Grewelthorpe in the rolling farmland of mid-Wensleydale, is at the centre of a wide ranging network of rights of way that are ideal for exploring at any time of the year. This 8 mile route heads south to its more venerable neighbour Kirkby Malzeard before traversing well wooded parkland to Azerley. The return is made through Hackfall Woods.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed field paths and tracks
Refreshments: Grewelthorpe and Kirkby Malzeard
OS Explorer Map 26
Originally published: 25 February 2011
We start from the Crown Inn at the top end of the village, (GR 321762). Two routes are mapped for the first half mile. The first is a walk along the village street of handsome sandstone houses, some of them set around a large duckpond. After a slight rise, and at the end of the houses, turn right on a path signed to Kirkby Malzeard. The alternative is to take the path above the triangle of land in front of the Crown. Similarly signed it crosses a number of fields above the village and meets the other path close to the road.
From the junction of paths continue across the field close to a couple of power poles to reach some dilapidated huts. With the tower of Kirkby Malzeard church as a marker ahead the right of way then crosses the undulating lands of North Park and past Mowbray View. It then descends through trees to a tarred lane. Go left past Kirkby's former corn mill, over Kex Beck and up the bank into the village.
For almost a century after the Norman Conquest the Mowbrays loomed large in Kirkby Malzeard, building a castle and probably carving out the two hunting parks which still feature on the OS map. They must have played a key role in building the church too, for much of it, including the fine south door, is Norman.
Our route turns left at the market cross along the Ripon road. However, if you have visited the church, then a short cut can be made at the south east corner of the churchyard down Love Lane, a sunken path between high walls built to protect the privacy of nearby Mowbray House. It was used as an air raid shelter in World War 2. Turn left when you reach the road.
For the next quarter of a mile follow the road past the Wensleydale Creamery to Creets Bridge, decorated with a couple of fine stone obelisks. Recross Kex Beck and turn right on a bridleway. In a short distance a direct path, left, is signed to Azerley, which would reduce the length of the walk by a mile, (partly mapped).
The main walk now crosses open parkland and over the beck again. When it turns sharp left go straight ahead through a gate and up the next field towards the hilltop High Stroden Barn.
Our little used bridleway enters the wood at the foot of the hill and in another 200 yards reaches Braithwaite Hall, a sympathetically restored part 17th century house and outbuildings, the setting enhanced by two nearby pools, a magnet for ducks, geese and herons.
Beyond the hall, and just before a cattle grid, bear left on Hubber Lane, a bridleway with widespread views across the leafy hills around Ripon. It then descends to Mill Farm and the tranquil hamlet of Azerley. Here, at a crossing of tracks, it meets the short cut which has passed through the water gardens of Azerley Chase.
Go straight ahead here on a rough track which leads to the Kirkby Malzeard to Ripon road. Turn left and then right in 100 yards along the quiet lane to North Stainley. In less than half a mile, at a sharp right bend in the road, go left on a bridleway. Although little used it is easy to follow across one large field and then through Coal Bank Wood where the going could be muddy after rain.
After about a mile turn right along another tarred lane and then left in some 200 yards over an awkward stile. After negotiating a muddy gateway the path enters the woods of Mickley Barras and soon joins the long distance Ripon Rowel Walk. Follow it, left, through the trees and you will soon be accompanied by the whispering of the waters of the Ure way below. This soon changes to a more audible rippling and the river itself comes in sight.
You are now in Hackfall which has been continuous woodland since at least 1500. It was in the mid 18th century, however, that it was developed by William Aislabie as a pleasure ground. Here he created one of the first "romantick'" gardens in England, a sequel to the great formal water gardens his father had designed at Studley Park and Fountains Abbey.
At Hackfall nature reigned supreme, with the busy Grewelthorpe Beck tumbling down a steep rocky gorge to meet the Ure. All this wild scene was covered in dense, hanging woods. Aislabie 'improved' the wilderness with a scattering of follies linked by a network of paths to enhance the enjoyment of visitors.
It worked for the 18th and 19th century public who flocked to see nature tamed. It was only after World War 2 that interest declined and decay set in.
In the last 20 years, however, the Woodland and Hackfall Trusts have made much progress in saving Aislabie's grand concept and the public is welcome to explore the grounds and see what has been achieved.
I've mapped two routes. The first is signed up a steep flight of steps on the left to Mowbray Castle, a sham ruined tower with magnificent views across the valley. Continue beyond the ruin for some 400 yards before turning left on a path across fields back to Grewelthorpe.
The second route follows the path from the bottom of the flight of steps almost to the riverside where it forks. Go left up steps at a Garden Features sign to Fisher's Hall, a tufa clad pavilion named after Aislabie's gardener. Then climb to the next junction where a path, sharp left, is signed to Grewelthorpe.
At this point you may want to savour the surroundings further by bearing right, over a stream, to a seat, visible ahead. A little further will bring you to the Grotto where there's a recently cleared vista of a 40ft cascade to appreciate.
To complete the walk return to the Grrewelthorpe sign. The climb is steep and has the occasional view up left to Mowbray Castle. In about half a mile it joins the path from the castle at the edge of the wood. Return across fields to our starting point.