For centuries huge flocks of sheep have pastured the rich grasslands on the dip slope of the limestone Tabular Hills. The monastic orders exploited them first in the Middle Ages followed by the new landowners after the abbeys were dissolved. Sheep farming is still important today as you are bound to see on this 11 mile walk which uses the old route between Byland and Rievaulx , two of the wealthiest Cistercian houses.
Distance: 11 miles (13 including Rievaulx)
Time: 6 hours
Grade: moderate with steep climb from Wass
Conditions: field paths and tracks and quiet lanes
Refreshments: Scawton, Wass and Byland and Rievaulx abbeys
OS Explorer Map OL26
Originally published: 13 June 2008
As parking is difficult at Rievaulx we start from the small upland village of Scawton, (GR 548835), with its tiny Norman church built by the monks of Byland. From the venerable Hare Inn head out from the village and in a quarter of a mile, after passing the huge Scawton sawmill on the left, go left through a thinly forested area to the A 170, the busy Thirsk to Helmsley road.
Turn right and use the verge for 500 yards before going left on a footpath to Cam House, recorded in 1614 as an ale house for ironworkers employed by the Earl of Rutland. Go round to the front of the building and then head to the right of Cam Farm. The right of way is then signed along a row of newly planted and fenced sycamores to a stile. From here you are following the ancient way which connected Byland with its grange at Murton.
Go right, following a fence the length of a huge field where agitated sheep were waiting their turn to be shorn when I passed by. You then enter Snever Wood and follow a forest track. After a newly surfaced section go half left on another track. For the purist who wishes to follow the exact right of way, then continue a few yards just over the brow of an incline to where a sign points left to Wass on a path which runs along the edge of Snever Scar and rejoins the more direct track in about 300 yards.
Continue down along the track and across a stream to the edge of the wood. A path then crosses one field before joining a lane where the only sounds you will hear are from the birds and the tinkling of the same stream. At the first house in Wass look for an unsigned path off to the right through a gate. In 200 yards there's a welcome seat with a magical view of majestic Byland Abbey, looking like a great shipwreck in the fields a quarter of a mile away.
In 1177 this was the fifth and final choice of sites for the band of monks who had set out in 1134 from Furness Abbey to found a new settlement. It's well worth a visit if just to admire the striking early 13th century architecture and to appreciate the extensive display of medieval tiles for which it is noted. (Closed Mon-Tues except in August).
I've mapped two routes leaving Byland. The shorter returns to that first house in Wass where go right, into the village. At the crossroads go left up the very steep and quite busy Wass Bank.
The alternative avoids the traffic and uses little frequented paths through yet more of this glorious landscape. Leave the abbey and follow the road towards Wass but in 500 yards go right on a path where the road bends sharp left. The path crosses a field where for a short stretch it has a stone surface laid on brushwood, probably to combat muddy conditions. Next turn right along the road to Ampleforth and in 100 yards go left along a path which follows the road closely across a long field.
Beyond the first gate look for a stile in the wood on the left. From the stile the path climbs steeply to emerge into a field high above Shallow Dale. Continue ahead to High Woods Farm and take the path to the left which climbs to another stile on the edge of a small wood where there is a handsome stone memorial seat with sweeping views across the Vale of Pickering.
The path continues through the trees to Long Grain. From here follow the access track. Just before a junction with the road up Wass Bank go through a gate on the right and across a plantation to meet the road in about 300 yards. Cross straight over into Byland Moor Plantation and take the right hand of two hard core tracks. In 100 yards, where the track turns sharp left continue ahead on a green bridleway which in half a mile leads to the A 170 at High Lodge.
Turn right on the road and, opposite the fine North Riding milestone, (Helmsley 5, Thirsk 9), cross over and go left down to a large barn. From here our walk crosses extensive sheep pastures with glorious panoramic views ahead into Ryedale with the Vale of Pickering away to the right and the moors in the distance. It is a scene which must have changed little since monastic times. The sight of the 18th century classical Ionic Temple on Rievaulx Terrace, a mile distant, helps to span the centuries.
About a mile beyond the A 170 the bridleway drops into a gorse covered hollow way and then enters woodland. It then descends into Nettle Dale on a farm lane profuse with wild flowers. There are glimpses too of Rievaulx Abbey.
If you intend to visit the abbey then turn right when you reach a tarred lane. It is about a 2 mile round trip via Rievaulx Bridge. To complete our circular walk, however, go left along the lane. In a quarter of a mile follow the Cleveland Way, right ,through a gate. The track is a delight, passing a series of fishing pools as it heads up Nettle Dale.
Where the Cleveland Way turns right to stepping stones, just before a gate, go left off the track on to a green path which becomes stony as it climbs through Spring Wood. At the top follow the tarred lane, right, back into Scawton.