THE king of crosses, Lilla Cross, is the oldest Christian memorial in the North of England.

It was originally erected on the moor between Pickering and Robin Hood’s Bay around the year 625AD. The cross is in memory of Lilla, reputed to be the chief minister to King Edwin of Northumbria, whose life he saved throwing himself between the king and an assassin with a dagger. Lilla died from the fatal wound.

In that fateful year, King Edwin was celebrating Easter at his palace on the Yorkshire Wolds. What he didn’t realise was that an assassin sent by the King of the West Saxons was trying to get access to his court. He achieved his aim by saying that he was in possession of a personal message of some importance for Edwin for the West Saxon King. The assassin was allowed into the court and immediately attacked Edwin with a poisoned dagger which Lilla intercepted and was killed.

King Edwin was angered by this assassination attempt and the death of his friend, Lilla. The following year, 626AD, he took the battle to the West Saxons, defeating them in Wessex.

The pagan King Edwin then moved to York, where he was converted to Christianity by St Paulinus. He was baptised in the wooden church of St Peter. King Edwin was eventually killed in battle six years later at Hatfield by Penda, a Mercian chief, in the year 633AD.

The cross in memory of the brave Lilla now stands on what we know as Lilla Howe but it is not thought that Lilla’s remains were buried there. On excavation carried out in the 1920s they found jewellery which was dated after Lilla’s death.

I visit Lilla Cross every year as I think it the most fantastic place on the moors. Solitude, history and those breathtaking views with a 360- degree vista from moor to the sea and back again. Have you been there yet? If not, you really should.

Your route

Leave the car park across the bridge and walk up the road you came on. In about 100 paces, at a large stone gate post, turn right at the public footpath sign on to a track which ascends through the bracken.

Soon cross a stile and continue upwards dodging the overhanging gorse. Follow the path as it winds its way up the bank onto open land to a stile at the top of the hill. Cross the stile into a field and keep straight ahead towards a dilapidated stone building and a stile.

Over the stile, keep straight ahead with the stone wall on your right. Eventually pass through a small gate onto the moor, on your right are the remains of John Cross. Bear left here, then go right, onto a wide track to a signpost a few paces away. Go right here on to a muddy track passing trail posts as you walk along. Eventually you reach trail post number nine – keep straight ahead here to continue along the wide, muddy track.

The track soon starts to climb between two small hills then becomes narrow. But soon it widens and is very rough with motorcycle tracks. Beware in this section of the walk as there are many bogs to negotiate – give them a wide berth.

The track continues downhill and turns slightly to the right, and soon the rough, boggy area is behind you. A narrow path now undulates across the moor – you will see it ahead of you. This track now ascends as it rises and falls, twists and turns for over a mile. When you crest the hilltop your destination is in sight, Lilla Cross. What a grand old man he is! Standing proudly atop Lilla Howe he is one of the finest crosses on the moors, hewn from solid stone, and my favourite.

Go straight across at these signposted crossroads and head for Lilla. When you arrive there you will see such magnificent scenery it is possible you will never want to leave this heaven on earth.

But leave you must, and retrace your steps to the signposted crossroads, this time pass straight by heading for Goathland. Pass a boundary post then go right at a wide road. Ignore the gate on the left and head for a large gate in front of you with two red squares on it. Pass through the small gate on its left to join a wide forest road. Keep straight ahead now and soon the road descends into the forest.

Easy walking now compared to the rough moorland tracks you started on and it is simple to navigate yourself through the forest. At the T junction go left downhill and continue along to a felled part of the forest, then pass a wildlife pond.

In about half a mile, turn right at the Moor to Sea Cycle Route sign then descend ever steeply to a small gate to leave the forest. Not far and you reach May Beck, again to perhaps remove your boots and dangle your feet in the cool water of the beck.

The facts

Distance – 7½ miles (12km).

Time – 3 hours.

Start/grid ref – May Beck, grid ref. 892025.

Best Map – OS Outdoor Leisure 27.

Parking – rough area near the beck.

Refreshments – Ice cream and sandwiches on summer weekends.

Public Toilets – None Gazette & Herald: Gazette Lilla Cross walk map