Lake Gormire. The name itself has a magical, mythical quality. You can almost imagine Frodo Baggins chancing upon it in Lord of the Rings, with Gollum stalking along close behind.

And, indeed, there is something deeply mysterious about this tucked-away expanse of water hidden in dense woodland below Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire, one of only two natural lakes in the county, created by meltwater at the end of the last Ice Age and accessible only on foot.

For a start, no water can be seen flowing either into or out of it, keeping it at a steady level. The theory is that it's fed by an underground spring and drained through a channel in the limestone below.

Small wonder that legends have grown up around it. There's said to be a submerged city hidden beneath its placid surface - something which is about as likely as the story of the local knight who plunged into Gormire from Whitestonecliffe on a white horse he had conned the Abbot of Rievaulx into parting with, hotly pursued by the irate abbot who had transformed himself into the Devil!

Or how about the story of the goose which reportedly flew into the lake and vanished, to reappear 12 days later at Kirkbymoorside minus all its feathers? If there is a subterranean sump, that last story might (just) have its roots in reality. But a plummeting knight being pursued by the Devil?

Actually, as you walk through the shadows of Garbutt Wood beneath that towering Whitestonecliffe and catch sight of the green water through rare gaps in the trees, anything seems possible. This is a strange place, but not really a spooky one. At least, it wasn't on the day we visited it, largely thanks to the sun which filtered down through the woodland canopy and dappled the undergrowth and footpaths.

We'd begun our walk in an attractive village with one of the longest names in the country: Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe, where passing motorists heading eastward steel themselves for the one-in-four hairpin climb ahead.

Their reward from the top of Sutton Bank will be one of the finest distant views in the land - a panorama which includes the landscape through which we walked as we followed well-waymarked fields paths in the direction of the even more attractive village of Thirlby, passing along the way a paddock of llamas.

Beside a gate leading into a road we searched for a sign I'd been told had been placed there on the fence in 1996 beside an oak sapling in memory of the local celebrity better known to the world as the vet-turned-author James Herriot of All Creatures Great and Small fame.

On the plaque it says: "This oak was planted in memory of Alf Wight by his friends in Thirlby, 1996."

In a decade the oak has grown to obscure the sign, which is discoloured and neglected. Shame.

A little further on, beside a rather incongruous rickshaw parked on a grass verge, we came to another memorial, a seat at a junction "Donated by two good sorts in memory of Bill". On it is inscribed a fine Yorkshire invitation "No shop or inn is here about, so why not sit down and enjoy summat for nowt?"

We declined and continued past the ford and up a quiet, gently-climbing lane which eventually petered out and became a path into Garbutt Wood. Three walkers passed us in the opposite direction as we picked our way along the winding paths, catching the occasional tantalising glimpse of the lake before eventually arriving at one of the few places where we could get a clear view across its smooth surface.

Suitably impressed by the tranquillity of the place, we continued around the far shore before forking away to climb steadily towards the top of the wood. From there, we dropped down by a winding path to cross a stream and walk up through a meadow between spurs of woodland before joining a steep path which landed us up in a large field alongside a caravan site. A farm track took us to the road at the end of the village.

We'd seen nothing stranger than some llamas and a rickshaw, with not a tumbling white horse or bald goose anywhere to be found!

Step by Step

  1. Head east alongside the main road (A170) from the Whitestonecliffe Inn, looking in about 200 yards for footpath sign on left by gate leading to snicket between two gardens. Follow this to pass pond on left, veering right with path to stile leading to footbridge over Sutton Beck. Keep ahead with fence to stile in corner, then continue with wood on left to another stile and alongside hedge to yet another with paddocks on right. From next stile go diagonally right across wide field to gate stile in far corner.
  2. With hedge on left, follow path to corner of field and go left through stile at gap in hedge. With beck down on right, walk on with hedge to stile in corner of field, go diagonally right again to another stile and then follow hedge on right to gate into lane.
  3. Look for Alf Wight memorial plaque on fence adjacent to gate, then walk on through Thirlby village. Where road veers sharply left, walk on above ford to cross modern bridge over Sutton Beck. Walk on to swing right past garden of Little Beck cottage and soon, with ford on right, follow quiet climbing lane to left, passing several houses along the way.
  4. Where lane ends by house on left, swing right up track into woodland. At junction, go right, and soon fork right again to follow path through wood and eventually arrive at Lake Gormire. Follow path around eastern end of lake.
  5. At a junction, with a stile and footpath sign ahead, go right with lakeside path for a while, taking left-hand, climbing path at a fork to eventually arrive at top at T-junction and footpath sign "To Cleaves". Go left here, winding down steeply to eventually swing left to stile and shallow stream. Cross stile and walk up bank beyond, looking for signpost in field. Go left here, heading briefly towards distant buildings of High Cleaves Farm but soon following waymark sign right to drop down to another stile in fence on left by a gate.
  6. From here, head up open field between two stretches of woodland before swinging sharp right at end of wood to a stile. Over this, walk down steep grassy path with care. At bottom, enter field and walk across to farm track leading from caravan site. Turn left on this and follow it to A170 main road. Turn right on pavement to return to start.
Fact File

  • Start: Whitestonecliffe Inn in centre of Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe
  • Time for five mile walk: about 2 hours
  • Going: easy apart from a couple of steep descents and one tricky stile
  • Map: OS Outdoor Leisure 26, North York Moors Western area
  • Getting there: follow A1M to J49 then A168 towards Thirsk, taking A170 Scarborough road to Sutton-underWhitestonecliffe
  • Parking: in car park of Whitestonecliffe Inn, asking permission first and popping in for a drink at the end of the walk to say thanks
  • Refreshments: none along route, but plenty at pub
  • Toilets: ditto