Helmsley Rievaulx & Forests Loop

Funny old day!

Carol Kirkwood had been her usual smiling and very ‘alluring’ self; especially in profile, when she delivered the excellent news that today would be a little cloudy but after a couple of hours it would be sunshine and continuously improving. That was a couple of hours ago and her image is still in my head.

Before I can recount this important news George speaks of Carol and her assertion that the day was looking good. He also observed that she too was looking good. There is a clear unanimous vote of approval from the occupants of the car as we all nod agreement and I know which element of the forecast (I think it might have been a warm front) was in each of our teenage minds.

George has a map cut from the Darlington and Stockton Times (D&S) with dialogue that says this walk is 9 miles and easy. The word that resonates is ‘easy’. Well, we may have a view on that…

We travel via Sutton Bank and manage to catch fleeting glimpses of the greens, browns and yellows that create such stunning scenery across the vale below. There are some heavy-looking clouds stacked in the south and blue sky and sunshine in the north, now there’s a change. We arrive in Helmsley and make our way to the Castle Car Park, £4.30 for the day but there are facilities.
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It’s a limited turnout today with only 5 but we’ve gone for quality. We head out of the car park and along the Cleveland Way. It’s an incline but not desperately so; however, there is a threat from the sky. Before we get to the protection of the ravine and trees it begins to rain. It’s a shame Carol wasn’t here I could’ve given her a T-Shirt!

The second mile of the route is down into and along Ryedale the river Rye running to our left. The cutting that we negotiate is carpeted with wild garlic, bluebells (English), forget-me-nots and some tiny white flowers that I initially thought were garlic. I realise that I haven’t been talking to anyone over the last few minutes yet there’s a non-stop stimulus of at least three of the senses, the smell of the garlic, the wonderful singing from the birds and the myriad of flowers confirming the arrival of spring. There’s never a dull moment on these walks.

We’ve been descending for about 20 minutes and I’m beginning to think we can’t go down much further without meeting weird creatures from Middle Earth. If this had been tackled in the reverse direction this would be one hell of a test of stamina. The trail eventually levels and buts onto the tarmac road fabulously named Ingdale Howl. We turn left and follow this road until we come to the bridge over the River Rye. On the opposite bank on the downstream side of the bridge is a house with an amazing garden, well tended and with a stream running through it. Definitely worth a five minute stop. We turn right to walk parallel to the river with Rievaulx Abbey clearly in front of us. As we enter the car park we curse ourselves as we realise that we’re all members of English Heritage and to a man, we’ve left our membership cards in the car. There are toilets and a small cafe here should you need them.

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After a short break, we continue passed the Abbey into the village where there are two thatched cottages and a red telephone box and the sun favours us by making an appearance as we walkthrough.

The trail resumes turning left off the road after the church and there begins a slow climb for about a mile when the trail meets the B1257. As we walk through a glade Tony calls out to look at some odd plants that I later discover to be arum maculatum or cuckoopint thanks to Pete Davies and Andrew Widdowson.

Bearing left we walk about a mile along the B1257 then turn right into a field and agree to have lunch – cue the sun – nice one! As we’re eating I notice there are lots of foxgloves in early growth around an area of the field that looks like it has been deliberately left fallow. I’m indebted to the farmer if this is deliberate and wish him well for these small but welcome gestures to the environment.

The D&S map is looking a bit dog eared by now but still easy to read and it informs us that our next waypoint is a walk through the stackyard of Oscar Park Farm. I always feel uncomfortable walking through the stackyard of farms, it feels like violating the privacy of the occupants but the visit is fleeting and we’re into a field of cows and their calves which look only a few days old.

Another half mile and we’re in the woods. The trail is quite obvious at this point and we make great progress. After a quarter of a mile we need to find a particular trail that will take us across the wood to the main lane that will take us back to Helmsley – and this is where things become ‘interesting’.

There are numerous quad and motorbike tracks that criss-cross the wood but no sign of the trail on the D&S Map. I check my OutdoorGPS app on my phone and it tells me where we are and it also indicates a track through the forest. Since the trail indicated by the D&S map is not now identifiable I try to find an alternative using the app. In fairness, my illustrious colleagues are backing me but I don’t have the confidence to rely solely on an app that I haven’t had any experience with to lead us through a fairly extensive and dense forest. It feels like a recipe for disaster and I run my thoughts past George who, fortunately, agrees.

We make a committee decision. The Forestry Commission track that we’re on takes us to the edge of the forest and we make our way along the periphery adjacent to a cornfield. After 20 minutes we realise that this plan will result in us arriving at a deep gorge with no trail and an added challenge of a river lurking at the bottom. We reverse our last decision! We review the D&S map, I check the app on my phone and then we make a rule to protect us. The rule is that we maintain a way of getting back to the farm, it has to be unambiguous and clear. This is a good rule.

So, we arrive back at the main trail in the wood and I show the route on the app (bear in mind that this is an Ordnance Survey map so we should be OK) and we head off in what ‘feels’ the wrong direction but with the intention of joining the trail that is indicated by the D&S using a circuitous but more obvious marked route.

After 20 minutes we arrive at the point where we join the trail on the D&S map but half a mile north of where we should have joined it. We set off along this track and after another half a mile of ruts complete with mud and pools that are black beyond description and surrounded by both upright and fallen trees, it peters out. Shit! I’m struggling now. I can propose that we put our faith in the app and plough on through the undergrowth but that would break our rule so I propose that we go back and this, to my relief, is accepted.

We make our way back and stumble across a Forestry Commission trail not marked on the OS map but going in the direction indicated on the app. Not only that, it complies with our rule because getting back to the farm is obvious. Gordon proposes that we take this route and we all agree. I’m monitoring the app and it suggests that in a quarter of a mile we’ll cross the trail that should have taken us through the dense part of the forest. I don’t say anything at this point in case we end up with the previous result.

Bingo, as the indicator on the screen, creeps across the OS Map and intersects with the trail that we’re on, another trail dissects it and disappears into some newly planted saplings. This trail is clear and leads in the direction that we have been trying to go.

By now we really do need a bit of luck. I can see that we’ve already covered nearly 10 miles and the thought of going back would mean another walk of at least 8 miles taking into account the extra couple of miles that we’d done on false trails. I’m a little bit nervous that this, based on previous experience, is another blank so I offer to check my theory by going along the track and shouting the team if it really does lead to the lane for which we’ve been searching. No chance, we’re all going together so if I’m to be embarrassed then at least it can be done in style.

I really am pleased when the trail butts onto the track that we’ve spent the last hour trying to find. The sense of relief is indescribable and we turn right to make our way through Collier Hag Wood in parallel to Beck Dale, we’re about 300 or 400 feet above the beck but the track is good quality and reassuringly downhill.

We’re out of the forest and only a couple of miles from the end of the walk when we pass a man & woman heading in the other direction but these are the only people we’ve seen since before Rievaulx and they’re both dressed like we’re about to move into another ice age, in fact, she’s wearing a topcoat and gloves. A little further and we see another couple and some animals. Tony sees them and mentions a woman in red. Gordon asks, “Is it a dog?”. Tony responds with, “Not sure, she’s a bit too far away at the moment!”.

We arrive at the car park, Tony is still within a whisker of getting back to conduct his music lesson and we’re ready for an ice cream.

A good day out but it was NOT easy, it was tense at times and in fairness, we really should treat our forests with respect (and we did), 9 miles according to the D&S Map, we clocked 12 and some of it was tough. You need to be able to follow an OS map and the D&S map is certainly not good enough. You can use mine which is plotted on OS so should be good, just avoid the bits where the GPS has plotted our false trails when we were looking for the official route. Nice walk but some of it uninteresting and other bits very boggy! The jury is out regarding recommendation.

Enjoy the snaps…G..x

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