What a glorious day out! The Howardian Hills, a few miles north of York, are a non-stop delight – and a bit different.
Why is that? Because they are not really hills at all, just gently-rising ridges that hardly bring a sweat to the brow. There are no lung-bursting uphill flogs in this part of the world; it’s all rather more genteel.
The scenery is very satisfying, too, with scattered woodland lining the higher ground and streams and farm tracks criss-crossing the undulating pasture land. Sunshine, which we enjoyed in bucketfuls, adds greatly to the experience, so choose your day well.
This part of North Yorkshire is awash with clean, smart and attractive stone villages and Slingsby fits into that category perfectly. There is not a blade of grass out of place! Not many small communities can boast a castle - but Slingsby does.
The first castle is believed to have been built by the de Mowbrays, Lords of the Manor from the late 11th century through 11 generations until 1462. In 1471, the-then owners of Slingsby, the Hastings family, enlarged the castle when it held out for the Yorkists during the Wars of the Roses.
In the first half of the 17th century, the medieval castle was replaced by a new one with a strange history; it was never lived in. The builder was Sir Charles Cavendish, nephew of the 1st Duke of Devonshire, who paid heavily for his support of his king, Charles 1, during the English Civil War.
Sir Charles fought in the Royalist army which was defeated by Cromwell at Marston Moor, near Tockwith, in 1644. He was forced to flee to the Continent and died in exile in Hamburg in 1653 during Cromwell’s Commonwealth. His castle at Slingsby was never completed and never lived in. It was used as farm buildings and its stone pillaged for local cottages.
The village church of All Saints was rebuilt in 1869 on the site of an early-Norman church. A charter of Whitby Abbey of 1157 confirms that the medieval church was in the control of the abbot of Whitby. The church contains a stone effigy dating from 1250 of a knight of the Wyville family who held the manor as tenants of the de Mowbrays.
The Wyvilles descended from Humphrey de Wyville who arrived on these shores with the Conqueror in 1066. The Wyvilles’ main seat is now Constable Burton, near Leyburn.
APPROACH and PARKING: Slingsby is approached from the B1257 which links Hovingham in the west with Malton in the east. Park in the vicinity of the village green in the centre of the community at the red phone box and street nameplate: The Green.
SLINGSBY and SOUTH HOLME
7 ¾ miles: Allow 3 ½ – 4 ½ hours. Map: O/S Explorer 300 Howardian Hills
From wherever you park, make your way to the village green and red phone box and take the road signposted South Holme and Kirkbymoorside, soon passing The Grapes. Keep on to the end of the village and leave it passing a caravan park on your right and the former railway station.
Slingsby lay astride the single-track branch railway which linked the East Coast main line at Pilmoor Junction, five miles south of Thirsk to the west, with Malton to the east. There were also stations at Gilling and Hovingham, among others. The line opened in 1853 and closed in 1964.
After about 120 yards, turn first right along vehicle track (box-top sign). This is the unmade Totten Lane. After half a mile, go past a wildlife conservation area on your left and press on for another 600 yards or so to emerge in a tarred access road and go straight ahead. Now stay alert!
After about 200 yards, spot the opening into a field on your right. The road now bears left as it crosses a choked-up beck on your right – STOP! Immediately on bearing left, turn left through the hedge and then go straight ahead with the choked-up beck on your left.
On arriving in field corner, turn right along the hedge and follow it (take care – ground uneven) up to a metal barn/shed, pass it on the right to enter a broad vehicle track – a tarmac road ends just to your right – and turn left and then right to Slingsby Carr House.
Just before gates to property, turn left through hedge and follow a good path with parked vehicles over fence to your right. At end of wooden fence, take the righthand path, past a blue arrow, staying close to the warehouse.
Keep going along field edge, soon sweeping right, and then continue along edge of a ploughed field with wire fence on your left to an opening on your left after about 50 yards – don’t overshoot! Take this path, go over the banking, and onwards to gate with blue arrow, cross a footbridge over the Wath Beck and go straight ahead along right edge of field with the farm at Dixieland ahead.
At field corner – house in front – turn left to enter access vehicle track (swings) and turn left along it. Follow track with no diversions to emerge in another vehicle track and turn left. Follow this track for half a mile to pass a lovely detached house (Home Farm) up to your right. Do NOT sweep right into West Farm – go straight on, the track becoming tarred and passing the Manor House at South Holme on your left.
1: On arriving in the Slingsby-Kirkbymoorside road, turn left, past the houses of South Holme, and then, on passing noticeboard, turn right along an access road and follow it for three-quarters of a mile to South Holme Farm.
Go past the newly-built Rigg Cottage, enter farmyard and bear right on the tarred track, past telegraph pole with arrow pointing downwards and a home-made fingerpost. Now sweep left, past silos and a blue arrow on barn corner, passing hay bales on your right (on our visit). Turn left round next barn corner, past an old green slurry tank on your right. There is a blue arrow ahead on old shed – turn right along vehicle track to exit premises, soon unhooking electric fence to pass through.
Ignore fingerpost pointing left – go straight on along vehicle tracks, unhook the next wire fence, go past fingerpost and COUNT OUT 30 PACES to spot a half-hidden fingerpost in hedge on your right. Here, turn right into trees to a hidden footbridge spanning the Marrs Beck.
Cross it and turn left along field edge with beck in company on your left. At end of this big field, pass into next field and continue with the beck now visible on your left – take the path by the beck, not along field edge.
Press on along field edge, passing an unusual badger-crossing bridge on your left, and then go straight past a three-sided fingerpost to arrive at an old barn (to your right). Turn left over wooden bridge (Marrs Beck) and turn right. After about 200 yards – stay alert! - the field edge bears left – spot the wooden post with yellow tape and an opening in hedge on your right.
Pass through (old chair) and bear right along field edge into field corner and then turn left along field edge with a beck to your right through barbed-wire fence. Continue for a few hundred yards to a footbridge on your right, cross it and go out to the Hovingham-Stonegrave road (B1257) and turn left along grass verge.
2: Follow it for about 400 yards until just before the Hovingham nameplate and turn left over a brick bridge along the tarred Soccars Lane. Follow this for half a mile, sweeping left at fingerpost for South Holme.
About 200 yards beyond the fingerpost, go past a “Private road” sign and, within a few yards, turn right at bridleway sign into field. Turn right for a few paces and then turn left alongside hedge and follow hedge all the way, kinking right and then left at one point, and then follow hedge as it bears right into a hedge corner – go through gap in hedge ahead for a few yards to a joint bridleway-footpath sign and turn left (as per yellow arrow) alongside hedge (hedge on your left).
This terrific track leads in an almost-straight line for half a mile to a road at a bungalow (Greenacres House). Cross the road half left and continue along vehicle tracks, past a barrier and a mosaic marking the bed of the previously-mentioned rail line to Malton.
Follow the old rail bed for half a mile until a house, garden and wooden-plank bridge appear to your right. Within 30 paces, turn right through walkers’ gate, past garden, over stile and straight ahead along access drive. Go straight past stables – stile to right of gate – and onward, soon sweeping left with the track.
Cross a road bridge and continue up road, past playing fields and church, into Slingsby. At road junction, turn right until level with Slingsby Castle and turn left along The Green to regain your vehicle.