The Coxwold-Gilling Gap, the fertile, low lying strip of land between the two villages, some 6 miles long and, at its narrowest, two miles wide, is the focus of this walk.
It separates the Howardian Hills and the North York Moors and is the result of a geological fault and later glaciation. We cross the gap twice and explore the densely wooded slopes to the south.
Distance: 9 and a half miles
Time: 5 hours
Grade of walk: moderate
Conditions: well marked field paths and forest tracks
Refreshments: Ampleforth, Gilling East and Ampleforth Abbey tearoom
OS Explorer Map 300
Originally published: 10 September 2010
The centre of the gap is Ampleforth and it's from the parish church that we start this 9 and a half mile walk. Go down Mill Lane and, just beyond St. Hilda's Walk, take a signed footpath on the right which cuts a corner and returns to the lane by way of Fairfax Close.
Turn right and continue for another 400 yards to Watergate Farm. Here go left on a path which heads across fields to the drive leading to Thorpe Grange.
Go left for a few yards before leaving the drive by bearing right down the side of the farm buildings. "Footpath through the gate and turn right" is helpfully scrawled on the top bar of a gate at the end of the first field so, keeping a hedge on your right, head via one more stile towards the former Ampleforth Station, still sporting its curly canopy. For the record the Great North of England branch line, between Pilmoor and Helmsley, opened in 1871 and closed in the 1960s.
Turn left and follow Thorpe Lane for 200 yards. Go right on a metalled track which heads westwards through the gap to Coxwold. In about 300 yards turn left up to Low Lions Lodge.
Leaving the house to the right continue ahead past a large barn and then up across three fields close to a line of power poles. From these slopes of the Howardian Hills there are fine views back across the gap to Byland Abbey and the Kilburn White Horse. At the top, its gateposts surmounted by the king of beasts, is High Lions Lodge.
Our way is in front of the house, over two stiles and then between two barns. The path then crosses a field and over the eroded remains of a Bronze Age barrow to reach the quiet, tree shaded road from Yearsley to Oulston.
Turn left for half a mile to a junction. Go straight ahead into the woods which cover Yearsley Moor on a path signed to Ampleforth. Woods can be perplexing to navigate but recent signage in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has made the task easier. I've pinpointed their direction arrows on the map. There are 3 in the first third of a mile before a hard surfaced track is reached at a junction.
Turn right, (signed Ampleforth), and continue past a shuttered house. 200 paces beyond a nearby barrier our route leaves the track left on a red arrowed path which then bears right and crosses between the two Higher Fish Ponds of Park Wood. A few yards beyond the dam brings us to another forest track where turn left.
The walk is now easy going past the extensive Lower Fish Pond to a barrier at the lane running along the base of the hills. If you wish to shorten the walk here by some 4 miles then turn left and take the path signed to Ampleforth after about 150 yards.
The main walk continues ahead for 1 and a half miles via Park House to Gilling East. Ampleforth Abbey and College are visible across the fields for most of the way, dominating the landscape just as Byland Abbey a few miles to the west must have appeared to the medieval wayfarer. Ampleforth, however, is a more recent foundation. It was settled in 1802 by a group of Benedictine monks who could trace their community back to the pre-Reformation Westminster Abbey. Free leaflets at the abbey's reception explain its history and architecture.
The land was given to the monks by Ann Fairfax of Gilling Cstle, the last of her line. When you reach Gilling East the church, with its Fairfax memorials, is worth a visit and the name is perpetuated by the Fairfax Arms.
From the inn we return along Pottergate to the edge of the houses and take the path on the right, (on the left if you miss out the village), signed Ampleforth Abbey 2 miles. Two miniature stone level crossings of the railway of the Ryedale Society of Model Engineers are negotiated first before the well signed path continues alongside the ancient fish ponds of Gilling Cstle.
It then bears right across fields to crossings of the abandoned branch railway line and then the two becks which drain the Coxwold-Gilling Gap to the east. After the second bridge, over Holbeck, bear left along the foot of a steep hill to the right and then close to a wood on the left.
The path then enters the trees at the far end of the wood and after 100 yards of undergrowth emerges on the playing fields of the college. With a fenced multi sports court on the right the public right of way now joins a tarred track which skirts the cricket field, also on the right, before heading up to the abbey church. This is well worth visiting and is accessed along the terrace in front of it which also leads to the reception area and tearoom.
When you return along the terrace to the tarred track, you may as a purist want to follow the public right of way. This passes as a bark covered path between the two large monastic buildings on the continuation of the terrace to the left, and then climbs to the road from Oswaldkirk to Ampleforth. Turn left back to the village in about half a mile.
However most people walking between the abbey and the village use the lane bordered by street lights which branches from the tarred right of way below the terrace. Whichever route you choose please respect the privacy of the abbey and college buildings and the playing fields which are not open to the public.