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Kepwick & the Hambleton Drove Road

AJ Brown in his 'Fair North Riding' of 1952 is right in calling it "the kind of road a walker dreams about", for Hambleton Street, known also as the Hambleton Drove Road, offers some of the finest walking in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park.

Our 8 and a half mile route starts from the small car park at the village Memorial Hall in Kepwick, one of the Hambleton Hillside Parishes, (GR 467908). Turn right past the Memorial Chapel of 1894 and in about 150 yards go left through a gate on to a bridleway which climbs across one field up a green hollow way to a gate.

Distance: 8.5 miles

Time: 5 hours

Grade: moderate

Conditions:  well marked paths and tracks. Short steep climb at start.

Refreshments: Nether Silton, (or Osmotherley 6 miles)

OS Explorer Map OL26

Originally published: 5 February 2010

Beyond, the route is well marked as it goes left, up Atlay Bank. There's a narrow, deep passage through a dense laurel grove before the top is reached but the reward is a sweeping view back across the rolling lands below the scarp of the Hambletons with the tree crowned promontory of Nab Hill prominent in the foreground.

The bridleway continues alongside a wall on the right and then passes through a gate to climb through the scrubland covering Gallow Hill.

In about 400 yards look out for a gate on the left which gives access on to open moorland. A well marked green track ascends to reach the drove road in about a quarter of a mile. Turn left through a gate.

Ahead for the next three miles stretches probably the most unspoilt section of this ancient track. There is evidence from the many tumuli, camps and dikes scattered along its course that it has been used as a ridgeway over the last 4000 years. However it gets its present name from its heyday which lasted from the late 17th to the early 19th centuries when thousands of cattle were driven along it annually from Scotland and Northumberland to southern markets. Its course can still be traced by minor roads across Durham to Yarm Bridge and thence to the edge of the moors at Scarth Nick. The cattle then crossed the ford at Sheepwash before climbing Black Hambleton and continuing south along the section we are traversing.

In some 200 yards the road is crossed by the track from Kepwick to Arden. You could go left here, shortening the walk by nearly 5 miles. There's another opportunity to take a short cut in a further 300 yards where a green lane goes left down to Nab Farm and Kepwick. Look out here for the scant remains of Limekiln House on the right, once one of the inns where drovers could find refreshment whilst their cattle rested in the adjoining stance or enclosure.

From here the smooth green drove road, accompanied by a limestone wall, climbs gently to a cattle grid before turning left. All along this stretch there are panoramic views over  the Vale of Mowbray and across to the distant Pennines. On a clear day the entrance to Wensleydale is easily visible.

At the top the track flattens out for a third of a mile or so. Look out for a large cairn on the right where you could divert for 200 yards on a path which leads across the the flat summit of Black Hambleton to the trig point at 1309 feet.

Our walk continues for another 500 yards on the increasingly rough drove road down the northern flank of the hill to the edge of the extensive Silton Forest. Here go left on a bridleway signed to Nether Silton. This soon joins a forest track which descends through the trees for almost a mile.

On this stretch you may meet cyclists following national cycleway No 65. A sturdy iron milestone at the foot of the hill proclaims Middlesbrough 22, York 43, one of a thousand erected throughout Britain on the national cycle network.

On emerging from the forest our route follows Moor Lane past the remains on the right of a 19th century limekiln. In just over half a mile go left at a junction and then right in 200 yards to enter Nether Silton, a pretty village of sandstone houses with a spacious green that looks down across the fields to Kepwick. The church was built in 1812 as a chapel of ease but has a tub shaped font of Norman origin.

Take the path to the left between Silton House and the church. In the middle of the first field is a great monolith carved in 1765 with a puzzling inscription of capital letters. This was the fancy of Squire Hickes who wished to commemorate the medieval manor house which once stood here. The first lines stand for, "Here the grand old manor house stood, the black beams were oak, the great walls were good".

From the stone the path descends to two stiles at the bottom of the field. It then crosses the medieval ridges and furrows of the next field and passes over a stile next to a gate on the left side of the following field. It's then easy to follow with a hedge on the right down to a delightful dell where there are two becks to cross, (by footbridge), and the sound of rushing waters.

The path then climbs to the trackbed of a railway which once brought limestone from quarries on Kepwick Moor some three and a half miles to huge kilns which still exist near Leake church by what is now the A 19. The line, which was horse drawn, was built in 1833 by Joshua Crompton.

The right of way crosses the line and continues uphill across two fields to join Kepwick village street where our walk began.


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