Walking in Yorkshire - Plod along where steam locomotives once chugged

This little treat is a miniature classic. If you experience the conditions we encountered – an almost-cloudless blue winter sky – you will return home with a spring in your step.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 25th January 2020, 3:20 pm
The White Horse of Kilburn from the old rail bed.
The White Horse of Kilburn from the old rail bed.

The views from the high ground above Husthwaite take in the length and breadth of the Cleveland-Hambleton Escarpment with the proud figure of the White Horse of Kilburn holding centre stage for much of the journey.

Husthwaite - “the house in the clearing” - was founded by the Saxon invaders pushing westwards across the north of England in the 7th century.

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However, links to an earlier civilisation are to be found on the eastern edge of Husthwaite in the shape of an Iron Age earthwork, Beacon Banks, which form a substantial part of this walk.

The village church of St Nicholas has been the focal point of Husthwaite’s life for more than 800 years. It is one of the finest examples of a Norman church to survive in Yorkshire and has many original features, including the carved Norman entry archway which dates from 1140.

The modern roof timbers, the altar table and the reredos are the work of Robert Thompson, the famed “mouseman” of Kilburn.

Under the chancel floor is the Goulton vault. The Goultons, medieval Lords of the Manor, claimed to have fought with the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066.

They were rewarded with lands around Husthwaite and built their manor house, High Tun, on the southern edge of the community on a site now occupied by a property called Highthorne.

Husthwaite has one other important building – Baxby Manor on its western fringe. This is a rare example of an early cruck-frame manor house.

It dates from about 1300 and is one of only two surviving examples of that period north of the Trent, the other being Canons’ Garth at Helmsley.

HUSTHWAITE AND THE OLD RAIL BED

5 miles: Allow 2 - 3 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 299 Ripon and Boroughbridge

Park round the triangular village green in the centre of Husthwaite or in Low Lane in the vicinity of St Nicholas’s Church. From the village green, start out along the road signposted Easingwold and York (The Nookin).

After about 200 yards, turn left at an old box-top footpath sign along an enclosed path between wall and hedge with old, white cottages on your left. Enter field and follow hedge on your right and stick with the hedge as it bears right at top of field to a kissing gate.

Go through and turn left along hedge to spot a kissing gate on your left after about 100 yards. Take this enclosed path to emerge in a road, turn left for 30 yards – White Horse and the Hambleton Escarpment ahead – and then turn right at fingerpost for Newburgh via Beacon Banks.

The tarred access drive leads past two large properties to a gate ahead. Pass through and press on along a wide grass track which soon narrows as it passes an “Alpaca Walks” venture. This is Beacon Banks, a prehistoric earthwork so named because it was here that a beacon was built to warn of the Spanish Armada in the 16th century.

The path offers outstanding views across to the Hambleton Escarpment, eventually passing a trig point. This stunning section leads along the rim of Beacon Banks. The path is obvious. Eventually, with High Leys Farm and a radio mast about 200 yards ahead, turn RIGHT (no fingerpost!) along vehicle tracks to arrive in a minor road at fingerpost.

1: Turn left down the road to High Leys Farm with the 12th-century ruins of Byland Abbey visible directly behind the farm, although some distance beyond it. Coxwold and its church to your front left.

Go past left side of farm on the minor road and follow it downhill and onward to emerge in the Coxwold-Crayke road and turn left along footway to Newburgh Priory.

Newburgh Priory was a house of Augustinian canons founded by the Crusader knight Roger de Mowbray in 1145. In 1545, following the Dissolution, Henry VIII gave the priory and its property to one of his chaplains, Dr Anthony Belasyse, who was also a commissioner for the closure of the monasteries. The Belasyse family was of ancient stock, having been feudal landowners in Northumberland.

The property descended to Anthony’s nephew, Sir William Belasyse, who turned it into a family home. Sir William died in 1603; his splendid effigy can be seen in Coxwold church. Sir William’s great-great-grandson, Thomas, became the first Earl Fauconberg in the late 17th century. His second wife was Mary, daughter of Oliver Cromwell.

On the restoration of Charles II, Mary, according to tradition, smuggled her father’s body out of London where it had been publicly displayed at Tyburn after being removed from Westminster Abbey and beheaded.

The dutiful daughter, it is claimed, substituted another body for that of her father and brought the disgraced Lord Protector back to Newburgh. His body is reputed to lie in a sarcophagus hidden in the upper walls of the priory.

The last Earl Fauconberg died in 1801 with no male heir. The property descended through marriage to the Wombwells of Wombwell, near Barnsley, who moved to the priory. They are there to this day.

Continue on the footpath, past the park lake, and onwards to Coxwold. On entering the village, go past Rumah Home (cafe and gifts) and then Coxwold Cabinet Makers and then, at crossroads, turn left.

Coxwold is best known for its links with the Rev Laurence Sterne, famed author of “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”, who lived at Shandy Hall on the western edge of the village. Sterne was incumbent at St Michael’s in Coxwold from 1760 until his death in 1768.

St Michael’s, cathedral-like in aspect, contains many interesting features, including some impressive tombs and memorials to the Belasyse family of Newburgh Priory.

2: Follow the road out of the village to arrive at Railway Cottage (on your left) with old signal box in its garden. This is the site of the former Coxwold station. Within a couple of yards, turn right (National Park boundary sign) through a gate along the bed of the old Pilmoor-Gilling-Malton railway, new ground for us thanks to a tip-off from a regular follower of the column Mike Swallow of Beverley.

The railway opened in 1853 and ran from Pilmoor Junction on the York-Darlington line (the present-day East Coast Main Line) in the west to Malton in the east via stations at Husthwaite Gate, Coxwold, Ampleforth, Gilling, Hovingham Spa and Slingsby. The line played a vital role taking boys to Ampleforth College. The line closed in the 1960s.

Follow the rail bed for one-and-a-half miles with occasional glimpses of the White Horse appearing through the hedge on your right. The rail-bed path finishes on arriving in a road at Elphin Bridge below Husthwaite (the site of Husthwaite Gate station).

Turn left, over road bridge spanning the Elphin Beck, to a fingerpost on your right within 80 yards, squeeze through the hedge, turn left along field edge to avoid crop to gain a fingerpost on your left at a gap in the hedge and, here, turn right along vehicle tracks on a diagonal climb up towards Husthwaite church.

At top of field, go through a walkers’ gate and along an enclosed path towards the church, through next gate and straight ahead to emerge in vehicle track at brick houses with church tower to your left. Turn left and right into the road (Low Street) and turn left to regain your vehicle.