While the North York Moors may often be overlooked for its Yorkshire Dales neighbour, the moors are actually worth visiting and exploring. Not only are the moors renowned for its diverse landscape, it’s also known as being one of the largest areas of heather moorland in the UK, home to many ground nesting birds, woodland, dramatic cliffs, peaceful valleys, quaint towns and some stunning walking routes. This route, in the eastern part of the North York Moors, is an absolute gem of a walk not far from Whitby (so after you finish you could always pop over there for a fish n chips for tea) and takes you on a 5.5km route through ancient woodlands, alongside a gorgeous beck, to a very impressive waterfall and finally stops of at The Hermitage, a cave carved from stone. It’s a short but excellent walk for all seasons of the year and family friendly too!
At a Glance
Difficulty: Moderate - some slippery paths in wet weather and rough, uneven ground.
Distance: 5.5km loop
Total ascent: 203m
Est Time: 1hr 40mins (not including lunch stops)
Starting location: Forestry Commission Car Park alongside May Beck
Parking Cost: Free! Correct at time of writing (November 2023)
Dog friendly: Yes
Key features: beautiful woodland and May Beck, Falling Foss tea room and waterfall, The Hermitage (a shelter carved into solid rock)
For a much shorter route, more free car parking is also available in much closer proximity to the Falling Foss tea room in Sneaton Forest.
It was a beautiful autumnal day when my mum and I made an impromptu decision to head up into the North York Moors for a day out, starting with a visit to Falling Foss and The Hermitage. I’m one of those people guilty of often overlooking this area of Yorkshire but as we drove down the quiet country lane, bathed in autumn colours on each side of us with the sun poking through the trees and pulled into the empty car park, we knew it was going to be a good day.
The free car park alongside May Beck is a great place to start the walk and there’s space for around 20 or so cars here. From the car park, the route follows the signpost reading “Coast to Coast” and “Falling Foss” upstream through Sneaton Forest. During Autumn and Winter, the area is sheltered and cold so make sure you wrap up warm maybe in something like the So Snug bobble hat and the Explore Puffer Jacket from My Urban Trail.
The path meanders alongside the river for a short while and this is a great place to stop and just take in your surroundings as the woodland changes dramatically on this walk. In this section of Sneaton Forest, in the south, the trees are primarily conifers which were planted in the 1960s and you’ll find yourself walking lower down in the valley whereas in the northern section, which you’ll reach closer to The Hermitage, you’ll see ancient broad-leaved woodland and steep valleys.
Continue through the woods, sticking close to the river and follow the wooden walkway which will lead you out to a well used track for cars. Here, you'll see the beautiful bridge crossing over the glistening waters of the beck. It’s an incredibly peaceful and relaxing spot here listening to the bubbling water, the birds singing in the trees and the squirrels rustling around on the ground around you.
Falling Foss Tea Room
Cross the bridge and you’ll see Falling Foss Tea Room on your right. This is actually Midge Hall; originally built in the 18th century and used as a cottage for the local gamekeeper. I was surprised to discover that the hall was actually also used as a tea room back in the 1930s when visitors were brought here by busses from the coast for a stroll in the woods and to see Falling Foss waterfall.
In the 1960s, the house was abandoned but thankfully, new owners now look after this beautiful home and run it as a tea room. It’s open from April-September daily from 10am-4pm and the grounds alongside it are stunning to sit in. The gardens also have sculptures to explore and a small play area so this is perfect to keep children entertained while you enjoy your cake and a cuppa!
Falling Foss Waterfall
Out the back of the tea room is the 30ft drop of Falling Foss waterfall; a stunning site which you can view from the little path that goes in front and to the right of the tea room. There isn’t a signposted way down to the bottom of the waterfall so viewing it from above is your best bet.
However, for the slightly more adventurous, there is a steep bank which you COULD sidle down to get to the base of the waterfall however, the bank is incredibly slippery and muddy meaning it gives way underneath you and makes for a treacherous descent.
Fortunately there is another, although much longer, way to get to the base of Falling Foss. Note: this may involve getting wet feet and WILL involve a little river crossing.
To reach the base of the waterfall, you will need to continue following this route until you reach The Hermitage then cut back on yourself and follow a path down to the river, following it back upstream. Eventually you’ll meet a footbridge (which is the one you’ll cross for the rest of this route) BUT if you avoid this and cross the river here, you’ll see a little path on the other side which will lead you to the base of Falling Foss. A nice little detour to be able to stand at the base of the falls and even have a little wild swimming dip!
After leaving Falling Foss, the path continues at a much higher level above the river, through the woodland along well maintained paths. The forest here is once again really beautiful but you’re aiming for the fascinating structure known as The Hermitage, which you’ll reach after roughly 15 minutes. It’s well signposted all the way too so you can’t really go wrong here.
This large cave carved from a boulder dates back to the 18th century and was supposedly once the home of a local hermit who used the land surrounding it to survive. I’m not too convinced by this story though - could one person really carve out something so impressive on their own and even carve a little bench all the way around the inside? Unless it was already there before the person decided to live off the land and make it their home. However it got there and whoever carved it out, it really is an impressive site and quite magical when you get to experience the place on your own.
After leaving The Hermitage, retrace your steps slightly and look for the path to the right which heads downhill via a series of steps heading towards the river. This section was incredibly muddy when we visited so some good boots or walking shoes are a must here if you’re visiting after some wet weather.
The route back is simple and as you make your way back upstream alongside the river you’ll eventually reach a bridge on your right to cross (if you want to head to the base of Falling Foss as I mentioned earlier this is where you avoid the bridge for now and head further upstream to find the little river crossing and the path on the other side). After crossing the footbridge, follow this path to the farm before cutting left and looping back along the obvious footpath back to the Falling Foss tea room again.
From here, head back downstream but this time on the other side of the river (look for a little path before crossing the bridge), through the woodland and back to the car park where you started.
Map and key locations
Access the route on the OS Map App here.
1: Parking at May Beck car park
2: Falling Foss tea room (open 10am-4pm daily April -September)
3: Falling Foss waterfall
4. The Hermitage
Have you ever tried Komoot? Komoot allows you to access routes planned by others or plan your own which you can then download to your phone to follow while you are out. Komoot is free to join and access and you can find the route for his walk here.
- The parking area closer to Falling Foss fills up quickly on a nice day so get there early
- Falling Foss tea room has seasonal opening hours so check if it’s open before you go. At time of writing it was open daily from April-September from 10am-4pm
- Access down to the waterfall isn’t recommended - the bank is steep and slippy but you can access it if you walk to the Hermitage and once you’re back down to the river, you can cross it at a suitable part and reach the base of the waterfall however there isn’t a maintained path to it so self navigation will be required
- Some of the paths are muddy and slippery in wet weather so care is needed
- Sneaton Forest is home to lots of different walking paths for you to explore as well as picnic benches if you want to take lunch with you so you can easily spend longer in here if you wanted to