Places to Visit in North Yorkshire
phill@philljamesbroadcasting.co.uk
phill@todoinyork.com

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Visit York and North Yorkshire through Video

   

The video below is pertaining to Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk. We begin our walk at Helmsley Market Place and walk alongside Helmsley’s Church of All Saints and Feversham Arms Hotel before taking the Cleveland Way to Rievaulx Abbey through some scenic hills and forested paths before reaching Rievaulx Abbey.

Useful Links for this Walk

Rievaulx Abbey Website

Helmsley Website (Visit Helmsley)

North York Moors Website Rievaulx Abbey

North York Moors Website Helmsley

Duncombe Park Estate

The 7 Mile Walk from the Castle Howard Website (PDF)

Notes to the 7 mile circular walk. Please note that the video diary covers only the 3 mile walk between Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey along the Cleveland Way. We advise walking back the same way as the 7 mile walk takes you along the busy B1257 for a short time. If you choose the 7 mile walk above, please ensure that you are careful along the main road and stick to the grass verges as much as possible.

Our Documentary on Helmsley (The North Yorkshire Reporter)

Where is Rievaulx Abbey?

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk Video Diary

So we are beginning the walk today at Helmsley Market Place under the shadow of William Duncombe memorial who was the 2nd Baron Feversham. Helmsley is a market town but also has a lot of eateries so you might want to fuel yourself with some breakfast or coffee first of all.

I’ve arrived just after half past eight in the morning and by and large the town really gets busy from 10am onwards when a majority of the shops are open.

There is a supermarket beside the market square if you want to purchase bottled water, chocolate or nuts to take with you. This walk is around 6 miles, 3 miles there are 3 miles back. There is a 7 mile circular walk but this takes you alongside the B1257 for a short while which can be busy. Therefore I’m encouraging the 6 mile there and back version for your safety’s sake. If you do decide to do the 7 mile walk please take care and stick to the grass verges on the main road.

We are going to turn left from the market square beside the B1257 to Stokesley, past the Church of All Saints on your right hand side. Most churches in the country derive from Norman times but this has been rebuilt in 1838. If you time it right, you’ll hear the very melodic chime from the tower.

You’ll also see the Feversham Arms Hotel which began back in the 1800’s owing to the Earl of Feversham, it was rebuilt and changed from the name The Guest House. During the seventies, the three cottages were purchased to extend the hotel.

The Cleveland Way

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Opposite you will find the signpost for Rievaulx which we take. The road takes you to Cleveland Way Car Park where there are toilets as well as the beginning of the Cleveland Way. The Cleveland Way is a 109 mile walk from Helmsley to Filey. Of course, you’d never do this in one day, but you can commit to the walk by taking a stretch at a time staying in accommodation overnight to complete the walk. Today however, we are going to cover the first three miles!

Sign Post to Rievaulx
Sign Post to Rievaulx

The Cleveland Way isn’t the only major walking route that starts in Helmsley, but the Ebor Way also begins here, on the south side of the market town. This route takes you from Helmsley to Ilkley. From a walkers point of view, Helmsley is an important North Yorkshire town.

The amazing thing about this walk is that it doesn’t take you too long before you experience some very scenic views out in open countryside. You might think that the main feature to this walk is solely going to be Rievaulx Abbey, but actually you get some views of Helmsley Castle behind you, as well as Duncombe Park that contains some lush parkland, rural farming areas, heavily wooded areas and a lot more.

Today’s walk has been heavily assisted by the good weather and clear skies, making it an amazing experience. You will also notice Helmsley Walled Garden which also has some good views of the castle from the grounds as well as some tranquil and vibrant borders.

Leaving Helmsley Behind

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

As much as we hate to leave attractive Helmsley behind, we can venture out into rural farmland which are situated in the beautiful Tabular Hills. Already you begin to receive some amazing views here. The path gradually ascends up hill and you will notice the B1257 in the distance to the right of you. You can see it in the distance but you don’t hear it.

If you have a dog with you, especially on this stretch of the walk, they should be on a lead as there are livestock. I mention this in every video diary I ever do but you should also always bring a drink and even something to eat, and of course, to always close more gates than you open.

Views across pasture land near Helmsley
Views across pasture land near Helmsley

Another must is to occasionally look behind you as you often see the heather laced North York Moors in the distance as well as the tower of All Saints and the stunning castle.

The paths on this walk are generally in good condition as you’d expect for the Cleveland Way and there was just one area where the path dips down into a ravine that it became slightly muddy. If you commit to doing this walk, it’s recommended to wear some comfortable shoes designed for this type of walking.

At this point, you follow a large hedge that enclose the sheep adorned fields. Typically, hedges cannot be cut until late September onwards owing to nesting birds. Some birds also nest on the ground too which is another reason to keep dogs on a lead.

You’ve possibly noticed that I am wearing jeans. To be honest, jeans are not really recommended for walking especially when it is wet as they take a long time to dry and the stick to your skin. Today, isn’t that bad because it is warm and dry. With the North York Moors National Park, it is not recommended to wear shorts either owing to ticks. Some lightweight walking trousers are recommended that a durable. In winter, a fleece base is often a good idea to keep you warm and dry.

Looking behind you, you receive some stunning views over the green hill you have just undertaken and views towards the south edge of the moorland.

A Stone Wall

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Suddenly you arrive at a right-angle in the path that bends to the left towards a stone wall. You might at first thing it is a dry stone wall, but in actual fact it isn’t as it has something holding the stones together.

You’ll also see a gate with a path downwards and I am assuming that it takes you to Duncombe Park, but we are ignoring this gate and following the wall right. Still, from here, you receive some near perfect views of the castle so remember to look behind you from time to time!

Helmsley Castle in the distance
Helmsley Castle in the distance

Behind the wall it is wooded and we come to meet this in person shortly. However, the Cleveland Way follows the edge of the wood and a field to the right, as we glide up and down the hills moderately.

I have never done this walk before until today, and already I was amazed at how scenic it was and how easy this walk is to do. As I was early, I didn’t see that many people around, but on my return journey, the walk proved to be very popular with many other walkers.

I’m filming in autumn and the leaves are just starting to turn colour as well as drop to the ground. As a photographer, I love this time of year for the golds and reds that returns some stunning photography. Each season has its positives and negatives for outdoor photography.

Into the Blackdale Howl Wood

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

You will notice a dip in the path that immediately climbs again and this serves as a marker that we are almost ready to enter the woodland. Walks are, in my opinion, more scenic early morning owing to the ascending sunlight that is cast over land and through the trees in woodland scenes. You are more likely to see things like Roe Deer and Barn Owls at this time of day too.

The wall we have been following, although crafted in stone isn’t a dry stone wall. However, I found signs that perhaps a dry stone wall once existed, and as we know, dry stone walls are abundant in North Yorkshire and date as far back a neolithic times, so the art of building walls without any kind of glue to hold them in place is incredibly old.

All the way through this walk, you receive some super stunning views across the Tabular Hills that end at Black Hambleton, and this particular tree is a Lone Ranger today.

Views across the Tabular Hills
Views across the Tabular Hills

Aforementioned, the signs are present that you are about to leave the open space for a while and dip into the Blackdale Howl Wood. Tree’s and hills are the two major features to this walk and they exist between the two historical structures castle and the abbey where we find ourselves.

There was some photogenic tree stumps along this descent and with the light shining through the branches above cast spotlights throughout. This leads me into saying that this walk encounters all manner of features, and this is one of them.

This is the important point about walking in North Yorkshire. You could walk across the Sahara desert the same distance and it would be the same scenery over and over again. In North Yorkshire, the terrain often changes, creating a more interesting walk.

The path heads downhill along some stable steps into a ravine at the bottom. I was glad that I was walking downhill, but that pleasure didn’t last that long!

After reaching the bottom, I saw the ascent back up the other side of the ravine before me and it reminded me of the Cleveland Way along the coastline at Scarborough!

Steps down into the Ravine
Steps down into the Ravine

I make it look more difficult than it was, but it was short and manageable especially when there was a gatepost to lean on at the top.

After getting my breath back, I continued down a short path out of the wooded area. However, this wasn’t the only time we see a wooded area on this walk. Remember, constantly changing scenery?

Owing to the contrasting light, the trees opened up for pockets of light to enter, making an entertaining space to walk through. However, the path opens out into an area with two, or perhaps three particular interesting features.

Griff Lodge and Valley

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

The stone cottage you see is Griff Lodge and you will also notice a farm in the distance behind it being Griff Farm. However, the lodge overlooks a deep valley. At this point is a crossroads but you continue straight on past Griff Lodge towards the wood.

Griff Lodge, Duncombe Park Helmsley
Griff Lodge, Duncombe Park Helmsley

The track from Griff Farm forms part of the return route on the seven mile version of this walk, as the track heads up towards the B1257. The opposite direction takes you through to Duncombe Park which was the former route between Helmsley and Rievaulx before it became part of the Cleveland Way.

Both and lodge and the valley beneath belong to the Duncombe estate, not forgetting that Charles Duncombe purchased 40,000 acres of land back in 1694.

From here, you can see a considerable distance over the valley. Behind Griff Lodge and to the left of Griff Farm is the site of an old medieval village called, yes you guessed it, Griff. It was apparently deserted at the time of William the Conqueror’s Harrying of the North which was around 1069 if memory serves me well.

Walking Alongside Whinny Bank Wood

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Whinny Bank Wood forms the woodland area to your left as you walk further along. You might think that these are all part of the same woodland, and indeed, its the same expanse of trees but it is sectioned off into various woods.

Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of pheasants around. The more colourful pheasants are the males and the less colourful are the females. I also heard gun shots later so I’m assuming that there days are numbered!

At this time of year, it is not uncommon to find food for the winter for such as the birds, squirrels and other wildlife. Some of the trees are laced in bright red berries that add a splash of vibrant colour and contrast against the greenery. They often say that if there is a lot of berries it suggests a severe winter. However, I think this is speculation but who knowns there might be some truth to it!

Quarry Bank Wood

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Albeit the same expanse of woodland, we leave Whinny Bank Wood and venture into Quarry Bank Wood. Obviously the word bank refers to the bank of the valley of which we follow elevated above until just before we arrive at Rievaulx.

Of course, dense woodland attracts all manner of wildlife. Depending on the time of day you could possibly witness a fox, stoat, badger, roe deer just to name a few. You’re bound to see a squirrel at any time of day but pay close attention as red squirrels are often spotted in the North York Moors National Park.

Of course, one thing you are never short of on any part of the North York Moors National Park is the stunning views. Even when the entire North York Moors is snow covered, it still returns some stunning views.

Granted, it is warm and sunny today which is great for the first week in October, but there has been some previous rainfall. Sometimes you can find some great compositions for your photos in puddles as they contain reflections, even with just a smartphone.

As you progress through Quarry Bank Wood you will eventually descend downhill to the level of Rievaulx Abbey. If you choose to continue with the 7 mile circular walk, the route back overlooks the Abbey and as mentioned, heads back to Griff Farm. Griff Farm incidentally was once the site of Griff Grange which was the original farm for the monks at Rievaulx.

You don’t often find this on every walk that you engage in, but there are toilets at both the start and end of this walk. Helmsley has free to use public conveniences and there are also some at Rievaulx Abbey too, and you don’t need to enter the abbey to use them as they are situated in the car park. There is also a cafe at Rievaulx Abbey too, so you can have a break before the return journey.

At the point where you descend downhill, the path becomes almost like a dark tunnel. The path is surrounded by dense woodland but it also sinks slightly into the earth with short embankments at each side of you.

This takes you to a road at the bottom of the hill with a signpost that tells you that Rievaulx is just a mile away. At this point you’ve walked around 2 miles but because of the varying terrain it may seem as if you’ve walked further.

The Approach to Rievaulx Abbey

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Now we’ve arrived at Longdale Howl we take the road left and you will find a narrow path elevated above the road. You should use this and not use the narrow lane as vehicles come around the bends quite fast. The opposite direction takes you to the B1257 road. The path takes you around the bend in safety but you may want to stop and explore the views at this point because they really are serene. The pasture ground is adorned with sheep and lots of them, but then much the same can be said for the entire North York Moors National Park.

The narrow path ends and you have to cross over the road carefully and walk on the right hand side of the road, facing oncoming traffic. The wood you see on the right hand side is now Abbott Hagg Wood.

The road is somewhat curvaceous at times so please be careful at this point. You’ll see a farm on your left hand side after a s-bend in the road. The scenery here is very tranquil so you can understand why the twelve French Monks founded the abbey at this location. Yes, the name Rievaulx is French in origin owing to the French monks and relates to the River Rye the abbey is situated close to.

You’ll first notice Rye House in the distance and we walk by this shortly. When I saw it, I thought it looked amazing and took this video clip. However, I had no idea at this point that the Abbey could be seen if I had just walked a little further.

First Views of Rievaulx Abbey
First Views of Rievaulx Abbey

I managed to find a gap in the hedge where I could insert my tripod to capture the abbey which completely wowed me at this point. When you see a ruin like this, it is a great idea to use your mind’s eye and imagine what it must have looked like in its entire form.

Rievaulx Bridge and River Rye

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

As much as I wanted to go and see the abbey more close up, I found myself distracted by Rievaulx Bridge and River Rye. I walked partially over the bridge and entered a viewing area where I could see the rushing water merging with the Rye beneath. It was fast flowing owing to the amount of rain we recently endured.

Rievaulx Bridge
Rievaulx Bridge

Rievaulx Bridge is built in limestone ashlar, ashlar being a type of brick, and it is grade II listed. Listed or not, it creates a fantastic North Yorkshire feel with the moors water running beneath it.

We say moors water, but in fact the Rye begins in the south Cleveland Hills yet it runs through the North York Moors, gaining momentum along the way. Of course, this river was a water source for the monks at Rievaulx Abbey, but its path also runs through Helmsley too, just south of the market town.

The three arched bridge is not only situated on the River Rye but also on a junction where you can turn off towards Rievaulx Abbey. Continuing over the bridge will eventually take you to A170, the road to Thirsk across Sutton Bank.

Just beneath the bridge is an area where you can walk down to the River Rye, and this bridge by the way, makes some fantastic photography as much as the abbey. You can imagine many a selfie’s been taken here.

You’ll notice a reference to the Ryedale Anglers Club, they were founded in 1846 with a handful of friends who sought to fish for trout on the River Rye. Today the club has over 65 members.

Rievaulx Abbey and the 12 French Monks

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Rievaulx is obviously well visited and there is a narrow lane without any footpaths, so again, its good to walk on the right hand side of the road and to be vigilant when it comes to traffic.

Still at this point you receive some excellent views of the abbey on the approach to Rievaulx. Rievaulx is only a small village and it is situated on what was the inner court of the abbey. In fact, in 2011 there were less than a hundred people living here owing to a census undertaken. The village however, has some very aesthetic and idyllic properties throughout overshadowed by Rievaulx Abbey as well as Rievaulx Terrace on the hillside above.

Rievaulx Abbey
Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey in the country. The Cistercian’s were a catholic order that broke away from the Benedictines and are also referred to as Bernardines due to St Bernard of Clairvaux.

Walking further up the lane, you reach the welcome sign for the village that instantly tells you where you are, but then the views of the abbey would tell you what you needed to know anyway.

You’ll see a fenced area full of trees that present an idyllic setting for both the village and the abbey, especially with the sounds of the River Rye making its way towards Helmsley. The first property you see is the farm we saw a few moments ago. From here you will begin to see Rievaulx Abbey on a more grander scale and makes a perfect viewing area. Visitors often like to take a photo from here too. Further along you will come to the car park and entrance to the abbey that is in the care of English Heritage. There is a small admission charge to enter the abbey should you wish to explore the abbey further. As mentioned, there are some free to use public conveniences in the car park as well as an attractive cafe here.

The abbey was founded by twelve French monks looking for a tranquil area fit for a life of self-sufficiency as well as privacy, to enable them to live a strict life of prayer and meditation without the influence of the outside world. As you can imagine when you arrive here, they definitely found what they were looking for.

However, the abbey was financed by Walter Espec who also financed another Cistercian abbey located in Bedfordshire. However, construction began in 1130 on the abbey we see today by William I who was the first abbot at Rievaulx. The abbots at Rievaulx were considered the most powerful abbots in the then heavily Christian north of England. This was up until the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1500’s when Henry VIII dissolved the abbeys to redistribute funds for other purposes.

If you want to make your way up hill to Rievaulx Terrace, then you need to walk through the village. It is worthwhile to do so as you can see the Tuscan Temple as well as the Ionic Temple. You also receive some fantastic views over the abbey too. However, although the land belonged to the abbey prior to the dissolution of the monasteries, the site was actually created by Thomas Duncombe III in 1758 who inherited the land from his father, along with Duncombe Park. As Rievaulx Terrace is under the care of the National Trust, there is an admission to the gardens at Rievaulx Terrace.

Further Series Pertaining to North Yorkshire

The North Yorkshire Reporter

My North Yorkshire Walks Video Diaries

North Yorkshire Photography Workshop (Phovlography)

Britain’s Most Scenic Bus Route