North Yorkshire Walk - Kirkham Abbey
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 April 2015
Head for the secluded ruins of Kirkham Priory and enjoy a lovely riverside walk
The Augustinian Canons who chose the banks of the Derwent for their priory at Kirkham between York and Malton almost 900 years ago certainly had an eye for a site. Its setting above the river is almost preposterously picturesque and is augmented by the handsome stone bridge that spans the river. Although the busy A64 thunders by just a few hundred yards away on the other side of the hill you would never know it as you wander round the peaceful ruins with their splendid gatehouse. These days the Grade I listed priory is in the care of English Heritage. Its tucked-away location may have made it ideal for a life of seclusion and prayer in the Middle Ages but more recently it played a part in the planning for D Day during the Second World War as a testing ground for amphibious vehicles and was even the scene of a clandestine visit by Winston Churchill and King George VI to inspect preparations.
This walk follows the peaceful Derwent for its first part before visiting the seldom-seen hamlet of Howsham then makes a leisurely woodland return via a welcoming country pub.
From the ruins, cross the bridge and immediately take a gate on the left and a path leading down the riverbank with fine views across the Derwent back to the priory. The path leads through delightful mixed woodland of beech, oak, ash and sycamore in a series of copses and fields as it follows a great arc of the river on its languid way downstream. Navigation on this first stretch of the walk is never a problem.
The path clings closely to the bank, tracing the edge of rolling fields before eventually reaching the weir at Howsham Mill. The building, which is astonishingly elaborate for such a mundane purpose, has undergone extensive restoration in recent years and in 2014 won the prestigious Angel Award for the ‘best rescue of an industrial building’.
The waterwheel of the former corn mill has also been replaced but these days it generates electricity which is fed into the National Grid. The mill, which is reached via a path under Howsham Bridge, is open to the public (howshammill.org.uk for details).
After passing through a final stretch of woodland, the path reaches the impressive Howsham Bridge. Cross this and follow the lane for about a quarter of a mile before turning left on a narrower lane into the hamlet of Howsham itself, passing a row of attractive cottages to the church of St John the Evangelist, set back from the road.
Small though it is, the church is well worth a visit and was clearly designed for a bigger congregation than the community can muster these days. It was built in the 18th century with a fine beamed roof and some very attractive stained glasswork.
From the church, carry on down the hill, passing more cottages and after 100yards or so turn right on a signed path to Old Church Farm. At the farm buildings carry on straight ahead through a succession of gates and passing a barn. The path emerges into a large field. Go along its edge to a narrow band of trees and a t-junction of paths. Turn left along the edge of another field now heading directly towards the wood on the opposite slope.
The path crosses a muddy ford by a pond and then climbs the short hill to enter the wood by a small gate skulking beyond a large tree. Once inside the wood turn right up the forest road. At the top of the hill the track joins a broader forest road on a bend coming in from the left. Turn right along this to carry on deeper into the wood. Press on, ignoring various side tracks, and going round a sharp bend to reach a t-junction marked by a green bench dedicated to ‘Alick and Isabella’. Here turn right following the track as it weaves along the edge of the wood until it eventually emerges on the elbow of a bend on a narrow country lane. Go left along this to reach first of all the Stone Trough Inn, which makes a handy refreshment stop at the end of the walk, and, shortly afterwards, the ruins of the priory.
Start/finish: Car park by Kirkham Abbey
Distance: 5.5 miles/9km
Time: 3 hours
Terrain: Riverside paths, woodland tracks (can be muddy) and quiet country lanes
Parking: By the priory ruins at Kirkham Bridge. Turn off the A64 onto Onhams Lake at Whitwell on the Hill, about 5 miles south west of Malton (Brown English Heritage sign)
Refreshments: Pub near priory, more in Malton
Map: OS Explorer 300 Howardian Hills and Malton