'Rowdy' pub crawl and train shop: I visited the tiny village with just 17 residents

Beck Hole
-Credit: (Image: Samuel Port)

Sheep were scattered all over as I neared the quaint North Yorkshire Moors village, known for its mere 17 residents and often described as a step back in time. Little did I know, I was in for more than I had anticipated.

My vehicle trudged along the winding country lane towards Beck Hole, near Whitby, cautiously avoiding the herds of seemingly satisfied sheep leisurely wandering near the tranquil roadside. Their woolly coats fluttered in the wind that swept across the valleys, as they nestled down on their laurels.

One of the creatures let out a deep yawn, casting a sideways glance at my conspicuous bright orange Seat as it rumbled by. As I drove past, I found myself locking eyes with a ram, huddled next to two of his pals, who appeared to be a pair of ewes.

There was a certain assurance in the animal's gaze, baring its teeth, as if declaring this was their territory, the road was theirs, and they were merely permitting us to travel through. I pressed my foot on the accelerator, eager to continue my journey.

Along the road, I spotted a worn-out tractor sat parked by the roadside near a cluster of farmhouses, reports Yorkshire Live. It once must have been a Goliath of a machine, munching away at the wheat, its engine gloriously roaring. Now, its large metal grill rusting as flocks of sheep trotted past, munching at the thick bed of grass growing around it.

Up above, the marshmallow clouds loomed over, floating over the forest green, jade and olive landscape. The sunshine glistened across the crumbling cobbled walls, held together by wooden fences and barbed wire, dirt gravel lay-bys and the never-ending road which cut across the beauty like a runway in an airfield, plunging me deeper within the valley.

I was keen to find other signs of human life so followed road signs to Hill Farm Holiday Cottages. I wanted to speak to somebody in the area in a bid to shake this feeling of disconnect I had harboured on my journey.

The curious shop in nowhere-ville

I found a small car park which opened up to a glorious view where you could see for miles around. I felt like I was visitor gazing upon the UK version of Shangri-La, the rolling hills, flora and fauna, looking unspoilt and bursting with life.

There was curious looking dark wooden hut behind me which I’d assumed was a showroom for holiday cottages. Beside the door, there was a bell, with a ‘polite notice’ for visitors to press it for reception if no one was present. There were also sign stating ‘CCTV in operation’. I pressed the bell, curious as to who would answer. The door then squeaked on its hinges, the wind seemingly blowing it open.

As I peered through the opening, I was taken aback by what was inside. There were glass shelves of model trains, railway sets and so many plastic accessories, miniscule lampposts, and bushes. It quickly dawned upon me that I had entered a model train shop in the middle of nowhere.

There were groups of people shuffling around the large shop, admiring the models, a few pointing at ones they must have really liked the look of, others peering-in through the protective glass panes, keen to get a closer look at the model locomotives.

I wandered over to the customer desk, still amazed at what I had found in the back-end of out-of-the-way secluded-ville. I spoke to a pair of regular customers who told me the shop, called The Model Centre - TMC, was a famous landmark for model railway enthusiasts and that people came from miles around to visit it.

Moments later, I was speaking to shop owner, a 33-year-old chap called Alex Yates, who’d taken the business over from his dad at the age of 19. He wore a kind of sheepish amused expression when I told him that I’d just wandered in completely unprepared to be surrounded by a host of model train sets.

As to why the shop was randomly located near Beck Hole - which is around a one hour journey from Middlesbrough - Alex, quipped: “It definitely wasn’t chosen for the internet speed!” He then explained the family had staycationed there when he was younger and that most of the business operated online.

He spoke about his fondness for the area, initially fearing the move to Beck Hole when he was a teenager and then growing to love the place. He recommended I visit the pub and which was located within the main part of the village – it turns out I had taken a wrong turn when discovering the model train shop.

The tiny time warped village

Finally, I’d arrived at the village, where the 17 residents lived, which arguably could be described as more of a hamlet. The cluster of chocolate box cottages surrounded a grassy embankment by the roadside. There was an odd assortment of cement columns by the dirt path leading to one side of cottages.

Dog walker and retired plasterer Andrew MacNeill explained to me these columns were part of a Quoit Pitch. I’ve since learned this was some sort of traditional game, dating all the way back to Ancient Greece, which appeared to have become popular in the UK some time in the 1800s. I really had stepped back in time.

Remarking on how peaceful it seemed, Andrew then informed me how this would all change on a Saturday due to a local pub crawl called The Gallon Walk. He said that hundreds of people would come in their busloads to walk from nearby villages Goathland to Egton. They’d stop off at eight pubs along the way – a pint in each equalling a gallon, hence the name.

Andrew said: “It’s a bit of a takeover, well, it can be. It’s really noisy. You can get busloads of men and women. This weekend, there was about eight women [in one group] but it sounded like about a hundred.”

Andrew told me the local pub the Birch Hall Inn would shut their doors to the gallon-walkers, growing sick of their behaviour. I decided to wander through the idyllic village - about the size of one of Alex’s model train sets - to the pub which I’d heard served excellent pork pies and their own beer.

Pub and sweet shop

The Birch Hall Inn
The Birch Hall Inn

The pub looked remarkable in the sunlight, painted white and on the far side of bridge extending over the River Esk and Eller Beck. The clear water petered across the dark brown stony beck, coddled between the wild terrain of forestry.

The Birch Hall Inn is an oddity, perfectly at home in the backwater village. There’s two entrances, on the right you have a traditional old sweet shop – apparently its been this way for many years and the landlady Glenys Crampton was determined to keep it exactly the same as when she’d taken the business over back in 1981.

A little hole in the wall behind sweet counter opens up to a small room on the other side of the building. This small room as it turns out is the pub and that small hole, the bar. Glenys, 72, and her husband Neil, 60, pour drinks in the sweet shop and then pass them through the hole in the wall to their punters.

There were lots of visitors, all ramblers passing through, as I chatted with Glenys about the pub and sweetshop’s long history. We spoke about The Gallon Walk, and she opened up about how she felt it had a ‘abusive, rowdy and inconsiderate’ nature. She’d worked hard to develop a peaceful tranquil atmosphere during her ‘43 years of uneventful landlady-ship’ and didn't want anything to threaten that harmony. So back in 2019 she’d decided to close the pubs on Saturdays.

Visiting Beck Hole was like stepping into a Beatrix Potter story, admittedly one about a haughty set of sheep, avid model train set collectors and a famous pub crawl, rather than a mischievous rabbit. It’s a lovely place which I wouldn’t have minded having a wander around after sinking a few beers – but alas, I had a long drive home.

Perhaps one day, I will return and delight in a game of Quoits or experience the supposed carnage of The Gallon Walk.