The rolling countryside between the Hambleton Hills and Northallerton is little frequented by walkers yet it deserves exploration for its rural tranquillity as well as for the sweeping views of the hills to the east and the Pennines to the west.
Distance: 8 miles (shorter walk 3.5 miles)
Time: 5 hours (or 2)
Conditions: well signed field paths and bridleways, few stiles
Refreshments: East Harlsey
OS Explorer Map 302
Originally published: 15 November 2013
Our 8 mile walk starts from the village hall with its brick loggia, half way along East Harlsey's long street (GR 424998). Go down the street past Priory View on the left, a house of 1671 with giant pilasters and geometrical ornament on the door surround. In another 50 yards turn down a lane on the right to St. Oswald's parish church, mainly Victorian and set in an immaculately manicured churchyard with with a backdrop of Arncliff Woods and Black Hambleton. Nearby, on the north side, is a 17th century dovecot, described by Pevsner as 'a very substantial, tall brick octagon with blocked vertical ovals'.
Our walk continues through a gate on the east side of the church where we join a right of way signed from the village street. Bear right and follow a well used track that drops to cross Harlsey Beck before climbing to join the access lane to Morton Grange Farm. We follow the lane for about 200 yards. Where it turns sharp right go ahead on a field track which in half a mile reaches a tarred lane. Turn right up to the East Harlsey to Ellerbeck road and go left.
In about 200 yards a traffic free lane branches off, right. If you wish to shorten your walk to just over 3 miles then follow this through to West Harlsey to rejoin the longer route.
The main walk continues for another half mile to the busy A 684. Go straight over on to a tree shaded track which descends to ford Cod Beck. From the footbridge turn right. The sunken nature of the track indicates its probable antiquity and it can be traced on the map heading south as High Lane and Long Lane before it reaches Borrowby. On Jefferys' 'Map of Yorkshire' of 1771 it is clearly shown as the direct route from Yarm to Thirsk.
Some 300 yards after a second ford we leave it on a bridleway to the right leading to the cluster of farms at Foxton. Turn left at the first farmhouse, following a bridleway which, like the last one, has been improved by the Countryside Volunteers. At the corner of Old Thompson's Plantation a deep ditch has to be crossed but then it's an easy stroll to Sigston Bridge over Cod Beck.
On the other side of the bridge take the path left across to the far corner of a large meadow. The tower of St. Lawrence's church at Kirby Sigston makes a good marker and there's a welcome seat in the churchyard too.
If it's open then the church is worth a visit for its Norman windows and carvings and traces of the medieval Sigston family who built the castle. It's in a most attractive setting too, close to the large lake of the former rectory.
On the far side of the church go past the lake to the entrance gate and turn right. In 200 yards turn right again on the quite busy lane between Northallerton and the A 19. After the first bend go left through a gate on the track to Sigston Castle Farm. On the right are the earthworks of the castle's motte and 2 acre bailey. Its 14th century tower has long gone but the surrounding ditch is still marshy in places and the motte rises to 6ft.
Just before the farm go right, through a gate and follow the castle ditch for some 300 yards. The path then changes course and climbs the hill to the left. There are fine views back from here to the tiny village and down the valley of the Cod Beck.
After a gate the right of way follows the edge of Foxton Wood. Look out for a well signed post on the right just before the bridleway turns away from the wood. Turn right here down a steep bank through the trees to a little footbridge and stile visible 150 yards below.
The right of way goes sharp left from the stile along the edge of the field to Foxton Lane. Here turn left up to the A 684.
Bear right and cross the road to a gate. From here a path is signed along the right side of a long, narrow field. At the end, at the far corner of Fox Covert Wood, there's a stile to cross. It's then good going across a couple of fields into West Harlsey.
The hamlet is perched on the edge of an escarpment with outstanding views west across to Northallerton, Richmond and the Pennines. Here the judge Sir James Strangeways built a castle in the 1420s. Again earthworks are traceable in the field before the farmhouse. There are three vaulted rooms too, perhaps the base of a tower house, and now used for storage.
We rejoin the shorter walk on the tarred lane beyond the farm. Turn left and where. in 200 yards the lane bends to the left, continue ahead past a barrier on a track which gently descends the escarpment. Where it turns sharp right we go left and almost immediately right down a broad grass strip alongside a high hedge. At the field corner the path enters a copse on the right and in 100 yards crosses a bridge over Harlsey Beck. Turn right.
It's now an easy climb back up the escarpment following Goosecroft Lane, a deep and in places soggy hollow way which must have once served as access to the fields of East Harlsey. As you climb the slope views open up of the Cleveland Hills ahead. After a kissing gate the lane is well surfaced into the village.