Hawnby is the centre for many outstanding walks of infinite variety. Here the valleys of the Rye and its tributaries support fertile farms whilst the steeper slopes carry forestry plantations as well as ancient woodlands. High above the valleys is limestone country with Easterside and Hawnby Hills dominating the scene.
Distance: 8 miles
Time: 4 hours
Conditions: a variety of field, moor and woodland paths
Refreshments: hotel and cafe, both open daily
OS Explorer Map OL26
Originally published: 21 March 2008
There's something for every discerning walker and our 8 mile route samples all these features. We start from the upper village at the handsome shelter, (GR 543898), erected by FW Beckett of London in 1909.
Take the road signed to Osmotherley and in 100 yards, just round the corner, go right down the lane to Laskill. In another 100 yards, where the lane drops sharply to the right, go left through a gate and then almost immediately half right down a steep bank to a new footbridge over Ladhill Beck. For the next half mile we walk up this narrow valley between the looming hogbacks of Easterside and Hawnby Hills.
Follow the beck for 100 yards or so before bearing right, by a power pole, on to what was once the access track to two of the valley's farms. The scant remains of Little Banniscue lie near to where you join the track. Low Banniscue, a little further on, still has one wall standing and was surrounded by a carpet of snowdrops when I passed by in February.
From here the path is well signed through trees to a gate where bear right to the empty farm of Crow Nest. Take the track leading left from the farm, cross a disused sunken lane, once a direct route into mid-Bilsdale, and continue to another new footbridge over Ladhill Beck. Climb the bank on the far side and in about 150 yards you will reach the remains of a cottage. Circle the ruins and follow the former access lane leading out on to Hawnby Moor.
Beyond a stile you join the white track from Sportsman's Hall. Go left to Moor Gate, the junction for at least half a dozen routes.
Turn left over the cattle grid on the lane to Hawnby and almost immediately go right, not on the tempting path which leads to the heights of Hawnby Hill, but on a bridleway branching off to the right and running along the flank of the hill. There are exquisite views from here down into Rye Dale with a glimpse of Arden Hall in the distance peeping over its surrounding trees.
In about 400 yards go right at Hill End House on another bridleway. Keeping a pool on the right you descend across two fields to enter Low Wood. The route then turns right through the trees down to the river, an idyllic spot, ideal for a picnic or just contemplation. On June 19th, 2005, it was a different story when the Rye and its tributaries swept away all the local bridges in a great flood. The scars remain but a wooden bow bridge here is a stylish replacement.
The path on the other side curves round to the right to cross a feeder beck. At a junction a left turn offers a short cut back to Hawnby. However we turn right ,recrossing the beck by a bridge next to a ford. The path climbs through trees and across one field to a lane. Turn left along it to Mount Pleasant. Then follow the farm access track across one field before going right, on to a grassy bridleway. For the next 300 yards our right of way keeps close to a hedge on the left as it climbs gently to the next gate.
Here turn left into the woods surrounding Arden Hall and look out almost immediately for the Nuns' Well, 50 yards below on the left. A beautiful, circular, stone lined basin, it is one of the few traces left of the priory of Benedictine nuns who were given land here in 1148 by Peter de Thirsk.
Our track continues through the woods to the hall, built on the site of the nunnery and described by Pevsner in his 'North Riding' as "a perfect Queen Anne stone house in a perfect, sheltered and secluded position". It's a tranquil spot and worth a pause to admire the architecture and the gardens.
Turn right by the hall and then right again, up the steep hill on the rough lane that links Hawnby with Kepwick on the far side of the Hambleton Hills. It's a stiff pull past a number of worked out limestone quarries, but it's well worth the effort. At the top turn left on a bridleway which, after one gate, continues across the open Dale Town Common. Away to the left are sweeping views of the line of the Tabular Hills whilst to their right the line of the Wolds is readily visible.
Some 300 yards beyond the gate our track approaches a small plantation of conifers. To the left of it a level path, (not mapped), crosses the heights for over half a mile before descending to Sunnybank Farm and Hawnby.
I chose the alternative lowland route. Go to the right of the trees and take the stony track which drops steeply below them into Gower Dale. You then follow a well signed way through Sunny Bank Wood where only the raucous call of pheasants is likely to disturb the peace.
After a mile the path reaches a small dam. On the far side we scale a low bank by a tiny set of steps.
The path then continues out into the pastures around Gowerdale House, keeping close to the right bank of the beck before heading uphill towards Dale Town. Written records show a settlement here by the 11th century.
Just before the farm gate a path is signed, left, over a stile and down to the valley bottom again. At the end of the long field head for a stile some 100 yards to the right of the beck. From here use a nearby power pole as a marker for the path which climbs gradually on a low terrace to a stile on the lane from Hawnby to Boltby. Hawnby's red pantile roofs beckon ahead. Go downhill to the rebuilt Hawnby Bridge.
The village shop and cafe with its fine old enamel Darlington and Stockton Times sign, is in the lower village. A short, sharp climb brings us back to the starting point.