Length of walk: 4 3/4 miles
Start/finish: May Beck car park. Access is from the B1416 which links the A169 and the A171 south of Whitby
Terrain: This moderate walk enjoys plenty of woodland paths and heather moorland. Several short ascents
Sneaton Forest and the May Beck valley offer an excellent network of paths and tracks for those in search of peace and solitude. Moments from its start, this walk plunges deep into a silent land of conifer plantations and bracken-covered glades. The route skirts the heathery expanses of Fylingdales Moor before taking shelter among stands of trees and clumps of bracken. Each season reveals something new and surprising on this walk, but one feature which remains reassuringly timeless is Falling Foss, one of the North York Moors National Park’s most treasured landmarks, cascading deep among the trees that overhang May Beck.
Sneaton Forest forms one of the seven main blocks of the North Riding Forest Park. This part of the North York Moors was once densely wooded with a wide variety of broadleaved trees cloaking the sheltered valley. Several of these native species survive from the earliest days of settlement in the area, most probably during the Bronze Age.
Trees were later felled for farming and by the Middle Ages large flocks of sheep, many of them owned by the monasteries, grazed the hills, preventing regrowth and regeneration of the forest. Gradually rough moorland took the place of the trees, changing the appearance and character of the area so dramatically that today it is hard to believe these open upland tracts were once thickly afforested. Among the tree species to be found here are lodgepole pine and Sitka spruce. Timber from Sneaton Forest goes mainly for paper pulp and chipboard.
Leave the car park by turning right onto a track, pass a sign (No unauthorised vehicles), and further up the slope, look back for a lovely view of the May Beck valley. When the track swings right, take the signposted path running off to the left. Cross the footbridge, avoid the turning on the left and continue ahead on the grassy path. Pass through a kissing gate and follow the course of the chattering May Beck, with banks of bracken and the trees of Sneaton Forest conspiring to engulf the walk. On reaching a signpost, bear right to reach a clear woodland track.
Turn left and when the track curves to the right, bear left to join a waymarked path, running between the trees. Cross a forest drive and continue through dense, silent woodland to the junction by the remains of John Bond’s Sheep House. These stone enclosures were used by shepherd John Bond, who stayed here while guarding his flock.
Bear right and a footpath sign is visible about 80 yards away on the edge of the moorland. Cross a footbridge towards the signpost and then follow the path as it skirts the moor. Pass through a kissing gate, then stride out across the carpet of heather, a dazzling picture in summer. Merge with another path and go straight on over Shooting House Rigg. The size and scale of Sneaton Forest, away to the left, can be absorbed on this exposed stretch of the walk. Keep the line of trees as a useful landmark. Now and again, the wind carries the hooting of trains on the North York Moors Railway.
Look for a right of way sign up ahead after some time. On reaching a junction of paths, go straight ahead. The path is not clearly defined on this next stretch, partly obscured by the carpet of heather. In places, it disappears completely. However, there is a wall a short distance to the left. Walk ahead, parallel to the wall, and look for the next signpost, visible against the skyline. On reaching it, turn left through the kissing gate and follow the path across Sneaton Low Moor, curving to the right after about 200 yards. Turn sharp left after about 100 yards and follow the indistinct path across the moorland. Aim to the left of the woodland ahead. Traffic can sometimes be seen on the minor road leading to the car park at May Beck.
Merge with another path and look for the rooftops of a farmstead at New May Beck. On reaching the road, turn left and follow it round to the right. Turn right where the road bears sharp left and follow the waymarked path down to a footbridge. Bear left through a gate and keep to the path as it cuts between woodland and bracken. Head up the slope and alongside a field boundary fence. Cross a stile into a field and keep the boundary on the left.
Head for the far end of the field and join a track, following it between fields and woodland to a stile leading onto a lane. Turn left, passing the entrance to Newton House and farm. Pass a parking area for Falling Foss on the left and continue on the lower track (signposted Falling Foss). The sound of rushing water is audible now. Descend between the trees and take the path running off half right, down to the waterfall. Falling Foss, enclosed by beech and birch, plunges 30 feet over a resistant ledge of rock, and is particularly spectacular after a spell of heavy rain. Adjacent Midge Hall was once a keeper’s cottage and later a museum; its shaded woodland setting is superb, though the building itself has long been derelict.
Returning to the track, continue down through trees and across May Beck. Pass a signpost for the Coast to Coast walk on the left and keep on the track as it rises quite steeply through the trees. Turn left at the next footpath, after about 100 yards and follow it through the woodland. Pass a seat and then turn left at the next junction. Take the next path on the left and follow it round to the right, passing a stone cottage. Follow the track as it cuts through the trees and undergrowth and soon the car park at May Beck edges into view.
From ‘Walks Around Whitby’ by Nick Channer
The information given in this walk has been provided in good faith and is intended only as a general guide. Whilst all reasonable efforts have been made to ensure that details were correct at the time of publication, the author and Country Publications Ltd cannot accept any responsibility for inaccuracies. It is the responsibility of individuals undertaking outdoor activities to approach the activity with caution and, especially if inexperienced, to do so under appropriate supervision. The activity described in this walk is strenuous and individuals should ensure that they are suitably fit before embarking upon it. They should carry the appropriate equipment and maps, be properly clothed and have adequate footwear. They should also take note of weather conditions and forecasts, and leave notice of their intended route and estimated time of return.