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A description of the North Riding of Yorkshire
from Bulmer's Gazetteer (1890)


Part 1

GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF NORTH YORKSHIRE.

Yorkshire is the largest of our English counties, and in commercial enterprise, mineral resources, and population, one of the most important in the kingdom. It is situated about the centre of the island of Great Britain, with natural and well-defined boundaries of mountains, rivers, and sea, as will be seen from the map which accompanies this volume. Measured between its most extreme points, Caldron Snout, on the borders of Westmoreland, and Spurn Head, at the mouth of the Humber, its length is a little short of 130 miles; but its average length from north to south is about 80 miles; and from east to west about 90. The circuit of the county is about 460 miles, comprising within it an area which exceeds the united areas of Lincolnshire and Devonshire - the two counties which most nearly approach it in size - by upwards of 600 square miles.

The difficulty of administering the law over so wide a district necessitated, at an early period, the division of the shire into three parts, called Trithings or thirds, corrupted in later times into Ridings, and named, from situations, their North, East, and West Ridings. Each Riding has a separate Lieutenancy, Magistracy, Clerk of the Peace, Treasurer, and other public officers and courts; but all of them are amenable to the superior courts held for the whole shire at York Castle, within the bounds of the city of York, which is also a county of itself. Under the Local Government Act of 1888, each riding is a separate administrative county for all purposes of the Act. The extent, population, &c., of each of these divisions, as given in the Census Returns of 1881, are as follow

                  Acres.       Persons.      Males.     Females.   Inhabited   Increase of population
                                                                    Houses.     between 1871 and 1881.
North Riding   1,361,664       346,147      174,674     171,473     68,954             52,869
East Riding      750,828       310,830      154,986     155,894     64,722             42,864
York City          1,979        54,198       25,787      28,411     11,582             10,402
West Riding    1,768,380     2,175,134    1,063,319   1,111,815    450,280            344,319

Yorkshire      3,882,851     2,886,309    1,418,716   1,467,593    595,488            449,954

The North Riding, which more immediately concerns us in the present volume, occupies the northern portion of the county, extending from the river Tees, which separates it from Durham, almost to the walls of York, and from the borders of Westmoreland to the shore of the German Ocean. A glance at the map will show that this Riding, in common with the rest of the county, embraces three distinctly marked natural districts, each possessing its own characteristic scenery and vegetation and distinctive geological strata. On the west is a broad band of mountains and moorlands; on the eastern side is another belt of hills and moorlands; and between these lies the Plain of York, extending from the river Tees to southern confines of the county.

The Western Moorlands

The Western Moorlands form part of the Pennine Chain, otherwise known as the Backbone of England, which extends from the Cheviots to the Peak in Derbyshire, and forms the western boundary of Yorkshire. In this range and its offshoots occur some of the highest summits in England, but these lie north of Yorkshire. The chain enters the county with a diminished elevation, but even here many of its peaks rise to a height exceeding 2,000 feet. Mickle Fell, in the north-western corner of the riding, overtops 2,500 feet; a little further south is Nine Standards, 2,008 feet, Great Shunnor Fell, 2,346 feet, Stags Fell, 2,213 feet, Lunds Fell, 2,186 feet, Dodd Fell, 2,189 feet, and Buckden Pike, 2,304 feet, all within the North Riding. From this axial line branch off numerous spurs, separated from each other by deep winding valleys, which open out in the great plain or vale of York. Among these hills and dales is to be found some of the wildest and most romantic scenery in England, possessing a beauty peculiarly its own, which differs most markedly from that of the hills on the eastern side. This characteristic beauty arises from the different geological formation of the two ranges. These western hills are composed chiefly of hard millstone grit and Yoredale rocks, through which breaks, in Wensleydale and other places, the carboniferous limestone, forming bold and picturesque scars. This latter supports a sweet green herbage, short it may be in the higher parts of the hills, but affording a marked contrast to the brown heath of the gritstone moors, which constitute a large portion of this western band. The scenery in these western moors is often wild and weird, but the deep narrow valleys of the Tees, Swale, and Ure, with their numerous rills and waterfalls, present scenes full of picturesque and varied beauty scarcely surpassed by any in the north of England.

Eastern side of the Riding

On the eastern side of the Riding is another belt of hills and moors, belonging to the Oolitic and Lias formations. This is known by the general name of North York Moors. There is no well defined axial line as on the west side, nor do any of the summits attain so great an elevation. In the north of this Oolitic plateau are the Cleveland Hills, which have become famous in recent years through the discovery of immense deposits of iron ore. The most remarkable eminence in the group is Roseberry Topping, which rises like a sugar loaf to the height of 1,022 feet. On the west the escarpment of the plateau is formed by the Hambleton Hills (1,289 feet), which look down from their bleak precipitous cliffs on the fertile Vale of Mowbray. The land on the top is generally level, and has long been a well known training ground for race-horses. The higher grounds command extensive and varied prospects, extending westward over the Vale of York as far as the hills of Craven and Wensleydale, and southward to York's noble minster. A little to the south of Hambleton a range of highlands, called the Howardian Hills, forms the fringe of this Oolitic plateau, but none of its summits reach a thousand feet. From its foot stretches the lake-like hollow of Pickering Vale, supposed to have been in pre-historic times either a river course or a lake opening to the sea.

The scenery of these eastern moors is generally of a dreary unattractive character, but in some of the river valleys, especially in Eskdale, Ryedale, and the valley traversed by the Whitby and Pickering Railway, there are many highly picturesque and beautiful prospects.

Between these two belts of moorland lies the great Central Plain, or Vale of York, described by Chevalier Bunsen in somewhat extravagant language as "the most beautiful and romantic vale in the world, the Vale of Normandy excepted." In geological sequence this level band rests on the Triassic or New Red Sandstone series, and to these softer strata the plain owes its fertile soil and external configuration. Throughout its whole length from the Tees to the Don there is scarcely an eminence that reaches 200 feet. A portion of this great level, stretching from the base of the Hambleton Hills past the town of Thirsk and the river Codbeck, is distinctively known as the Vale of Mowbray, from the great Norman barons that formerly owned it.

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