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Oulston by the River Foss to Crayke

"A village that cannot be hid, Crayke is a fine sight from the Plain of York, its houses climbing the hill to the church and the castle at the top". This description by Arthur Mee in his North Riding of 1941 holds today, for the village is readily recognisable from every point of the compass.

Distance: 8 miles

Time: 5 hours

Grade: easy

Conditions: well defined field paths and lanes

Refreshments: Dutch House and Durham Ox

OS Explorer Map 299

Originally published: 31 October 2009

We start this 8 mile walk from Ouston to the north of Crayke and head east for the wooded hills where the Foss rises before following the infant river as it flows south past Crayke towards York. The route crosses rich agricultural land, once part of the forest of Galtres and now the south west corner of the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural beauty.

From the road junction at the little green (GR 547744) take the Foss Walk path which leaves the village street between the sign for Somerfield House and a red postbox. The way then passes the imposing brick built hall and is well marked across fields to Whincover Farm. Views soon open up across the Vale of York with Crayke visible away to the right.

Turn left along the farm's access track and go right when you reach the Oulston-Yearsley road. It enters thick woodland and in about 100 yards you should turn right past a barrier down Brierham Lane, a forest track which gives tantalising glimpses of a pool down on the right before it drops down into the valley of the Foss to a junction of paths where go right.

I've also mapped a slightly longer route which continues along the road from the barrier before turning right in some 400 yards down the track to Pond Head Farm. Follow the Foss Walk to the right of the buildings and descend to Oulston Reservoir, constructed in 1796 for the Foss Navigation Company to provide a water supply for its work in making the river navigable from Castle Mill Lock in York to Sheriff Hutton. Much of the canalised river succumbed to competition from the railways some 50 years later though the river is still navigable within the city.

The path is easy to follow to the junction of paths mentioned above and it continues to a pretty ford over the river (with stepping stones) before reaching Burton House. There's an excellent view of Crayke as you follow the track beyond the buildings. In 150 yards look out for a stile in the hedge on the right.

From the stile cross the Easingwold to Brandsby road and continue on a well marked path to Beckfield House. Go straight over the farm track following the more direct route to Crayke. In the first field keep well to the left of a power pole to pick up a stile with a white marker post. Cross the next field to reach the access lane of the extensive Woodfield Farm.

From here it's easy going along the lane which recrosses the river in about half a mile. Beyond is the 17th century Crayke Manor. Continue to the Crayke-Brandsby road at Mill Green Farm and Dutch House, an arts and crafts centre with cafe.

From here a permissive path devised by the Crayke Estate and signed with blue discs makes a pleasant alternative to walking along the road. Look out en route for a series of mosaics made by the Crayke Rural Arts Group. Leave the back of Dutch House by a footbridge over the Foss. The path follows the river for one field before recrossing it. It then enters Hall Plantation and is well signed after the track to Launds Farm before turning right uphill into Crayke. Turn left when you reach the village street which climbs to a junction near the Durham Ox.

Go right here up what must be one of Yorkshire's most picturesque streets, 2 lines of pretty cottages, a broad green and, almost at the top, the 18th century Crayke Hall and the parish church. The latter is certainly worth a visit for its gargoyles, Jacobean pews and pulpit and the effigies of Sir John Gibson and his wife. If you walk behind the church there's a spectacular view of the Howardian Hills and the Kilburn White Horse 8 miles away.

There's more at Crayke too. A few yards beyond the church is the Castle, once the residence of the bishops of Durham who used it as a stopover on their way south. So important was it to them  that Crayke remained part of county Durham until 1828. There's a good view of the castle from the gate, a mainly 18th century building built on a 15th century core with ruins of the same date to its right.

There's a welcome seat just beyond the castle and glorious views south across the Vale of York with, on clear day, the Minster readily visible some 15 miles distant.

The walk continues along the lane. It's an ancient route,no doubt used by the bishops and certainly by the thousands of animals driven along what in the 18th and 19th centuries  was the southern leg of the drove road which crosses the Hambleton Hills. Here they were heading south for the last stance or stop at Crayke before the final day's journey to the market at York.

After 150 yards go right over a stile on a path which passes below the castle. After a a second stile turn sharp left down over the next field to a gate one field distant from Home Farm on the right. The path is now easy to follow as it crosses several fields in a direct line to Close House. Here it passes left, around the large barn to a gate close to the house entrance and then crosses two fields to a tarred road

Go straight ahead on a well signed path with new stiles and large gates. It passes 200 yards to the left of Adam's Hall before climbing Hardy Bank. At the top Oulston lies ahead with the White Horse prominent beyond. A series of stiles and one gate brings you back to the outward route 300 yards from the village.


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