A to Z: a multiplicity of Ms



As mentioned previously, in the 1850s a seam of iron rich ironstone was discovered in Rosedale. Also known as lodestone, magnetite had long been a valued mineral because of the amount of iron ore it contains, so much so that it is often magnetic.

Rosedale - copyright Colin Dilcock, NYMNPA

The discovery in Rosedale led to the rapid development and expansion of the mining and calcining industry there and in the wider area. There were great expectations …

“Professor Phillips delighted and informed the company by his description of the ‘Ironstones of Cleveland’ … The Rosedale band at its richest points, yielded 50 per cent [ore] and in many places 42 per cent. The Rosedale stone was magnetic and contained phosphorous, it was not merely magnetic, but it had an inherent magnetic polarity … There must spring up over the Cleveland district, through the working of the iron ore, great towns, with a numerous and active population; and, as a result, the moorland would be brought under cultivation and this once dismal tract of 20 square miles would rejoice in all the material means that could promote human happiness and prosperity…”

From a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Leeds, as reported in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 2 October 1858.

However the actual magnetite seam was soon exhausted leaving the industry exploiting poorer ironstone and slowly declining into the 20th century. The magnetite proved to be rather a flash in the pan.

This Exploited Land of Iron logos


There are very few natural lakes in the North York Moors due to geology and climate, which makes Lake Gormire on the south western edge of the National Park even more remarkable. In the last Ice Age a hollow was formed by a meltwater channel between the edge of the moving Vale of York ice sheet and the edge of the North York Moors gritstone escarpment. The channel damned up and the lake left behind divided into two bodies of water – Gormire and the much smaller, Buttermere.

These are mesotrophic lakes – containing a narrow range of nutrients in medium concentrations. This type of lake chemistry is rare and becoming rarer as lakes are effected by artificially increased levels of nitrogen and phosphorus and so become eutrophic. Lake Gormire is surrounded mainly by semi natural woodland and fed by springs and so largely circumvents the risks of artificial diffuse pollution and nutrient enrichment.

Because of their chemistry Mesotrophic lakes can support higher levels of diversity of macrophytes (algae), aquatic plants, invertebrates and fish. The fen (‘mire’, ‘mere’) plants around Gormire/Buttermere reflect the acid soil, so there is Marsh cinquefoil Potentilla palustris, Common skullcap Scutellaria galericulata and Tufted loosestrife Lysimachia thyrsiflora, as well as Bog bean Menyanthes trifoliata and Water horsetail Equisetum fluviatile. Gormire is particularly popular with noisy water birds, mating toads and freshwater leeches, all exaggerating the primeval sense inside this Ice Age hollow.

Lake Gormire from Cleveland Way, north of Sutton Bank - copyright Mike Kipling, NYMNPA

Lake Gormire and the area around it is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest. The cliff slope woodland above Lake Gormire is the Garbutt Wood Nature Reserve managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.


The Milky Way is a galaxy of billions of stars and planets sometimes partly visible to the naked eye as a milky looking band of light in the night sky.

Milky Way and Perseid Meteor Shower Sutton Bank - copyright Russ Norman Photography.

We’re in the middle of the Dark Skies Festival 2017 here in the North York Moors National Park. The dark skies over National Parks make it easier to see the lights of the galaxies around us. This February is particularly good for viewing Orion and also a very bright Venus.

February 27 1920   The mysterious stars

…Later in the evening a half-moon shone in a filmy sky across which, from S.E. to N.W., ran a Noë-ship of thin white clouds. A soft mist hung in the far valleys, but the nearer moory slopes loomed clearer. In the pastures the furze bushes were startlingly like huge black beasts grazing on the rimmed herbage. No sounds broke the utter silence of the moonlit hills; the wind had almost died away, but as I stepped over the little rill from Thunderbush Farm [Commondale], I heard its faint, musical ripple.

The ever-mysterious stars flashed through the interspaces of the filmy clouds and circled silently above the dim earth. Sirius flashed due south whilst mighty Orion hung high above the moor edge, his glory somewhat dimmed by the moon. What would life have been without the stars?”

A Man of the Moors: Extracts of the Diaries and Letter of Frank Elgee.


We use the term mini-beasts for the tiny invertebrates that go without notice until they’re looked at under the microscope and a menagerie of marvel and dread is revealed.

Identifying and counting river invertebrates is a very useful way of assessing the health of a river at a particular spot. Certain species indicate good water quality and others, poor water quality; a change in species/numbers indicate a change in water quality e.g. a pollution incident. There is a national programme of riverfly monitoring led by the Riverfly Partnership. Results are recorded centrally and indications of a potential incidents are reported to the Environment Agency. The National Park run a number of local Riverfly Monitoring Workshops for volunteers – the next one is 1 March.

MOSCHATEL Adoxa Moschatellina

Moschatel is a perennial unobtrusive plant which likes the damp, shady conditions found along woodland edges and on shaded hedge banks. It flowers between March and May, producing five lime green flowers on top of a leafless stalk, four flowers face outwards and one flower faces upwards, forming a cubic which has led to the plant’s other common name – Townhall Clock. The plant grows along the ground through rhizomes with the flower stalks growing up through its leaves to only c. 15cm tall. It is a common plant but easy to miss – look out for it in early spring before it gets hidden by taller plants.

Moschatel at Sieve Dale. Copyright Ami Walker, NYMNPA.


Historic England suggest there are over 600 motte castles or motte-and-bailey castles in England. These were early medieval fortifications built by the Normans and made up of a large mound of earth/rubble (the ‘motte’) with a defensive palisade and tower on top, and an embanked enclosure with other buildings (the ‘bailey’) adjoining.

A motte and bailey castle could act as a fort when required as well as providing the residence for the local landowner/representative of the King and a centre for feudal power. They were often built on high ground to take advantage of the extra height to dominate the landscape and overlook access routes.

Soon after the beginning of Norman rule in England came the ‘harrying of the north’ – a military campaign to overcome and overwhelm the population in the north of the country and hammer home the idea that the Normans were here to stay. The new motte and bailey castles were a highly visible tool for holding that ground and reinforcing that message.

By the 13th century castle design had moved beyond the basic motte and bailey. Although the timber structures have largely gone, the earthworks are often still traceable in the landscape, and rubble mottes and the remnants of stone towers remain. Many are scheduled. Examples in the North York Moors include Hood Hill, Easby motte, and Foss Castle.


Moths are often considered the poor cousins of butterflies in the Lepidoptera family. The most obvious difference between butterflies and moths are that the former are active during the day whereas moths are mostly (but not all) nocturnal, feeding on the nectar of night blooming/night scented plants. Another difference is that when resting, butterflies usually close their wings whereas moths leave theirs open and this makes it easier to examine their intricate patterning and refined colouring. But as with most ecological questions – what is the difference between butterflies and moths? – there is no obvious answer and always an exception. Moths can be just as colourful, just as beguiling and just as in peril, as butterflies. For more on moth conservation see here.

Shandy Hall, Coxwold has become a location for moth study and reporting over the last few years. The gardens there provide a semi-natural/cultivated habitat for many species – over 400 different species have been recorded in the gardens to date.

Previously on the North York Moors A to Z … A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L

“Day 222 – My Local Patch – The Fantastic North York Moors”

Have a look at this – it’s from A year of my nature hunting blog by Zach who live close by the North York Moors. He’s posting every day on his blog, and he very kindly agreed to include a post on the National Park. So for this week, here is the view from a particularly young, enthusiastic, joyous observer of nature.

Day 222 – My Local Patch – The Fantastic North York Moors

A lovely view over the moors - from A year of my nature hunting blog

A rural myth

Peter Turton – North York Moors National Park Volunteer

The North York Moors has a long tradition of folklore and legend. These precious tales form part of our local culture and have been passed down from generation to generation. By this continuation, local culture is conserved and sustained.

Gravestone - Clair Shields

There are stories connected to many of the National Park’s iconic landmarks but perhaps none more so than Sutton Bank in the south west corner. The area has been settled for many thousands of years from the Iron Age onwards, so it is probably no surprise that there is superstition, myth and legend in abundance about this dramatic looking place.

The retold story below is about why the site known as Whitestone Cliff is sometimes referred to as White Mare Crag – something to bear in mind next time you’re walking along the escarpment edge, perhaps as it’s getting darker and you think there is no one else around and then you hear the thundering of hooves.

White Mare Crag with Lake Gormire in forefrontThe story begins with an Abbot of Rievaulx Abbey. The Abbot owned a white Arab mare, which had been presented to the Abbey. The Abbot took ownership of the horse, as he thought much more of worldly possessions than religious duties. The mare by nature was mild and gentle, but take her up on the moor and give her full rein, and then she showed her true worth.

In nearby Helmsley Castle lived a Knight, Sir Harry de Scriven, who was as fond of good living as the Abbot. He too had a favourite steed, a black stallion with the name of Nightwind. He and Nightwind had a reputation for never having been beaten in the chase. Not surprisingly there existed a considerable jealousy between the Knight and the Abbot.

One day after a hunting trip the Knight passed the inn on Hambleton Plain and decided to call in. Who should be there, but the Abbot. The two men ate and drank together whilst night came on and with it a strong storm wind which promised snow. After a number of hours Sir Harry seemingly recalled a message for the Abbot. A yeoman farmer who a few miles away over the plain was very ill and had asked the Knight to summon the Abbot to come to shrive and pray with him before it was too late.

Sir Harry offered the use of Nightwind, surprisingly the Abbot accepted the offer and also agreed that the Knight, riding the white mare, should accompany him so far along the road, to show the way. The two men mounted hastily and rode off. The wind was blowing wildly; both horses felt the nervous excitement of the coming storm and somehow the ride moved almost imperceptibly into a race between the powerful black horse and the fleet white mare, and their riders.

The mare took the lead but Nightwind, carrying the heavy Abbott, slowly drew abreast and then took the lead. Sir Harry grew angry and the sound of the Abbott’s mocking laughter from ahead did nothing to abate his fury. He lashed the mare, he swore at her, he swore at the Abbot and Nightwind, and then he swore at himself as he realised that the Abbot had not been fooled. The heavier man had the heavier horse, and for all Sir Harry’s skill in the hunt he couldn’t hope to catch Nightwind.

Riding blindly on and on, using his whip mercilessly, Sir Harry completely forgot the landscape and where they were heading. It was too late when he finally realised that the horses were almost at the edge of Hambleton Plain with an eight hundred foot drop before them. A momentary struggle to stop the mare failed, her headlong pace was too great and so with a sickening plunge horse and man went over the cliff edge.  

Whitestone Cliffe As Sir Harry and the mare plummeted down towards the sharp rocks below, the Abbot appeared to sprout a  pair of horns and a long forked tail and where there had been feet in the stirrups there were now a pair of pointed hooves!

Nightwind’s rider called above the sound of the storm:

 “Sir Harry de Scriven beware of the stones

But a novice like you must expect broken bones

If you must play a trick on Old Nick!

I’ll see you below when I visit the sick!”

With those words ringing in his ears Sir Harry crashed to his death along with the little white mare.

And the Abbot? He and Nightwind disappeared into the waters of Lake Gormire at the bottom of the crag. A great hiss of steam went up as the lake boiled for a moment.

Lake Gormire towards Sutton Bank Yet that’s not quite the end. Until not so many years ago, people living under the Hambleton Hills would tell you how, when the night was stormy, the spectre of the terrified white mare could be seen plunging over the crag towards the stones below until suddenly she disappeared into thin air.

And the dark bottomless Lake Gormire – that remains a well known entrance to Hell.