First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Inn at Hawnby stands perched high on a saddle of ground, even though it lies at the foot of steep lanes. That’s the nature of this southern corner of the North York Moors where every summit seems only to lead you to another higher crest, each dale bottom to precipitate you into one even lower. It’s steep green country, thickly wooded in the depths, bare heather moors forming the heights that separate one dale from the next. Within five minutes of leaving the inn I looked up to see Hawnby high above me; in another ten minutes the hamlet was gone, not to be seen again till the last few steps of this beautiful walk.
The land hereabouts, bitter in winters, is hard on its sheep and cattle farmers. The farms of Little and Low Banniscue had vanished as though they had never existed. At Crow Nest I found a roofless ruin in a zigzag tumble of yard walls. A boulder-strewn moor loud with the complaint of curlews and lapwings led me over a broad crest and down into the inbye fields of Bilsdale, startlingly green in the sunshine. Across the dale lambs cried and scampered in the fields around Carr Cote, where they were gathering the sheep for shearing. ‘Good weather for it,’ said the farmer at Helm House as he hauled hay bales from the field to be wrapped in netting and sealed for silage in a plastic skin. A golden labrador at Fangdale Beck thought so, too – he cavorted under his master’s hosepipe, shaking the water into rainbows and barking like a maniac.
I climbed up through bracken, then away across the purpling moor where red grouse chicks scuttered off, their mothers whirring short distances low over the heather as they shrieked, ‘Back! Back! Back!’ Up on the crest a broad yellow sand road led south past the lonely moorland farm of Low Thwaites towards the twin rise of Easterside Hill and Hawnby Hill.
Up on the thyme-scented summit of Hawnby Hill I sat by the conical cairn, looking down the precipitous slopes into Ryedale and picturing the Hawnby Dreamers. Three modest local men, Chapman, Cornforth and Hugill by name, fell asleep upon these moors one day in the 1740s, and dreamed identical dreams of repentance and salvation. They sacrificed their reputations, their livelihoods and the tied cottages they lived in to set out immediately and walk a hundred miles to hear John Wesley preach. To borrow Thomas Hughes’s words from Tom Brown’s Schooldays, Hawnby Hill is ‘altogether a place to open a man’s soul, and make him prophesy.’
Start: Inn at Hawnby, North Yorks YO62 5QS (OS ref SE 542898)
Getting there: Hawnby is signposted from Osmotherley (A19/A172, Thirsk to Middlesbrough).
Walk (10 miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL26): From Inn at Hawnby, follow ‘Osmotherley’. Round left bend, bear right (‘Laskill’). Cross stream; in 100m, left/north up track (547899, ‘Bridleway’, occasional blue arrows/BAs). In ½ mile, through wood; emerge through gate (546912); right up wall into next field; left by erosion scar to Crow Nest ruin (547914). Right through gate by ruin; follow sunken track, curving left away from ruin, east across moor for ⅔ mile to descend to gate (557919, waymark arrow). Follow wall down to Low Ewe Cote (561918).
Through farmyard and gate beyond; follow farm lane to cross road (564921). Through gate opposite (‘bridleway’) and on. In 250m, through wood; emerge (567924) and aim for gate with BA (567926). Follow BAs through fields, past Helm House farm (569934) and on along green lane (BAs) for ¾ mile. At Malkin Bower (570944) join road to Fangdale Beck. Opposite old chapel (570946, ‘Chapel Garth’), left down laneway, over footbridge; left through garden gate (BA). Bear right between buildings and through gate. Up laneway; through another gate (BA); follow wall on left, uphill through gate and up damp sunken lane. Through gate (566948) and on up, following track through bracken as it curves right, up to gate near skyline (563949).
Aim slightly left of communications mast across moor, keeping Fangdale Beck’s gully on your left. There is a faint, roughly cairned track, if you can find it! (If in doubt, make for communications mast and turn left (south) along moor road from there.) In ¾ mile reach line of wooden grouse butts (552954); follow them to left (west); where they end, continue same direction past prominent standing stone to meet broad, sandy moor road (548954). Left along this.
In ⅔ mile pass Low Thwaites farm house (543944); in 200m take right fork in track (543942), keeping ahead (south) for 1½ miles to road at Moor Gate (540917). Cross cattle grid, and turn right onto bridleway; bear immediately left up path past notice. At foot of steep upper slope of Hawnby Hill (539913), bear left up path to ridge (540910). Left (south) along ridge past cairn. Down slope; in bracken, path forks (542900); bear right here. In 50m, left over stile (542899, yellow arrow); follow fence on left down to Inn at Hawnby car park.
Accommodation: Inn at Hawnby (01439-798202; innathawnby.co.uk); classy and characterful
Information: Thirsk TIC (01845-522755)