MOUNSTRALL LANE is one of our favourite cycling routes to the west of Northallerton. It runs from Yafforth in the south, with its medieval manor house beside the very visible icehouse, goes past the plump mound of Howe Hill where the Normans once had a motte and bailey castle, and it finishes three straight miles later in Danby Wiske, where the church sits above a plashy area which was once a medieval moated house.

The middle section of the lane – which we believe is the only place in the country to bear the inexplicable name "Mounstrall" – is tree-lined like an avenue, its verges mown to pin stripes, as it approaches the high brick walls of Little Danby Hall.

The walls prevent further inspection, but the boughs of elegant trees hang over, hinting at what lies within. Two old hoists dangle from the stableblock and there’s a bright red Victorian postbox set among the brickwork. But no more could be seen from the saddle...

But last week's property section of the Darlington & Stockton Times, the Echo's sister paper, revealed that the hall behind the wall – five apartments, 36 acres, a summerhouse and a ha-ha – is on the market for between £1.5m and £1.75m.

Such a property must have a history, but, disappointingly, the Victoria County History tells of the de la Mares and the de Danbys who owned the land in ancient times, but then says: “No further history of these lands has been found in the public records, but they may be identical with the 'manor of Little Danby,' of which Thomas Herbert, alderman of York, died seised in 1614.”

The VCH then suggests that Little Danby passed to Thomas' grandson, Sir Thomas Herbert of Tintern, who has a remarkable life story.

He was born in Sir Thomas Herbert House in York – perhaps the most photographed property in the whole of the city, in High Petergate. The timber-framed property even has a plaque on it recording his date of birth: 1606.

In 1626, he took part in a diplomatic mission to Persia to meet the shah. It involved him travelling through many Persian cities as well as to Mauritius, Cape of Good Hope and St Helena. On his return, he published his description of these far-flung places in a book, Some Yeares Travels, which included descriptions of places he had never visited, and a claim that a Welshman, Prince Madoc, discovered America.

When the civil war broke out in 1642, he sided with the Parliamentarians, but in 1647, he was appointed to look after the captured king, Charles I. Indeed, Herbert became the only Parliamentarian that the king trusted by his side.

However, Herbert liked a lie-in, and he regularly overslept when the king wanted his assistance getting out of bed. The king therefore ordered him an alarm clock, which failed to arrive before the king’s execution – Charles joke it was because the clockmaker knew he had no time left – and so one of his last gestures was to give Herbert his silver pocketwatch.

According to Herbert, the night before the execution, the king instructed him to “lie by his Bed-side upon a Pallat”, although on January 30, 1649, he was too frightened to watch the moment that his friend was catapulted into the next life.

When the monarchy was restored, Charles II made Herbert a baronet for looking after his father in those last days.

It looks as if the new Sir Thomas fled London in 1665 to avoid the plague and returned to York to live out the rest of his days, enlarging Some Years Travels to include even more places he had never been to.

Perhaps – and it is a big perhaps – before his death in 1682, Sir Thomas might have felt York was too infected and so he ventured out to his remote estate of Little Danby Hall. It is known that the core of the hall dates to the 17th Century.

Little Danby was enlarged over the subsequent centuries, and its Listed Buildings schedule notes that its stableblock – which has the two hoists – was built in 1925 by architect Philip Tilden. He was noted for his “lush and luxurious” works for clients such as David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Lord Beaverbrook.

Tilden was at the peak of his powers when working at Little Danby, but he soon had a mental breakdown (he was married but grappling with his homosexuality) and then faced bankruptcy.

However, it is his tall brick walls that conceal so much of Little Danby Hall from the view of cyclists and passers-by, and so it was a joy when Robin Jessop’s sale catalogue reached the property pages to be able to have a peek at what lies hidden behind them.