Nestling on the western slopes of the Hambleton Hills lies a village that derives its name from Felix, one of a band of wandering monks who settled in these parts.
The village is, of course, Felixkirk and has a fine old church. This church of St Felix takes its name from the Burgundian monk Felix who preached religion in East Anglia.
The church contains two effigies in stone, one a figure of a knight clad in armour, the other the effigy of a lady. A lion accompanies the knight, a dog and the lady. It is not known if they were related, but it is thought they were not man and wife.
Nearby the village of Felixkirk is Mount St John, where a house of the Knights of the Order of St John, the Knights Hospitallers was formed. It was founded by William de Percy and endowed with land from local founders, the de Ros, de Mowbray and de Boltby and others.
The Knights Hospitallers built a hospital in Jerusalem to take care of pilgrims when they reached the Holy Land after their long and dangerous journey. Later they formed a military order to protect pilgrims from attacks by saracens and others.
The knights were of Augustinian leaning and wore a black habit with a white cross emblazoned across it. There were three main sections to the organisation – the knights who gave protection, the monks who gave religious support and teaching and the lay brothers who worked in the hospitals. They took vows of obedience, chastity and poverty and had no possessions apart from their weapons and their clothes.
But it was not all good that came out of the house on the Mount of St John as in Elizabethan times living at the Mount of St John was a priest of the name of William Harrington who met a cruel death. He was prosecuted for being a Popish recusant.
He was dragged out to be hanged, cut down while still kicking and after a fight with the hangman was disembowelled, slowly I presume, then his body butchered by quartering to end his miserable suffering.
Not far from Felixkirk is Nevison House, where another resident of this infamous area was hanged for his activities.
William Nevison, the highwayman, lived there. Famous for his ride from Kent to York, he attained the name ‘Swift Nick’. After many robberies and daring escapes from prison, he visited the Magpie Inn at Wakefield, where he was captured and taken to York. There he was chained to prevent escape and duly hanged.
So let us set off on our cycle ride among nearly a 1,000 years of history among the knights of the Mount of St John and the shadow of the screaming ghosts of William Harrington and Swift Nick.
Leave the visitor centre turning left on to the A170 signed to Scarborough. Not far and the road bends left, turn right here signed Yorkshire Gliding Club and White Horse.
The road is fairly good here but soon deteriorates as it passes the gliding club to a narrow, bumpy road. You start a very steep descent now which is a test of your brakes as the corners are severe and the descent becomes even steeper. If you want to climb up the White Horse, turn into the car park on the right as you descend. Eventually, you reach a junction, turn right here signed to Kilburn.
Soon you arrive at Kilburn. Take the first turn right, signed to Bagby and Thirsk and start to climb. There are good all-round views from the top as you crest the hill, then after a couple of miles, keep a sharp eye out for a small junction on your right proclaiming ‘Local Traffic Only’ and ‘Cycle Route 65’.
Turn right here on to a narrow country road with sharp blind bends, gritty surface and a raised grass centre. Eventually you reach the A170. Go left signed to Thirsk with care to cycle along to the village of Sutton-under-Whitestone Cliff.
At the end of the village, go right signed to Boltby and Felixkirk and start to climb. Take care on this narrow, slippery twisty road as you make your way through some tremendous scenery to arrive at Felixkirk, turn right here signed to Boltby.
Pass the pub and the church as you leave the village still following signs for Boltby. This road features ascents and descents with grand views as you crest the hill and ride into Boltby village. Ascend out of the village, then descend, only to have a long, long steep ascent to follow.
At the top of the hill, keep straight ahead signed to Hawnby. Cycle through a small wood, then open country reveals more super views across the valley to Hawnby.
Look out for a small turn soon to the right signed to Murton Grange. Turn along here, pass the Grange and cycle along the usual narrow, gritty road to soon start a serious descent as the road deteriorates, becomes steeper and narrows even more. Take care through the ‘ford’ at the bottom then climb a steep hill.
At the top, follow the road to a junction. Keep straight ahead here, then at the next bend, leave the road to go straight ahead to miss out Old Byland village. At the junction turn right and follow the road into Cold Kirby. Go right here to cycle back to the visitor centre at Sutton Bank.
Distance – 20miles/32km.
Terrain – Very steep descents and ascents, narrow twisty roads.
Best map – OS Outdoor Leisure 26.
Start/grid ref – Sutton bank Visitor Centre, grid ref: 516831.
Refreshments – visitor centre and pubs in villages along the way.
Public toilets – visitor centre.