The rich farmland to the south of Ripon has comparatively few rights of way. This easy 10 mile route uses field paths and bridleways to link some of the many attractive features of the area.
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 5 hours
Conditions: well-maintained rights of way
Refreshments: Bishop Monkton, Wormald Green, Ripon
OS Explorer Map 299
Originally published: 10 April 2009
We start from the Smeaton Information Centre car park one mile from Ripon on the B 6265, the Boroughbridge road, (GR 324705). John Smeaton was the engineer who gave guidance for the building of the Ripon Canal, opened to traffic from the city to the river Ure in 1773.
Unlike the canal the centre appears not yet to have been built but you can access the towpath at Rhodesfield Lock through a gate next to the attractive lock cottage with Gothic windows.
Turn left and follow the canal for over a mile to its junction with the river. It's a leisurely amble for there's much to see including a gravel pit popular with waterbirds, (pintails, coots and swans when I passed by), two marinas testifying to the recent growth of canal boating, the racecourse away to the left, and a further 2 locks. Change to the opposite bank at Rentons Bridge and continue for 500 yards to Ox Close Lock.
Here, instead of walking to the junction with the Ure, seen ahead, go half right up a field to a stile. Leaving a collection of free range chicken shelters away to the right the path is well signed across fields to Ashbrook Farm from where the farm track is followed into Bishop Monkton. Turn right.
It's a delight to walk through the village with its many pretty cottages of white limestone and brick, the scene enhanced by the noise of running water from a felicitous stream which chatters between the houses and across the green. Go left by a ford to reach the Masons Arms.
There's a short cut to Melrose Drive through the pub yard though it is signed 'This is not a Public Right of Way'. I've mapped the slightly longer alternative which continues along the village street to the church. Then turn right to reach the exit from Melrose Drive in about 200 yards.
In another 10 paces turn left into Mains Lane, a bridleway which threads a rolling countryside where every gentle knoll appears to be crowned with trees.
In a mile and a half the lane brings us to the busy A 61. Cross it and then go left, using the pavement down into Wormald Green. !00 yards after passing The George turn right on to the Markington road. Almost immediately on the left is the former station on the line from Harrogate to Ripon, long since closed.
We turn right through a gate on to a path which initially follows the former line. It then hugs a hedgeline closely and continues to Dove Cottage. Bear left here on the grassy Horse Mill Lane which you follow for an easy three quarters of a mile to a tarred road.
Turn right and then almost immediately left on another old track. In about 250 yards look out for a stile on the right. Ahead, three fields distant, and on a slight eminence, sits Markenfield Hall, one of the county's finest medieval fortified houses. It's open to the public in the summer.
Built in the relatively peaceful early 14th century, Markenfield still appears castle-like with its token gatehouse. But the huge hall windows face the outside world and even its moat is but a gesture and would not have deterred a determined enemy for long. It's open to the public for a limited number of days in May and June.
From the gatehouse go right and over a wall stile and then left, parallel to the east wall of the hall. We then cross two fields and pass through the ruins of a 2' thick wall which once enclosed the Markenfields' hunting park. Turn left and continue over another field to reach the access track to Bland Close. In another 50 yards there's an excellent vantage point, with picnic table, giving views back to the hall and, to the right, glimpses of the Hambleton Hills.
A short distance along the track and a vista opens up of Ripon Cathedral standing proudly above the red roofs of the city. We now follow what soon becomes a tarred lane past Whitcliffe Hall and down to the edge of Ripon's houses. Turn left at a crossroads and go ahead at the next junction, keeping playing fields on your right.
Our lane leads to Hell Wath, a ford over the river Skell. On the left in a field is the white cliff which gives the hall its name. Before a footbridge, and next to a replica of one of Ripon's 8 sanctuary stones, (with explanatory board), go right.
We now follow the ancient route from Fountains Abbey into Ripon, still a broad sunken track between two earth banks.This quickly descends through trees to the riverside and continues for another half mile past the confluence with the river Laver and into Ripon.
Turn left at the end when you come to Harrogate Road and then right, down Barefoot Street. From here take the excellent, recently developed path by the river, signed to the Canal Basin. In about a third of a mile you will come to the Water Rat where leave the river bank and go sharp right, across Boroughbridge Road, to the basin.
As a late 18th century History of Knaresborough has it "a number of vessels are employed" on the new canal "to the great convenience of the town and neighbourhood. These vessels bring coal, groceries and other merchandize and take back lead, butter, etc, etc." No commercial craft trade to Ripon these days, (in fact the last mile into the city was only restored in 1996 after years of dereliction). However the basin is once more the northernmost point of the English canal network and you should see traditional canal narrow boats as you walk back along the towpath to our starting point.