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Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey

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Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey
Author: VisitRyedale, Published: 20 Apr 2016 Walk rating : Rating:star1 Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey Walking Guidestar1 Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey Walking Guidestar1 Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey Walking Guidestar1 Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey Walking Guidestar0 Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey Walking Guide
North Yorkshire, Ryedale
Walk Type: Footpaths and byways
Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey
Length: 7 miles,  Difficulty: boot Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey Walking Guide boot Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey Walking Guide boot Visit Ryedale: Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey Walking Guide
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A 6.5 mile (10.5km) there and back walk from the market town of Helmsley in Ryedale. The route follows the Cleveland Way through open fields, beautiful woodland belts and along quiet lanes to visit the spectacular Rievaulx Abbey before returning along the same route. This walk is part of the Visit Ryedale Collection, published through a collaboration between iFootpath and Ryedale District Council. For more visitor information on the area including events and accommodation, go to

The walk has several climbs and descents throughout, including a couple of steep sections within the woodlands. You will need to negotiate several kissing gates plus two long flights of stone steps which take you through a woodland valley (both there and back), but there are no stiles on route. You are likely to be sharing a couple of the fields with sheep so take particular care with dogs. The middle stretch of the route (by the Abbey) follows the edge of quiet lanes so take care of traffic at these points. You will have good views of Rievaulx Abbey from the public paths and lanes, but should you wish to enter the abbey grounds, these are managed by English Heritage and entrance fees apply (which includes an audio tour). Dogs on leads are welcome. Check the English Heritage website for fees and opening times. Allow 3 hours plus extra time to visit the abbey.

There are public toilets in the long stay car park (close to waypoint 1) and there are also toilets at Rievaulx Abbey at the half way point. If you are looking for refreshments, the abbey has a cafe and you will be spoilt for choice with pubs, cafes and restaurants in Helmsley at the start or end of the walk. OS Map: Explorer OL26 North York Moors Western Area. This walk follows public footpaths and bridleways which cross private and public land. Please respect people’s privacy, keep dogs under control and remember the Countryside Code.

Helmsley is located on the River Rye, on the A170 between Thirsk and Pickering. The walk starts and finishes in the Market Place in the centre of Helmsley. If you are coming by car, long stay parking is available in the Cleveland Way Car Park. The fee for up to 6 hours is £4.30 (correct Apr 2016) or half price if you use a Ryedale Parking Smartcard. Approximate post code YO62 5AT. From the car park, simply follow the signs to the Market Place. If you are coming by public transport alight at the bus stops in Market Place. For help with planning your journey by public transport please visit

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Walk Sections

Start to Cleveland Way
Start to Cleveland Way

Start point: 54.2462 lat, -1.0616 long
End point: 54.2472 lat, -1.0639 long

The walk begins in the Market Place, directly outside the library and town hall. Helmsley was first settled around 3000BC and the lands around Helmsley were once held by William the Conqueror’s brother. For several centuries the town’s economy relied on sheep farming, wool and weaving. Helmsley was already an important market town by the 1100s so it has had plenty of time to perfect the Market Place. A bustling weekly market takes places here every Friday.

Standing with your back to the library, turn left and, at the junction with the road, turn left again. You will cross a small stream, Boro Beck, and then come to a T-junction with All Saints Church (dating from the 1100s) on your right. Cross over to the far pavement with care and turn right along this, passing the church on your right. Just 50 metres later, turn left into the road called Cleveland Way, signed as the footpath to Rievaulx.

Cleveland Way to Valley Bottom
Cleveland Way to Valley Bottom

Start point: 54.2472 lat, -1.0639 long
End point: 54.2444 lat, -1.0881 long

At the end of the road, pass the car park and public toilets on your left and keep ahead on the paved track, passing a large stone marker on your left. This stone marker, which includes a carved acorn symbol, marks the starting point of The Cleveland Way long distance path. The path runs 110 miles from Helmsley to Filey, skirting the North York Moors. It is one of the 16 National Trails in England and Wales, each one marked by an acorn symbol along the route.

Go straight ahead to join the stone track. At the first junction (with the Walled Gardens signed to your left) take a moment to look up into the parkland at about 10 o’clock where you should be able to see the open domed structure, the Ionic Temple, sitting high on the hill in Duncombe Park. Continue ahead on the stone track, still part of the Cleveland Way.

At the top of the slope you will come to a kissing gate ahead. NOTE: You are likely to come across grazing sheep from this point. Pass through the gate and walk straight ahead on the stone track, following the fence line on your left. Stay in this direction, passing through two more kissing gates. Beyond this point, follow the enclosed path which swings left (heading downhill) and then right to follow the line of a stone wall and woodland (Blackdale Howl Wood) on your left. Further along the path dog legs left and then right to continue within the woodland, before leading you down a flight of stone steps to reach the valley bottom.

Valley Bottom to Ingdale Howl
Valley Bottom to Ingdale Howl

Start point: 54.2444 lat, -1.0881 long
End point: 54.2491 lat, -1.1115 long

Pass through the valley and continue on the path which leads you up the far side via another flight of stone steps. At the top, pass through two old gateways and then join the stone path which continues with a field and hedgerow running on your right. When the stone path ends, join the grass track which bears left, crossing over a vehicle track and then continuing ahead on the Cleveland Way, passing Griff Lodge to your right (more about that later…)

It is worth pausing here to enjoy the magnificent views across the valley that have opened up to your left. Stay with the path, which soon continues with woodland running on your left once again, Whinny Bank Wood. Further along, the path leads you into the woodland. Keep straight ahead at the first crossroads, following the main path. The path leads you gently downhill for some distance, eventually becoming a sunken track and emerging to a T-junction with the road, Ingdale Howl.

Ingdale Howl to Rievaulx Abbey
Ingdale Howl to Rievaulx Abbey

Start point: 54.2491 lat, -1.1115 long
End point: 54.2568 lat, -1.1191 long

Turn left and join the footpath which runs on an earth embankment alongside the road. Where the footpath ends, simply continue ahead along the road edge, taking care of any traffic. Continue past a single stone cottage on your left and, soon afterwards, you will have your first glimpse of Rievaulx Abbey ruins over the hedge to your right (assuming you are tall enough!).

Just before the road leads you over the stone river bridge (more about that later…), turn right onto the side road signed to Rievaulx Abbey. Follow this road with the river running on your left. Soon after passing Rye House on your right, full views open up to your right of Rievaulx Abbey.

Continue just a little further along the road to reach the abbey entrance, where you will also find a visitor centre, cafe and toilets. Explore the grounds should you wish (entrance fees apply and an audio tour is available). Founded in 1132, Rievaulx Abbey was the first Cistercian abbey to be established in the north of England. It quickly became one of the most powerful and spiritually renowned centres of monasticism in Britain, housing a 650-strong community at its peak in the 1160s under its most famous abbot, Aelred. The monastery was suppressed in 1538, but the spectacular abbey ruins became a popular subject for Romantic artists in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Rievaulx Abbey to Rievaulx Bridge
Rievaulx Abbey to Rievaulx Bridge

Start point: 54.2568 lat, -1.1191 long
End point: 54.2511 lat, -1.12 long

When you have finished at the abbey, retrace your steps back along the lane. Just before the T-junction, take a small detour through the gap in the fence on your right to visit the idyllic riverside setting alongside Rievaulx Bridge.

The River Rye rises just below the Cleveland Hills and, at the end of its course, it joins the River Derwent near Malton. The upland streams of the Rye and its tributaries have powered water mills for many centuries. The abbey was built to take advantage of the river resource as well as the protection of the hills behind and took its name from a literal translation of Rye Valley from the French. The river hasn’t always taken this course locally, it was the monks who diverted it to where it is now, in order to create enough land to build and extend the monastery. It is from this bridge that the artist JMW Turner sketched two views of the abbey in 1816, and went on to paint the famous water colour of Rievaulx Abbey in 1825.

Rievaulx Bridge to Griff Lodge
Rievaulx Bridge to Griff Lodge

Start point: 54.2511 lat, -1.12 long
End point: 54.2431 lat, -1.0959 long

When you have finished enjoying the riverside setting, continue to the T-junction and turn left along the road edge (signed to Helmsley), taking care of any traffic. Further along, join the embankment path alongside the road and as soon as this ends, turn right onto the stone track leading you into woodland (signed as the Cleveland Way to Helmsley).

Follow this main track ahead, climbing steadily through the woodland. At the top, continue ahead to join the path with fenced fields to your left. Follow this path all the way back to pass Griff Lodge, this time on your left. This stone gatehouse was one of the original entrances to nearby Duncombe Park. Just behind the lodge is the site of an old medieval village called Griff, from which the lodge takes its name. The village formed part of a grange (or farm), which was under the direct control of the Cistercian Abbey of Rievaulx. Predominantly an arable grange, Griff is also thought to have acted as a bercarie (a sheep farm) for the abbey.

Griff Lodge to End
Griff Lodge to End

Start point: 54.2431 lat, -1.0959 long
End point: 54.2465 lat, -1.0617 long

Follow the grass track which crosses the access drive and then continue ahead as this becomes a stone path. The path eventually leads you back into woodland, leading you through the woodland valley via the two sets of stone steps. At the far side, bear left to join the enclosed path which follows the line of a wall and woodland on your right.

Further along, between the trees, great views open up ahead of the Helmsley skyline with its red roofs, castle ruins and church tower. Eventually, the path swings left leading you uphill and then right through a kissing gate to enter the corner of a sheep field. Keep ahead, passing through two more kissing gates to join a stone track. Follow this ahead, passing the car park and toilets on your right, and continuing out to the T-junction with the road. Turn right, passing the church, and then turn left.

You will come to the Market Place on your right where the walk began. Helmsley has plenty on offer to while away the rest of your day, with everything you'd expect in a quintessentially English market town and more: a vibrant market square, independent, specialist shops, excellent places to eat and drink, an imposing castle, friendly locals, a babbling brook, a walled garden, bird of prey centre, microbrewery, open air swimming pool and more than 50 listed buildings. For more visitor information on the area including events and accommodation, go to

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Text and images for this walk are Copyright © 2016 by the author visitryedale and may not be reproduced without permission.

The information in this guide has been provided in good faith and is intended only as a guide, not a statement of fact. You are advised to check the accuracy of the information provided and should not use this guide for navigational directions nor should you rely on the accuracy of the weather forecast. You are advised to take appropriate clothing, footwear, equipment and navigational materials with you according to the current and possible weather and nature of the terrain. Always follow the country code and follow any additional warnings or instructions that may be available. Some walks may be very strenuous and you are advised to seek medical advice if you have any doubts as to your capability to complete the walk.

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