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North York Moors

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The largest area of moorland in England and Wales can be found in the North Yorkshire Moors, but this sumptuous landscape clothed in purple heather is only one of its many rare charms.

Lying east of the ancient, walled city of York it is also a land of rock-strewn gorges, gushing waterfalls, picture-postcard villages, a coastline replete with fossils and glorious beaches, and a nostalgic railway that steams past breathtaking scenery. Add to this list castles, ruined abbeys, great houses and fascinating museums and you have a true British treasure.

The region includes the protected North Yorkshire Moors National Park centred on the traditional market town of Helmsley.

Its northern part has the sandstone escarpments of the Hambelton Hills and the massif of the Cleveland Hills, while eastwards are the impressive sea cliffs between the resorts of Scarborough and Whitby.

With hills come lush-green dales and there are plenty to catch the eye, particularly those at Bilsdale, Farndale and Rosedale. All around are picturesque villages with red-roofed, honey-coloured cottages staring out onto delightful vistas. Television producers were quick to spot the beauty of the region when they made the popular series 'Heartbeat', setting it in Goathland – the same village whose small railway station became 'Hogmeade' in the Harry Potter movies and which has the thrilling 70ft waterfall Mallyan Spout. Meanwhile the atmospheric coastal town of Whitby was a crucial setting for Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula'.

The most sought-after destinations include the town of Pickering, whose ruined castle at one time housed Richard 11, and the many-bridged village of Hutton-le-Hole, nestling in a splendid valley created by the onrushing Hutton Beck. Here you will also find Ryedale Folk Museum, a remarkable open-air museum. Founded in 1935 by Wilfrid Crosland and now run as a charity, it displays 2,000 years of local history with reconstructions of a blacksmith's shop, a 16th century manor house, a medieval long house, a Tudor glass furnace…and much more.

At Newtondale lies the remarkable depression known as the Hole of Horcum and some of the most intriguing glacial geology. Forge Valley offers a geological trail showing how a peaceful wooded valley was created by melting ice. While Scarborough is the premier seaside resort, one of the prettiest locales is Robin Hood's Bay; with cobbled streets and tall, pastel houses it is one of Britain's most delightful fishing villages. The coastline has spectacular cliffs, secret coves, sandy beaches and bizarre rock formations.

A fine way to soak up the atmosphere of the region is by steam train and the North York Moors Railway has been operating on the 18-mile line between Pickering and Grosmont, near Whitby, since being re-launched in 1973 by enthusiasts. Now England's second-longest preserved railway, it links with the Esk Valley Railway at Grosmont. Originally opened in 1836 the line was closed in the 1960s. At one time its cargoes had to be hauled up and down the steepest inclines using counterweights.

For ramblers there are many miles of great walks - the Esk Valley Walk begins at Castleton and follows the river to Whitby, while the Cleveland Way footpath skirts the northern and western edges of the moors before following the coast to Scarborough.

If it's castles you seek, head for Pickering, Whorlton, Scarborough, Ayrton, Cropton, Danby, Helmsley and Mulgrave, but don't ignore the vast, grand 18th century house that is Castle Howerd in the Howardian Hills. It was made world famous by the TV drama 'Brideshead' Revisited'. It lies near Malton and was designed by Sir John Vanburgh for Charles Howerd, 3rd Earl of Carlisle. Looking down on glorious lakes and wonderful gardens is a gilded dome reaching 80ft into the Yorkshire sky. Inside the house is a fabulous collection of paintings, dominated by Holbein's portraits of Henry V111 and the Duke of Norfolk.

There are 'natural' wonders to be found at The Bridestones Nature Reserve, Duncombe Park National Nature Reserve, the wildlife-rich Forge Valley Woods National Nature Reserve, the beautiful Park-run Levisham Estate and Pexton Moor with its stunning views.

What more could one ask for?

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