I spent a day in the tiny Yorkshire village with 17 residents and a 'rowdy' pub crawl

Beck Hole
-Credit: (Image: Samuel Port)

Sheep were everywhere, on just about every turning as I approached the tiny North Yorkshire Moors village famed for having only 17 residents and described as somewhat of a time warp. I was soon to discover that I was getting myself into a lot more than I'd bargained for.

My car chugged slowly along the winding country lane towards Beck Hole, near Whitby, careful to avoid the flocks of the content looking creatures as they ambled lackadaisically near the quiet roadside. Their woolly coats flourished in the breeze sweeping across the valleys, as they hunched down on their laurels.

One of the animals let out a throaty yawn, side-eying my conspicuous bright orange Seat as it rumbled past, which had travelled all the way from the big city of Leeds, boasting a population of near 800,000. A world away from the isolated farmland between the River Esk and Eller Beck.

Read more: Pub manager hits back after pub crawl called 'abusive, rowdy and inconsiderate'

As I was passing, I locked eyes with a ram, who was huddled beside with two of his pals, who looked to be a pair of ewes. I saw a confidence in the animal’s expression, bearing its teeth, as if to say this was their land, the road was their road, and they were simply allowing us, the two-legged freaks to pass through.

I pushed my foot down on the accelerator, keen to move on. Along the roadside, a tired weathered looking tractor was parked in the proximity of a large set of farmhouses, it looked like it had seen better days. 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.

Sheep by the road to Beck Hole
Sheep by the road to Beck Hole -Credit:Samuel Port

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 a visitor gazing upon the UK version of the Shangri-La, the rolling hills, flora and fauna, looking unspoilt and bursting with life.

There was a 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.

Martin Maddison pointing over at the TMC store
Model railway enthusiast Martin Maddison pointing over at the TMC store -Credit:Samuel Port

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.

Alex Yates, the young owner of The Model Centre -TMC
Alex Yates, the young owner of The Model Centre -TMC -Credit:Samuel Port

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, 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.

Andrew MacNeil, in front of Beck Hole, opened up about the Gallon Walk
Andrew MacNeil, in front of Beck Hole, opened up about the Gallon Walk -Credit:Samuel Port

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 -Credit:Samuel Port

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.

The Birch Hall Inn's sweet shop
The Birch Hall Inn's sweet shop -Credit:Samuel Port

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.

Inside the Birch Hall Inn which is the size of a small living room
Inside the Birch Hall Inn which is the size of a small living room -Credit:Samuel Port

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.

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