from these early
days of Christianity, and often form striking landmarks
along moorland roads and tracks.
Parishes tend to be large. Small nucleated villages
arose in the valleys where there was sufficient
cultivatable land to operate open field systems
to provide basic crops, while livestock were grazed
on the higher land. A royal forest, centred upon
Pickering, stretched far to the west and north,
with small villages existing within it.
Major changes came with the arrival of monasteries
in the 12th century, seeking to benefit initially
from the remoteness of the area and then from the
opportunities for sheep rearing. Rievaulx and Byland
Abbeys were the most dominant, controlling extensive
areas of moorland, and establishing outlying granges.
Enclosures of small fields around villages began
at this time. Extensive enclosure of the open field
system occurred after the Dissolution of the monasteries,
from the late 16th century, while larger enclosures,
dividing up the outlying pastures and common grazings
on the moorland, resulted from the Parliamentary
enclosures of the late 18th and 19th centuries.
However much of the moorland still remains unenclosed.
From medieval times small scale industrial workings,
of stone quarries, coal and ironstone, have supplemented
the agricultural economy, and the legacy of this
activity, including disused railways, is still visible
on the moors and hillsides. Along the coast jet
has been extracted since the Bronze Age but reaching
a peak in the 19th century. Alum, for use in tanning
and dyeing, was extracted by open quarries which
have locally altered the landform, especially along
the coast. In the Cleveland Hills ironstone working
has been locally important and indeed in this area
these are more obvious industrial influences than
in the more southerly parts.
As production of wool and meat became more important,
the upland villages turned more of their fields
over to permanent pasture and hay making, and this,
in turn led on to the pattern of mixed agriculture
currently in operation, albeit with silage replacing
hay. Grouse shooting become an important activity
on the heather moors. On lighter soils at lower
altitudes arable crops were favoured, and since
the 1960s cover large areas especially to the south
and east. In these areas planting of extensive coniferous
plantations in the 1920-1960s altered the character
of the landscape.
scattered farmsteads, villages and walls which are
characteristic of the area are built from local
stone. This creates a visual unity and links the
settlements closely to the surrounding landscape.
The pattern of villages was laid down early on,
at the time of settlement by the Angles, Danes and
Norse. These villages are small and nucleated and
built of the local sandstone or limestone, and roofed
with red pantiles which is unusual in an upland
area. This, coupled with the careful control of
new development, has resulted in strikingly attractive
small villages. The main market towns are located
around the fringe of the upland block, and include
Helmsley, Pickering, Whitby and Guisborough. Helmsley,
Pickering and Guisborough are attractive inland
market towns closely linked with the surrounding
rural area, while Saltburn and Whitby are coastal
towns, with economies based on tourism and fishing.
The effect of tourism along the coast and the 'Victorian'
influences on Saltburn, Whitby and Scarborough need
The tight-knit fishing villages tucked into bays
on the coast arose later than the inland farming
villages, with Sandsend first recorded in 1254,
and Staithes in 1415. Rights to take profits from
wrecks seem as significant as harvesting the products
of the sea in these early times. Dwellings in the
coastal fishing villages, such as Staithes and Robin
Hood's Bay, are tightly packed together in narrow
valleys leading down to the bays. Without gardens,
and built almost on top of each other, the houses
are connected by alleys and stepped lanes.
Rievaulx Abbey, the ruins of a Cistercian monastery
established in the 12th century, has become one
of the most famous sights of the area. Set in its
own small twisting valley it is picturesque and
evocative of times past, and has inspired many artists
and poets. More recent structures also have a notable
impact on the landscape, including: the chimney
of the potash works at Boulby; the towering pyramid
of the MOD installation at Fylingdales, which has
now replaced the earlier golfballs familiar
to many people, the transmission mast at Bilsdale;
and large caravan parks on the cliff tops.
area contains the largest continuous expanse of
heather moorland in England and Wales. The dominant
heather (Calluna Vulgaris) thrives on the acidic
peaty soils in an area of relatively low rainfall
while cotton grass and other species of rush and
heath occur on more boggy ground. Since the Second
World War much moorland has been reclaimed to grow
arable crops or planted with conifers. The moorlands
which support a good cover of ling and associated
species are those under a sound management regime,
usually related to grouse shooting or moorland flock
management. They often support a range of moorland
birds such as curlew, golden plover and merlin.
Bracken represents a distinct transition zone, occurring
as a fringe to the moorland, on the free-draining
side slopes of the moors and valleys. Although it
is an attractive part of the landscape its spread
in to the moorland is a matter for concern among
farmers and other land managers and this has given
rise to co-ordinated efforts to control its spread.
Elsewhere the area is dominated by rough pastures
and improved grasslands, supporting the rearing
of sheep and cattle. The grasslands of the dales
have been subject to continued agricultural improvement
since the war, with the consequent loss of semi-natural
grassland and moorland to improved grass. In addition,
the trend has been away from hay to silage, resulting
in much more homogenous green swards of vigorous
grasses instead of species rich hay meadows. A substantial
part of the area is covered by coniferous forestry,
and wide arable landscapes occur on the limestone
slopes and in the coastal areas. Broadleaved woodland
remains an important landscape component.
Much attention has been given in recent years to
the continued loss of heather moorland, which is
such an important feature of this landscape, and
to the health and condition of the areas that remain.
The loss of moorland to farming and forestry has
been the most significant problem, but changes in
Government policy since 1981 have dramatically reduced
losses. The spread of bracken into the moorland
is bringing about changes in the character of the
moorland. Other changes result from the economic
pressures on upland farming which make it more difficult
for farmers to maintain the fabric of the landscape.
As a result there are signs of dereliction, and
eventual loss, of both hedges and stone walls, and
lack of management or inappropriate grazing of small
woods, leading to their degradation and eventual
loss. Some farms are being split up, with the land
sold separately and buildings sold to incomers who
convert them for residential use.
Development pressures are also resulting
in change to the landscape. There are particular
pressures arising from tourist activity, especially
around the coastal towns, but also, on a smaller
scale in the inland areas. Examples include extensions
to caravan sites, introduction of brown tourist
signs, localised public right of way erosion, disturbance
of wildlife and increased fire risk on the moors.
The increased levels of traffic have also brought
change including improvement schemes to both major
and minor roads. Death of sheep due to traffic is
a problem and leads to pressure for fencing of roads
which would destroy the sense of uninterrupted openness
on the moorland plateau if implemented.
The lower slopes of the Tabular Hills, the
undulating glacial till of the coastal strip and
the northern stretch of the Cleveland Hills have
reasonably fertile and well-drained soils which
support arable crops. This can lead, in places,
to the anomalous situation of arable land occurring
at higher altitudes than pastures. These areas also
support some dairy and pig farming.
On the steep slopes of the dale sides ancient
and semi-natural broadleaved woodlands also occur,
which are subject to changes in extent and the species.
On more level plateau land, especially in the south-east,
extensive conifer plantations have been established
over recent decades. Many of these have reached
the stage when they are being felled and replanted.
Introduction of new features including new
or altered military installations, communications
masts, upgraded electricity infrastructure.
Most of the area is designated as a National Park
and so many of the issues relating to change in
the landscape are already being considered. For
example, improved management of the fabric of the
upland landscape is now being promoted through the
land management scheme, and a moorland regeneration
programme assists with moorland management and improving
its conservation. The main need is to ensure that
such measures are continued, and expanded where
possible, to ensure that the key features, notably
the moorland, the contrasting enclosed landscapes
of the dales and the coast, are conserved and enhanced.
The age of the extensive conifer plantations
in the southern part of the area means that felling
and replanting will need to take place in the relatively
short term. This could have adverse landscape impacts
but also offers scope to improve the design of prominent
The Cleveland Community Forest is a positive
influence in the north, offering opportunities to
restore land damaged by industrial dereliction,
to create new habitats and landscape features, and
to enhance access and enjoyment.
Development issues also need to be addressed,
including those relating to tourism and infrastructure.
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