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Yorkshire Thornton le Dale and the walk to Ellerburn

A honey pot village on the edge of the North York Moors

Thornton le Dale is an attractive small village on the edge of the North York Moors and is very geared up for day trippers and coach trips. It has a very good website with a map showing the layout of the village, where the shops are, local attractions and ideas of short walks.

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It really can be described as a ‘honey pot ‘ village and is always busy with its beck, ducks, stone cottages and even a thatched cottage.

The area has been settled since Neolithic times and the Angles settled here around 500AD. The name is thought to have come from Thun ‘where thorn bushes grow’. After the Norman Conquest, William I gave the Manor to his sister and her husband. In Domesday Book, it had a population of 30. The Manor house was rebuilt in the C17th and is now a retirement home.


St Saint’s Church on a hill overlooking the village, has Norman origins and still has a Norman font, although present building is C14th. (#2)


It was granted a weekly market by Edward I.

In the middle ages, the area was a centre for spinning and weaving flax. There were numerous mills for fulling, paper making and milling, all using water from the Beck for power.

The small row of Almshouses at the end of the village were built in 1656 by local landowner, Lady Lumley, who died aged 80 with no children. She left her estate to a charity trust to build 12 almshouses and a grammar school, for children from Thornton and nearby Sinnington, which apparently was open to all local children who could read the New Testament. 200 children could be educated in the large school room.



The school house is at the end of the row of almshouses but is no used, as a new school was built in Pickering.

The main village is a linear village along the main Pickering to Scarborough road and is made up of terraces of attractive C18th stone built cottages.


At the centre of the village is a small green area with a large chestnut tree and the market cross, although it no longer has its market. The village stocks were here.


The shops are found on the roads radiating from here.



Shops are small and family owned. The chains haven’t reached here, but most are geared to day visitors with a lot of eateries, cafes, gift shops and ice cream parlours. There is even chocolate factory shop next to the Lavender tea room.


Perhaps what makes Thornton le Dale so popular is the beck that runs through the village. Thornton Beck was used to power the many water mills and the remains of weirs can still be seen.


Near the car park is a small lake, referred to as The Pond. I assume this is man made and connected to the water mills along the Beck, but I’ve not been able to find any information about it. There is a very easy walk around the pond with information boards. There are also ducks and geese.


The main road crosses the Beck by a Bridge.


Beck Isle Footpath begins here and is a paved path running along side the Beck. It passes the C17th thatched cottage, which is probably one of the most photographed cottages in North Yorkshire and regularly appeared on biscuit tins.


This is a very popular walk with seats overlooking the Beck. In warm weather this is a popular paddling spot for local children and visitors.


Beck Isle Footpath ends at Priestman’s Lane, which is lined with large C19th detached houses and feels very different to the rest of the village. Small bridges cross the stream, giving access to houses hid behind tall hedges.


I’m still not sure why so many people visit Thornton le Dale. It is an attractive village, but then there are many other attractive villages in the area. It has the advantage of having a large car park in what was the walled garden of the manor house as well as public toilets. This may explain why so many coach tours stop here. I’m not quite sure what people do once here. Many of then seem to wander aimlessly round the village eating an ice cream and debating the merits of the different cafes. For those prepared to walk, there is a delightful short walk up Thornton Beck to the isolated settlement of Ellerburn. (#3)
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All Saints’ Church, Thornton le Dale

All Saint’s Church stands on a rise at the eastern end of the village. It is ignored by most visitors and hardly rates a mention on the internet either. It is worth a quick look if passing.

This may have been the site of a wooden Saxon church, which was destroyed during the Harrying of the North by William the Conqueror in 1069. A new stone church was built although the present building dates from the C14th in the decorated Gothic style with its square buttressed tower. The chancel was rebuilt in the C19th and is wider and taller than the nave. A porch was added and new stained glass.


Inside it is a simple church with exposed stone walls and a wood roof. Pointed arches separate nave and side aisles.


At the back is a big late C12th Norman tub font, all that is left of the Norman church. standing on four legs.


The rest of the furnishings are modern. There is a panelled wood reredos at the east end with a three seater sedilia and piscina in the south wall.

Set under an ogee arch in the north wall of the chancel is the effigy of a lady, thought to be Lady Beatrice Hastings who died in 1320 and was a patron of the church.

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There is nothing special to attract the visitors. Perhaps the most interesting thing in the church is the medieval poor box by the north door.


In precovid times, the church was open daily, but was locked the day I visited in June 2021.


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The Walk to Ellerburn

Priestman’s Lane in Thornton le Dale is the start of one of the best short walks in the area to the tiny isolated settlement of Ellerburn.

The lane follows Thornton Beck past large detached C19th and early C20th houses.


At a bend in the road is Victoria Mill, a large C19th mill building and the only mill building to survive in Thornton le Dale. It has now been restored to provide apartment accommodation .


Just before the building is a signpost on the right to Ellerburn, about 1 mile away. It is a very easy walk, along a well made footpath following the Beck. There are several weirs once serving the mill and described on the Thornton le Dale Map as ‘sculptured waterfalls.’


The path follows the beck and across a field to Low Farm and Ellerburn.



There isn’t much at Ellerburn - a farm, couple of houses, St Hilda’s Church (#4) and a tea room.


Ellerburn is very much the end of the road, which continues as a track into Dalby forest. You have to want to come here! Possibly the main reason is for the Tea Cosy Tea Room in the end cottage .


You can either eat in or eat outside in the garden. It is a lovely place with raised flower and herb beds. There was no noise when I visited and all I could hear was bird song.


The Tea room is only open Tuesday- Thursday and serves light snacks and home made cakes. Portions are generous and prices very reasonable.


The tea room is popular with walkers in Dalby Forest and there was a steady stream of people walking along the footpath from Thornton too. For those not wanting to walk, there is an unclassified road to Ellerburn up the other side of the valley.


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St Hilda’s Church Ellerburn

St Hilda’s Church is tiny and dates back to the early days of Christianity when monks from Whitby Abbey established a church here. It is described as ‘the Mother Church’ for the area.

It is a simple building with nave, chancel, small buttressed bell turret and stone slab roof. With its porch and clerestory windows, it looks more like a farmhouse than a church.


The present building dates from about 1150 although carved stones from the earlier church have been built into the walls. There are the remains of Saxon cross on the corner of the porch and also in the south wall to the east of the porch.


On the east side of the porch are the ends of two hogs head tomb covers.


There are two more carved stones in the south wall of the chancel. One has ropework carving, the other a scroll design. There is a carved stone with a stag with antlers high on the left hand side of the east window. This is now covered with lichen which is hiding the carving. It is best seen early in the morning or evening when shadows make the carving more obvious.


The inside is equally as simple, but great character. Gas lamps, now with electric bulbs, hang from the roof. At the back is a round Norman font on legs.


The floor is paved with large stone flags and there is a King post wood roof. The plain glass windows flood the nave with light. Pews are C19th and the pulpit has a splendid sounding board. The chancel is small and feels full with choir stalls and pulpit. There is a heavy wood reredos under the east window with an overhanging canopy.


The windows are set back in the thick stone walls and have been enlarged. The remains of the old window arches can still be seen.



The pillars supporting the chancel arch have scrolls and zig zag carvings.



There are a few memorials on the walls including payments to the poor. 


This is a delightful place and well worth searching out, either by walking from Thornton le Dale, or by driving. At the crossroads in the centre of Thornton-le-Dale, take the Whitby road. Almost immediately take the first right and then turn left. If you cross the river, you have gone too far. This road takes you to St Hilda’s Church. The nearest post code is YO18 7LL and the grid reference is SE 841842.

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