The flat grazing lands of mid-Wensleydale are easy walking country especially if in the company of the broad and lively River Ure. This 7 mile route is one of the best, making use of three ancient bridges and traversing the landscaped parkland surrounding Jervaulx Abbey.
Distance: 7 miles
Time: 4 hours
Conditions: well signed field paths, few stiles
Refreshments: Cover Bridge, Jervaulx Abbey
OS Explorer Map OL302
Originally published: 28 January 2011
We start in Thornton Steward, (GR 177871), a collection of grey, limestone houses lining a narrow green in the centre of which is the former village pump. From the road junction at the entrance to the village walk along the green past the early 19th century castellated Fort Horn. Beyond the 17th century Manor House the lane winds down to the isolated church of St. Oswald. It has Saxon origins and inside are Anglo-Danish cross fragments, a Norman south doorway and a 13th century font with Jacobean cover.
The walk continues from the church on a bridleway which heads across fields, following the hedge or fence line, first on the right and then on the left. Danby Grange is away 200 yards up on the right as we head towards the parkland surrounding Danby Hall. Bear left on a track leading from the hall.
It is still home to the Scropes, once one of Yorkshire's leading medieval families, (Scropes appear in 4 of Shakespeare's historical plays). There is a 14th century pele tower at the back but the impressive facade facing you dates from the 1850s, the architect being Joseph Hansom of hansom cab fame.
The track continues to the 300 year old Danby Low Mill and then along the riverside for some 400 yards to a junction with a tarred lane where, on the left, are the remains of Ulshaw Mill of a similar date. As their water supplies were closely connected the mills, in the 19th century, were worked jointly.
Follow the lane by the river to a road junction, past Ulshaw's Roman Catholic church of St. Simon and St. Jude, also designed by Hansom in 1868.
Turn left over Ulshaw Bridge. Although there were earlier bridges the present structure is over 300 years old, as the octagonal sundial, inscribed 1674, indicates. There are stone seats in the cutwaters and masons' marks to be spotted too.
On the far side is the Cover Bridge Inn of a similar date and, to its left, the hump backed bridge which carries the A 6108 over the Cover, built in 1766 by Thomas Peacock.
Once across the bridge turn left on to the riverside path. After the surfeit of history our walk follows the river for well over a mile downstream beyond the junction of the Cover with the Ure. It's easy going, partly in woodland and partly along the flood bank. Some 500 yards after passing a large fish pond it turns right up to the A 6108.
Turn left here along the road for 200 yards to the footpath on the left leading past Jervaulx Hall and across the park. It's also an entrance to Jervaulx Abbey, though you may want to call in first at the tearoom (seasonal opening), which is a few more paces along the road on the right.
Jervaulx's name derives from Yore Valley. Like so many Yorkshire abbeys it was a house of the Cistercians and moved here from an earlier site near Askrigg in 1156. The abbey was noted for its horses and cheese, the first recorded production of Wensleydale, and its monks lived peaceful, holy and uneventful lives for nearly 400 years until Henry VIII abolished the larger houses in the dissolution of 1536. A popular uprising in the northern counties called the Pilgrimage of Grace, followed, and in the autumn the rebels arrived at Jervaulx.
Not wishing to be implicated the abbot, Adam Sedbergh, hid out on Witton Fell for a while before being coerced into joining them. After the collapse of the rebellion he was imprisoned in the Tower, (where he left his name scratched on a wall), before being executed in 1537.
Today it's an oasis of calm, ideal for a picnic or just for exploring the sad remains of the church with its medieval tombs and the chapter house whilst admiring the high wall of the monks' dormitory with its row of 9 lancet windows.
Our walk now continues along the track which leaves the abbey away to the left. The walk through the park is a delight, past a reed fringed pool inhabited by coots and through a landscape of grassy mounds carefully planted with oaks. All this was the work of the landowner, the Marquess of Ailesbury in the early 19th century.
In half a mile the track reaches the east gate. Bear left along a tarred road which in another half mile crosses Kilgram Bridge, "the gret old bridge of stone on Ure", as described by John Leland in the 16th century. It was probably built by the monks of Jervaulx to reach their granges on the north bank. On the far side note the later causeway constructed for pedestrians in times of flood.
Some 100 yards beyond the bridge take a path to the left. This passes the buildings of a water treatment plant before heading gently uphill to Woodhouse. The path is well signed and passes to the left of the farm buildings before continuing across fields to Thornton Steward.