Downstream from Richmond the Swale still has over three miles to flow between wooded banks and across rich pastureland before it reaches the Vale of Mowbray. It's a beautiful stretch of countryside and there are outstanding views across the vale to the distant moors.
Distance: 9 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well signed field paths and tracks
Refreshments: Richmond Station, Colburn, Catterick Bridge, Brompton
OS Explorer Map 304
Originally published: 3 December 2010
We start our 9 mile walk from Richmond Station, (GR 176009), built as the terminus for the Great North of England Branch line from Darlington, opened in 1846. The line closed in 1969, but the station was restored and reopened with cafe, gallery and retail outlets in 2007.
From the car park follow the old line beyond the station, now a popular walkway and cycle route. For the first half mile it runs through woods close to the river. A few yards after it is crossed by an access track to a house on the left, go right past a cattle grid. Then turn left following the Coast to Cost sign on a path down the side of a green metal fence enclosing the town's sewage works.
Our route soon reaches the Swale and then climbs through stately beechwoods leaving the river far below. The path continues across one field to a crossing of ways by the scanty ruins of Hagg Farm, blown up, I was told by some local walkers, by the MOD some years ago. Go left here on a track which soon reverts to a path which then crosses several fields before entering Colburn.
Look out for the mainly Jacobean Colburn Hall in the trees on the left as you come to the village centre. A few yards to the right of it is a rare survival, the manorial court house of about 1300 with a fine Decorated window, visible from the right of way signed to the left from the crossroads.
The walk, however, continues ahead from the crossroads, over Colburn Beck and past the Hildyard Arms, open from 12 noon at weekends. Then follow the Coast to Coast signs sharp right at the next bend and, in another 100 yards, left, off the tarred lane and past Colburn Barn.
From here we follow a bridleway which turns left in about 200 yards and then is easy to follow as a well used route across the fields to the tarred lane leading to St. Giles's Farm. Go left, and in a few yards, left again on a path with glimpses of the river glistening in the valley below. There are fine views ahead over to the North York Moors.
In slightly over half a mile the path passes to the left of Thornbrough Farm before descending to the river bank. At this point the Swale leaves the hills and flows out across the plain. It was, and still is, an important north-south crossing. We pass under, successively, the A1 and the girder bridge which once carried a branch line to Catterick Garrison. Beyond the latter, and in a car park for the nearby racecourse, information boards tell you that the Romans had a bridge here too, guarded by a fort with an attendant civilian settlement.
We cross over Catterick Bridge which from the 15th century carried the old Great North Road. It has been much altered over the centuries especially in 1792 when it was widened by the architect John Carr of York.
You may want to use the pavement from the Bridge House Hotel on the east side of the bridge. Once on the far side re-cross the road and take the riverside path upstream. The way is easy going, at first along the river bank and then, after passing under the A1, right, across one field to a lane next to a sports ground.
Leave the lane in 100 yards by turning left, just before the houses of Brompton. The path then returns to the riverside. There's a most delightful stretch along Riverside Common where the river is in one of its energetic moods as it rounds a great bend. There's a picnic spot too.
The path joins the B 6271 at the western edge of Brompton. Turn left along the pavement on the far side, past The Jetties, another riverside picnic spot. We then cross the 17th century Brompton Bridge and immediately go right on a path by the side of Skeeby Beck. In about 200 yards bear left at a fork on to the well used trackbed of the Richmond branch line.
This rejoins the B 6271 by a large block of concrete. Turn right along the road past the Broken Brae Crossing Cottage with its decorative barge boards, built in 1847 for the level crossing keeper. In another 100 yards, just past the entrance to a caravan site, take a path on the left which in less than half a mile climbs gently over fields to meet, on the right, a lane into Easby.
Turn left into this pretty hamlet with its hall, stone faced to the north but with a south facing facade in brick which was, when it was built in the 1730s, a more fashionable building material.
Just past the hall go left down towards Easby Abbey. If you are short of time then turn first right and, with the abbey away down on the left, take a path across one field to the riverside, (mapped).
To appreciate fully this gem of Richmondshire, however, it's worth following the lane down past the imposing abbey gatehouse to the 12th century parish church of St. Agatha, which still retains medieval wall paintings and the cast of a 9th century cross, so outstanding that the original is in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Adjacent to it is the abbey, founded in 1152, and described by Pevsner as 'one of the most picturesque monastic ruins in the county'. Information boards tell its history. Turner recognised its romantic beauty too, though today the viewpoint for his painting is obscured by a line of leylandii.
The last mile follows the river bank upstream past the abbey mill and then through woods close to the river. The track then climbs to another of Turner's viewpoints, this time of Richmond and its environs and the great bend of the Swale in the foreground. Mercury Bridge, built in 1846 to connect the station with the town, is a few minutes distant.