In 2010 Rievaulx Abbey celebrated the 900th anniversary of the birth of St. Aelred, its most famous monk and third abbot, 1147-66. Renowned for his religious writings and as a historian he lived as a monk at Rievaulx during the construction of the abbey. Were he alive today he would recognise instantly the gaunt ruins that remain.
Our 9 mile walk explores the fertile lands to the north and west which were developed by Rievaulx and its neighbour Byland Abbey. From the entrance to the ruins walk back up the village street and in 100 yards turn left on a path signed to Bow Bridge. Over the next three fields we follow the canal, (now dry), dug by the monks to bring building stone from their quarries up the valley.
Distance: 9 miles - 11 via Hawnby
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well marked paths and quiet lanes
Refreshments: Rievaulx Abbey and Hawnby
OS Explorer Map OL26
Originally published: 8 October 2010
Turn left when you reach a farm lane and continue across the 18th century Bow Bridge. In 50 yards take a path on the right signed to Hawnby. A pretty section follows, close to the river and then through trees on a boardwalk, slippery when wet. Turn right when you rejoin the lane and continue to Tylas Farm, named probably for a medieval tileworks
This was also, from 1143-47, an early site of Byland Abbey. The confusion caused by the clash of the abbey's bells with those of Rievaulx "which was not fitting and could by no means be endured", comments a contemporary source, led to the monks moving over the hill to Stocking near Kilburn before a final move to Byland in 1177.
The farm track continues for another quarter of a mile to Barnclose Farm. Turn left here and follow a signed bridleway which climbs the valley side. In about 300 yards the way is signed to the right and heads through a gate to a red roofed barn. Go to the right of the barn and bear left to follow the bridleway through a gate in 150 yards into East Ley Wood.
Our route continues along the edge of the trees for nearly a mile to the top of Murton Bank where bear left along the tarred road. In another 100 yards one of the finest viewpoints in the national park opens up on the right. Dale Town and Hawnby lie snugly below the two bastions of Hawnby and Easterside Hills. Beyond is secluded upper Ryedale and there's a glimpse of the moors in the distance.
( I've also mapped a diversion via Hawnby which adds two miles to the walk. This includes a stiff climb back out of Ryedale. From the above gate into East Ley Wood follow our bridleway for some 500 yards to a path leading off right. The path descends steeply down to the valley road. Cross straight over and look for a stile on the left below and beyond Ristbrow Farm. The path then keeps to the left of a power pole with a yellow notice and crosses three fields to Hawnby Bridge, carefully restored after the great flood of 2005. Hawnby village with tearoom and hotel are on the far side.
To link up with our main walk recross the bridge and follow the road uphill. Continue ahead at a junction up Murton Bank and in about 250 yards bear right on the track to Dale Town. When the track bears right to the farm continue ahead over a field of protected limestone grassland. On reaching the hedge on the far side bear left up a short, steep grassy bank to a hard surfaced track. Turn left up to the viewpoint described above.)
The walk now continues along the lane signed 'Ford one mile' past Murton Grange, once one of Byland's many sheep farms. Sheep still graze here on the rich limestone plateau of Murton Heights. Ahead there are wide ranging views of the Wolds.
The lane then drops into remote Caydale with a mill of medieval origin and a long watery lane type of ford, (with footbridge). It then climbs the far side. Just before bearing right at the top look out for a dry channel which crosses the road and once took water on a gentle gradient from springs on the moor to Old Byland which had no water supply of its own. It was one of many such watercourses created in the mid 18th century by the brilliant engineer Joseph Foord to supply the waterless villages of the Tabular Hills.
The lane heads for Old Byland. Where a road strikes off to the right look out for a curious stone pillar, slender and tapering and some 12' high and carefully built of hundreds of pieces of limestone rubble. It makes a most surprising and elegant folly.
Equally interesting is the simple little village church of All Saints, found by turning left at the next junction. At the entrance to the porch there's a Norman carving of two winged dragons with knotted tails. On the east wall of the porch is a late Saxon sundial inscribed, in Latin, "Sumarledan Huscarl Me Fecit".
Continue downhill from the church on the road to Cold Kirby and, a few yards past Valley View Farm and close to the upright millstone that marks the entrance to the village, turn left on a bridleway that cuts over the head of Hill Gill. It then crosses the limestone plateau before dropping into Nettle Dale, another idyllic spot where two streams join to replenish three attractive fishing pools, home to a huge, noisy flock of mallard.
We join the Cleveland Way here. It crosses one of the streams by sturdy stepping stones and then follows the track along the right bank of the pools In 300 yards turn left down the lane from Scawton to Helmsley. Another half mile brings us to the handsome Rievaulx Bridge, built after 1754 to replace the one swept away in that year's floods.
Rievaulx is a quarter of a mile distant to the left. The famous prospect of the abbey in its meadows, painted by Turner and described by Arthur Mee in his 'North Riding' as "set like a jewel in this romantic place, enfolded by heights of noble trees rising to the moors", appears quite suddenly at the first bend.