Well, the wheels came off this particular wagon a mile after the off.
We struck out from Dalton, just south of Thirsk, in high spirits and meandered over the fields – all very pleasant – until we encountered the East Coast main rail line. And then we were stopped in our tracks (if you’ll excuse the pun) – the public right of way over the railway was closed for repairs.
There was nothing for it but to traipse all the way back to the starting point – two miles wasted and nothing to show for it. What a difference it would have made if the “Path closed” notice at the rail line had been placed at the start as we left Dalton.
Back at the car, a quick scan of the map revealed a way round the impasse, but – unfortunately - involving a mile or so of extra road walking. You can’t win them all – but, believe me, you will have forgotten the road walking by the end of the circuit as the finish is so enjoyable.
This is lovely, lush green countryside with not a hill in sight. Much of the circuit makes use of traffic-free rural lanes and access tracks where the going is firm under foot allowing a good head of steam to be attained. You will fairly scoot round!
Dalton traces its history back to the days of the Saxon settlers, taking its name from the Old English dael (a valley or dale) and tun (a farm or settlement) – thus, the farm in the valley. The manor was in the hands of the Saxon carl, Bernwulf, in 1066, but he was dispossessed by the Conqueror and Dalton was in the hands of William de Percy by the time of the Domesday Book survey in 1086.
For a thousand years or more, Dalton survived on its agricultural heritage, but the peace and quiet of this rural backwater was sharply interrupted by the Second World War and the construction of an RAF airfield on its western edge, a satellite of nearby RAF Topcliffe. The base was part of Bomber Command and was taken over by the Royal Canadian Air Force in early 1943. The airfield closed in 1945. After the war, several industries moved into the village, making use of the abandoned airfield, among them a huge poultry-rearing operation, which still exists.
In the middle of the 19th century, the Dawnay family, Viscounts Downe, owned many of the farms in and around Dalton. The 7th Viscount instigated the building of the village church of St John’s, which opened in 1868. He also built the school, which opened in 1873 and closed in 1966.
The church’s first vicar was the Rev Sabine Baring-Gould, author and composer of hymns, whose most famous offering was Onward Christian Soldiers. Baring-Gould arrived in the village in 1867 before the church was finished and took services in a barn. The church’s stained-glass windows are special; they are the work of the pre-Raphaelite artists William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown.
APPROACH and PARKING: Dalton, four miles south of Thirsk, can be approached from the Leeds area along the A1(M) and then the A168, turning off the A168 for Topcliffe and Dalton after about three miles.
Drive through the first part of Dalton, turn right at sign for “Village”, go past Ye Jolly Farmers to a road junction and park straight ahead, by area of grass on your left, on the Sessay road at sign for village hall. Street called The Rowans on your right.
7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 299 Ripon and Boroughbridge
Start out up the road signposted village hall (this is the unnamed Willow Bridge Lane), passing a property called Oak View on your left, then the village hall and a new housing estate on your right. Just past the new homes, turn left along road signposted Dalton Ind. Estate and Topcliffe.
Just before road sweeps left, turn right (box-top sign) through old metal gate (awkward catch!) and go straight across field, passing to right of a small brick-rendered building with more buildings across to your left (I believe these buildings formed part of the wartime RAF station).
Now stay alert! On gaining the right end of a line of hawthorns in mid field – with the corner of a temporary cord fence to your right – turn right across the field towards a farm and spot the footbridge to your left. Cross it (Willow Beck) and go half right over the field on a fine path cleared by the farmer. On crossing the field, ignore double metal gates on your right – instead, turn left up the field on tractor tracks to a marker post and turn right, through the hedge, into access drive and turn right, through gate, to re-enter Willow Bridge Lane.
Turn left along the road, single file and facing traffic and using the grass verge for safety when necessary. Ahead is the White Horse of Kilburn on the Hambleton Escarpment. Stride out briskly along this mainly-quiet country road, passing under the railway after a short half mile – take great care here as the road narrows. Don’t dawdle - and cross to lefthand side of road so you can see clearly ahead.
Press on for another three-quarters of a mile, passing under pylons, to arrive at road chevrons at a lefthand bend and, here, turn RIGHT for Islebeck Farm and The Rushes along a tarred lane. After 50 yards, as lane swings left, go straight ahead by tall hedge past a box-top sign.
1: Follow hedge to end of field, cross a footbridge (Islebeck Bridge) over the Isle Beck and go forward to a marker post and go straight on – do not take the path through gateway on your left.
On entering field, press on along its left edge. At field, pass through a bridle gate and turn right along a vehicle track which soon becomes a tarred access drive, passing Rush Wood on your left. When tarmac finishes, continue on a new concrete track with the East Coast main line ahead. The concrete turns left towards a bridge over the rail line to enter a road.
Turn right along the road, over the bridge and then, after 100 yards, turn left along a country road (Blind Piece Lane) at a road sign for Eldmire and Crakehill. This traffic-free lane is followed for half a mile to where it sweeps right for Eldmire and Crakehill – STOP!
Now go off left along the continuation of Blind Piece Lane which is now a dead-end road and, thus, totally devoid of vehicles. Go past a huge farm complex on your left (Clarkwood) and press on for 500 yards and then sweep right with the road to The Heights. When access road sweeps right to The Heights, go straight ahead through metal gate past a sign: Please shut gate.
2: Stride out now on vehicle tracks on a lovely pastoral interlude, soon with Crakehill Beck to your left. Climb a gate across the track and press on – all very nice! - gently sweeping right to strike a farm track with a gate and fingerpost on your right.
Here, turn right over stile to left of the gate and continue on vehicle track. When this finishes, go straight on along a wide grass track along a line of telegraph wires. At top of field (blue arrow on telegraph pole), continue along LEFT side of tall hedge along grassy vehicle tracks to emerge, eventually, in a minor road (Ox Close Lane) .
Turn right for 30 paces and then, just before the farm (Eldmire Cottage) turn left through wide gap in hedge (fingerpost hidden in hedge to your left) and go up left rdge of field on a burnt-off strip and then continue alongside a tall hedge on a good path left by the farmer. Look right for a view of the White Horse.
Follow hedge all the way as it goes over the crest of the field and then descends Pass through hedge line into next field and keep on by hedge on your left. This leads into a tarred lane on the edge of Dalton.
Follow it to enter a street of houses and sweep right to the main street and turn right, past the pub, to regain your vehicle.