As you dip down the steep hillsides from the vast openness of the higher moorland into the gentler reaches of the Esk Valley, the villages of Danby and Lealholm are like a big welcome hug.
The characterful stone cottages in Danby would once have been occupied by workers on the nearby country estate. Wander along the quiet lanes and you will soon see signs of the area’s heritage, including a shooting lodge, now our National Park Centre, and Danby Castle, which stands on an escarpment spur above the village.
The castle was the estate’s manor court and farmhouse, and once the residence of Catherine Parr before she became the sixth wife of Henry Vlll.
The moorland above is crisscrossed by ancient tracks, including the Pannierman’s Causeway, and is crowned by the 299-metre high Danby Beacon, with sweeping 360-degree views.
Dating back to the 1600s, the original beacon was lit by soldiers to alert the country of an imminent French invasion. The site became one of Britain’s first RAF radar stations in World War II and was notable for helping guide a pilot to shoot down the first enemy aircraft on English soil since World War I.
From the Beacon, follow the Esk Valley Walk to reach pretty Lealholm at the bottom of a steep ravine called Crunkly Ghyll. The village’s name means ‘the settlement by the willow trees’ and it developed as a handy point for crossing the River Esk downstream from the ravine.