First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
On a cool bright morning we followed Water Lane out of Welburn and headed for the Howardian Hills. The jewel of the landscape hereabouts is the stately pile of Castle Howard, but from the cobbled field path leading north towards the hills we could only glimpse the tip of its crowning dome.
There were plenty of follies and architectural fancies to admire as we walked the parkland tracks – pyramids and obelisks, a wonderfully ornate Temple of the Four Winds high on an aeolian ridge, and peeping over the trees of Kirk Hill the tall colonnaded mausoleum of the Howards, Earls of Carlisle.
In an overgrown paddock beside the rusty barns of Low Gaterly a grey mare and her tiny companion horse, only as big as a dog, were browsing their thistle patch, delicately nipping off the remnant flower heads with lips curled back out of the way of the prickles.
Up on the ridge of the Howardian Hills an ancient earthwork shadowed the escarpment, a bank and ditch perhaps 4,000 years old. From here there were great open views to the smoothly flowing outline of the North York Moors, sombre and dark under a lively silver sky.
A mile along the ancient bank under quietly whispering larch and sycamores, and we descended a holloway into the parkland of Castle Howard. The great house stood on its ridge, a dream realised by the talented and bold amateur architect Sir John Vanbrugh at the turn of the 18th century. We found the parkland turf still corrugated by what underlay it – the ridge-and-furrow fields of the medieval village of Henderskelfe, swept away by command of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle in favour of the artful curves of his landscaped park.
The homeward path led across a steeply arched Palladian bridge over the New River lake. I glanced down as I crossed, to see a stone carving of a bearded river god, reeds in his hair, staring with bulging eyes and mouth agape along the artificial waterway at the giant house on the hill – whether in awe or horror was hard to say.
Start: Crown & Cushion PH, Welburn YO60 7DZ (OS ref SE 721680)
Getting there: Bus 183 (Malton-Castle Howard)
Road – Welburn is signed from A64 (York-Malton) at Whitwell on the Hill
Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer 300): Left from Crown & Cushion; left down Water Lane. ‘Public Bridleway’ north for ¾ mile to turn right along Centenary Way/CW beyond East Moor Banks wood (723693). In ⅔ mile, left (732694, ‘Coneysthorpe, yellow arrow/YA); in 150m, left opposite Low Gaterly barn (YA). At Bog Hall dogleg left/right, then right on track (725709, ‘Easthorpe’). In 900m keep ahead (734713, ‘Park House’), zigzagging up to cross road (733715). Up Park House drive; in 50m left (gate, BA); follow wooded escarpment edge and ‘Slingsby Bank’ (BA). In 1¼ mile, left (714729, ‘Coneysthorpe’), for 1 mile to Coneysthorpe. Left along road; in 100m, right through wall (713713); follow drive (‘Welburn’). In ½ mile, at corner of Great Lake, fork left by gates; in 100m, right (719706, ‘Welburn’) through scrub to track (722705). Right into parkland; right (‘Welburn’) to Temple of Four Winds, New River Bridge (724698) and return path to Welburn.
Lunch: Crown & Cushion PH (01653-618777, thecrownandcushionwelburn.com); Leaf & Loaf Café (01653-618352), Welburn.
Accommodation: Talbot Hotel, Malton, N Yorks YO17 7AJ (01653-639096, talbotmalton.co.uk). Friendly, comfortable, long-established hotel.