Whitby Abbey Ruins
Whitby Abbey Ruins

A Brief History of the North York Moors and Coast

The North York Moors National Park:

The North York Moors National Park first came into existence in 1952 through the National Parks and Access toBilsdale the Countryside Act (1949), and covers an area of 554 square miles(1.436 square km) making it one of the smaller National Parks in the UK. However, it has been occupied for many thousands of years, the proof of which can be found in magnificent and prehistoric sites including standing stones, remains of ancient burial chambers, forts and numerous stone crosses.

Early settlers left a vast collection of land marks, the tallest of which is the 25 foot standing stone in Runston churchyard near Bridlington which is estimated to be 3-4000 years old. From medieval times a number of stone crosses, thought to have been way markers (footpath guides), were erected. Further evidence of early settlers and travellers is underlined by the many prehistoric burial mounds scattered throughout the North York Moors.

Evidence of Roman occupation can be seen at Wheeldale Moor including the remains of a mile long Roman Road which originally crossed the moors between Pickering and Grosmont, a well preserved short stretch, the so called Wades causeway, survives today.

The region is often incorrectly referred to as the 'North Yorkshire Moors', but the name comes from the fact that it is the 'Moors' North of York, and the correct title is the 'North York Moors'.

Replica of Cook's ship the HMS Endeavour sailing into WhitbyCaptain James Cook:

One of the North York Moors most famous sons is Captain James Cook, a sea farer of world renown who has filled history books with tales of fascination and awe for hundreds of years.

He was born in 1728 to a Scottish farm labourer and his wife in the little village of Marton, North Yorkshire. In 1736 he and his family moved to the nearby village of Great Ayton where his father ran a farm. James went to school, worked and lived in the village until he was 16.

His former family home at Marton was eventually taken overseas in 1934, laboriously taken apart brick by brick and shipped to Melbourne, Australia where it still stands. The Captain Cook Memorial Museum now stands in the house where the family and James lived in Great Ayton.

By the time he was 18 James had moved on to Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast where he became a merchant navy trainee working for the Walker family, local small fleet owners who shipped coal along the coast.

During his three year apprenticeship he taught himself the skills of navigation and astronomy which were to shape his future as a Royal Navy Commander and eventually lead to his amazing seafaring adventures and voyages of discovery which changed the world.

From 1766 onwards he crossed the oceans and drew detailed maps of all the islands and continents he discovered until his third major voyage to Hawaii in February 1779 where he met his untimely death. Today a monument stands high on Easby Moor in his memory.

Guisborough PrioryArchaeological Interest:

There are many ruins of archaeological and historical interest throughout the North York Moors National Park, including great Yorkshire monastic houses. Rievaulx Abbey is a fine example and there is also Newburgh Priory and Byland Abbey all within easy travelling distance.

Many fine listed buildings that are full of interest and fascination for visitors and tourists include Scampston Hall, Ebberston Hall and Duncombe Park with its royal connections. These buildings and the associated settlements exist today through the dedication of monks from Europe and Ireland who settled in the moors, and established many of the historic abbeys and churches.

After the original abbeys were built, people travelled to settle in the moors from far and wide, building townships and villages in wild and isolated places. The moors were gradually transformed through farming to the landscape that we know today, turning many of the rugged moors into green, lush and very fertile dales.

The North York Moors has more than its fair share of castles scattered throughout the area and offers visitors a great insight into the colourful history and chequered life and times of the Yorkshire ruling classes. There are visitor attractions at Whorlton Castle, Pickering Castle, Mulgrave Castle and Helmsley Castle as well as the well visited site at Scarborough Castle.

Industrial & Mining:

The North York Moors also have an industrial & mining history with Iron, Alum, Coal, Limestone and Whinstone being just some of the minerals which have been extracted from the moors over the years.

The introduction of the steam railway boosted the growth and efficiency of the industry, and visitors today can still take a nostalgic trip through the countryside on the either the North York Moors Steam Railway or the Esk Valley Railway.

The fascinating Tom Leonard Mining Museum at Skinningrove is dedicated to the lives and times of Cleveland Miners who toiled throughout Victorian and Edwardian times to make this one of the most important mining areas of Britain.

StaithesUntil the beginning of the 19th century Alum was vigorously mined for use in the textile industry during the dyeing process to fix the colours of vegetable dyes to the cloth. Many of the old quarry scars are still exposed across the moors and form a vast part of the geography of the area.

The valley of Rosedale was a huge industrial area during the mid 18th and 19th centuries, where iron ore mining boomed, and swelled the population from around 550 to 3000 people over a twenty year period. This resulted in massive the growth of the town as new buildings were erected and a railway was introduced to transport the ore.

Along the North York Moors Coast there has been jet mining for thousands of years, and the harbour town of Whitby has become world famous for the stunning black mineral which was a favourite of Queen Victoria and is still very popular today when fashioned into fine jewellery and ornaments.

The fishing industry also thrived along Yorkshire's East Coast in such locations as Whitby, Robin Hoods Bay and Staithes sustaining local communities and providing the coastal settlements which are still there today.

The rugged coastline was also ideal for the many smugglers and ship wreckers who brought their booty ashore in small boats under the cover of darkness into the isolated and well hidden coves and caves.

Whitby AbbeyHistoric Whitby:

Whitby on Yorkshires East coast is also famous for inspiring one of the most well known novels ‘Dracula'. The author of the novel Bram Stoker, stayed in the Royal Hotel on the western side of Whitby while writing his famous novel. The imposing Gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey has inspired a whole ‘Dracula' culture centered on the town of Whitby and ‘Goth' events take place annually with some very interesting sites to be seen throughout the weekend!!Vampires and ghosts are a subject close to many people's hearts and there are regular ghost walks and tours throughout the town. There are many shops, pubs and even a hotel dedicated to the subject.

The town is also famous for its delicious smoked kippers which are enjoyed world wide and are still produced at the original smoke house in the town centre. Visitors can see the smoking process taking place using the same methods as they have been for hundreds of years. Using the best freshly caught local fish, the kippers are then packed in ice and boxes of the delicacy are shipped out to customers and restaurants as far away as America and Australia.

Overall the North York Moors has a fascinating history, far more than can be detailed here, and makes it a wonderful and interesting place to visit and explore.