The outstanding point of interest on this ever-varied circuit is the stunning 1,000-year-old St Gregory’s Minster in Kirkdale, a mile to the west of Kirkbymoorside, which was built a decade before William the Conqueror swept ashore at Hastings to vanquish the Saxon king, Harold.
The date of the minster’s foundation is confirmed by the unique Saxon sundial in the porch which contains an inscription in Old English which, translated, reads: “Orm, son of Gamal, bought St Gregory’s Church when it was broken and fallen and he had it made anew, to Christ and St Gregory, in the days of Edward the king and Earl Tosti. Haworth made me and Brand (was) the priest.”
The king was Edward the Confessor and Tosti (better known as Tostig) was the son of the mighty Earl Godwin of Wessex, the power behind the Saxon throne, whose eldest son, Harold, became King of England until his demise at Hastings. Tostig was Earl of Northumberland from 1055 to 1065 and so it was during this period that St Gregory’s was rebuilt (it had been destroyed by the Danes in the 9th century).
Haworth was the stonemason and Brand was the priest - the first village priest in history to be recorded by name.
And what of Orm? He was a son of the powerful Saxon magnate Gamal whose name crops up repeatedly as a property owner in Domesday Book. Orm himself became an influential figure, marrying Aethelryth, daughter of Earl Ealdred of Northumberland. His holdings were extensive and included the Manor of Kirkbymoorside of which Kirkdale was part.
Nawton, our staring point, three miles east of Helmsley, is a Domesday Book village recorded in the great land survey of 1086 as the shared domain of the Archbishop of York and two important Norman barons, Hugh FitzBaldric, Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, and Berengar de Tosny, son of Robert de Tosny, founder of Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire.
Nawton lay beside the rail line linking Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside and it had its own station built in 1874. The station was very popular with ramblers and, in fact, the last train to depart the station on May 3, 1964 – the day the line shut down – was a ramblers’ special.
NAWTON AND KIRKDALE
7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Map: OL 26 North York Moors Western area.
Use the large layby on the righthand side of the A170 Helmsley-Scarborough road just east of Nawton on the way to Kirkbymoorside. From the layby, take the signposted path into a field passing a rusty iron gate post on your right. This path is opposite the “Overnight parking prohibited” sign.
Go straight ahead on a diverted path by the hedge and follow the field edge all the way, turning right and then left after about 400 yards, to arrive at stile with twin arrows – turn LEFT to continue round edge of field.
Stick to edge of field like glue until a minor road appears on your right – keep going for a few more yards to an arrow which sends you right into road and turn left to gain the Wombleton road at a barn.
Turn left towards the A170 for 20 yards to a fingerpost and turn right. Continue by hedge on your left. At end of huge field, turn left (arrow and fingerpost) and cross the A170 half left to gates, fingerpost and arrow.
Pass through and follow hedge on right. At field end, go straight on past arrow (line of telegraph wires to your right) to enter minor road and turn right. After a short half mile, you will arrive at a fingerpost and a sign for St Gregory’s Minster.
Our path turns left up the banking, as per the public bridleway, but first you must make the 150-yard diversion to the idyllic St Gregory’s Minster one of the most iconic churches in the country. Return to this spot.
Kirkdale Minster is of great significance – it is one of the two or three earliest Christian sites in the north. It is believed the first church on this site was erected in about 650AD at the same time as the equally-important monastery at nearby Lastingham. Don’t forget to admire the sundial in the porch.
So, at the fingerpost, turn left up the steep banking to a gate. Pass through and turn right along fence with Kirkdale Wood West on your right. At end of this big field, continue straight on up side of field to a bridle gate with blue arrow – don’t overshoot! – pass through and press on through trees to emerge in road.
1: Turn right, descending into Kirkdale and soon passing a centuries-old limestone kiln. The road leads to the tiny settlement of Hold Caldron (or Cauldron), site of a 17th-century corn mill which was powered by the Hodge Beck.
The original mill was burned down by a mill servant in 1704. The present buildings date from 1734. The mill was in disuse by the first half of the 19th century.
Bear right to cross the bridge over the Hodge Beck and sweep left on vehicle track to a stile and gate on left of track within 50 yards. Go through gate and stride out along vehicle track through Kirkdale. Stay with this fine track for a good half mile, ignoring a vehicle bridge on your left leading to a pheasantry after the first few hundred yards.
Press on and, soon, look out keenly for a yellow arrow on your right leading into wood (Brockhill Hagg). Don’t miss this vital turn. The path soon levels out to run along edge of wood. Follow it for a short half mile to a three-sided fingerpost.
Here, turn half left down the grass (in line of fingerpost) on vehicle tracks with a line of green bird feeders to your right. Keep going to arrive at a fingerpost and turn right over bridge crossing the Hodge Beck at Cogg Hole Wath.
Sweep left up vehicle track for 50 yards to a fork (where main track sweeps steeply right) and, here, go off LEFT along a green vehicle track at a much more amenable angle. Climb gradually to strike a forest road and turn left, climbing more steeply, to gain a bridle gate with Skiplam Grange to your right.
Continue on the vehicle track, soon sweeping right and follow vehicle track all the way – sweeping right – to gain a metal gate (with bridle gate to its left) giving access to Skiplam Grange. Pass through and immediately turn left by the fence, over the gravel, to access track and turn left.
2: At gate with “Skiplam Grange” nameplate, there is a fork in vehicle track – take right branch to a road and fingerpost and take the bridleway, passing to left of gate.
At field end – just after passing a telegraph pole – there is a green cross track – STOP! Do NOT continue on track into next field, but turn LEFT along the green track (unmade Guncroft Lane).
Follow this track to its end to arrive in a field and turn right (blue arrow) along hedge. At field end, turn left along vehicle tracks and follow them down to Holly Park Farm and continue along farm access lane.
Stride out to, eventually, pass a stone barn on your right and a fingerpost on your left – keep going for another 200 yards to a fingerpost on your right and, here, turn right into Kirkdale Farm. On approaching farm house, go off left along fence to a gate to left of children’s swings. This gate is the righthand one of two walkers’ gates.
Enter field and go straight across it to the far hedge to root out a kissing gate. Pass through and go half right over next field, as per arrow, to a gate between two woods. Go through gate and straight ahead for 20 yards to a concrete strip and then go half left over the huge field (no path) climbing the slope and resisting the temptation to slide off to your left.
As you cross the field, a detached stone house comes into view across to your right – aim for its lefthand side where you will find a kissing gate in the far field corner. Go through and along the path enclosed by fences, through gate and turn LEFT across the access road to a fingerpost and a blue North Yorkshire County Council sign at Nawton Primary School.
Follow path down side of school playing field to the A170 in Nawton, cross with care and turn left along footway, past the end of Station Road, and follow footway to layby on edge of village. Regain your vehicle.