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

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

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The video below relates to Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire, where we explore the small village of Kirkham, admire the abbey ruins and venture on a scenic circuit walk over the Howardian Hills and by the idyllic River Derwent.

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The Village of Kirkham

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

Kirkham Abbey and nearby Crambe are set in the picturesque Howardian Hills so expect to see some stunning scenery here. The first structure you see is the signal box and level crossing belonging to the York to Scarborough line. Trains to Scarborough run hourly both directions so you will undoubtedly see a Transpennine Express train at some point. These are mainly the Class 185 Desiro trains native to Transpennine Express. 

Kirkham Abbey Bridge
Kirkham Abbey Bridge

After the level crossing you will be met with a high vantage point looking over the River Derwent and Kirkham Abbey. To reach the priory itself we take a walk over a narrow stone bridge. Kirkham never formally fell into a civil parish until 1866. However, by 1935 the parish was abolished and came under the parish of Firby. In 1974, this parish was also abolished and so it came under the Parish of Westow.

River Derwent and Kirkham Weir

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

River Derwent Kirkham Abbey
River Derwent Kirkham Abbey

Upon the river Derwent, it won’t take you too long to hear the rushing water crashing over the weir.  A public right of way takes you here and through a wooded area of which we are going to cover shortly. This path can get muddy amongst the trees and slippery too. The village however resides on the Centenary Way, a walk from York Minster to Filey.  The River Derwent begins its journey from Fylingdales Moor and merges with other streams and rivers including the River Hertford travelling through Pickering and Helmsley, Malton and Kirkham and onwards to Stamford Bridge. Some of the water comes from the Scarborough and Filey origin too. What is unusual about this river is that it merges with the River Ouse at Barmby on the Marsh in an upstream direction. 

Kirkham Abbey Gatehouse

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

The the most prominent part of the abbey you will see first from he car park is the abbey Gatehouse. This was built around 1290 and like York Minster it is an example of English Gothic architecture. On the left of the structure you will see some sculptures of St George and the dragon and on the right David and Goliath. In a pointed oval at the top of the wide arch is Jesus Christ. Also look out for four coats of arms being Scrope, de Forz, de Clare and de Ros. 

Kirkham Priory

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

Kirkham Abbey Priory
Kirkham Abbey Priory

The Augustinian abbey came about around 1120 by Walter Espec and it is not unusual for an abbey to be built alongside a river as a source of water. Espec was lord of nearby Helmsley and he built Rievaulx Abbey close to the town. Therefore its official name is not Kirkham Abbey but Kirkham Priory Augustinian Monastery. Augustinian relates to two distinct types of Catholic religious orders. However, like most abbey’s, it was suppressed by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries when he wanted to divert religious funds for the military or possibly even the crown itself. It is thought that Espec built the abbey at Kirkham as a remembrance of his son who died nearby when his horse bolted owing to a wild boar.  However, the area was also used to test landing vehicles for D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, and was even visited by Winston Churchill himself. Understandably, the ruins are Grade I listed under the ownership of English Heritage. Sadly, I did not have permission to take video within the grounds but you can see how large the priory must have been in its original condition. 

Circuit Walk from Kirkham to Howsham to Crambe

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

If you prefer to make a day out in Kirkham Abbey, there is an exciting circuit walk taking you along the River Derwent and back over the hill to Crambe. We simply take the public footpath along the opposite bank of the Abbey, between the river and the railway. 

If you think this walk is not going to be as exciting as the North York Moors, think again. The Howardian Hills is an area of outstanding beauty albeit a completely different landscape than the moors. 

The walk is relatively straight forward and it can be shortened and modified to suit. At the points where you may come unstuck, we will give you some direction so you don’t get lost.

Walking Beside the River Derwent

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

The first section to this walk is very easy, the land is flat and you simply follow the River Derwent until we almost touch Howsham. We walk away from the stone bridge and head towards the gushing waterfall beside a wooded area. This is a great opportunity to go and take a look at the waterfall close up. 

Next to the waterfall viewing point, you can see the path heads towards a gate and a wood. However, to do this walk, it is not recommended to wear your favourite shoes as parts of it can be muddy. Whenever you do a walk like this, it is best to dress appropriately. I always tell you not to wear shorts, but there is an extra reason today, that being nettles. They can grow on the edge of paths and fields and of course, the acid they contain stings.

Another caution at this point is that some of the tree roots are exposed and therefore a tripping hazard. As usual, I’ll mention about closing gates and keeping dogs on leads. Take some water with you especially so if the weather is warm.

Man made waterfalls or weirs were often constructed to regulate water flow, so at this point the Derwent’s speed is accelerated. However, the Derwent becomes more slow and tranquil as we go.

The river contains a lot of plant and insect life along this walk and we discover this as move forward. You can also expect to see animals and birds too such as wagtail, rabbits, deer and livestock. 

However, we walk through a shady woodland with the sounds of rushing water to our left. It is difficult to give a precise length to this walk as there are several places where you can modify the route. However, we are taking the long way around to provide more information about the area. 

We discover woods, meadows, fields, hill top views, forestry and of course, historic structures. 

At this point you see the rear side of the abbey and the Derwent is now more calm than it was a few moments ago. This is a good walk to do at any time of year but during the summer is pretty stunning. 

After the short stroll through the wood, the scenery opens out into a grassy if not weedy meadow. You’ll probably notice the railway line on your right which weaves its way around the contours of the area. As constructing tunnels was expensive, it was decided to go around the hills instead of through them. However, this reduces line speed considerably.

You’ll also see on occasion slopes into the water for cattle to drink and perhaps bathe at times. The smooth surface of the Derwent often receives some pleasing reflections too.

Another consideration are thorny briars that grow pretty long and can give you a nasty cut or tear clothes if not careful. These were few and far between but occasionally spotted.

Damselflies on the River Derwent

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

At this point we discovered that the riverside was heavily adorned with damselflies which is no surprise as they tend to be found around rivers in the UK. Damselflies, today in particular banded demoiselle, are much smaller than dragonflies but just as interesting. Their wings fold over their backs when not in use. They have a diet of smaller insects such as mosquito, midges and others. Attempting to capture these on video was difficult because firstly, they never settle for very long and secondly, the swaying long grasses and weeds made it difficult to get a focus lock. However, we got to see these fascinating creatures close up as there were many of them. 

Damselflies Kirkham Abbey
Damselflies Kirkham Abbey

Another common occurrence are short footbridges that cross smaller watercourses running down from the hills beside you. 

Once you have cleared the first two footbridges, the scenery opens out once again into an enormous open space and you can see the railway line moving away from the river. You will also notice a farm further uphill overlooking the crop below. Also at this point you will notice that the opposite side of the river is heavily wooded too.

You might be fortunate enough to see a Kingfisher, and they tend to nest in the bank side, creating small holes where they keep their young. When walking in a rural location, it is oftentimes a good idea to be vigilant and look out for these things. 

I’m going to be open and honest with you. Until shooting this video I have never done this walk before, even though I lived in the nearby village of Westow for around two years. In fact, I was born in the maternity hospital that once was situated there. I was taken back by the scenery and questioned why I had never done this walk before.  This particular area resides on the boundary of the Howardian Hills, and you can get a great view over the Vale of York from the summit we arrive at later.

When walking beside or through fields it is important not to walk on the crop or allow your dog to fowl the fields. Public footpaths and bridleways are a right of way to the general public but we also have to be respectful of the farmers rights too. 

The Derwent and the footpath weave their way in unison as we head towards Howsham. The village of Howsham is on the opposite bank that we almost touch. 

On the Scarborough line we witnessed driver training for the new Class 68 locomotives for Transpenine Express. We saw this shuttle back and forth throughout the afternoon. These diesel locomotives where built in Spain by Vossloh. What is nice about this section of the line is the original semi fore signalling which is not as common these days. The line was built by the York and North Midland Railway opening in 1845. 

Venturing Forward Touching Howsham

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

You’ll encounter further wooden footbridges a long the way so during in wet weather they can become slippery. You may find security in holding onto the hand rails as you cross. 

On the right are some large grain fields that are swaying and rippling in the light breeze. The fields will be harvested generally in July and August when they turn that familiar gold colour. Wheat is one of the oldest crops to be grown in the UK and of course is used for flour milling. There a five main varieties of wheat but common or bread wheat is the most popular in the UK. 

It is not just wheat that adorns this area, but in June you can expect to see wild flowers growing in the meadows, and this walk has a good collection.

Occasionally, the path becomes wooden boarded which are quite springy to walk on but stable. They tend to exist where the ground may be wet or overgrown. 

We now get slightly more close to the farm above of which buildings tower over the green wavy wheat fields below.

Wild Flowers

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

One wild flower you will certainly see in the summer are the bright red poppies that contrast with the green wheat. These herbaceous plants are sometimes grown for their vibrant large flowers. Their flowers can be around 15cm across and grow a metre tall. Owing to the poppies found in the Flanders region of Belgium during the first world war, poppies are a remembrance symbol for those who died. 

Yellow Iris Kirkham Abbey
Yellow Iris Kirkham Abbey

Generally, public footpaths and rights of way are identified by small yellow arrows, so if you are ever uncertain as to a route its good to take note of the direction the arrow is pointing. We found a couple of occasions where the path wasn’t discernible so I will highlight these. 

Red campion is quite a common wild flower of which we see in the meadow here. This perennial plant has pink to red flowers that are no more than 2.5cm wide. You’ll see Red Campion in flower from May through to October. 

The majority of us are well aware of Buttercups as they can be found all over the country in large quantities. However, there are many kinds of buttercup some with much larger flowers. These here are Meadow Buttercups and the most common in Europe. They grow no more than 70cm tall and have small but very vibrant yellow flowers.

We also find some Yellow Iris that is a flowering plant that is native to Europe and Asia. These perennial plants grow to around 150cm high and again have stunning yellow flowers.

You’ll also find water lilies which are an aquatic plant that can be found in many areas around the world, although there are around 70 varieties. They seam to thrive in the River Derwent at this particular stretch of the 18 mile long river. 

This particular area is not a busy place, so it is a great walk to do and perhaps take a picnic. You are also away from any major roads, the nearest is the A64. You can either simply call in to Kirkham Abbey on your return journey, or come and make a day of it. We may consider Britain’s most scenic bus route to be simply by the moors, and yes it is a fantastic area to admire. However, there is so much more to this bus route than what immediately appears to the eye, and Kirkham Abbey is kind of a hidden gem on this route.

There may be times it may seem as if you require a long blade to get through, but remember it’s only vegetation that you can brush through when necessary. Unlike the moors, this area isn’t as prone to ticks, but it is always good practice to check yourself and your dog if you have one. Ticks are a small spider type of creature that eats its way into the skin and can sometimes cause Lime Disease. If you have a bite that has a large red circular area around it, it is best to get it checked out by your GP straight away. 

The Derwent isn’t a huge river compared to the much larger River Ouse that flows through York, but it is deeper than it looks. As it is slow moving, it is a great place for dogs to swim in. As far as humans are concerned, it is safer not to swim in rivers but rather in dedicated indoor or outdoor pools. 

You’ll eventually see the railway once again in the distance as well as a level crossing near an out building on the right of you. We just want to proceed a little further along the track until we reach a gate into another meadow. 

Of course, when we encounter wild flowers in clusters such as this, we should leave them for all to enjoy and not pick them. Also, they encourage insect life too and we have certainly seen a lot of insects today, especially damselflies and bees. 

After all, the wildlife and the wild flowers too add to the overall theme of the Howardian Hills and make them all the more worthwhile for a visit.  The surroundings are particularly unspoilt and makes a satisfying walk. 

Leaving the River Derwent for Crambe

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

When you reach the gate on the right, we head through it, although the walk beside the river continues. This cross-meadow route takes us to Crambe albeit after a short hill climb or two!

Again, we cross another footbridge but this time with a gate and we follow the path through a field to a narrow farm road. 

However, when you look back towards the River Derwent, you will notice just how close to Howsham you were. What we see here is the rear angle of a former boarding school. The private school was sadly closed and was known as Howsham Hall. It is actually a Grade I listed Jacobean stately home. The school closed in 2007 due to dwindling numbers. 

When we reach the road we need to turn left for a short time until we reach a sign for a public footpath. The footpath however takes you towards a farm. 

We now follow the sign here and walk up the road to the farm not very far away known as Rider Lane Farm. 

At this point I was somewhat bemused because I was unsure if you walked around by the field or through the farm itself. I’d hate to walk through someone’s front room while they’re watching Countdown, so I walked through the field. I then discovered that I was supposed to have walked through the farm yard! Therefore you simply follow the road through. 

Ironically, there was a sign telling you to keep dogs on a lead when walking through, but I was actually chased by a small Jack Russel across the field from the farm itself! I never got bitten and I think Jack’s bark was worse than his bite!

We then simply walk across the field to the pedestrian level crossing over the Scarborough line. Of course, this is where caution is required. Trains sound their horns before level crossings, so if you hear a horn wait for the train to pass by. 

When you reach the other side, neither turn left of right but continue up the hill following the fence. I asked but didn’t get an answer. It’s not clear that you should do this, but this is the way from here. This takes you to another gate that we pass through at the top of the hill. 

Although the gate said there was a bull in the field, it simply had both cows and sheep with some calves. The Jack Russel was more frightening to be honest. 

Again you want to walk straight up the hill and turn left at the summit to yet another gate that you walk through. The views over the Vale of York is stunning at this point, so you will more than likely stop for a rest here naturally. There is also a map at the gate so you can understand the route to take from this point. 

At the end of the next field we meet a bridleway and turn right at this point. 

In the distance you will see the spire of the church at Whitwell on the Hill which is close to where we board the bus on the A64. You will come to a signpost for Whitwell on the Hill and you can take this route if you want to end the walk here. However, we are going to venture to Crambe in this episode. 

To get to Crambe we follow the bridleway further until it gently descends down a grassy hill with sheep. 

Again there are some amazing views from the top looking towards Malton direction. Of course, heading through Crambe takes us back in the direction of Kirkham Abbey as well. We are also going to walk through the heavily wooded area just above Kirkham in a moment. 

On the way downhill you don’t need to follow the bridleway as the path comes to a small pedestrian gate at the bottom right hand corner of the field. 

The gate takes you through a short wood with a watercourse running through. There is a small wooden walkway over the watercourse on the left hand side. We then go through another gate and uphill towards a farm. Again we walk through the farm until we reach a lane.  

Crambe Village

Kirkham Abbey North Yorkshire

Turning right on the land takes through the village of Crambe. A census in 2011 determined that the village has a population of around 100 people. This is a small village yet it is very idyllic with some attractive cottages.  There is also a thatched cottage that is in keeping with the style of the village and surrounding area. At the end of the lane you will see a red phone box and St Michael’s Church that was constructed in the Norman period. In the Domesday book, the village is listed as Cranbone. However, the village gets its name from the word crumb which has nothing to do with food. The term actually means a bend in the river. You may have seen an old railway station which is now a cottage beside the railway line when you crossed the meadow. This was Howsham station between 1845 and 1849 which served both Howsham and Crambe. 

At the end of the village you will see an old-fashioned direction signpost with ‘North Riding’ upon it. The four ridings intersect at the eye of York opposite Clifford’s Tower, but they were abolished in 1974.

Turning left here takes you back to the approach road from the A64 to Kirkham. However, glutton for punishment, we are going to take a right turn down the lane until we reach a public footpath to Kirkham Abbey. 

We’ve encountered many a damselfly today, but now we having to cope with something far bigger and louder. 

However, we continue up the bridleway which again is very scenic, especially on a sunny day. This takes us past a wheat field once again, but we are about to arrive at somewhere which might confuse you as it did me. 

This particular bridleway takes you to a farm, and I assumed that you followed it through the farm like the other two occasions. However, on this occasion I discovered that I was trespassing on private property, inadvertently of course. 

Instead of continuing to the farm, you walk uphill following this track to the summit, although it is not clear to do this as I couldn’t see a sign. Still, you simply walk straight on until you reach the top corner. 

At the corner, you follow the field around to the right admiring the views from the top of the hill. Fortunately, I didn’t see any angry farmers which for me was a huge relief. 

You will eventually reach a gate to the wooded area of which takes you across the top of Kirkham Abbey.  This woodland makes for an attractive walk, and if you have a dog like ours, he or she would love this too. However, the bank on the right side is quite steep so it carry’s a warning. 

Once out of the woodland, you come to a field where you follow the path downhill. Once again, you will see the tall spire of Whitwell’s church in the distance and also the traffic on the A64. This reminds you that you’re almost there! The public footpath takes you downhill, another relief, to the lane that runs through Crambe. 

Stone Trough Kirkham Abbey
Stone Trough Kirkham Abbey

Again from this vantage point, you get to look over the Howardian Hills and the Vale of York, an enormous area of flat land in which York resides. 

When you reach the gate, simply take a right turn taking you to the junction to Kirkham Abbey or the bus stop if you turn left. Therefore, if your bus isn’t due, you might want to take refreshments in The Stone Trough. However, do not say “I’m going for a drink in the Stone Trough” because it could lead to misunderstanding.  The pub serves both food and drink and lets face facts, you’ve earned that extra treat today! Alternatively, you can head back to York and Leeds by catching the bus at the sheltered bus stop beside the A64. Until next time!


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