GEORGE WILKINSON enjoys a tranquil walk through history as he explores the ground of Rievaulx Abbey.

RIEVAULX was granted to the Cistercian monks in 1131, and being secluded and sheltered must indeed have seemed “far from the concourse of men”, as their rules required.

We settled in Abbey café, by a window, and watched a gang of black and yellow-armoured motor cyclists engage with the ruins, the dozens of arches, the prayers of centuries long evaporated.

Groups of walkers bustled in and bustled out and we guzzled more Yorkshire Rarebit than made for speed, but that didn’t matter for this is an amble.

There had been weather the night before and the River Rye was dirty for a day, a test for trout fry and baby crayfish.

And the wet wind had scattered a confetti of tree parts, of blossom, bits of ash flowers and the membranous seeds of wych elm. The tracks took us along nicely, and we collected a couple of elevated viewpoints of the valley, down then up the dale, all in fresh spring colours and we crossed the old county line at Bow Bridge.

We had gained tranquillity, the walkers had dispersed and there were just a couple of “good afternoons” all day.

But the monks didn’t just muse in the woods, wool became their main business, well, souls and sheep, with farms called granges scattered over North Yorkshire; the Cistercians were dominant in the county.

We started an encircling of Ashberry Hill, via the Ashberry Nature Reserve, that is looked after by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and is they claim “one of the finest ancient woodlands in Yorkshire”.

Our path took a good line, eventually running along the bottom of the steep valley with spring fed marshy land the other side. The slopes held slashes of bluebell and seas of white garlic. The mire is the place for rare plants, but marsh marigolds caught the eye.

For the while, just for a minute or so, the path was muddy, horse churned, but otherwise the day’s walking was easy and halfway round there is an all-seasons view bench to open ground, though a sight down onto the abbey from the woods is fast disappearing as the hazel leaf up.

After Bow Bridge again, we took a different last half mile. A quarry provided stone for early abbey buildings and was transported by canal.

The abbey dominates on the approach over meadows, it fills the valley; the monks had to move the river to make it fit.


When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed (wm = waymark, fp = fingerpost).

1. Right to road from car park. Initially metalled track on left opposite church of St Mary the Virgin, ignore drive on left.

2. Left fork downhill, over bridge, right-hand bed, 300 yards uphill, track/metalled drive on left cuts back uphill into wood.

3. Left to road, 100 yards downhill, track on right (sign) into wood, 25 yards, path on left (fp) downhill, left at bottom to path (wm post).

4. Right to road. Immediately after small white barn (sign), left to metalled drive, 25 yards, behind house, gates on left to wide path up into wood.

5. Gate out of wood into field, stay by wood, stile/gate (wm), grass track, gate.

6. Right to track, bridge, 200 yards, gate on right (fp), diagonally across field, gate by river (wm), by hedge/ fence to your left, gate, track, gate, footbridge, through yard, gate and right to road.

Fact file

Distance: Four miles.

Car parking: Pay and display at the abbey.

Right of Way: Public paths.

Date walked: May 2015.

Refreshments: Café at Abbey.

Map: OS Explorer OL26 North York Moors western.

Terrain: Valley.

Difficulty: Easy.