Distance: 5 miles (more if you get lost)
Difficulty: Moderate (some hills to climb and map reading required)
Type: Farmland, forest
Start point postcode: YO62 5HH - Cowhouse Bank Carpark, North Yorkshire, UK
After days of being trapped indoors due to a combination of work and utterly foul weather, I decided to head off on an easy 5 mile walk on the edge of the North York Moors. I have a little book called Short Walks in the North York Moors, by Collins. Now this book has given me plenty of really good walk suggestions and the instructions are typically easy to follow and as each walk includes a map, there is no need to take an additional big map with you.
The walk I chose was one called Upper Riccal Dale, that starts from a Forestry Commission carpark called Cowhouse Bank. To find it, head out of Helmsley, through a tiny hamlet called Carlton and shortly thereafter you find the exceptionally quiet carpark. There is bench with lovely views over Bransdale from the carpark.
I parked up, the only car there and got that lovely sense that I was the only person in the world. You start out by crossing the road you've just driven in on and heading off down a forest track. Through gaps in the trees you get glimpses of the views over the dale below, dotted with sheep. The path was exceptionally boggy underfoot on account of the three days of torrential rain we'd just had but I didn't care. It was peaceful and quiet. If it's been raining, wear gaiters!
The path went back on itself down the side of the hill until reaching a farm track. It was here that my first navigation issue arose. According to the book, 'Go right on the farm road. Cross the bridge and climb through two fields away from the stream towards Howl Wood Farm.' But at the entrance to that farm road were two big signs saying PRIVATE - NO ENTRY. That's never a welcoming sign. I couldn't see any right of way signs or footpath signs but everything else seemed to indicate that this was the way I should go. So I went in.
Although there was a stream (very pretty) and a bridge, there were no fields to climb through. Just a track that made it's way up to the farm buildings. I figured it must be right, so I kept walking. The book said, 'Go left through the farmyard and left through a gate beyond the farm tip to follow a faint track ahead.'
I really, really don't like walking through farms. Firstly, it feels as though I am trespassing on someone's property - and the big PRIVATE - NO ENTRY signs certainly reinforced that. Secondly, there are always old, empty barns creaking in the wind, with rusty hooks and other dangerous looking pieces of equipment lying around. I always expect a scary bloke to come out carrying a bloodied meat cleaver while spitting out chewing tobacco, telling me to either 'Get orf my land' or 'To come in for a visit....' (I have an over active imagination.)
Add to that, there is invariably at least one (in this case four) farm yard dogs that aren't known for their friendliness. They started barking furiously, while a gaggle of geese hissed at me as I passed them. Then the cows (luckily behind a wall) started to add to the cacophony, lowing their discontent at my presence. Luckily there was a single footpath arrow on one of the gates, so I headed at pace for that and made it through the other side breathing hard. I am very rarely scared walking on my own but on remote farms, my heart does race a little.
After that excitement, the next set of instructions was simply, 'Cross the stream by the footbridge'. I was still following the 'faint track' as described by the book but eventually I reached the end of the wall line and my path was blocked. I had obviously missed a path down to the stream where the footbridge was, but there really hadn't been a path anywhere! I retraced my steps, found no path but eventually followed sheep tracks down to where I could hear the stream flowing. Reaching the stream, there was no footbridge. So I bashed my way along the stream edge until at last I found the footbridge. Somehow I had obviously missed the path down. My advice if you're doing this walk, is when the 'faint track' starts to bend slightly north, head down the hill to your west.
Crossing the bridge, I headed up through two fields until I found a rough bit of grazing land and the Forest Chapel that the book mentioned. Like something out of Hansel and Gretel, the chapel was very sweet tucked into the forest (picture top right above). But here again, the instructions were light to say the least. 'Cut across an area of rough grazing and walk towards the road, aiming to the left of the forest chapel. Cross the metalled road and go onto a forest road.' I stood in an overgrown field with no signs of a road. Beginning to despair of my navigation skills, I saw the first - and only - person I encountered all day. A cyclist, or rather a cyclist's head, whizzed past. That must be the road!
I found a gate that led to a very overgrown track to meet the road. Should you be doing this walk, don't worry about the fact that you can't see the road or a gate or a sign of any kind. Just keep walking towards the fence line and it shall reveal itself to you.
After that, it was a simple case of following the forest track back up a steep bank to get more lovely views over Bransdale. Even though I thought I was home and dry at this point, I made one final mistake. The book said, 'At the open field, turn left away from the road on a path between forest and the field's upper boundary.'
I found the open field and turned left, but the word I missed was UPPER boundary. I turned left to soon and ended up back on the road. By which point, I thought 'Sod it' and walked back up the road to find my car where I'd left it.
The moral of the story: When going on a walk, take your time to read the instructions VERY carefully and look VERY closely at the map. Tiny signs like contour gradients, side paths and streams all give clues if the instructions aren't very detailed. I couldn't even blame my getting lost on chatting too much - which is normally the reason I go wrong.
Despite getting lost, what made this walk lovely was the remoteness of it and the fact that I didn't see another soul (other than the cyclist). If you want to escape the world for a bit, get expansive views and see plenty of wildlife, this is a great walk. Besides all the farm animals, I saw plenty of birds, hares, bunnies and a gorgeous roe deer. And now that I've found out that you can walk through the farm despite the no entry signs, you can do so with the confidence I lacked.
Below is a little video of my experience.....
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