THE whole of the Yorkshire countryside and its coastline are renowned for spectacular and long distance views, particularly from high spots such as the top of Sutton Bank near Thirsk, Ampleforth Beacon, Leyburn Shawl and the tower of York Minster.
Most of us have our own favourite viewpoint to which we take visitors whom we wish to dazzle with the splendour of the dales, moors, wolds or coastline. This is usually coupled with details of local history and the beauty of the extensive landscape, much of which is never seen by travellers hurtling along the major routes through the area. Major roads and railways rarely offer time to stand and stare at the scenery.
One my favourite vantage points is from Ampleforth Beacon which hosts the crossroads heading into Ampleforth as well as towards Hovingham and Malton, plus a route towards Sutton Bank Top
with another leading via Sproxton into Helmsley and beyond to the east coast. There are fine views towards the east and across the North York Moors with Fylingdales Early Warning station in the distance.
By making a half-turn around, the view is then across to the Wolds whilst another such turn looks into the Yorkshire Dales where, on a fine day, the radomes of Menwith Hill stand clear even if, from that distance, they look like a crop of white mushrooms in the distant Pennines. From Ampleforth Beacon, therefore, we can see both Menwith Hill and Fylingdales Early Warning Station – clearly, they can both see each other and so aid their respective protective roles.
Ampleforth Beacon lies roughly midway between those modern defences but the name indicates its long history as a vital vantage point. Warning signs of attack or trouble, invariably achieved by the lighting of giant bonfires that could be seen for miles (along with their smoke), were essential to alert the population of a huge area in the low-lying countryside. Such beacons were a vital form of communication in times past and their messages enabled the people to take whatever action was necessary, eg to arm themselves, or go into hiding…
There can be no doubt that Ampleforth Beacon was one of the most prominent and significant vantage points in the North Riding of Yorkshire. We can add many others but all have a common feature – it is that the view from such a place extends over a great distance with little to mar the sights. Pure and open views!
I am reminded of this bonus, which many of us take for granted, in a tale about a North Yorkshire moorland farmer whose wife died.
He had never taken a holiday during his life on the farm and so his children felt he would benefit from a trouble-free break. Accordingly, they booked him into a smart hotel in Switzerland for a week and off he went.
One of his daughters decided to telephone him at the hotel and during their conversation he thanked her for finding such a wonderful place. Then she asked, “What are the views like from your room?”
He replied, “They’d be fine if it wasn’t for all these mountains.”
His response encapsulates the wonderful vistas enjoyed by the people of the Dales, Wolds and Moors of Yorkshire – from our homes, many of us have uninterrupted views by which we can see for miles, and which some of us take for granted.
Inevitably, many of those views will be considered the finest in Yorkshire if not in England. Most of us appreciate there are equally splendid views in Co. Durham, Northumberland, the Lake District and elsewhere, but is there anything to match the view from Sutton Bank Top?
I believe it was the well-known author, James Herriot, who described that view from the escarpment of Sutton Bank across Lake Gormire and into the Dales, as the finest in England. Another famous writer visited that locality in 1802. He was William Wordsworth who was accompanied by his sister, Dorothy.
Whilst they were exploring the area, a drover with a herd of cattle was passing through, the animals being guided by highly-trained dogs. Those dogs were often sent home alone, finding food at roadside inns en route, with the drover eventually settling the bill. After watching that drover, Dorothy wrote in her diary about “the little Scottish cattle which panted and tossed their heads fretfully about.”
Such lines of cattle consisting of thousands of animals were a regular sight on the drovers’ road that ran along western escarpment of the Hambleton Hills. That road entered the moors near Swainby and at Sutton Bank, the route divided to take cattle to York and beyond, or alternatively to Malton when they passed along Ampleforth High Street.
This is not the main road through that village but a former Roman road that still bears that misleading name! High Street then meant a road over high ground. Another High Street crosses the mountains of the Lake District in the area between Ullswater and Haweswater.
When we consider bird visitors to our country we usually think of spring and summer with an influx of colourful and interesting species. They range from swallows and swifts to cuckoos and various members of the warbler family, along with many others. However, we cannot ignore autumn and winter which also attract visiting birds.
One of the most colourful is the waxwing. There tends to be good years and bad years for waxwings, good years being known as waxwing winters for these birds generally arrive in flocks during the autumn. They are usually first noted on or near the east coast and then they soon move deeper inland.
The most likely place to see a busy flock of waxwings will be parklands or large gardens where there are plenty of trees bearing ripe berries. They seem to have no fear of humans and will allow them to approach surprisingly closely whilst they are feeding. Their chief purpose upon arrival is to find food.
It is claimed they can consume three times their own weight in ripe berries during a single day and their favourites are rowan berries, the fruit of the hawthorn and also the red fruit of the whitebeam. However, they will also tackle rose hips and any other kind of cultivated fruit. Insects such as mosquitoes and midges also form part of their diet.
Waxwings are larger than robins but smaller than song thrushes, and are certainly more portly than either of those! With a very prominent crest, their plumage is a soft warm brown with colourful wing tips and a yellow tip to its tail. The wing tips include black and white feathers with touches of yellow and splashes of what looks like red wax - hence their name.