North York Moors Two-Abbey Tour (Day 2)

12th June 2022

Reflecting on a fitful night’s sleep, our lightweight Nordisk Telemark UL2 tent (1 kg with poles and pegs) had felt much like I’d remembered it: compact but with barely enough room to stow gear. Diane’s was at her feet while much of mine was crammed into the limited vestibule. I’d bought the tent a few years ago for use in 2-day mountain marathons in places like the English Lake District. Although it’s specified as a two-man it’s better suited for one in extended use, the low profile meaning that it’s barely possible to sit up (it’s designed for sleeping rather than as a practical living space). Having said that, it’s competitively light, strong, easy to erect and well made.

To make matters worse, my left ankle had been nagging uncomfortably through the night (as it always does after hours on my feet). I’d sprained it badly many years ago and didn’t get appropriate treatment or advice at the time, but I’m used to it now and, if managed properly, I can usually get by. Unfortunately it often prevents a decent night’s sleep when camping.

By 4 am it was noticeably light which is a bit disorientating if wanting to get back to sleep but when the birds started their morning chorus soon afterwards, I gave up. Their varied calls were so loud that they seemed to be perched on the tent rather than in the trees around us. There are worse ways of being kept awake though.  I always find that making the decision to get up in a small tent is a tough one to make (even with a need to go to the toilet) there’s always that conflict of disturbing your companion as well as the campers around you. So I ended up staying where I was until around 7 am when Diane finally opened her eyes.

Leaving Helmsley

After my appointment with the loo it was only necessary to wash, make a (leisurely) hot drink, collapse the tent and pack the gear before we were ready to make tracks. By 8.30 am we found ourselves on the outskirts of the now familiar marketplace, passing All Saints Church, of Norman origin but extensively remodeled in the c19th in the Gothic Revival style.

We found the Cleveland Way (CW) not far from the church, at a car park off the B1257 to Stokesley, about 100 m NW of the marketplace and down a lane helpfully named ‘Cleveland Way’. In the wan, early sunshine it was still warm enough for a tee-shirt. There was a light breeze and a decent forecast so with that good news we struck out on the shorter of the day’s two long ascents, alongside Blackdale Howl Wood on the north edge of Duncombe Park, from where you get a great view of c12th Helmsley Castle.

Until we got to Rievaulx Bridge we’d be sharing the trail with two other routes: the Inn Way, an 89-mile circular tour of 31 inns in the North York Moors (one of a series) and the Three Feathers Walk, an LDWA 30-mile circular tour starting and finishing at the Kilburn White Horse neither of which I was familiar mainly because they don’t appear on my (fairly old) map. Today’s route seemed to be much more popular than yesterday’s as we found ourselves amidst several other walkers, two of which were an older couple we recognised from the hostel and who we’d see again at Rievaulx

After a couple of kilometres we had to negotiate a steep, narrow, gully which either was, or lead to, Monday Howl Plantation. ‘Howl’ seems to be a popular term in these parts, geographically speaking, yet I’ve never heard of it before; it doesn’t crop up in County Durham to the best of my knowledge. Does is mean hole, hollow or hill? It appears to be associated with a steep slope like a gully, gill, dene or possible just a wood. Feel free to leave a comment if you can shed any light on it.


Soon after that we arrived at Griff Lodge, on the track to Griff Farm and close to the medieval site of a monastic grange (farm) that serviced the abbey at Rievaulx. We knew from experience that it would be little more than bumps and hollows but, keen to see it anyway, we took a short detour up a trail on the edge of the approaching wood for a better look. We weren’t disappointed and although, if you’re not into this sort of thing, there’s not much to see, it corresponded well with sites of many other DMV’s we’ve looked at over the years. 

On rejoining the CW we began a steep descent through Quarry Wood where Diane immediately spotted the reason for its name. The low, overgrown quarries of Jurassic sandstone to our right were likely to have been those from which the stone for the grange was taken. Local stone from quarries of this type influences the look of older ‘vernacular’ buildings, giving an area its distinctive character. Sadly, with modern materials and techniques this may well become a thing of the past.

Rievaulx Bridge

Emerging onto the road at the foot of the steep hill through the woods, we were soon approaching Rievaulx Bridge over the River Rye where we’d turn right to follow the Inn Way, returning to the CW after visiting the abbey. The bridge, which immediately attracts the eye, dates only to the c18th, perhaps accounting for its rather meager Grade II listing (I’d have expected it to have been Grade I). It’s narrow, with a couple of cut-waters that provide refuges from the traffic which has left its mark in the form of deep grooves in the tarmac on the steep crown of the bridge.

On the edge of Abbot Hag Wood, high above and across from the bridge, you can see the dome and pillars of a somewhat (to my mind at least) incongruous Doric temple (referred to as a Tuscan temple on the map) peeking out from the trees. It’s a Grade I listed structure, built in 1758 by Sir Thomas Robinson of Rokeby, in Teesdale, a prolific, amateur architect, whose work I’m familiar with around County Durham. 

Rievaulx Abbey

The second and final abbey on the tour is not too far away, up a quiet lane which runs alongside the River Rye and ultimately leads steeply up to the previously mentioned Helmsley-Stokesley road. While it suffered the same fate as Byland, the grand building – constructed for another chapter of Cistercians – is much more imposing and appears to have retained its full height. It’s very photogenic, as indicated by the many impromptu photo points along the verge.  

Unfortunately, despite the excellent value, we’d let our English Heritage membership lapse and weren’t inclined to pay the £14 admission on this occasion; neither did we have the time. Instead we contented ourselves with drinks in the cafe where we noticed our erstwhile hostel companions seen earlier on the trail. From there, we returned to the bridge while noticing the frequency of runners passing us.

Up and over the bridge’s steep crown we continued along what had now become Nettle Dale with yet more runners passing us, some going much quicker and with much more fluidity than others in front of them. We turned round when we heard the next one approaching to see that they were wearing a number then – as we walked around a bend in the road – came across a control point staffed by smiling, enthusiastic volunteers who were checking numbers and serving refreshments. 

Hardmoors Trail Race

On enquiry it turned out to be the Hardmoors White Horse Trail Race, part of a popular series in which we’ve both competed in previous years. There were three races being held simultaneously today – a 10K, half-marathon and marathon – hence the confusing difference in running styles. From Rievaulx we’d joined the final part of the course onto which the runners from all three races had been directed so we knew we’d be having plenty of company from now on.

Perhaps I can blame the situation for a brief lapse in navigation at this point: after we’d passed some good looking fishponds which had originally been created by or for the Rievaulx monks, we ended up walking a hundred metres or so up the wrong valley, into Callister Wood. With the flow of runners ceasing abruptly I was prompted to check the map (I was sure the organisers would have made their lives easier by using the well marked CW in the closing kilometres) and realised I’d made an error. So back we went and rejoined the race just in time for a sharp, rocky ascent that we managed as fast as many of the clearly tiring competitors.

Cold Kirby

This last ascent of the day was a long drag on a wide track to Cold Kirby, a medieval village that is recorded in the Domesday Book and which once belonged to the Knights Templar. Frankly I was surprised that the church – St. Michael’s – which stands above the trail (but probably went unnoticed by most of the competitors) looked typically like it’s attracted the attention of Victorian restorers. Turns out that, although it dates to the c12th, it had been rebuilt in 1841 with the font being the only medieval feature retained.

The village was well named though: temperatures had dropped quite a bit as the wind cut across the exposed fields on top of the moor and a bank of heavy cloud blocked out the sun and its warmth. Counter to expectations, it even looked like it might rain. We stopped by another control point at the end of the village to clap a few runners through then, when a suitable gap appeared, followed along for a mile or so of characterless track before reaching much nicer woodland as we approached Hambleton House. The next kilometre was spent following the race to its finish, mainly out of curiosity but knowing that it was likely to be near Sutton Bank, which was also our destination.

Sutton Bank

Quarter of an hour later, that’s exactly where we found ourselves and for anyone who fancies doing any of the Hardmoors races I can promise you’ll be well supported if it’s anything like it was today. With the excitement over and feeling one or two drops of rain in the wind we took the opportunity to visit the cafe at the top of what is a well known North York Moors beauty spot.

As we made our way back to the trail after our break, the rain had gone and the clouds were well broken over the Vale of Mowbray where the view is endless (I’m not sure what the furthest point you can see is but it’ll be a long way away). On the CW close to the road, there’s a pillar of local sandstone – complete with plaque – installed in March of 2022 in time to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Byland. The battle was fought between the victorious Scots led by Robert the Bruce and the English under Edward II on the 14th October 1322 (it took place almost 24 years to the day before my ‘local’ battle between the same nations at Neville’s Cross near Durham where the result went the opposite way).

A bit further along the cliff-top path, and with the sun now bursting on the scene, we came across another plaque – much more discreet – dedicated to all of the servicemen who have been killed in crashes in the locality since WWII. (the aircraft referred to in the details actually crashed into Hood Hill, the large, wooded, conical hill to the SW). Close by is the airfield belonging to the Yorkshire Gliding Club, one of the oldest in the world. Amy Johnson was perhaps the most famous member but I couldn’t help thinking how many of the bomber boys who flew over it might also have been. 

If you’re brave enough to go to the edge you can stand above Roulston Scar looking down into ‘Happy Valley’ and watching the traffic stream up and down Sutton Bank (the road is the successor to the medieval path the Scots are thought to have used fruitlessly against the English). The path continues until you reach the head of the White Horse of Kilburn on Low Town Brow (unrecognisable but for the visitors, interpretation board and expanse of limestone/chalk chippings). The car park can be seen far below and away in the distance lies Kilburn, where the journey began. The steps down the side are long and steep as is the road which eventually leads to the junction with Oldstead Road where Kilburn lies to the right but where we turned left to walk the half-mile back to the quiet spot where we’d parked the car and what I learned later was likely to have been the base of the route the Scots fought their way up to outflank the English at the Battle of Byland.

2 thoughts on “North York Moors Two-Abbey Tour (Day 2)”

  1. Great write-up. Very familiar with this area as I’ve done both the Cleveland Way and Inn Way NY Moors. Thanks for the Weardale Way guidebook too – enjoyed that walk in April/May.

    1. Thanks or taking the time to comment Joseph. I’ve probably done a great deal of the Cleveland Way from various walks and events over the years but never done it in a continuous or focused way. I may have to put that right, and look at the Inn Way as well (there seem to be a few of them) but I don’t think I’ll be sampling the product in each or I’ll not get much walking done! Did you do them in one fell swoop or over a period of time as day-walks?


      P.S. Good to hear about your doing the Weardale Way. Nice one!

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