Wild West Yorkshire nature diary
Old Wife's Neck Swaledale

The Maybeck Trail

Wednesday 28th June 2000
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THE MAYBECK TRAIL, 5 miles south of Whitby, is a useful introduction to the farmland, moor and woodland that make up the North York Moors National Park. I've got mixed feelings about trails; I like to discover things for myself, but this one has such an attractive colour booklet that I couldn't resist it.

Swaledale You can always learn something from the trail guide, for instance I wouldn't have known that the sheep with the black and white faces are Swaledales.

Old Wife's Neck Above the sheep farm on the open moor the trail leaflet points out the base of a cross. Striding out across the moor from it, we loose our path. The beautifully drawn map in the leaflet is actually a little bit out on the moorland section. Me being me, I ignore a prominent trail sign that would have put us on the right track and insist on following the map. I'm determined to find the standing stone called the Old Wife's Neck which the map suggests stands out on the open moor. From the drawing in the leaflet I assume that it must be about ten feet high. Perhaps it has disappeared since the trail was written?

bell heather We realise that we've lost the path and head back towards the main trail where we soon come across three ramblers who are sitting by the stone, taking a coffee break. Even from close by the stone is easy to miss; the rough sandstone block isn't much bigger than the women crouched around it.

As at Sandsend, there's Bell Heather in flower, but in damper pockets of the moor there are also some of the pinkish flowers of Cross-leaved Heath, a heather which has greyish downy leaves. There's more bell heather than cross-leaved heath, but most of the moor is made up of wiry tussocks of Heather or Ling, which will be in flower in August.

milkwort Heath Milkwort, growing amongst the grasses, has blue flowers, most of which seem to have shed one or two petals. lousewortLousewort is low-growing with pink flowers. Louseworts are semi-parisitic, often on grasses.

The trail leaves the moor and goes down into a plantation to follow May Beck. Bog Myrtle or Sweet Gale, a small shrub with fragrant leaves, grows on the boggy ground by the stream. Whenever I see this plant I can't resist gently rubbing my fingers over its leaves to smell the fragrance. I like it because it reminds me of wild wet places; I once drew it on Rannoch Moor, in the highlands of Scotland.

small pearl-bordered fritillary As we come out of the wood, on a steep path above a waterfall, a small bright orange butterfly flies by and settles on grasses. My first impression is that it's a Small Copper, but it's not quite as small as that. It has a plain orange background to a black, or dark brown, pattern; it looks as if it has been freshly printed. It's a fritillary, probably the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

The Maybeck Trail is published by the North York Moors National Park (but look out for that trail sign as soon as you get onto the moor!)

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

E-mail; 'richard@daelnet.co.uk'

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