The 35-mile Esk Valley Walk traces the river from its origins on the eastern slopes of the North York Moors through moorland and woodland to the sea at Whitby. This 12-mile section, following the walk’s leaping salmon sign, offers a taste of its variety and beauty – with a classic train journey for the return.
Follow the salmon
South from Danby station, take Easton Lane to a ‘salmon’ footpath sign. The path crosses the railway and the infant river – look out for kingfishers – to reach the National Park’s Moors Centre. Beyond, take the road signed Danby Beacon (right) and turn left after the cattle grid to the hill’s summit. The modern beacon stands on a site used since at least the 17th century for warning fires. There are wide views over the valley below and, to the north, towards Teesside.
Colourful view of Little Fryup Dale from Danby Beacon/Credit: Getty Images
Archaeological sites abound on the moors, from prehistoric tool production sites to the foundations of an early radar station. Take the track signed ‘Lealholm’ from the beacon, following the walk’s leaping salmon logo to bend right and go down the hill into the attractive village.
Ancient woods and wildflowers
The river rushes into Lealholm round a sharp bend south-west of the bridge – it’s worth exploring to see the indications of the severe floods of 1840, 1930 and 2000. Just before the bridge, turn left along a track that weaves its way between the river and the railway line. This section of the line opened in 1865, to join the Grosmont to Whitby line built 30 years earlier.
Wind through Underpark Farm and through woodland to reach a track. Cross the river on a footbridge near the ford and turn right at a road. At Thorneythwaite a signed stile leads through a neat garden and eventually into ancient woodland, home to plants such as white-flowered wood sorrel, greater woodrush and broad buckler fern. Pass Mill Wood Cottage by the river (a mill was recorded here in the Doomsday Book) and into Glaisdale, once an ironstone-mining village.
Near the Arncliffe Arms go left and follow the road under the railway bridge. Just beyond is the high arch of Beggars Bridge, built in 1619 by Hull merchant Thomas Ferries. As a boy, his last meeting with his sweetheart across the river was thwarted by floods, so he vowed to build a bridge when he had made his fortune.
Just before the railway arch, turn right and follow the ancient paved track, probably laid by local monks and used for centuries by packhorses and travellers, through the woods. At a road, turn left to Egton Bridge. You can cross the Esk by bridge, or by stepping-stones near the Horseshoe Hotel.
The village has a station on the Esk Valley line, but is most famous for its gooseberry growers, who compete fiercely each August for the heaviest gooseberry in the village’s Old Gooseberry Show.
A whistle from the past
Opposite St Hedda’s church, take the private estate road – Barnards Road – parallel with the river. There are often donkeys in the field next to Egton Manor, and herons frequent the river. The Esk is also one of the few Yorkshire rivers that support salmon. Pass a toll sign and as you approach Grosmont you may hear steam whistles – at Grosmont station the Esk Valley line meets the preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway from Pickering.
Another ironstone mining village, Grosmont is now full of railway enthusiasts and visitors admiring the trains and the old-fashioned station. Catch a train (a diesel, from the Esk Valley Line platform) back to Danby.
The walk starts at Danby Railway Station on the Esk Valley Line (www.eskvalleyrailway.co.uk) and finishes at Grosmont station, which is also accessible from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (www.nymr.co.uk)
Best places to eat and stay
The Geall Gallery and Artisan Cafe & Gallery B&B
Front Street, Grosmont
This friendly café is just a stone’s throw from Grosmont station.
Broom House Lane, Egton Bridge YO21 1XD
With awards for both its accommodation and breakfast, stone-built Broom House is a little bit of luxury in the Moors.
The Moors National Park Centre
Lodge Lane, Danby
Learn what makes the National Park tick, or enjoy the climbing wall, the play area – or just the views of the Esk valley.