The Hole of Horcum – ‘The Devil’s Punchbowl’ – North York Moors

The Hole of Horcum is located on the North York Moors, (not the North Yorks or the North Yorkshire Moors, as some suggest, they don’t exist), in the Tabular Hills, (an east west line of distinct hills running from Scarborough in the east to the Black Hambleton hills in the west). It stands within a section of a valley known as the Levisham Beck, upstream of two local hidden villages, Levisham and Lockston, both of which pre-date the domesday book.

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Levisham village with my starting point to the right of the Horseshoe Inn which stands at the top/centre of the village

There are two suggested starting points for this walk, one being Levisham, where, it starts and concludes at the village pub, and the second being the viewing point at Saltergate on the busy A169. Needless to say where my decision lay, even if I have ‘been on the wagon’ for almost a year. To me, a walk like this deserves such a scenic English village as its first and last port o’ call.

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Early into the walk

There are two theories regarding the formation of this 400 feet deep and 3/4 mile wide unusual hollow in the ground.  One claims how the gorge was created by a natural process known as ‘spring sapping’, a process where the water which has welled up from the hillsides, gradually undermines the slopes, slowly eroding the rocks, and, over thousands of years, gradually forming the valley as it slowly, both widens and deepens into this huge and deep cauldron, a process continuing to present day.

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The second, and in my opinion, discarding all this geological nonsense regarding its creation derives from a Saxon giant known as Wade, who, by today’s standards may have been considered to have anger management issues. He was certainly famous and legendary, as, he features in, amongst others, the works of both Chaucer and Thomas Malory. I’m not sure if he was a local giant or simply travelling through the area, either way, he was with his wife, and, I’m not too sure what really happened, nobody ever understands what really happens with couples behind closed doors, it depends who tells their story first, either way, it’s fair to say they had a row, it could have been after a session on the mead? But, it resulted in Wade hurling a huge mound of mud at his estranged wife, and, probably due to the over consumption of mead, and, fortunately for her, his shot missed and landed on the location of Horcum Hole, thus creating the aforesaid hole in the ground, and, that’s the version of its creation I trust to be the truth.

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Levisham Moor and rainbow

I think Wade named it too, who else could have given us a location which is said to be the tenth rudest place-name in Britain, a true Saxon sense of humor.

The opening 3 miles of the walk is relatively easy, clearly defined and quite bleak regarding viewpoints and landmarks, but, looks can be deceiving as I’ll explain later, the history of the landscape is both interesting and historic. The return route is taken after accessing a wooden gate at the Saltergate junction with the A169 close to the viewpoint and car park on the roadside. Then, descending the footpath down into the Hole and gorge below, prior to following Levisham Beck back to the village, en route, there’s an alternative choice of route, one avoiding the difficult woodland walk and taking a route known as ‘The Griff’, or, the one I followed through the woodland.

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The Saltergate end and turning point of the footpath, starting the quite steep descent into Horcum Hole. The A 169 in the background

Crossing the moor I soon discovered I was far from being alone, it’s a popular walk, easily accessible from the main road and enjoyed by many who appeared to have taken a chance as they drove by and decided to venture along the walk. For a while, after seeing these people, I felt somewhat overdressed and over prepared. Only a few other walkers seemed correctly kitted out for the outdoor weather and elements. People in jeans, training shoes, shorts, thin jackets, etc, carrying nothing for inclement weather, it seemed so strange to me, but, after a little thought, it was their lookout, even, if been realistic, the terrain wasn’t particularly dangerous or too far from help, but, my personal experience derives from the boy scout motto, be prepared, and, I do try to be.

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On first sight the open moor seems quite bleak and featureless, it’s deceiving. It’s full of history and archaeological remains, from bronze age burrows, iron age boundary dykes, mounds, ditches, banks and ridges, evidence of burial sites, fortified farmsteads, enclosures and field systems are all confirmation of a once populated area, although, from the footpath, none of them are particularly easy to see.

Walking through Horcum Hole towards Levisham Beck was a wonderful experience, yet another Yorkshire gem, a superb walk and another adventure. I was also testing out 3 new pieces of kit, some new walking shoes, new Fjallraven zip off trousers (they weren’t zipped off on that day) and, my own hand made leather water bottle/fire starter containers. All 3 items proved valuable and durable.

The valley eventually became wet and muddy and, as I advanced towards the dense woodland and the final mile of the walk, I really did underestimate the difficulty of progressing through it, a magnificent summer location for a tarp and hammock, but, still a rude awakening through very wet woodland with a very narrow footpath through  steep and slippy terrain.

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The famous Saltersgate Inn on the A169. I visited this on numerous occasions over the years. Allegedly the open fire was never extinguished due to it covering the grave of a murdered excise officer who disturbed local smugglers distributing their booty. Sadly, it closed down and became derelict, on a happy note, it is now being renovated and restored to its former glory, some good news for the area.

Emerging at the bottom of Levisham came as quite a relief, the last mile had been quite difficult and a real sting at the end of the walk. There too was the benefit of being in the quiet and sedate village, the Horseshoe Inn has a splendid reputation for fine ales and good food, a temptation I’m sure many would benefit from after a few hours in the open air, sadly for me, I wasn’t to benefit from such a delight, it was time for my homeward journey. How did I rate the walk in this wonderful part of North Yorkshire, on the North York Moors in the old North Riding, a reet good ‘un.

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Jurgen Tischler

My interests are mountaineering, buschcraft and leathercraft, not necessarily in that order. Being outdoors is the real buzz. I'm not trying to set any records or achieve any real targets, simply taking every opportunity to go out there and see what happens, this, is hopefully, a catalogue of the aforesaid pursuits.

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