Helmsley to Kilburn

Sculpture by Vivien Mousdell

First stage of the Cleveland Way, one of the oldest National Trails in England. A great abbey, endless views and sleeping under a white horse.

Sculpture by Vivien Mousdell
Sculpture by Vivien Mousdell

A sculpture by Whitby artist Vivien Mousdell 1 marks the start of the Cleveland Way and I pass it on a cool early morning with fine weather forecast. All being well, I am going to be on the Cleveland Way for the next eight or nine days and although I have already spent three days hiking the Tabular Hills, I feel a mixture of anticipation and trepidation as I leave Helmsley with the castle receding behind me. Will my feet and legs hold out? Have I packed the right gear? What will the weather deliver? Am I nuts to be doing this?

As I walk along field boundaries and woodland slopes, the rhythm of my feet and the tip-tap-tip-tap of my walking poles calms my thoughts and I begin to feel the magic of moving through the landscape again. Alert to sounds, surfaces, direction and movement yet mindfully present and ‘in the moment’, I let my thoughts come and go and remember that this is what I love doing.

The Cleveland Way acorn symbol is reassuringly present at every significant turn and I am soon in Rye Dale’s rolling pasture edged with steep woodland. At the bridge over the River Rye I take a planned diversion. I have plenty of time today and one of the greatest Cistercian monasteries in England lies just half a mile away and has to be visited.

Rieveaulx Abbey
Rieveaulx Abbey

I sit in the peaceful grounds of Rievaulx Abbey looking up at the ruined facade of the huge church set against the fields and trees of the steep vale and almost abandon my plan to draw such a huge edifice in my tiny sketchbook but go ahead and I feel OK about the result. English Heritage have a smart new café and I enjoy green tea and a scone, and slip into the disabled loo to dress the lanced blister on my foot. It’s doing OK, if still a little raw, and it’s not such a bother now.

Stepping stones, Grass Keld Spring
Stepping stones, Grass Keld Spring

I follow the route as it winds along Nettle Dale with reed-edged ponds and bird hides for Twitchers along the river and Noodle Hill above me; cross stepping stones at Grass Keld Spring and pass through the woodlands of Flassen Dale before climbing up to Low Field lane heading towards Cold Kirby and the edge of the Hambleton Hills. In Cold Kirby I look into the small church which has a plain interior except for a surprising purple ceiling and then stroll up through the wide village. Half way up is a stand with treats and an honesty box: I buy a very tasty flapjack.

A left turn and along the edges of vast open fields; through riding stables with grooms walking graceful racehorses around a circuit; across the busy A170; past the visitor centre and I am out onto Sutton Bank. The views go on into infinity towards Thirsk and York; Roulston Scar to my left is the site of a massive Iron Age hill fort; Gormire Lake below me is the only natural lake in the North Yorkshire Park; Sutton-under-Whitestonecliffe has the longest hyphenated place-name in England with 27 letters; the Scots defeated Edward II somewhere here; the plateau behind me is home to the famous Yorkshire Gliding Club where Amy Johnson was a member and, to cap it all, JMW Turner sketched the view. And the sun is shining!

The Cleveland Way makes a detour here to visit the White Horse of Kilburn, a figure cut into the hillside in 1857. From above, only its eye can be made out but after I descend the very steep path down towards the village the full figure emerges. It’s huge, covering nearly 6,500 square metres and from my bedroom tonight, in Village Farm, Kilburn , I get a good view of it and sleep well.

11.5 miles (18.5km) in about 4.5 hours.

  1. In reality, this does not look as much like false teeth as my sketch!

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