What started out as a wonderful day, turned into something horrible. First of all, the walk along the ridge to Sutton Bank was spectacular. The most incredible views. A level of peace I so desperately needed, where for a long time, the only sound was birds chirping and my footsteps. Even on the circular back, things started out lovely. Some field walking, and gorgeous views up the hill…
What happened next…
Then I found myself being chased by an angry farm dog, and nearly climbing up a tree to escape. Then the rain came. It started out light, so light that I didn’t feel the need to put any waterproof layers on. I wasn’t feeling good, after all the adrenaline from the dog chase, so I wasn’t thinking clearly. The rain got heavier and heavier, and by the time I realised it wasn’t going to get better, I was so wet that it was too late….I will tell you more about that later.
Read more: Tips for hiking in the rain…..I know, I know. I should have known better.
What I’m going to do in this guide, is give you a bit of an overview of the circular Sutton Bank walk route, followed by full logistics, a map, and tips. I will then go on to describe the route step by step with photos.
What is Sutton Bank?
Sutton Bank is a roughly 200 meter high cliff, with a near vertical drop, made up of rocks from the Jurassic Period. Yes. It’s as old as the dinosaurs. Located in North Yorkshire, in the North York Moors.
From the top, you get a marvellous view down to Gormire lake, which was formed during the ice age.
If you like views, then you might like this walk up to the top of Roseberry Topping. It’s a little further north in the Yorkshire Moors. Or even better, this route to the Wainstones from Chop Gate has the best views I have seen up here period.
How long is the Sutton Bank walk?
This is a circular 8.5 miles walk, taking you along the escarpment to Sutton Bank, then down to Gormire Lake, and through the fields.
Is Sutton Bank dog friendly?
Sutton Bank is a dog friendly place to come for a walk. There are no stiles along the whole route. If you decide you just want to stick near the visitors centre, I didn’t see any livestock. However, if you do this full circular route, you will encounter livestock in places. Oh, and just be aware of the steep cliff drop.
Is the Sutton Bank walk difficult?
For the most part, the Sutton Bank walk is an easy route. Walking along the ridge is easy, walking down along the bottom is easy.
As this route is a circular, you do have one downhill, and one uphill. I wouldn’t say they are that tough though, just make sure you walk it in a clockwise direction. If you walk anticlockwise, you will have to walk up the steepest section at Sutton Bank, as opposed to down. That would be tough. This little bit can get quite muddy and slippy.
Kilburn White Horse
A popular way to walk Sutton Bank, is to include the Kilburn White Horse. I chose not to today for a number of reasons, which I will explain when I describe the walk below. However, if you wish to include it, then it’s very easy to add on the extra loop.
Basically, when I describe the route below, where I turn to walk down to Gormire Lake, you would instead continue straight. This will lead you to the Visitors Centre, and on to the Kilburn White Horse. I describe it in my section ‘Walk down Sutton Bank to Gormire Lake’.
I came back another day to do the White Horse, so you can see what it looks like here. Whilst the views on it are stunning, and you do get a better cliffside view, I don’t think it would add a whole lot to this walk. You won’t miss out much by skipping it.
Getting to Sutton Bank
Driving to Sutton Bank is its own little adventure. As I made my way up the road, the words ‘holy shit’ came to mind. As well as ‘I hope I don’t have to walk up this’.
The road in question is the A170, as it takes you up the bank. It’s very steep with a hairpin bend thrown in. The AA have even once said that it’s one of the most dangerous roads in Britain.
Since looking it up, I have learnt that caravans have been band from using this section of the road since 1984. On average, every year over 100 HGV’s break down on it (last year it was only 70 though), and hundreds more suffer problems trying to ascend or descend.
Don’t worry, there are other roads to get there.
I have since gone up this road a few more times, and one of those times a caravan decided to go up. I was stuck behind. It was not fun at all.
Where to park for the Sutton Bank walk
You have a couple of options for parking to walk Sutton Bank. If you want free parking, go to Sneck Yate car park on the other end of the ridge (where I parked). If you want facilities, you can park at the Sutton Bank Visitors Centre car park, which of course is pay parking.
You can easily join this trail from the visitors centre.
Tips for the Sutton Bank walk
- Hiking boots would be useful. The steep hill at Sutton Bank can be very muddy and slippy to walk down/up.
- Walk clockwise if you want to avoid walking up the steepest section. You will still have an uphill later on, but it’s less aggressive.
- If you want to make the walk longer, you can include the Kilburn White Horse. You could also include Boltby. If I was to do this walk again, I would extend the route to Boltby. I wish I had actually, as it would have meant I wouldn’t have had the dog encounter. Plus, Boltby looks like a cute little village. I will show you how to extent the route to Boltby, when I describe the full Sutton Bank walk below.
- Cyclist use this area, so just be aware of any that may be approaching along the trail. On this particular route, when walking back up the hill, there is a section along a mountain bike specific trail.
- Start/Finish: Sneck Yate car park (for this route)
- Alternate start/finish: Sutton Bank Visitors centre car park
- Where is it: Sutton Bank is located in the North York Moors in the Hambleton District.
- Distance: 8.5 miles
- Time: 2h 45 min
- Difficulty: Mostly easy with a couple of slightly harder hills. Let’s say moderate overall then.
- Time of year: I did this in early spring
- Amenities: Sutton Bank visitors centre has toilets and a cafe. For this particular route, you don’t go to the visitors centre, but it’s nearby if you want to pop over.
Map for the Sutton Bank circular walk via Gormire Lake
You can find my more detailed route map for the Sutton Bank walk on AllTrails, where you will be able to see the trail which takes you to Boltby if you choose to go that way.
If you want to explore more of the North York Moors, you can check out all the best walks I recommend here.
A guide to the circular Sutton Bank walk via Gormier Lake
I will be describing the walk starting from Sneck Yate car park. If you have chosen to park at the Sutton Bank Visitors Centre, I suspect there will be signs directing you to the viewpoint, and you can pick up the walking trail from there.
From the car park, the trail isn’t the one straight in front of you. What you want to do is walk out of the car park, and turn right.
I accidentally turned left, but luckily I realised my mistake before I got too far.
Along the road, and a little down a hill, you should see a gate entrance to the hillside on the left. Go through it, and from here, all you need to do is walk straight along the hill top, all the way to Sutton Bank.
The views along this section are spectacular. It was a lovely clear day, and I could see way way in the distance to some big hills. Looking on google maps, I could see I was looking at the Yorkshire Dales.
If you like views, then you should try this route around and through the Hole Of Horcum. The views are of the different type, but still wonderful.
Points along the trail
You will walk past an abandoned looking shed, through a few gates, and will pass by a few junctions. Just stick to this main trail as it curves along the hill top, and you’re good.
For the whole walk along the escarpment, right up until I was near Sutton Bank, I only passed a couple of people. The only sound I could hear was the birds and my footsteps. This is exactly what I needed right now. You see, I had been awake since 2am due to a crying baby (not mine). I almost didn’t come out to do this walk, as I felt so exhausted, but I thought it might do me good. So far, it was just the therapy I needed (that would all change a bit later).
Walk to the Gormire Lake viewpoint
The Gormire Lake viewpoint comes very suddenly. I could see a bench up ahead, and I new it must be pointing to something good. I made my way over to it, and just as I reached the bench on the hill top edge, the Gormire Lake presented itself.
Fun Fact: From this point you are standing 300m above sea level (the information board told me).
All these trees are part of Garbutt Wood, which is part of the Gormire Site of Special Scientific Interest (the information board also told me this).
Where to walk next….
Right up until this point, I hadn’t yet decided if I would include the Kilburn White Horse on this Sutton Bank walk.
I definitely noticed an increase in the number of people around this area. As I was now close to the Sutton Bank Visitors centre, it made sense, and there was no doubt in my mind it would get busier if I walked over that way towards the horse. Seeing as the walk had up until this point been so peaceful, I didn’t want to break that. Plus, I was feeling the tiredness from the lack of sleep. So I decided to walk down Sutton Bank, to the Gormire Lake, instead.
Walk down Sutton Bank to Gormire Lake
From the Gormire Lake viewpoint, you first follow the main trail as it takes you through the woods and a little downhill.
You will then walk along a narrow, but open trail with a lovely view to the pointy hill and Gormire Lake, looking back.
I wonder if that pointy hill is a hill fort. I know there is one around here somewhere.
When you reach the wooden fence and sign (photo below), stay straight to go to the visitors centre and White Horse, alternatively, to walk down to Gormire Lake, follow the trail down to the right. This is where the steepness begins.
Some parts are quite easy, some are steep, winding, and slippy. I can tell you, I was very glad to be walking down this bit and not up.
Keep going down, and when you reach the big rock, keep going along the main trail to the right. This will take you through more woodland, and down some more muddy steep bits to reach a junction. At the junction, turn left.
After some more downhill you will be led right onto the edge of Gormire Lake.
Walk along the edge of Gormire Lake
I must say, it was a bit anticlimactic. I’m not sure what I was expecting really. The view from up top was out of this world, but when I go down there, it was just an average looking lake. I think I had images of fairies or something.
At the lake, turn right along the dirt trail. The lake doesn’t last for very long either, as before you have had time to even appreciate walking alongside a lake, it is gone.
When you reach the junction, if you want to walk back up to the top of Sutton Bank, turn right. Alternatively, to do this full circular route, turn left, which will lead you to a road corner.
The nice house
You will see arrows telling you where to go here, as they direct you to the right and through a gate.
Further along this path you will get a view to the right of a fancy looking house in the distance.
I wanted that house.
When you reach the gate at the end, go through it and you will have the fancy house gate entrance on the right, and the trail gate on the left. Unfortunately, you won’t be going to the house, so take the left gate onto the trail.
It all felt quite pretty and lovely here. With a few swans swimming in the mini lake to the left.
I didn’t know what the walk down here would be like, and did wonder if the walk along the top to Sutton Bank, with all the views, would be the best part. Should I have stayed up there to walk back?
Well, so far I was really enjoying the walk down here. Just like up the top, it was incredibly peaceful. There was no one around. The views were pretty.
This grass trail will lead you up and down then up again and around, until you reach the gate entrance to a large field.
This field did make me a little nervous, with its size and the fact that I couldn’t see the whole field due to a drop ahead. It’s the kind of field there might be animals in. All I could see was geese today, but I kept my eyes peeled for anything else (aka cows). Funny enough, one thing I was also nervous about, was what if a dog was here and came chasing me. I don’t usually fear that in fields, but I had recently had some scary dog encounters on walks (namely Goathland to Grosmont). So it was on my mind.
It’s not that obvious where to go when in this field. What you need to do is head towards the house, and to the right of it, where you will reach the road.
The junction of doom
At the road, to go to Botlby, you turn left here. I so wish I had done that, and I recommend that you do.
As this is not the route I took, I can’t tell you any more about it, so I will show you what I did instead….
At the junction I turned right, which took me along a track type road, with a view to a house on the hill ahead. At this point, I was still enjoying myself.
Following the road, it took me around and then up a hill towards the farm….
The dog chase
Though one gate and then another, I headed towards the next gate across the field.
As I went through that gate and closed it, I heard growling. It was faint, but it was unmistakable. I looked to my right and saw a farm dog a bit further away, looking right at me. I promptly went back through the gate, thinking I would be safe on this side.
Then he started barking.
Staying on this side of the fence I started to make my way up the hill. The dog continued to bark and growl, and I could tell he was following me up, which is when I noticed that the fence was falling down in some parts, and in others was quite gappy. A dog would have no problem getting through.
For a bit of background, I grew up scared of dogs. I have an early memory of a great dane (bigger than me at the time) galloping towards me in a field, and me screaming and climbing up my dad to get away from it. That laid the base for a fear I still have to this day, of animals in fields (mainly cows these days). I did get over my fear of dogs, but not without some hard work at it, and until I was way into my 20’s. As I mentioned earlier, I have had some scary dog encounters on this trip, which had started to bring back those memories. So you can imagine my frame of mind in this moment.
I turned and saw he was now running in my direction.
I quickened my pace, not looking back, hoping he would retreat if he saw me leaving. But he didn’t. I could see ahead another gate which would take me behind fence that offered more protection. But it wasn’t close enough. If I tried to run to it, I wouldn’t make it in time before he got to me.
The barking and growling got louder, and I looked back and saw he was now only a few meters away, so I dashed behind a tree.
I grabbed onto some of the branches, ready to climb up it. Waiting to see his next move. He stood there, barking like crazy at me. Some meters away, still on the other side of the fence, but a bit of fence that had fallen down. I looked back to the farm house wondering where the owners were. The dog was so aggressive, how could they not hear him and know something was wrong.
Every so often he would do this sort of mini jolt, like he was about to pounce. About to jump the fallen fence to get to me.
After some time, he did start to retreat. When he turned his back to me, and was far enough away that I had enough to to run to the next gate, in case he changed his mind and came back, I bolted over to it, and didn’t wast time trying to open it, but just climbed over.
The come down and the bike track
Conveniently, I was now on the trail I had intended to be on any way. As I walked up it, I realised my heart was pounding. I was shaking. I knew I was safe now…but was I? Just incase, I made sure to keep a quick pace, to get as far away from here as possible.
At the junction, left would take me to Botlby, right would take me further up the hill, along a mountain bike track. A thick, muddy, narrow, and steep, mountain bike track. I wasn’t keen on this bit of trail, and really wished I had just gone to Boltby in the first place.
Once I got to the top of the track, and out of the woods into a field, I realised it was raining. Only light rain at this point. I didn’t want to waste time getting my rain jacket out of my bag, and headed over to the other side of the field where I would be under tree cover again.
I was now feeling a little sick. A combination of the adrenaline come down, and the lack of sleep last night.
Walk up to the top of the hill
Through a gate, and across a path, the trail then led me further uphill and into the woods. Up here things got really muddy. I passed by the first person I had seen so far on the walk back from Sutton Bank. It was strange though, being around another person out here far away from everything.
I had the fear of attack on my mind. Everything was feeling so gloomy, with the rain and tree cover. Normally I would say hello when I passed anyone on a walk. Well, it’s not a full on hello, but a nod and quick hi, with a dash of eye contact. The classic hikers in passing greeting.
This time I kept my head down. I was on edge.
As I was nearing the end of the tree cover, I knew I would be out in the rain again. I considered getting my rain jacket out, but I also wanted to get back to my car as quickly as possible. In my mind, once I got to the top, I would be nearly back at the start. The rain didn’t seem too bad, and the jacket I was wearing was a little bit waterproof. It felt like an unnecessary waste of time to stop to put it on. So I didn’t….
I would later regret this decision.
The final stretch of the Sutton Bank walk and the rain
As I made my way back along the top of the hill, everything was grey. The rain didn’t look like it would be stopping. But it was ok, as I was nearly back at the start…except I wasn’t. My head was down, as I power walked along the narrow trail. The rain was getting heavier, so I put my camera under my jacket to shield it. I now started to think again about putting my rain jacket on. But it almost felt counterproductive, as I was now quite wet. I didn’t think I could get any wetter at this point.
I should have taken my own advice about hiking in the rain. I’m not very good at that.
It went on. And on and on. The trail was never ending. I got to more exposed parts, and the wind was now in force. The rain was the sideways type. I was blinking the rain water out of my eyes.
The rain was now seeping through my jacket. My hands were cold, but I couldn’t put them in my pockets, or up my sleeves, as I needed them to hold my camera which was partially protected under my jacket.
Why didn’t I put my rain jacket on? It was definitely too late now. My sole focus was getting back to my car. I had tunnel vision.
When I did make it back, I struggled pressing the button to unlock the door. My hands were frozen and swollen red. I took my coat off, sat down, and closed the door. The rain was pounding down on the car. I rested my hands on my lap and was breathing heavily. Feeling relief that I was back and safe, but also exhausted. Exhausted with useless hands. I was going no where right now. I tried to eat an energy bar, but couldn’t open the wrapper.
So I waited. Waited for the life to come back to my hands. Thinking about how a wonderful day had turned into something else.