Bransdale is the most remote of the five south-facing dales of the North York Moors.
It can be approached by road only from Helmsley and Fadmoor, both ten miles to the south. A rough track across Slape Wath Moor and via Tripsdale and William Beck Farm links it with Chop Gate in Bilsdale, but this entails at least a two-hour walk each way. Stony tracks scale the heights on the eastern side of the dale to reach Farndale, an hour away, while the journey along Rudland Rigg to the station at Battersby takes about three hours. However, it is this sense of isolation which makes Bransdale attractive to walkers, for even in the middle of summer there are few visitors and the well-marked footpaths are little used.
Distance: 8 miles, shorter walk 4 miles
Time: 4-5 hours (or 2.5)
Grade: moderate (longer walk); easy (shorter walk). There are
two or three sharp climbs, but none longer than a few 100 yards.
Conditions: good underfoot. There are just over 2½ miles of road walking on the longer route, but the
compensations are the views and the lack of traffic. There is one ladder stile at Colt House Farm.
OS Explorer Map OL26
Originally published: 29 August 2003
The route described anticipates that the walker will arrive by car. Head for the top end of the dale and park on the verge below St Nicholas' church (grid reference 621985), in the hamlet of Cockayne.
It is thought that the first chapel was built here in the thirteenth century and there are the remains of a simple font outside the south door. The present building, constructed in finely-tooled sandstone, dates from a restoration in 1886. Short histories of Bransdale are on sale inside and from the churchyard there are magnificent views down the three-mile length of the dale.
To start the walk, return to the road and go left to cross Bransdale Beck, which soon after becomes Hodge Beck, the main river of the dale. After a short, but steep, climb the road turns sharp left. Go right here on a bridleway which leads in less than half a mile to Bransdale Mill. Now owned by the National Trust, as is most of the dale, this is one of the finest intact nineteenth century com mills left in Yorkshire.
Although it is rarely open, the passing visitor gets a good idea of the functions of the main buildings, from the mill and the miller's house to the stables, smithy and cartsheds. That the mill was the focal point of the dale is evident from the footpaths which meet here, especially the one which starts with an impressive flight of stone steps.
Note too the inscription detailing additions to the buildings by the Rev William Strickland, formerly the owner, whose knowledge of classical languages, Hebrew, Latin and Greek, he seemed most eager to share with the dalesfolk. We shall come across him again!
Our route continues downstream along a path which has traces of a stone trod. After two gates, climb above the river bank and cross two fields to a clapper bridge. The paths divide and you should take the one to the left across a field and then through five gates to the dale road near Spout House, a 200- year-old farm which, with its finely-chiselled masonry and extensive outbuildings, is typical of the dale.
Our walk divides here. If you wish to complete a shorter route of some four miles in total, go right here following the dale road down to cross the Hodge Beck and so return through rich grazing land and past more fine farms such as South House, Cowl House and Cornfield House.
Just beyond the next one - Cott House Farm - go right, over a ladder stile, on a path which leads back to Bransdale Mill. Look out for the sundial, also by William Strickland, just before the mill. Return to the church by the outward route.
The longer walk doubles the mileage. Go left on the dale road and then right at Spout House. Follow the road for slightly over 1 1/2 miles as it climbs over Scot Ridge. There is little traffic (one car when I walked it in August) and thus an uninterrupted opportunity to admire the sweeping views ahead to the Tabular Hills and the Wolds beyond.
Away to the left the slopes of Rudland Rigg are pitted with rows of bell pits, evidence of the coal mining here more than a century ago. After a mile or so, look out for Moor House Farm in the trees on the right and cut across the open moor to the farm's tarred access road in about another half mile.
Beyond the farm the track becomes firstly rough, then concrete as it descends to cross Shaw Beck. At Low Lidrnoor, go right through the farm buildings and continue on a well-signed route which drops steeply to cross Hodge Beck at an idyllic picnic spot.
Few walkers come this way, but the climb through bracken to the isolated and ruined Stork House is easy to follow. Beyond the ruins the OS map marks a bridleway across the hillside
to Lambfold Hill, but this is very difficult to trace. Experience suggests following the access track south-west across Pockley Moor as far as a crossroads with a shallow, stone quarry pit
on the right and an attendant drunkenly-leaning No Entry sign.
Turn right here on a hollow way, which was once a major cross moorland route called the Thurkilsti in early records. It is still traceable, partly as a lane and partly as a track from Welburn across the moors to Bank Foot on the Cleveland Plain. We follow it for just over a mile, but as you plod along take time to stop and look back to the line of the limestone
Tabular Hills and the lower valley of the Hodge Beck as it threads its way through Sleightholmedale.
The Thurkilsti next joins the road into Bransdale from Helmsley and this, like the Fadmoor road, has little traffic.
Away to the left, parallel with the road, is a line of boundary markers, one called the Locking Stone and another bearing the initials K and H. Continue with the tarred road, bearing right where the Thurkilsti continues ahead on its way over the moors to Bank Foot and Battersby.
Soon a spectacular view of Bransdale opens up before you. AJ Brown's 80-year-old description of it as "delectable" in his Tramping in Yorkshire still stands today. Look out for the imposing late Georgian hunting lodge of the Duncombes at the head of the dale.
In about half a mile take the second path to the right to Colt House Farm. Cross over the dale road here and then continue, via a ladder stile, on a path that leads direct to Bransdale Mill.
The inscription on Strickland's sundial just before the mill reads "Time and Life Move Swiftly", a maxim to reflect on at the end of the day's walk.