North York Moors walk - Rievaulx Abbey and Hambleton Hills

Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey

Ruins of Rievaulx Abbey - Credit: Archant

Terry Fletcher enjoys a glorious walk in the Hambleton Hills past Rievaulx Abbey.

Rievaulx Bridge

Rievaulx Bridge - Credit: Archant

The mediaeval monks who founded the twin monasteries of Rievaulx and Byland near Helmsley certainly knew how to pick a location. This walk on the edge of the Hambleton Hills, close to Sutton Bank, actually visits only the stunning ruins of Rievaulx but claims a link with its sister house. It begins from the charming hamlet of Old Byland on the top of the hills where the monks who eventually founded Byland had a bit of a false start before moving to the site they later occupied at the foot of the escarpment, where winters were presumably a little milder.

Along the way it weaves through charming woodland and spends a while tracing the valley of the delectable Rye through constantly-changing scenery, passing attractive farms and cottages as well as graceful stone-arched bridges which have served the area for centuries. Apart from the ruins of Rievaulx, which are popular with visitors you are likely to have many of the paths entirely to yourself


From Old Byland drop down beside the sloping green, surrounded by mellow, red-roofed stone cottages to leave by the bottom right hand corner and follow the road out of the village. Just after it passes the Old Byland sign on a large millstone look for a gate on the left. Follow the path as it angles leftwards down the slope to cross the bed of the dale and climb the other side on a charming path through the trees. At a gate go straight ahead to another gate in the top left hand corner of a narrow field and then follow the field edge and hedge in roughly the same line.

When, after a couple of fields, the path reaches a wood, go through a gate and take the path leftwards down the slope. Where a path comes in from the right carry on leftwards to cross a beck by a footbridge. Go over this and then through two more gates in quick succession to reach some stepping stones which lead onto the Cleveland Way. Turn left down the main unmade track, passing a line of three fishing ponds on your left, When it reaches a tarmac lane again go leftwards, still on the Cleveland Way, continuing down the valley and following signs to Rievaulx a mile away.

Along the way it passes the delightful whitewashed Ashberry Farm, which has graced thousands of calendars and picture postcards, and then the graceful arch of Rievaulx Bridge spanning the Rye. Cross this and turn immediately left up the lane. The ruins of the abbey, now in the care of English Heritage, soon come into view and may be visited for a fee. There is also a tea shop if you are feeling the need for refreshments.

The abbey was founded in 1132 by a group of 12 monks from Clairvaux in France. They were Cistercians and the remote location suited their desire for an austere lifestyle of toil and prayer. However, thanks to profitable lead mining and sheep rearing, including exporting wool all over Europe, the abbey became one of the richest in England, rivalled in Yorkshire only by Fountains, near Ripon. As the abbey prospered the austerity dwindled and by the time it was dissolved on the order of Henry VIII during the Reformation the monks were living much more comfortable lives.

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From the abbey continue up the lane into the village as far a footpath on the left signed to Bow Bridge. Take this, crossing fields and just before the bridge itself the path is directed rightwards to a gate and unmade farm track, which leads over the bridge. About 150 yards later a sign points rightwards to Hawnby continuing up the valley. It carries on above the river, making use of a boardwalk and wooden steps before reaching a tarmac lane. Turn right up this as far as Tylas Farm on the right. Where the lane takes a 90 degree bend rightwards around the buildings carry on straight ahead through a gate on a waymarked bridleway which is followed through the woods.

This is the start of a long wooded traverse of well over a mile before a sign announces that you have reached Caydale Mill, whose owner, if the numerous signs are anything to go by, is very keen that walkers should stick strictly to the bridleway.

This soon reaches another narrow lane. Turn left for a short, steep pull up the hill. Stay on the lane until a turning on the left leads back to Old Byland.


Start/finish: Old Byland, near Sutton Bank

Distance: 7.5miles/12km

Height gain: 500ft/150m

Time: 3-4hours

Terrain: Woodland and field paths, quiet lanes

Parking: Roadside at Old Byland

Refreshments: Tea shop at Rievaulx Abbey, cafés and pubs in Helmsley

Map: OS OL 26 North York Moors (Western Area)