A walk with added history

This was a fine day for a walk, and a fine day to have a few history lessons thrown in

This is what we did.  Here’s our starting point at East Witton, about 15 miles from home. It’s a lovely small village of about 250 people, where most of the houses were built in the early 19th century round the extensive village green.

East Witton
East Witton

We passed through fields with views across the Dales.  We walked along a green lane, through woods, and eventually reached a wooded gorge through which the River Cover runs, and where we crossed over the charming stone bridge known as the Hullo Bridge.  It was quite a climb up the hill on the other side, and we were hoping for glimpses of Braithwaite Hall.  Too many trees in full leaf. We hardly glimpsed it.

It’s built on the site of a grange belonging to Jervaulx Abbey.  After the Dissolution of the Monasteries it continued as a sheep farm, as it had been under the monks.  This is an area where the monks of both Jervaulx and Fountains Abbey extended their influence widely: enormous numbers of sheepall over the region were managed from local granges where the lay brothers who cared for them lived.

The ruins of Middleham Castle.
The ruins of Middleham Castle.

We were nearly in Middleham now.  This is above all a horsey town.  The monks of Jervaulx bred horses, and brought them to the Moor to exercise them.  When the monks eventually went, the horses remained, as did the training tradition .  Middleham these days is home to around 15 racehorse trainers and 500 horses, yet it’s a small town of hardly more than 820 people.  It was too late for us to see the horses out on the Gallops this morning, so instead the first thing we saw was the castle, which dates back to 1190 and was the stronghold of the powerful Neville family from the 14th century.  Richard Plantagenet, later Richard III was sent here as a young man to be trained in arms by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, his cousin.

The earliest known portrait of Richard III (Wikimedia Commons)
The earliest known portrait of Richard III (Wikimedia Commons)

Warwick had the bad habit of changing sides throughout the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485) depending on whether the Yorkists or Lancastrians had the upper hand.  Eventually he came to a bad end when he was killed by the Yorkist King Edward IV and his younger brother Richard.  Edward gave Middleham Castle, and much else to Richard who lived there with his wife, virtually ruling the North of England, for 11 years.  When Edward died, Richard seized the throne and reigned for only 2 years before dying in August 1485 in the final battle of the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of Bosworth in Leicestershire.  And there his body remained for 517 years, before being exhumed from a car park in Leicester in 2012.

For us, Middleham was the site for a rather good picnic, followed by a visit to a teashop for an indifferent cup of tea, and even more indifferent cake.  But the calories were useful.  There were stiles to cross into fields deep in cut grass, waiting to dry off into hay:  a fine walled track Straight Lane – to walk along before reaching the River Cover, languidly passing over bleached white stones on its way to meet the River Ure.  We briefly touched the road once more as we passed Coverbridge Inn.  This dates from 1684, and was owned by the same family – the Towlers – till 1930.  Local legend has it that when the monks of Jervaulx were forced to disband in 1537 at the Dissolution of the Monasteries, they shared their secret recipe for Wensleydale cheese with the Towlers.  We shall never know.

A final walk along woodland paths, open farmland, fields enclosed by characterful drystone walling and we were back in East Witton.  A grand day.

The non-newsworthy walk

The story is – there is no story to tell about our walk near East Witton.

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It was cold, frosty but bright so we stepped out energetically.  The day went on to be warm, breezy and sunny.  There was only one stile to climb over.  The ground was firm and frosty, but neither icy nor muddy.  Nobody slipped or fell over or got injured.

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The landscape was just right.  The gently undulating farmland of the Yorkshire Dales gave way to moorland whose picturesque bleakness was enhanced by the occasional lonely tree. We’d pause to take in the long-distance views across the Dales.  And as we returned through woodland to East Witton once more, there was a proper English parish church just asking to be photographed.  Nobody was displeased by the views.

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Our two pauses were ideal.  Mid morning, we had picture-postcard moorland views in front of us, and  the solid protection of a sturdy drystone wall behind.  We ate our lunchtime sandwiches in sheltered bosky woodland, with convenient benches in the form of tree trunks.  Nobody got cold, or wet, or lost their sandwiches.

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The energetic uphill stretches were all before lunch.  Our path afterwards returned us gently to the valley floor. So we got back to base after a gently-challenging workout.  Nobody was exhausted or fed up.

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So there’s nothing at all to tell you.

Oh hang on.  This will have to serve as our banner news headline.  ‘Hiker loses gloves on Wensleydale walk’.  That was me.  First one glove vanished, then the other.  But as anyone who knows me will tell you, this is not news at all.  It’s what I do most weeks during the winter.

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From Jervaulx to Jervaulx – in the mud


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I first walked from Jervaulx to Jervaulx last April, and wrote about it here.  However, I failed to lead my fellow ramblers along the same route later that month as I’d said I would, because it rained…. and rained.  I’d promised them the walk though, and today was the day: bright, sunny, blustery – a perfect winter hike.  Except for one thing.  Those floods that have dominated British news this winter are still making their presence felt.

The ruins of Jervaulx.
The ruins of Jervaulx.

Our route today didn’t take us through pastureland.  Sheep aren’t very good at being knee-deep in mud. It took us through soggy fields, and past lake after lake after lake: waters that simply were not there last time I took this route.  It was all very pretty.  Less pretty was the scene at stiles.  Look at us skidding and sliding, trying to pick the shallower puddles as we waited out turn to get from one field to another.

We’re British though, always plucky in adversity.  We soldiered on, sometimes a little weary of heaving mud-crusted boots along sticky, sludgy paths.  But nobody fell over, nobody lost their sandwiches in the mud.  Everybody enjoyed those vistas over the Dales, the starkly beautiful skeletal outlines of winter trees, the blue skies, dappled with characterful cloud.  Were we glad to have made the effort?  Well, I was, and I think my steadfast and dependable companions were too.

From Jervaulx to Jervaulx

Yesterday was the day when Malcolm was to have done his first ‘proper’ walk since his operation.  But life got in the way, and at the last minute, he had to wait in for a workman.  I went anyway, because I was ‘recce-ing’ the route ahead of leading the Ramblers on the same route in 10 days or so: and it’s a busy 10 days.

The route I was checking was a walk full of only charm and delight:

– because, unusually, I could get from door to door (not that walks have doors) courtesy of the bus that passes the end of the road.  There are only 3 buses a day, mind you, so some planning is necessary.

– because it follows paths in the gentle sweeping valley of Wensleydale: a tranquil, lush and gently wooded area.


– because the walk begins and ends at one of Yorkshire’s ruined Cistercian abbeys – Jervaulx.  It’s even more ruined than Fountains and Rievaulx, but it’s a peaceful place to meander through; to sit quietly; or to explore for flowers clinging to ancient architraves, or topping off columns which no longer have any roof to support.

– because the path I took leads through English parkland which at this time of year is home not only to sheep, but to their young lambs, busily feeding, playing ‘I’m the king of the castle’, and having lamb-races, before cuddling up with mum for another little sleep.

– because Thornton Steward, a quarter of the way through the walk, is a picture postcard of a village.  There’s a green where you can rest for a while whilst looking beyond the cottages to Wensleydale beyond.  Even better, there is a village hall.  You won’t find anyone there, but the door is open.  The villagers encourage you to come in, make yourself a drink, help yourself to a biscuit,  and have a ‘comfort break’. Whilst relaxing, you could browse the books on display in two large bookcases.  Swap one of your own if you have one, or if not, make a donation and take a book away.

Thornton Steward Village Hall, all set to welcome weary walkers.
Thornton Steward Village Hall, all set to welcome weary walkers.

– because just outside Thornton Steward is the charming, tiny, isolated church of Saint Oswald.  Mainly Early English, it still has fragments – parts of the nave wall and the porch door – dating from before 1066.

The church of St. Oswald.
The church of St. Oswald.

– because at the edge of a field quite near the church, some lucky child’s dad, or granddad has made a very special tiny secret den from an ancient hollow tree.  Just look at this:


– because I passed Danby Hall, as well, begun in the 15th century and finally finished in the 19th century. Danby Hall was once the home of the Scrope family, a Catholic family of some influence who hid priests, attended clandestine masses and somehow survived the turbulent times of Tudor-Elizabethan England.


– because most of the second half of the walk is along the River Ure.  On one side, it’s all woods, wild garlic and wood anemones.  On the other, open views across the river itself, and Wensleydale beyond.


– because the route was so well way-marked that I barely needed a map to find my way round.

A style, a signpost, an easy route to find.
A style, a signpost, an easy route to find.

– and because of honesty boxes.  That’s how you know you’re not in the city.  Park at Jervaulx Abbey and there’s an honesty box so you can pay the parking charge.  Visit the Abbey itself, and there’s another one.  And at Thornton Steward they encourage you to make a donation for your refreshments: but no-one checks up: it’s up to you to do the right thing.

Thornton Steward advertises its'comfort break' facilities.
Thornton Steward advertises its ‘comfort break’ facilities.

On the walk, I thought of poor old Malcolm, stuck at home whilst I enjoyed one of the very first summer days, bright, fresh, and really rather hot.  I thought of one of my fellow bloggers, Sharon, whom – very exciting, this – we’re going to meet in a fortnight or so when she comes to visit Yorkshire: she might like this walk.  And I thought of another fellow blogger, Kerry, an American , who’d probably love to use the wool all those lambs and sheep are busily growing in one of her weaving projects, even though wool isn’t usually her chosen medium.

The path ahead, seen from the churchyard at St. Oswald's.
The path ahead, seen from the churchyard at St. Oswald’s.


A castle fit for a captive queen.

We travelled the road to our last walk in thick white mist, fearing a dank and gloomy day.  But the higher we climbed, the more the mist fell away, and the brighter the sun shone.

Looking down over Wensleydale from Castle Bolton.
Looking down over Wensleydale from Castle Bolton.

This was the scene as we arrived at Castle Bolton, the village where you’ll find Bolton Castle:

And as we began walking, Daphne shared some of the castle’s history with us.  It has belonged to the Scrope family since the time it was built in the 14th century, and has always been admired for its high walls.  It’s a proper castle, looking exactly like the ones you will have drawn when you were eight years old.

Bolton Castle
Bolton Castle

But that’s not why it secured its place in the history books.

Tudor history is largely about the constant religious and temporal battles between the Catholic  and the Protestant church, which Henry VIII had made the Established Church, with the king as its head: the Fidei Defensor – Defender of the Faith (unbelievably, Henry hung onto this title, awarded him in his pre-Protestant days by Pope Leo X, in recognition of his book  Assertio Septem Sactramentorum which defends the supremacy of the pope).  His son Edward briefly succeeded him, and then his daughter Elizabeth, and both were Protestants.

But Elizabeth’s rule was threatened by the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, and she was held captive first at Carlisle Castle, then at Bolton.  Here she was attended by 51 knights, servants and ladies-in-waiting, not all of whom could be accommodated in the castle itself.  She also had cooks, grooms, a hairdresser, an embroiderer, an apothecary, a physician and a surgeon, while furnishings fit for a queen were borrowed from nearby Barnard Castle.  She went hunting, learnt English – for she spoke only French, Scots and Latin – and spent time with local Catholics.  She made an unsuccessful bid to escape from captivity.  It’s said she climbed from an upstairs window in the castle, and fled on horseback past the nearby market town of Leyburn.  It’s here she dropped her shawl and so was discovered and recaptured.  And that is why, so they say, the long escarpment above the town, nowadays a playground for walkers and sightseers, is still called ‘The Shawl’.

As we enjoyed our history lesson, we passed a field of Wensleydale sheep.  We very much admired their sultry fringes.

Wensleydale sheep
Wensleydale sheep

And onwards.  Autumn colours.P1160847

A completely pointless stile in the middle of a meadow.P1160853

Then Aysgarth Falls.  What a wonderful lunch spot.  The crashing waters made conversation quite impossible, but we sat enjoying the surging waters, the coppery leaves above our heads, and the all-encompassing percussion of the tumbling River Ure.

And then it was time to turn round and head back by a different route.  Another great day’s walking, with an added history lesson.

Journey's end in sight.
Journey’s end in sight.

The Ramblers Return

About time too.  Five weeks in England, and still we hadn’t got out and done a Proper Walk.  With a Proper Group.  Blame the general business of unpacking, organising furniture, pots and pans, clothes, books, pictures and day-to-day Stuff in our new home.  Blame constant strings of communication with officials who Need-To-Know our new details.  Add in those who fail to respond, perhaps because they no longer have local offices and, understaffed,  are too overwhelmed with work (DVLA ?), and you have all, well, some of the excuses you need for our having failed to get a decent walk in.

There was a certain reluctance too.  So many of our happiest times in France were spent discovering the region with our Sunday and Thursday walking friends. Apart from the scenery, we remember with so much nostalgia the conviviality and the leisurely picnics, as we all produced cheeses, charcuterie, bottles of wine and home-made cakes to share at the lengthy midday pause.

All the same, we shouldn’t have worried.  Yesterday we met members from a local group, unsurprisingly the one from Ripon.  We got ourselves to Wensleydale, to a picturesque village called West Burton, and had a hearty, but not too hearty, walk across to Aysgarth, before winding our way back.  We loved it.  The group was welcoming and friendly.  The walk had just the right amount of challenge – we have become just a bit unfit – and the views were all we hoped for.  The weather was good too.  Breezy, but not cold, and plenty of sunshine.

There was only one small disappointment.  At lunch time, British walkers sit with their own personal sandwich, get it eaten, then move on again.  But even that disappointment was relieved when at the end, Our Leader spotted a tea shop.  Sitting round over a large pot of tea, cakes for some, as we reviewed the day was a pretty good end to a pretty good walk.