Here is the land that time forgot. Or, at least, the land the walking fraternity forgot.
This obscure corner of North Yorkshire – at the point where the Vale of York merges into its northern counterpart, the Vale of Mowbray – is well worth a closer look.
This is a very enjoyable circuit with several pluses going for it. First, the waymarking, which is by far the best we have encountered for what is predominantly a field walk – there are arrows and fingerposts wherever you look. What a pleasant surprise in such a little-known area.
Secondly, the paths are amazingly free of mud (even in winter!). And, thirdly, the peace and tranquillity - you won’t see a soul. Oh, the bliss!
Crakehall, a couple of miles north-west of the popular market town of Bedale, is an ancient community gifted by the Conqueror to Count Alan the Red of Brittany who was created the 1st Norman Earl of Richmond for his prowess at the Battle of Hastings where he led the Breton contingent.
Count Alan gave the estates around Crakehall to his younger brother, Ribald, who also received the more important manor of Middleham – seven miles to the west in Wensleydale - where he built a motte-and-bailey castle of wood to guard the vital route from Richmond Castle to the major Norman stronghold at Skipton (it was Ribald’s grandson, Robert FitzRalph, who built Middleham’s stone castle a century later).
In 1310, Crakehall passed to the mighty Neville clan when the last member of Ribald’s line, Mary of Middleham, married Robert Neville of Raby Castle and that famous dynasty remained for more than 150 years. Since then, Crakehall has passed through many hands, including that of the Duke of Leeds (a title now extinct) who, in 1732, built the spectacular hall overlooking the eastern edge of the village green as his country seat, his main estate being in South Yorkshire at Kiveton Park.
PARKING: On entering Crakehall along the A684 from the direction of Bedale, go past the Jet petrol station and turn either left or right to park – with consideration, please - round village green.
CRAKEHALL AND NEWTON-LE-WILLOWS
7 ½ miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 302 Northallerton and Thirsk
From the village green, where it abuts the A684, take the road signposted Burrill, opposite St Gregory’s Church, with The Bay Horse Inn to your right.
Follow the road to edge of village, until just past last semi on your left, and turn left at box-top footpath sign into field and walk along its left edge, past arrow. Go through gateway (arrow) and on in a straight line, through next gate and straight on to near end of field and then bear right to a stile 30 yards right of field corner.
Cross it and turn left along hedge, go through gate, past a property to your right, through broken gate ahead and straight on, through next gate, and over the Wensleydale Railway – STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!
The railway runs for 22 miles between Northallerton and Redmire in the heart of Wensleydale and is part on the line - built in the 1850s - which once ran the length of Wensleydale to Hawes. The line closed to passengers in 1954, but continued to be used from Redmire eastwards to the main line to carry out limestone from local quarries.
That operation ceased in 1992 when the line was put into mothballs until the Army re-opened it to transport armoured vehicles from Catterick to Salisbury Plain for manoeuvres. Rail enthusiasts then launched a successful campaign for passenger services to be reinstated and these began in 2003.
Continue with hedge on your left to gain a marker post with arrow which sends you rightwards across field to a large tree. Enter the Bedale to Newton-Le-Willows road and turn right, walking single file, facing traffic, and stepping on to grass verge at approach of vehicles.
After 600 yards, at crossroads at white house, turn left along road for Cowling and Burrill (Cowling Lane). Follow this quiet road for three-quarters of a mile to the hill-top settlement of Cowling, passing the stunning Cowling Hall.
This Grade 1 Queen Anne house was built in the early 1700s by Henry Raper who had made his fortune as an East India Company merchant. It rests on the site of a 12th-century pele tower. The stable block (on left) survives from 1450. During the Second World War, Canadian airmen from RAF Leeming were billeted there.
1: Descend to where the road sweeps left and, here, turn RIGHT along the traffic-free High Lane and follow it for three-quarters of a mile to Low Pond House (to your left) where the tarmac finally gives way to an unmade road.
Press on to pass through a gate and onwards towards a huge farm, High Pond House. Follow vehicle track past left side of farm to enter road and turn right, walking single file and facing traffic. The Cleveland Hills are to your right across the Vale of Mowbray. Spot the tiny pimple of Roseberry Topping just visible at extreme lefthand end.
Follow road past a “Welcome to Richmondshire” sign to where it turns right and, here, turn LEFT for Finghall. After 100 yards, turn right at fingerpost up the drive to Lindale Lodge. On bearing right with the driveway, spot stile on your right. Cross it and turn left, passing equidistant between hedge on your left and large tree on your right and go straight ahead to a white post.
Cross the stile at the white hand post and go down hedge on your right with Newton-Le-Willows ahead. At bottom of field, go straight ahead through vegetation to find a new stile. Now go straight down the field towards a cricket pavilion and sight screen.
The field dips steeply to a ditch, stile and footbridge. Cross the footbridge and go a quarter right over the field (as arrow) to find a stile giving access to cricket field and continue in same line to pass to the right of a green signboard.
Recross the Wensleydale Railway – STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! - and immediately turn right to exit the line through gap in hedge into road. Turn right for 20 yards to a stone wall on your left and, here, leave the road to walk along the wall, on the grass, to enter a path at left end of a tall hedge.
Go past backs of houses, through kissing gate and straight on by hedge on your left. After 50 yards, bear left, through kissing gate and along an enclosed path to enter road and turn left into Newton-Le-Willows.
2: At crossroads with Station Road to your left, turn right along School Lane, soon passing the infants’ school with 1846 datestone and a dedication to its founder, the Marquess of Ailesbury, once a major landowner in these pasrt. Go through metal gates across the road and immediately go off half left along vehicle tracks, passing an old van, to arrive at a stile.
Cross it and turn left across the field (as per arrow), soon crossing a ditch to gain a stile ahead. Cross the stile and go straight on, through a gate and onward along left edge of field. At field end, go straight on into a wood, past arrow, go over a broken stile (take care!) and onward through gap in wooden fence ahead (Fox Park Farm to your right).
Continue by hedge on your left. Just before field end, turn left over a hidden stile next to a gate and then turn right. Next, go through a riders’ gate to left of double metal gates and straight on. Go through the next gate (circular water trough), turn left into field corner and turn right. At field end, cross a stile (just right of field corner) and go straight over the next field to link up with its left edge.
Go through the next gate and straight ahead with West Pasture Farm to your front right. Go through an opening into a small paddock at the farm and straight on by fence, past a pile of stones, through gate and turn right.
Follow vehicle track as it sweeps left and right to bypass farm and continue along the farm access road, soon sweeping left. After about 400 yards, as drive sweeps right, go straight on at box-top sign, to continue with hedge on your right.
After 200 yards or so, at gate lying on floor (on our visit), switch to right side of hedge and plough on, through kissing gate and on by hedge on your left.
Go through kissing gate at field end and turn right along strong path between hedges to enter a road (Station Road) and turn left into Crakehall, emerging at the village green and the finish.