Bransdale is one of the most isolated valleys in the North York Moors, surrounded by high moors on all sides, apart from the narrow ravine of Hodge Beck which flows out of the valley's southern end. Bransdale is also a dead-end on the roads, with no routes leaving the valley to the north.
Two minor roads run into Bransdale, both crossing high moorland to reach the valley. One leaves the main road at the eastern end of Helmsley and runs north through Carlton, across a series of moorland ridges before dropping down into the valley from the south-west. The other runs north from Gillamore and Fadmoor, cuts across the southern end of Rudland Rigg and crosses Shaw Ridge to drop into the valley from the south-east. Both are lengthy moorland routes. A circular road runs around Bransdale, so there is road access to both sides of the central part of the dale.
The valley owns its distinctive shape to the geology of the park. The narrow entrance is formed by the limestone Tabular Hills, which line the southern part of the park. Bransdale sits in the high central moors, with sandstone surrounding the valley, which cuts down into various levels of Lias rocks.
The largest community in the dale is the hamlet of Cockayne, which probably gets its name from its church (although the land of Cockayne was a mystical realm of luxary). Just to the west is Bransdale Lodge, a Georgian hunting lodge built by Lord Feversham. The Church of St. Nicholas sits at the eastern end of Cockayne, and is a simple moorland church.
Bransdale Mill is probably more elaborate. The current mill was built in 1811 by William Strickland and his son Emmanuel Strickland, vicar of Ingleby Greenhow. The religious influence can be seen in the 'improving' texts in Greek, Latin and Hebrew carved into the mill walls. The mill is owned by the NT but isn't normally open to the public. There has been a mill on the site since the late thirteenth century, and it was originally built by the Stuteville family.