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Aldbrough St John to Scots Dyke, Melsonby & Dere Street

Settlers over two thousand years ago were attracted to the fertile rolling countryside between Scotch Corner and the River Tees. The Iron Age Brigantes made Stanwick their capital - their legacy is the remarkable 4 miles of earthworks covering over 700 acres which survive today. The Romans challenged their power and overcame them. They also built two major roads which diverge at Scotch Corner and strike sharply north and north west across the area. Five centuries later the Anglo Saxon settlers across the same landscape dug the 14 mile Scots Dike embankment between the Swale and the Tees as a boundary for military, political or social purposes.

Distance: 5.5 miles

Time: 3 hours

Grade: easy

Conditions: well signed field paths

Refreshments: Aldbrough St John and Melsonby

OS Explorer Map 304

Originally published: 26 February 2016

Our 5 and a half mile easy walk following ancient rights of way explores some of the traces of what is left from those early times. We start from outside the Stanwick Inn on the spacious green at Aldbrough St John (GR 202114). The village name comes from  the Anglo-Saxon 'old burgh', and refers to the Iron Age embankments at Stanwick a mile distant.

Walk over the green and cross Aldbrough Beck by the road bridge or the the rough-built 'packhorse' bridge a little upstream.Then follow the road past the little parish church of 1890 built in the Early English style. The Duchess of Northumberland of Stanwick Park was the benefactress. At a junction in some 25 paces bear right on the lane to Stanwick and Forcett and in a similar distance go left on the cul de sac lane to Park House, named for the extensive park which surrounded the dukes' stately home.

After a third of a mile the lane bears right and there's a view across the field on the right of a long stretch of one of the earthworks of the Iron Age settlement towering above the park wall.

Turn left at the bend on to the signed path which for a few yards has a section of Scots Dike on the right. The Dike then appears on the left, running as a 3ft high flat topped earth bank, with a ditch on the eastern side. The path then crosses the earthwork by a stile so that it now reappears on the right, protected by a cover of trees and bushes. It is then undetectable where the path continues alongside a stream for another 150 yards to Langdale, a large 19th century house set in trees on a little hillside.

We now join Langdale's access lane. In about half a mile and some 200 yards after a sharp left bend look out for a path on the right which climbs over three fields to the outskirts of Melsonby, perched on a long low ridge.. Turn left when you reach the village street. Waterfall Beck cascades across at a ford and then divides the houses into two rows, separated by a pretty green.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries the village would have been busy with long lines of pack horses (or jaggers), carrying lead from the smelt mills in Swaledale along Jagger Lane which comes into Melsonby from the right at the crossroads before continuing through the village.

Turn left at the crossroads in the centre and then follow Church Lane to the right to the parish church, set on the highest point in the village with good views eastwards towards the Cleveland Hills. Much of the church is of the 13th century as is the effigy of the knight in chainmail in the south aisle. In the nave are a number of carved interlace Saxon stones whilst in the churchyard close to the south door are many decorative 18th century gravestones including the bow-topped tombstone of Richmond bookseller John Raine who died in 1764.

Our walk continues from the far, east side of the church where a path zigzags down from the churchyard on to the field below. Well used, it continues across the middle of the first field before passing along the left side of a large, black barn. The right of way then turns left down a hard core track.

After about 250 yards the path goes right, through a gap in the fence (signed) before crossing a dedicated training track where you should watch out for galloping horses. It then crosses a vehicular track before descending across the next field to the commercial premises of Low Hangbank. Climb down a little bank and pass between the main buildings on the left and an office on the right to reach the B 6275 over a low wall stile. Turn left.

Our walk now follows the original Roman road now known as Dere Street, built northwards from Scotch Corner to serve the garrisons further north and of course Hadrian's Wall. Along the road a line of forts was established including Piercebridge, Binchester and Ebchester. Modern traffic still follows much of the old line of Dere Street to the Wall and on into Scotland.

In about 250 yards the road crosses Hangbank Bridge over Little Beck. Just beyond the bridge turn left through a gate and follow the backside upstream on a green path that leads in half a mile to Crossbury House. It is overlooked on the right by Micklow Hill, covered with what appear to be medieval ridge and furrow lines.

Cross a stile to the right of the house and then follow the green track ahead. After two fields this joins a hard core track. In 200 yards where the track turns left continue ahead on a path with an attractive little lake on the right, popular with Canada geese and tufted duck. The path continues to the edge of Aldbrough.


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