On the south-west edge of the North York Moors wooded limestone crags, rounded knolls and little valleys, all created by meltwater erosion during the last Ice Age, make for attractive and easy walking.
This 7 mile route climbs gently from Byland Abbey to the pastureland to the north before returning via the village of Oldstead and across the pastoral landscape first cultivated by the monks nearly 850 years ago.
Distance: 7 miles
Time: 4 hours
Conditions: well signed field paths and forest trails
Refreshments: Abbey Inn, Wass, Oldstead
OS Map: OL26
Originally published: 14 March 2014
The welcoming Abbey Inn at Byland is happy for walkers to leave cars in their large car park down the lane to Oldstead (GR 548789). From the junction opposite the abbey walk along the Wass road for about 100 yards and then turn left along the drive to Abbey House. In a few paces cross a stile on the right and, after a second stile, bear left uphill to a seat where there's exquisite views of the abbey, a romantic ruin in a landscape of its own creation.
The path continues to a lane on the edge of Wass. Turn left up the drive to Lund Farm. Where it turns right go ahead on a path which climbs across open land before entering Snever Wood. The route continues as a forestry track. Shortly after crossing a stream it bears right. At this point the right of way climbs a little bank on the left to the ridge of Snever Scar, a delight to follow for about 300 yards with tantalising glimpses through the trees of the plain below.
Turn right when you reach another forest track and continue ahead to a gate on the edge of open grazing land. At this point you could make a short diversion to the left on a well used path which in less than a quarter of a mile brings you to Mount Snever Observatory. Now a plain inaccessible tower it was built as a belvedere in 1837 by John Wormald, a partner in Child's Bank, to mark the accession of Queen Victoria. "See rich industry smiling on the plains And peace and plenty tell Victoria reigns" is part of the fulsome verse above the door. The industry must have been agriculture for the outstanding views today are across an entirely rural Vale of York.
We now return to the gate and head out along the wall side of a large field, part of the monastic route from the abbey to the monks' grange at Murton. Sheep still graze here as they have for centuries. Cam Farm soon appears and you should head for the left corner of the buildings. Then continue through two gates to pass in front of Cam House, mentioned in 1614 records as an ale house for iron workers employed by the Earl of Rutland.
After admiring the sweeping views go straight ahead from the garden wall to a gate leading into Cockerdale Plantation. The path now follows a forest track down to a signed junction. Ignore the route to Oldstead and continue ahead for a few yards to where the right of way goes left through the trees, following a rocky path down to a gate.
Ahead is secluded Cockerdale Farm, set in green fields surrounded by little low wooded ridges which allow glimpses of the outside world. Our way continues past the farmhouse before climbing as a grassy ridge to a sunken lane. Turn left. Look out for Exmoor ponies, protected by a Yorkshire charity, in the field on the right.
The stony lane we now descend is one of the southern extensions of the Hambleton Drove Road. In the 18th and 19th centuries it would have seen the annual passage of thousands of cattle from Scotland and the Borders. This section must have been a relief to the drovers as they sighted the greener pastures of the plains below.
We follow the lane down into a deep wooded valley and a junction with a tarred lane where bear left up into Oldstead. Walk down the village street and turn left at the Black Swan leaving the drove road which continued through Coxwold and Crayke to the fortnightly cattle fair at York.
In about 300 yards turn right down the access track to Oldstead Grange, one of the many outlying farms of Byland Abbey. Pass between the house and a barn and follow a green track down to cross one of the many streams which were harnessed by the monks to provide an elaborate system of fishponds.
The path then climbs through trees before passing around the perimeter of Cams Head (Cam is Anglo-Saxon for ridge). From here the walk crosses fields before the memorable ruined 'rose window' of Byland comes in sight. In the last field the much disturbed land marks the site of one of the dams constructed by the monks to provide water for milling.
The name Byland derives form the Anglo-Saxon "Bega's land" but the Cistercians who settled here described it as "Bellalanda" or beautiful land. The abbey is unique in that it was virtually all built in the short period between the first settlement of 1177 and 1225. In the transitional style it has both rounded Norman arches as well as the pointed windows of early English Gothic. The church, 330ft long, was the largest built by the Cistercians in England. There's a noted collection of glazed green and yellow medieval tiles in the museum too. It makes a good picnic spot and is well worth a visit.