Land of Iron
150 years ago many parts of the North York Moors looked very different to the present day – the valleys and hills were filled with fire, smoke and noise as they helped fuel the industrial revolution. A short but intense period of ironstone mining and railway construction left a huge impact on the landscape and its communities that can still be seen today.
The Land of Iron project tells the fascinating story of this trailblazing period of industrial growth and exploitation. The project has recorded, conserved and protected some of the most iconic structures that remain, helped nurture the wildlife that has reclaimed these spaces, and ensured this important part of our history is not forgotten.
The 100 years following the opening of the Whitby and Pickering railway in 1835 saw an explosion in ironstone mining in the Rosedale and Esk Valley areas, along with even more pioneering railway construction that connected these remote valleys to Teesside and the wider world. Many of the relics left from this period are crumbling and the stories around them are at risk of being forgotten forever.
The Land of Iron project has protected and conserved the most iconic of these monuments and worked with land managers to nurture the natural environment that has reclaimed these spaces. It documented and told the stories of what life was like for these communities when the landscape looked very different to how it does today.
The project was a Landscape Partnership scheme, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, North York Moors National Park Authority, David Ross Foundation, and other partners. The total project value is £4 million and ran between 2016 and 2021.
The project area covers around 14% of the North York Moors National Park in a sweeping arc from Goathland in the east, following Stephenson’s original rail route north to Grosmont, then westwards along the Esk Valley to Kildale, and finally crossing the Moors south eastwards to reach Rosedale.
Within this 77 square mile area there is a mix of remarkable built heritage sites, some visually breath-taking such as the calcining kilns and ironstone mines at Rosedale and the ventilation chimney at Warren Moor Mine, and some almost hidden from view, such as Grosmont Ironworks and the mines at Beck Hole and Esk Valley. These sites have been conserved and protected, many with improved access for the public.
Wrapped around this built heritage is a patchwork of valuable habitats and species that have withstood the industrial exploitation and sometimes found a particular niche in the landscape left behind, such as the nationally important ring ouzel. Ancient woodland, upland hay meadows and salmon rivers have been improved and gaps between sites filled to improve connectivity and help wildlife move more freely.
Vision and aims
The vision of the Land of Iron is that:
By 2021 the landscape and ironstone heritage of the North York Moors will be in better condition and better cared for, will be better understood and valued by more people, and will have a more sustainable future
This is supported by five aims, the difference the project will make:
- Industrial heritage sites and features will be recorded, protected and conserved
- The natural environment and biodiversity will be improved
- The landscape and heritage will be better managed and more people will be actively involved in caring for it
- The landscape and its industrial past will be more accessible, understood and enjoyed by more people
- The future of the landscape and heritage will be safer and more sustainable
Making an impact
The team have been hard at work to implement the project vision and its aims across the Land of Iron landscape. By recognising the importance of helping to care, understand and value our cultural and natural heritage, we have made a positive and lasting difference. Take a look below to see the results:
This has been achieved in a number of exciting and invigorating ways - upskilling new volunteers, inspiring the younger generation, used the latest technologies, built relationships and improved existing facilities. These are just a few of the methods used throughout the Land of Iron project.
The people involved
The project was managed by a small team of dedicated staff who worked from the North York Moors National Park Authority headquarters in Helmsley and the Moors National Park Centre in Danby.
A Partnership made up of local interest groups and organisations oversaw and steered the project. Many of the people involved have worked hard for many years to make the project a reality and it came not a moment too late, with many of the heritage structures in a critical state of preservation.
Nearly 100 individual projects make up the Land of Iron programme, including everything from the careful conservation of calcining kilns at Rosedale to the removal of barriers to fish migration on the River Esk. We are working across the North York Moors to deliver this invigorating schedule of improvements for the ironstone heritage and landscapes within the project area.
To read more about what we are up to click on the sections below or scroll down:
This is just a taste of the projects that the Land of Iron team are carrying out.
Within a landscape of breath-taking panoramic views the whole story of ironstone mining can be found - mining the stone from the hillside, processing it in huge roasting kilns, and transporting the ore for miles across the moors.
Bank Top Kilns
The area around Chimney Bank was the first part of Rosedale to experience the explosion of modern ironstone mining. Work began in 1856 and the initial mining was easy pickings as the ironstone stood out from the hillside as a cliff outcrop. Local legend says that during thunderstorms lightning would often strike the cliff and people talked of the devil or treasure buried in the hill.
Bank Top kilns were built to refine the ironstone through a process called ‘calcining’ – burning the ore with coal to reduce its weight by up to half and remove impurities. This meant much more efficient transport costs in getting to the ore to where it would be smelted into iron – first around Durham and later Teesside.
The project has carried out physical conservation works on the kilns, preserving them in their current state and preventing further deterioration. The work involved pointing and reinforcing the walls and joints, with the top of the kilns protected from weather damage by ‘soft capping’ with turf. New and innovative interpretation places the Bank Top kilns within their historic and natural environment.
Once mining was underway in Rosedale large ironstone deposits were soon discovered on the east side of the valley too and extraction began here in 1860. The initial resources were plentiful, in seams up to 14ft thick, but the quality soon deteriorated and after several stops and starts mining finally left here, and all of Rosedale, in 1926. By then, around 11 million tonnes of ironstone had been taken from the valley and used in construction projects around the world.
Relics of the entire mining and refining process and the communities that worked there still remain at East kilns. Two monumental sets of calcining kilns can be seen for miles from across the valley. A chimney stands high on the moor and near derelict cottages at High Baring show that this was once a bustling centre of industry with several hundred people working and living on the hillside.
Work here included consolidating the stone and brickwork of the North Kilns (known as the Iron Kilns) at Rosedale East to minimise further deterioration. This has conserved the existing masonry and will help prevent further decay to the brickwork. This restores the historic importance of the site, making it a popular point of interest for the public on the Rosedale walk. A brand-new on site interpretation feature illustrates what the kilns and area looked like when in full operation.
To transport ironstone from the remote Rosedale East kilns to the blast furnaces of northern England, a 12-mile railway was constructed, largely by hand, across the high moorland plateau and then down a 1 in 5 gradient at Ingleby Incline. A constant stream of wagons loaded with ironstone travelled out while coal and supplies were brought in to feed the kilns. But by 1929 the mines and calcining kilns had closed, crippled by overseas competition, economic difficulties and a reduction in the quality of ironstone at hand. The railway was taken up for salvage and the valley fell silent again.
In the 90 years since its closure the track-bed and tramways can still be seen in the landscape, cutting across the valley sides, and has now become home to a valuable mix of habitats and species. The track-bed is now a popular walking route, providing reasonably gentle gradients with stunning views across Rosedale valley and access to see the iconic remains of the ironstone industry. The project undertook much-needed path repair and drainage improvement works to the northern end of the Rosedale Railway, from Blakey Ridge to Reeking Gill. The works have also helped to prevent further degradation of this important route and historical feature.
Hay meadows and daffodils
Rosedale contains some of the best remaining upland hay meadows in the North York Moors, a legacy of traditional agricultural practices that are at risk of being lost through changes to land management. The wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus), the only daffodil native to Britain, is also found throughout the valley, providing a cheerful welcome to spring every year.
The project has worked with farmers and land managers to sustain, restore and improve these valuable habitats for people and wildlife to enjoy. Walks and trails through the area highlight the best places and times of year to see the fascinating flowers and the animals that benefit from this work.
One particular bird that has found a home around Rosedale is the ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus). This attractive summer visitor looks similar to a blackbird but has a striking white chest. It migrates here from North Africa in spring and nests in the heather and rock outcrops left from the mines and quarries, before returning in autumn.
The ring ouzel chooses Rosedale for nesting and rearing its young because of the varied mix of feeding and habitat provided by the mining remains and the current management of the valley for grazing and the moors for grouse. It is a critically endangered species, with the 2014 population in Rosedale estimated at just 21 breeding pairs.
The project has worked closely with local volunteers who have been monitoring ring ouzels across the North York Moors since 1999. Cameras have been installed near nesting sites to monitor predation and bird behaviour and rowan trees, a valuable food source for the birds, have planted at specially selected sites in Rosedale to encourage the ring ouzel population.
We would love you to be part of the Land of Iron story, find out more about the industrial past of the North York Moors, and maybe volunteer your time with the National Park to help grow and share this story with others.
As a part of the Land of Iron programme, a brand new family-friendly exhibition space has opened at the Moors National Park Centre in Danby celebrating the ironstone heritage. Interactive exhibits, including 3D models of intriguing monuments and hidden creatures, highlight the rich natural and cultural history of the moors, including the fascinating ironstone industry. Pop in for a thrilling and interactive experience before you explore the North York Moors themselves. Entry is free.
Volunteering can be so much fun – you can meet new people, learn new skills and gain confidence, get fit and active, and make a real difference to your local community and environment. The Land of Iron offers lots of opportunities for volunteering, inside or outdoors, for as little or as much time as you have to spare.
See what Tony has to say about taking part:
All of my expectations were met, and many more. I got hooked; I initially signed up for two days and stayed for ten! The rest as they say is history. I'm still on-board and I am still enjoying it.
Opportunities include the chances to get involved in a number of activities, including but not limited to:
- Archaeological surveying
- Native wild daffodil surveys
- Photogrammetry 3D digital modelling
- Habitat management
- Wildflower surveys
- Tree planting
Using modern technology in the Land of Iron
Adrian Glasser, one of our wonderful tech minded volunteers, has produced a number of blog entries on his adventures in making practical and digital tools for the Land of Iron.
Check them out below:
- See how the Warren Moor Mine ironstone chimney can be turned into a 7ft tall foam jigsaw
- Learn how a unique Grosmont 'Pig Iron' can be turned into a delicious chocolate bar
- Work out just how fast runaway ironstone-laden wagons speed down the steep Ingleby Incline
- Be amazed by the fantastic Time Sliders, how historic photographs transition to the modern view
- Read about how to develop a photogrammetry trolley to take photographs for 3D digital models
- Assemble your own electronic photogrammetry turntable with this handy guide
Get involved today
If you are keen to get involved or have an idea which volunteers could help with, please get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone
Connect with us
Why not follow us on Facebook or Twitter – it’s great to share stunning photographs of our favourite places in the North York Moors National Park. On Twitter post your best photograph of the Land of Iron landscape with the hashtag #LandofIron, we are excited to see what you can come up with!
Walks in the Land of Iron
Our landscape is home to a variety of heritage attractions hidden away as the historic ironstone ruins are reclaimed by nature. Rediscover the physical impact that this industry once had on the landscape with these five new exciting walks. Discover our brand new interpretation features and visit the many local attractions that the North York Moors has to offer. The maps will shortly be uploaded with access information, please revisit for updates.
Please make sure that you are prepared for your walk in the North York Moors with the appropriate clothing, shoes and equipment. Be aware of the weather conditions, as the weather can change suddenly and a number of the walks take place in isolated and remote locations. You can follow all the routes on the relevant OS maps below.
A linear railway line ramble from Goathland to Grosmont.
Length: 3.5 miles (5.6km)
Time: 2½ hours
Start: Goathland Station YO22 5NF
NZ 836 013
Map: Ordnance Survey OL27
Refreshments: Goathland, Beck Hole & Grosmont
Toilets: Goathland & Grosmont
Walk route download: Rail Trail (PDF)
The Walk: Best walked one way and combined with a trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway between Grosmont and Goathland – NYMR.co.uk.
1 – Grosmont, with plentiful facilities and links to the wider rail network.
2 – Goathland, famous as Aidensfield from TV’s Heartbeat.
3 – Follow the signs along the Trail.
Tip: Buy the Rail Trail guidebook from local outlets to get the most from the walk.
Rosedale Bank Top
A short walk around the iconic Bank Top Kilns to discover the birthplace of the Rosedale ironstone industry.
Length: 1 mile (1.6km)
Time: 30 mins
Start/finish: Bank Top, YO18 8SE
SE 721 947
Map: Ordnance Survey OL26
Refreshments: Rosedale Abbey
Toilets: Rosedale Abbey
Walk route download: Rosedale Bank Top (PDF)
1 – Start in the car park at Bank Top (Chimney Bank).
2 – Follow the path to the kilns, taking in the information panels on the way.
3 – Go past the kilns towards the cottages, until the path meets the access track for the cottages. Turn sharp left back along this access road.
4 – Walk along the access track until you meet the road, then turn left down the hill back towards the car park. Please take care on the road.
Tip: Why not head into the valley and visit Rosedale Abbey Stores and Tearooms - facebook.com/abbeytearooms for a refreshing drink after this bracing short walk.
Rosedale Railway and Kilns
An epic journey along the former Rosedale Railway to see the impressive ruins of a once thriving ironstone industry.
Length: 9 miles (14.5km)
Time: 4 hours
Start/finish: Blakey Junction, YO62 7LQ
SE 683 989
Map: Ordnance Survey OL26
Refreshments: Lion Inn & Dale Head Farm
Toilets: Hutton le Hole (6.5 miles) & Castleton (6 miles)
Walk route download: Rosedale Railway and Kilns (PDF)
1 – Park at Blakey Junction car park.
2 – Take the short path down to the railway and turn left, taking in the view to your destination.
3 – Follow the track around the valley, over embankments and through cuttings.
4 – Marvel at the gigantic piers of Iron Kilns.
5 – Arrive at the arches of Stone Kilns, take a break on the bench and then retrace your route to Blakey Junction.
Can you take on the challenge of the incline? A long, and in places remote, route taking in high moorland, scenic views and a remarkable feat of Victorian engineering.
Take the train to Battersby - eskvalleyrailway.co.uk
Length: 9½ miles (15km)
Time: 4 hours walking/2 hours cycling
Start/finish: Battersby Station, TS9 6LT
NZ 589 073
Map: Ordnance Survey OL26
Toilets: Kildale Station
Walk route download: Ingleby Incline (PDF)
1 – From Battersby Station head out of the village towards the main road.
2 – Turn right and go along the main road for 400 yards (365m).
3 – Take a left turn to ‘Bank Foot’.
4 – When you reach the houses, turn right along the forestry road. Follow this for 1¾ miles (2.8km).
5 – At the bottom of the incline, after taking a deep breath, start the long climb up.
6 – From the top of the incline follow the railway for nearly 1 mile (1.6km) until you reach Bloworth crossing. Turn sharp left here to follow the Cleveland Way.
7 – Stay on the Cleveland Way for 2¼ miles (3.7km) until the path forks, taking the left hand stone track downhill and leaving the Cleveland Way. Take care on the descent as the track can be rough and rocky.
8 – At the edge of the escarpment pause a moment to take in the view before descending the steep track. Go down through the forest, past the farm and re-join the road to retrace your steps to Battersby.
Tip: Make sure you take plenty of liquid refreshment for this long remote walk across the moor tops.
Warren Moor Mine
A short but steep adventure to discover a remote but remarkably well preserved ironstone mine site and chimney.
Take the train to Kildale - eskvalleyrailway.co.uk
Length: 3.2 miles (5km)
Time: 2 hours
Start/finish: Kildale Station, YO21 2RHNZ 604 095
Map: Ordnance Survey OL26
Refreshments: Glebe Cottage Tea
RoomToilets: Kildale Station
Walk route download: Warren Moor Mine (PDF)
1 – From Kildale Station car park walk up the stone track and turn left along the road towards the village.
2 – At the triangle junction fork left towards Commondale and Castleton.
3 – Follow the footpath alongside Kildale Hall for 500m until a turning on the right to Little Kildale. Take this turning and start climbing towards the woodland.
4 – Follow the road up the steep climb into the woodland until it turns to a stone track bridleway. Keep on the main track until you come out of the woodland at the top of the hill.
5 – Turn right before the farmhouse and go through the gate, looking out across the valley, with the top of the chimney coming into view for the first time.
6 – Follow the track down the hill until you arrive at the gate marking the entrance to the mine site. After exploring the mine site retrace your steps to the village.
Tip: Pop into Glebe Cottage tea room - facebook.com/glebecafekildale to relax and discuss the intriguing remains of Warren Moor Mine.
Here you can see a small selection of our innovative technological approaches to recording our wonderful heritage and landscape features, with the help of our dedicated Land of Iron helpers and volunteers.
Landscape Conservation Action Plan
The Landscape Conservation Action Plan is the strategy for this landscape – why it is important, how it is valued and the amazing stories it has to tell. It sets out the exciting mix of projects that will be delivered over the lifetime of the project and a plan for how the landscape will be cared for in the future.
You can view and download (pdf 6.6Mb) Part 1 of this document here.
Land of Iron introductory films
Why not meet the team and project area digitally? We have produced a number of short introductory videos on Youtube where you can watch what we have been up to. The iconic sites of Rosedale Bank Top, Warren Moor Mine, and the hidden site of Combs Wood all feature, as do our hardworking volunteers and the beauty of our natural environment and its wildlife.
Digitising the heritage
The Land of Iron used photogrammetry to create 3D digital models of the ironstone heritage within the North York Moors. Photogrammetry uses multiple photographs of a single object from every available angle and builds a digital 3D model using computer software that ‘stitches’ the images together. From this it is possible to record important archaeological and heritage landscapes, features or artifacts that are at risk of erosion, damage, or loss. We trained our volunteers using this technique. Our Sketchfab page we have a range of models, why not take a look?
Take a look at our model of a industrial revolution-era carving on the Ingleby Incline:
Historic Environment Record: An Archaeological Delight
All of the archaeological excavations and records created as a part of the Land of Iron project are physically and digitally archived for future access and research. The North York Moors Historic Environment Record (HER) is the main archaeological index for the National Park area and it is maintained by the National Park Authority. The database contains summary information on the archaeological knowledge that we hold; it includes non-designated features and sites, Scheduled Monuments, Listed Buildings and Registered Parks and Gardens of Historic Interest.
This publicly accessible map presents the data graphically against a digital Ordnance Survey map background, which enables an assessment of the archaeological resource or potential of an area. Happy searching!
A Century in Stone: An Extract
The 19th-century ironstone mining boom had a huge effect on the North York Moors – a story being told by our Landscape Partnership scheme known as ‘Land of Iron’. This extract from a ground-breaking documentary highlights the relationship between the North York Moors and the Cleveland ironstone mines, which made the northeast the iron-mining and iron-making capital of the world and laid the foundations of industrial Teesside.
Film courtesy of Craig Hornby, Pancrack Pictures. 'A Century in Stone'.