A walk in the woods near Helmsley

WALKING in woodland and forestry can often be the best thing to do in winter, particularly if the weather is not great. Here the contrast of open woodland and close forestry adds to a pleasant ½ day from Helmsley.

Helmsley is where the southern edge of the North York Moors meets the Howardian Hills and is the only marker town in the area. It is lovely, set around a large square (used for parking) with atrractive Yorkshire stone buildings all around. Having parked the car head west to the well signposted castle before heading off on the walk proper. The castle has been there for 900 years (Norman times) and is now little more than a ruin. Nearby the Walled Garden is well worth a visit. Enough sight seeing, at the main road to Rievaulx Abbey turn left, ignore the signpost at the start of the Cleveland Way and continue along the road for 200 metres past some lovely cottages.

Where the road bends left a footpath goes straight on in a north westerly direction in to some woods. After 100 metres the cross the foot bridge land turns in to a wide footpath, symptom of the excellent walking through the woods. This is Beck Dale. Almost immediately pass an old saw mill. From here keep to the valley floor and follow the path for 2 miles, taking the right hand (signed) fork where the valley splits. The stream further up in Hag Woods is particularly enchanting, apparently gorgeous in May when the bluebells are out. The woods are a mix of beech, conifer, hazel, ash and oak and offer a pleasant backdrop to the walk.

After 2 miles the path bends right and climbs steeply up a shallow gully. Follow the route as it turns 90 degrees to the left and meets a boundary. Follow this for 500 metres and at junction of paths turn right, leave the woods and head for a minor road near High Baxtons Farm. Turn right at the road and follow the road for 300 metres before turning left on to a footpath leading across open fields with good views to the south. The path then enters Ash Dale and turn right and heads south towards Helmsley.

The path divides almost immediately, take the right fork. This is the Tabular Hills Walk, one of a number of excellent long distance walks that criss cross the area. Ash Dale is different to Beck Dale as there is no stream running through it. Although both dales are steep sided they ‘feel’ that they are of different character, I find Ash Dale more enclosed and generally ‘close’. I am assured that the mix of trees is similar but I find more conifers in Ash Dale making it more of a forest than a woodland walk. Others may disagree but I do enjoy the contrast between the two. After nearly 2 miles the path leaves the woods and comes to a fiddly bit just above Helmsley. The Tabular Way main path goes right, left, right, left all within ½ a mile but it does drop directly in to the centre of town past a cemetery. It is possible to follow a path heading left from the woods directly on to a tarmac road heading in to the east end of Helmsley.

n Jonathan Smith runs Where2walk, an outdoor business in the Yorkshire Dales. He has written his own book, the Dales 30, which describes the highest mountains in the Dales. He also runs one-day navigation courses for beginners and intermediates, and learn a skill, climb a hill weekends. To find out more details on any of the above and details of many more walks in the area visit where2walk.co.uk.

Fact Box:

Distance: Roughly 6.5 miles

Height to Climb: 130m (430 feet).

Start: SE 613839. The central market place has parking but if full there is more towards the castle.

Difficulty: Easy/Moderate. Good tracks make this a straightforward walk with only one short steep climb.

Refreshments: Helmsley has plenty of pubs and cafes for most tastes.

Be Prepared:

The route description and sketch map only provide a guide to the walk. You must take out and be able to read a map (O/S Explorer OL26) and in cloudy/misty conditions a compass. You must also wear the correct clothing and footwear for the outdoors. Whilst every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers head out at their own risk.

Please observe the Countryside Code and park sensibly.