Walking: A mysterious link with the Druids in a Yorkshire wood

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This journey through a true “Cinderella” corner of North Yorkshire is a fine offering with marvellous views, unknown paths and sampling to the full the delights of a green and pleasant landscape.

There are two treats awaiting you just after the halfway point – Yorkshire’s own mini Stonehenge and a cafe slap-bang on the path which will be difficult to ignore (muddy boots welcome is their motto).

The Druid’s Temple – quite a sight if you have never ventured there before – is a miniature replica of Britain’s most famous prehistoric monument on Salisbury Plain but, I’m afraid, it is a bit of a fraud as it dates back barely 200 years. Nevertheless, you will not be disappointed (but more of the Druid’s Temple later).

Our starting point, Healey, is a Saxon village, its name meaning the high woodland clearing from the Old English heah (high) and leah (forest clearing).

The village was once a grain-producing area with two corn mills, one of which (built 1756) continued to grind corn up until 1980 when it became a Christian holiday centre for young people. The remains of the mill race can still be seen near the road in Healey.

The second corn mill, on the banks of the River Burn, half a mile south of the community, was converted for cotton production and then became, first, a sawmill and then a trout farm for the Earl of Swinton’s estate, the Swinton family seat being Swinton Park, two miles to the south-east, near Masham.

The impressively-sited St Paul’s Church was built in 1848 by Admiral Vernon Harcourt, the-then Lord of the Manor, with stone from Healey quarry on the southern edge of the village. Healey’s age-old pub, The Black Horse, closed in 1956.

PARKING: On entering Healey from the direction of Masham, park on lefthand side of road in the vicinity of the church or, if you arrive on a Sunday, park just beyond so as not to inconvenience worshippers.


7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. Maps: O/S Explorer 302 Northallerton and O/S Explorer 298 Nidderdale

From wherever you park in Healey, return to the church and stride out along the road in the direction of Fearby and Masham using the pavement. Go up the slope, over the brow to Kell Bank Primary School and turn first right down the road for Swinton.

Enjoy this downhill jolly for 500 yards or so to bottom of road and sweep left and then right over the River Burn to a road junction and take the left branch for Swinton with the river on your left.

Go past a ford (footbridge) and flog up through the “S” bend and press on, soon ignoring the first fingerpost. Continue to the next fingerpost on your right, just before a road junction, and turn right into field and then go half right up the field to a huge tree.

Go through gate to right of tree and follow hedge up field to arrive, eventually, at a gate with barn to your right. Immediately on passing barn, turn right, go through gateway and follow the vehicle track half left up the field to a fence corner and continue on vehicle track – great views right to Healey – all the way to a farm (Hilltop House).

On entering premises, turn right to a log pile and then turn left round corner of barn and go straight ahead, over concrete apron, passing to right of reception block and exit along farm access drive. Follow this up the slope and out to a T-junction and turn right.

1: Follow the main road, sweeping right after 80 yards through the tiny settlement of Ilton. Gallop down the hill, over the Sole Beck at bottom, and turn left at fingerpost for Ripon Rowel and Knowle Lane, soon passing through a gate.

A lovely track by the side of a pine wood leads to a gate across the track – pass through and turn right along wall and follow this all the way up to a house (the Swinton Bivouac with cafe and toilets). Cross a stile into the premises and turn left along fence and then turn right to exit premises to arrive at a white fingerpost and turn LEFT for the Druid’s Temple (take note of this spot as we return to it after visiting the temple).

Walk along the road to a car park, pass through it, go past a green metal gate – and STOP!

Note: On our visit, the permissive path straight ahead was closed. If it is open on your visit, go straight ahead to the Druid’s Temple. If the permissive path is still closed, turn first right at the closure notice along the public right of way (fingerpost).

Soon, at a fork, take the lefthand (stronger) branch to arrive at the stone temple.

Yorkshire’s own Stonehenge may be made out of gritstone as old as the earth itself, but the construction dates back less than 200 years. It was 1820 or thereabouts that a benevolent landowner, William Danby, of nearby Swinton Castle, built the folly to provide employment for estate workers and tenants at a time of great poverty and distress. Yorke’s Folly, above Pateley Bridge, was built for the same purpose. The Swinton workers were paid a shilling a day for their labours, a princely sum in those hard times because a large family could live on five shillings a week.

William Danby, although a responsible High Sheriff of York, was known to be something of an eccentric with an interest in the occult, which probably explains why he built the Druid’s Temple instead of a castle-like folly in the manner of his fellow aristocrats.

Danby’s home, Swinton Castle, centrepiece of the Swinton Park Estate, started life as a manor house built in 1695 by Sir Abstrupus Danby. The following century, his descendants added turrets and battlements.

In 1881, the castle and estate were purchased from the Danbys by the Cunliffe-Lister family, later created Earls of Swinton. The Cunliffe-Listers now operate Swinton Castle as an upmarket hotel.

Return by the same path to the car park and continue down the road to the white fingerpost and turn LEFT (fingerpost: Ripon Rowel and Burgess Bank). Go straight across field to a gate between piles of boulders. Now bear left along top edge of field with Low Knowle Farm down to your right.

Follow top edge of field, through a gate, turn left round fence corner (water trough) to gates and turn right down vehicle track, soon sweeping left with Leighton Reservoir appearing to your left.

The track then turns right down to a walkers’ gate to the right of a metal gate. Go half left (broken white arrow) across the next field on a vague path towards a huge farm in the distance. On crossing field (arrow), go through a walkers’ gate and onward in the same line, descending to a three-sided fingerpost.

2: Turn RIGHT, almost back on yourself, soon passing another white arrow. Press on along the fine track, through new metal gates, and onward to next set of new gates. Keep on, through more new gates and follow the vehicle track past log piles and a farm (Broadmires). Continue along the farm drive to enter road and turn left down the hill.

At bottom of road (link-up with outward leg), turn left for Healey, cross the River Burn and sweep left to a fingerpost on your left where the road turns right. Take this path for Healey.

Go forward 50 yards only to where a wire fence begins on your right and, here, go up its righthand side to a stile with tall hand pole (yellow tape). On crossing this stile, put your back to the stile and go a quarter left up the field and then continue aiming to the left of Healey church spire which is barely visible in the trees in the distance.

Pass to the left of a huge tree and continue in the same line to gain a fence on your left and root out the waymarked stile (yellow tape). Cross the stile and turn half right over the field, aiming well to the left of the church, to gain the fence on the left side of the field and spot the broken stile to the left of a telegraph pole.

Cross the broken stile and the one next to it and go half right across the field to a gateway with arrow and then go half right up the final field to a fingerpost and road in centre of Healey. Regain your vehicle.