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Coxwold along the Coxwold-Gilling Gap

"Coxwold is one of the dream-villages of the shire. Its old street goes soaring to the hills and the fine church with its lovely tower crowns it to perfection." So writes A.J. Brown in the 1930s in his 'Tramping in Yorkshire'.

This description of the village could apply today. It merits exploring for the church with its huge monuments to the Bellasis family, for Shandy Hall where Laurence Sterne wrote much of 'Tristram Shandy' and for the variety of 17th and 18th century cottages which line both sides of the wide street.

Our 7 mile walk is entirely within the Howardian Hills Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. We start from the car park next to the playing field on the road to Byland Abbey. Go towards the village and to the cross roads at the foot of the hill. Turn left here towards Oulston. The road crosses a bridge over the railway track of the former Great North of England Railway branch line between Pilmoor and Helmsley, opened in 1871 and closed in the 1960s.

Distance: 7 miles

Time: 4 hours

Grade: easy

Conditions: signed by AONB

Refreshments: Coxwold

OS Explorer Map 299 and 300

Originally published: 27 July 2007

In about 100 yards a footpath is signed left over a stile. Go to the left of a small clump of trees and then work round right in a large curve to a gate in the far corner of the field. If conditions are wet, then continue along the Oulston road and first left on to Colley Broach Road, a farm lane which passes close to Newburgh Pond and allows a good view of the north side of Newburgh Priory, the home of the descendants of the Bellasis family.

The lane is crossed by our footpath which cuts off another corner, but was obliterated by a crop when I researched the route. Both the path and the lane cross Long Beck, an artificial waterway constructed by the monks of Byland as part of the impressive landscape of dams and water channels they built in the 12th and 13th centuries. The beck supplies Newburgh Pond, used by the Augustinian canons of Newburgh Priory, an early example of monastic co-operation.

You will make good progress along the traffic free, grass grown Colley Broach Road. It skirts the edge of the Coxwold-Gilling Gap, the low lying land to the north, the result of a geological fault and the action of glaciation which isolated the Howardian Hills from the North York Moors. The Byland monks realised its agricultural potential; the abbey ruins can be seen clearly 2 miles away on the far side of the gap.

The road passes a number of farms before turning south east over the railway again to a junction of tracks. Turn right here up to Low Lion Lodge. Leave the house on the right and continue ahead past a large barn and then up across three fields into the well wooded Howardian Hills. From the slopes there are excellent views back across the gap to Ampleforth with, further west, the Kilburn White Horse and Hood Hill. On the hilltop, its gateposts surmounted by the king of the beasts, is High Lions Lodge.

Our way is in front of the Lodge over two stiles, and then continues between two barns and across a field flanked by woods. At the far end the path crosses the flattened remains of a Bronze Age barrow to reach the road from Yearsley to Oulston. Turn right and, in 200 yards, go left past a barrier along an overgrown forest track. In a few yards the track crosses the infant River Foss which rises at a spring in the woods to the left. Our track then bears right and runs parallel to the tiny river. In about 250 yards from the bend go right, off the forest track and cross the Foss. The path then emerges from the trees and follows a field side.

Away to the left is Oulston Reservoir, constructed in 1796 for the Foss Navigation Company to provide water  for its work in making the river navigable from Castle Mills Lock in York to Sheriff Hutton. Much of the canalised river succumbed to railway competition half a century later though it is still navigable within the city of York.

Our path now climbs across another field to Pond Head Farm which is passed on the right side by a diversion. The farm access track is then followed back to the Yearsley to Oulston road where turn left. In about 100 yards the outline of Cross Dyke, a Bronze Age earthwork, can be made out in the trees as we walk along a thickly wooded quarter mile stretch of the road. Where the trees on the right end, go left on the Foss Walk to Whincover Farm. From here the way is well marked across fields and enters Oulston by the side of the imposing brick built Hall.

Perched on the western edge of the Howardian Hills, Oulston has wonderful views south into the Vale of York. Go left on the village street which was once part of the drove road along which thousands of cattle would be herded, having come from the north over the Hambleton Hills on their way to the cattle fairs at York.

We leave their route almost immediately by branching right along the side of the spacious green to follow another traffic less lane past Yeoman Course House. Again this makes for easy walking and the chance to enjoy the widespread vistas west across the plains towards the Pennines.

At the first cross roads turn right and climb along a tarred lane for a quarter of a mile to where it is intersected by Malton Street which, as the name implies, must have been an ancient route connecting Malton to the west and north.

Go straight ahead here for some 500 yards to High Leys where the views this time are to the north. Coxwold lies below on its hillside. Go left over a stile just before the farm and head for a gap in the hedge below. The path then continues down the right hand side of two fields

before crossing Mill Beck to reach the road from Coxwold to Husthwaite. Turn right.


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