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Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

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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.

Watch Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

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.

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Best North Yorkshire Walks
Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Best North Yorkshire Walks

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Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

In this episode we will be taking a 3 mile stroll from Helmsley Market Place to Rievaulx Abbey. The walk takes you along the first section of the 109 mile Cleveland Way route between Helmsley, Saltburn, Scarborough and Filey and contains some stunning scenes.

Prior to your walk, you will probably want to have a look around Helmsley which is a compact yet fully featured market town at the foot of the North York Moors. Helmsley is famous for it’s notable castle, it’s chiming church tower above the trickling beck, it’s rewarding market place and streets full of quality independent retailers and eateries, it’s typically Yorkshire scenes that identify where about’s in the world you are. Helmsley isn’t just a local rural hub, but also an attraction for visitors. It isn’t only the castle and shops that draw people here, but also the popular walled garden featuring vibrant colours, tranquility as well as superb views of the castle. Helmsley is also well noted for its National Centre for Birds of Prey in the grounds of the charming Duncombe Park estate. Still, don’t get too cosy here as we also have a fantastic walk to do!

The Cleveland Way

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

We are beginning our walk in Helmsley Market Place in the early hours today. There is a car park here, as well as a bus stop for East Yorkshire Buses 128 service as well as the Moors Bus and Reliance 31x. However, you might find it more beneficial to park in the main car park next to the beginning of the Cleveland Way. Of course, there are opportunities for purchasing drinks and food here as well as free to use public conveniences.

We are going to walk around the Church of All Saint’s following the B1257 and you will see the Feversham Arms on the right hand side of you. If you time it right, you might hear the melodic sound of the church bells above you. Just across the road from the Feversham Arms Hotel, you will see a signpost for the Cleveland Way, one of three major walking routes from Helmsley, the others being the Ebor Way and Tabular Hills route towards Scarborough. You will also see the sign for ice-cream which is your reward on your return!

The road takes you to the aforementioned Cleveland Way car park which isn’t only for cars but also coaches and motorhomes too. There are also public conveniences here if you require them.

You will see the large stone indicating you are about to step onto the Cleveland Way route. Being one of North Yorkshire’s main walking routes, the Cleveland Way is very well signposted and way marked so it pays to pay attention to the small yellow arrows assisting you were to go.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the only feature on this walk is the abbey because you also receive some stunning views as soon as you leave Helmsley behind you. There are also some views of the castle as well as Duncombe Park Estate which consists of parkland, rural farming areas, woodlands and more.

You will see Helmsley Walled Garden on the left hand side of you and there is a link road from here that takes you there. It also has a popular eatery which is useful to note.

It is an uphill walk to begin with yet it is relatively gentle on the lungs and heart rate. You are also concealed between hedgerows at this point yet very shortly it opens out into some stunning scenery further along. This is quite a good walk to do in the summer as you have plenty of shade. If you do it in the winter time, ensure you have some good grips on your shoes and beware of any mud!

You can bring a dog with you if you wish providing they are kept on a short lead owing to grazing ruminants as well as the young lambs. Some birds also nest on the ground in the warmer months which is a further reason.

On the right hand side you might notice the B1257 from Malton to Stokesley throughout the walk which although a busy highway, strangely you don’t really notice it.

The path itself is in good order which is not surprising as it is a major walking route. As a section of it is cobbled, it leads me to wonder if it may have been a pack horse route in earlier times. Pack horses were used pre industrial revolution to transport goods before the canals and railways came along. Horses aside, the fields are certainly adorned with flocks of sheep today.

You will soon get to see views of the castle at the foot of the hill and you can attain some good photos from here, especially if you have a proper camera. As we walk further along the cobbled path at this stage, you can allow your eyes to wander across the green pastures. Of course, our walk today is heavily assisted by the good weather and makes all the difference. Sunny or not, it is a rewarding walk to accomplish.

Leaving Helmsley Behind

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

When you reach the top, the path bends right angle to the left and you walk towards a stone wall. This is not a dry stone wall as it contains a cement to hold the stones together. Still, it is quite lengthy and we walk alongside this wall before entering the woodland.

You will see a gate with a path going downhill but we ignore this and keep to the Cleveland Way. However, if you look towards the castle you receive some fantastic views of it from here. Of course, Duncombe Park estate gives you some stunning views of the castle and in return the castle gives you some stunning views of the estate.

A Stone Wall

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

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

The woodland is situated on a bank so the trees head downhill. At this stage you could say you are on the boundary of two terrains, pasture land and woodland. When you have varying terrains like this, they attract a wider range of wildlife as well.

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. As the trees are heading downhill, it stands to reason that we are about to as well.

There is some barbed wire along this stretch which although is out of the way of dogs, be careful not to snag your clothes or worse when passing other walkers. On the subject of boundaries, I came across what looks to be the remnants of a dry stone wall, so it appears one existed here after all.

Sometimes scenery like this make some interesting and eye-catching landscape photos owing to the contrasting colours, such as the browns against a blue sky. Sadly, in bright sunlight, shadows can oftentimes spoil a shot although you can adjust the shadows in a good photo editing app.

A little further and we follow the signs into Blackdale Howl Wood and our entry is sort of an S bend. This is where we step out of the sunlight and into the shadows somewhat. Still it is nice to see the sunlight coming through the trees.

Typically, early morning is a great time for doing a walk such as this because you receive some interesting lighting owing to the rising sun. I can often spice up a walk, and in addition, you can sometimes see more in the way of wildlife including owls as badger.

There was some photogenic tree stumps along this descent and with the light shining through the branches above cast spotlights throughout. As a tip, when shooting forests with a camera, use a small aperture of around f/11 or above and up your ISO to around 800, and use a tripod with a timer of 2 secs. This may help to counteract contrasting light between the sky and the shady woodland.

This path goes further downhill yet it is stepped to help you along this ravine. Steps seem to be a feature of the Cleveland Way and if you watched the first episode in Scarborough you will understand why I mention this. Especially when you see the steps for the other side. Fortunately, this is the only steep ascent and it is worth it. Of course, I am making it look far more easier than it really is.

You will be glad that you made it too because just a little further along this path is an area of real interest, especially to the human eyes. It is also an historical area too. The path winds and once again you will come to open space rather than woodland.

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.

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 the 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, and this will explain why the village doesn’t exist today.

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 forms various woods.

Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of pheasants around. You tend to hear them regularly and the males tend to be brightly coloured and have wattles. Wattles are the fleshy part that hangs from the head or neck.

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. Could be an old wife’s tale but who knows.

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. If you see some off paths, it is best to ignore these and stay on route. Oftentimes they can lead to private land. We continue along a woodland walk once again and discover a very attractive path with the valley beside us on the left.

When you encounter puddles or reflective rivers, it is often a good idea to use your camera or smartphone to record the subject and its reflection. This can make an interesting image to share with friends and family. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter where you point your lens here as it is inevitable to produce a fantastic landscape photo.

On your left, you will eventually pass under some cables heading directly down into the valley. 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, 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, so you can have a break before the return journey. You may even want to head further to Rievaulx Terrace which is under the ownership of the National Trust.

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 the road you head downhill once again by turning left.

The Approach to Rievaulx Abbey

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey Walk

Now we’ve arrived at Longdale Howl we take the road to Rievaulx 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. You might stop and take a look at it as it paints a very idyllic picture. However, if you have never been here before you won’t known that if you walk a few steps more you will see the abbey to the right of it.

You might want to find a gap in the hedge and just snook in from the lane to admire the scenery as well as the abbey. 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 you’ll want to go and see the abbey more close up, you will probably be distracted by Rievaulx Bridge and River Rye. If you walk partially over the bridge and enter a viewing area where I could see the rushing water merging with the Rye beneath. It is typically fast flowing owing to the amount of rain we recently endured.

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 which of course is the White Horse area near Kilburn.

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. Fishing on the Rye may include Dace, chub, gudgeon and grayling as well as barbel in the spring and summer. Pike have been caught on this section and also trout can be present.

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 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. There is an admission to enter Rievaulx Terrace itself as it is under the ownership of the National Trust. 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. You can walk via the B1257 to Griff Lodge but please stick to the grass verge if you do as the road can be busy. It is recommended to walk back the way you came.

We have certainly enjoyed our walk today, we hope you enjoy yours! Until next time!

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