Ryedale : Rievaulx, Helmsley, Pickering and Malton

Ryedale and Bilsdale

The River Rye rises in the depths of the North York Moors, somewhere between the Hambleton Hills and the Cleveland Hills to the east of Osmotherley. It cuts its way through the moors passing the village of Hawnby before it is joined by the River Seph that forms the neighbouring valley of Bilsdale.

The River Rye at Rievaulx © David Simpson

The Seph is fed by the Raisdale and Tripsdale Becks, streams begin their course in the northern part of the North York Moors not far from Stokesley, Chop Gate and Urra in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire.

Passing beyond Hawnby the River Rye flows on towards Helmsley before entering the flat Vale of Pickering, ultimately joining the River Derwent near Malton and Norton. The vale forms the heart of the administrative district of North Yorkshire known as Ryedale and forms a distinct region of the county.

Rievaulx’s Old French name means ‘Rye Valley’

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey in the Rye Valley just to the north of Helmsley was founded in 1132 by Cistercian monks from Clairvaulx in France. It was the first Cistercian abbey in Yorkshire and was established on land granted by Walter l’Espec.

Rievalulx which is literally old French for Rye valley is one of the most impressive ruined monasteries in the North, particularly because of its location in the wooded valley of the Rye. Rievaulx like many other Yorkshire monasteries remained in use until the Dissolution of the Monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII.

Rievaulx Abbey © David Simpson

Overlooking the abbey ruins is Rievaulx Terrace, an impressive example of eighteenth century landscaping which provides excellent views of this historic site. The terrace with its eighteenth century Tuscan temple were the property of Duncombe Park, near Helmsley and now belong to the National Trust.

Between 1147 and 1177 Rievaulx Abbey was situated close to another Cistercian abbey only two miles away in the moors to the west at a site now called Old Byland. Monks at Old Byland were confused by the tolling of the bells at Rievaulx and eventually moved to a new site at Byland near Coxwold.

Helmsley © David Simpson

Helmsley Castle and Duncombe Park

Helmsley is a pretty Ryedale market town situated on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors. Its most notable features are Helmsley castle and the stately home called Duncombe Park.

Built in the twelfth century by Walter l’Espec and rebuilt by Rober de Roos around 1200, Helmsley Castle lies at the western end of Helmsley Market Place. It was dismantled in 1644 after surrendering to the onslaught of the Parliamentary General Sir Thomas Fairfax, during the Civil War but was patched up and occupied for a time by the second Duke of Buckingham. It is now a property of English Heritage and is a regular stage for tourism based events.

Helmsley Castle © David Simpson

In 1687 the castle was bought by a wealthy London goldsmith called Sir Charles Duncombe but his nephew Charles abandoned the castle. Duncombe left the castle to ruin and employed Vanbrugh and Wakefield to build a great house called Duncombe Park on a hilltop with views overlooking the old castle.

The Duncombes were a very influential family in the area and were created Lords Feversham in 1826. A statue of one of their number, the second Lord Feversham, stands in Helmsley’s market Square.

The town of Helmsley itself is a quite charming place of red roofed houses, some Georgian, some earlier. There are interesting inns, a sixteenth century timber-framed house and a pretty stream which flows in a neat channel through the heart of the town.

Helmsley © David Simpson

Ampleforth and Gilling Castle

Ampleforth lies between Helmsley and Coxwold and its name means ‘the ford where sorrel grows’ It is the site of a famous Roman Catholic Public School and an abbey founded in 1802 by English monks from Dieulourard in Lorraine.

They came here to escape the Revolution in France. They had departed from the Gallic shores in 1793 and returned to England where they finally settled at Ampleforth. Dieulourard had originally been established by Benedictine monks from England in 1619. Some of the furniture in Ampleforth College library was made by the ‘mouseman’ furniture designer Robert Thompson of Kilburn.

Gilling Castle lies to the south of Ampleforth on a hill overlooking the village of East Gilling. It began as a tower house built by Thomas Etton sometime in the fourteenth century. Later in 1492 it passed to the Fairfax family and remained in their hands until 1793.

Most of the castle we see today dates from their period of occupancy. Part of the Castle was purchased by Ampleforth College as a preparatory school. A gallery from the castle can be seen at Barnard Castle’s Bowes Museum.

Nunnington Hall, a National Trust property lies to the east of Gilling and is about four miles south east of Helmsley. It is a Tudor manor house built in 1655 by Ranald Graham. One of its earliest occupants was Robert Huickes who was a physician to Henry VIII and later to Elizabeth I. It was Robert that who had the unenviable task of informing the Queen that she was unable to have children.

To the south of Nunnington is another notable house, Hovingham Hall at Hovingham village. It was built in 1760 by a Surveyor General to George III called Sir Thomas Worsley. The site of a Roman villa has been found within the grounds of the house.

Hovingham lies on a Roman Road leading to Malton and Norton along which we pass the villages of Appleton-le-Street and Barton-le-Street. Close to Hovingham is the village of Wath where the Roman road crosses the Wath Beck. Wath was a Viking word for a ford.

The River Rye is joined by the River Riccal near Nunnington. Riccal’s name means Rye Calf, Calf being a name for a small island near a larger one. Numerous ‘islands’ are still formed here in the flat boggy land between the Rye and the Riccal. Only a few miles further on, the Rye is joined by the River Dove and the River Seven – that is Seven – not Severn and, both come fresh from the North York Moors near Kirkbymoorside.

Kirkbymoorside and Lastingham

Kirkbymoorside is a small market town that makes a good centre for exploring the valley of the River Dove, known as Farndale. This dale is famous for its springtime daffodils giving the alternative name Dale of the Daffodils.

A road from nearby Keldholme leads up this dale and on to the pretty villages of Hutton-le-Hole and Lastingham up in the moors. Hutton-le-Hole ‘s name means the high farm near the hollow (Hole) but was formerly known as Heg Hoton – a heg being land enclosed for hunting. It is the home of the Ryedale Folk Museum. Le-Hole was added to Hutton-le-hole’s name by the Norman French to distinguish Hutton from other northern Huttons of which there are many.

Lastingham was the site of a monastery founded by St Cedd in 654 AD, but was destroyed by the Danes in the ninth century. A Norman church was founded on the site by Stephen, the abbot of Whitby, but around 1088 the monks abandoned the site and moved to St Mary’s abbey in York.

The crypt of the Norman foundation lies beneath Lastingham’s church of St Mary, which dates from the thirteenth century, although the tower is fifteenth century. Going deeper into the moors still, four miles to the north we find the hamlet of Rosedale Abbey. It was the site of a Cistercian nunnery in the twelfth century. This was destroyed by Scots in 1322.

Pickering Castle nestles above the Vale of Pickering © David Simpson

Pickering and its Vale

Pickering means the people of Picer or Picere and is either an old personal name for an Anglo-Saxon, or an unknown tribal name that could mean the dwellers at the edge of the ‘pic’ or hill. A place called Dickering in eastern Yorkshire is thought to mean dwellers at the edge of the dyke.

The first recorded owner of Pickering as a surname was Reginald de Pickering in 1165. The surname means a man ‘of Pickering’ and many people with this surname are now found in locations far beyond Yorkshire.

Pickering North Yorkshire
Pickering © David Simpson

Pickering gives its name to the flat Vale of Pickering that lies between the Yorkshire Wolds to the south and the North York Moors to the north. The coast and the town of Scarborough can be found on the eastern flank of the vale. On its western side the vale continues into the Vale of York near Easingwold.

The Vale of Pickering is drained by the River Derwent, which rises near Hackness in the North York Moors. Flowing south for a short distance it comes within a few miles of Scarborough on the coast but surprisingly flows west, even though the east coast is only a few miles away. A man-made sea-cut or canal does however link the river with the sea at Scalby on the northern side of Scarborough.

Near Malton the River Derwent is joined from the west by the River Rye and changes its course southwards to eventually join the River Humber. Derwent means oak river and has the same name and meaning as the River Derwent in North West Durham and Derbyshire or for that matter the River Derwent in Cumbria which flows into the Derwentwater lake.

Pickering Castle
A street called Castlegate leads to Pickering Castle © David Simpson

Pickering Castle lies on the north side of Pickering town overlooking the Pickering Beck. It is thought to have been originally built by William the Conqueror but the earliest parts of the castle date from between 1180 and 1300. Historically, the castle belonged to the Earls of Lancaster.

Two miles east of Pickering on the Scarborough road is Thornton-le-Dale occasionally described as the prettiest village in Yorkshire. It has a fourteenth century church. It is a lovely village often providing inspiration for artists, though there are many other pretty villages in Yorkshire.

Malton and Norton

Malton and Norton are almost three towns in one, consisting of Old Malton and New Malton on the north side of the River Derwent and Norton on the south side of the river. Norton was formerly an East Riding town, while Malton was in the North Riding. The site of a Roman fort called Derventio lies between Old Malton and New Malton on the north side of the river.

Originally Malton was called Middleton, but the name was corrupted due to the influence of Viking speech. Old Malton was the site of a Gilbertine priory and the town grew up around this, but the settlement of Old Malton was burnt down by Archbishop Thurstan of York in 1138 to drive out the Scots who encamped here at the time of the Battle of the Standard. Old Malton’s church of St Mary was built using material from the priory.

Eden Camp Museum sited close to Old Malton was the site of a Second World War prisoner camp. Most of the huts within the camp have been converted into a museum portraying life during the war years. Eden Camp is one of Yorkshire’s most extensive visitor attractions.

Along the valley of the Derwent to the south of Malton are the ruins of Kirkham Priory near Huttons Ambo. The abbey was founded in 1125 by Augustinian canons.

Six miles south west of Malton on the edge of the Yorkshire wolds we find the church of Wharram Percy and the hidden remains of Wharram Percy village. The village was desserted following the Black Death in 1310 and is the best known and certainly most-studied deserted medieval village in Britain.

Castle Howard

Castle Howard is located near the Howardian Hills to the east of Malton and is one of Yorkshire’s great houses. It was built by Sir John Vanbrugh and was his first major project. Charles Howard, the 3rd Earl of Carlisle chose Vanbrugh to build the great house – the largest house in Yorkshire to replace Henderskelfe Castle, which had existed on the site but had burnt down in 1693.

The choice of Vanbrugh was surprising as he was principally known as a playwright and was only an amateur architect at the time. Vanbrugh chose Nicholas Hawksmoor as his Clerk of Works and together they formed a famous partnership. Castle Howard was built between 1700 and 1726 and made Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor into hugely successful architects. Later they would also build the famous Blenheim palace in Oxfordshire for the Dukes of Marlborough.

Castle Howard is still in the hands of the Howard family today. The grounds of the house cover 1000 acres and there are two lakes. Architectural features within the grounds include Vanbrugh’s temple of Four Winds and Hawksmoor’s mausoleum which is of church-like proportions. Castle Howard itself is one of the grandest architectural wonders of Yorkshire.

The Howardian Hills to the west of Malton would seem to have acquired their name from the Howard family. They are modest in height compared to those of the North Yorkshire Moors and they almost provide a continuous link between the Moors and the equally modest hills of the Yorkshire wolds to the south although they are separated from the wolds by the valley of the River Derwent as it heads south in the direction of Stamford Bridge near York. Consisting of well-wooded rolling countryside the Howardian Hills are officially an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).

Sheriff Hutton

The village of Sheriff Hutton lies to the south of the Howardian Hills half way between Malton and the City of York and is so named because it was once held by Bertram Bulmer, the Sheriff of York who died in 1166.The Bulmer family take their name from Bulmer which is a few miles north east of Sheriff Hutton. Bulmer was Bull’s mere, a lake frequented by a bull. Ansketil de Bulmer was the first recorded member of the Bulmer family who lived in the area in the twelfth century.

Ansketil was the High Sheriff of the North Riding of Yorkshire. The surname Bulmer is the subject of much discussion as it is believed that they were an aristocratic family of Anglo-Saxon origin who retained their status after the invasion of the Normans. It is believed that the Bulmers were related to the Anglo-Saxon noble Liulf, who was the first member of a family called Lumley. In those days the Lumleys were connected with Chester-le-Street in County Durham where a castle still bears their name. Liulf Lumley was murdered at Gateshead by the retainers of the first Norman Bishop of Durham called William Walcher in 1081. In later times the Lumleys were the Earls of Scarborough and have strong historic links with Ryedale.

The Bulmers are something of an enigma. They are thought to have continued as tenants of the Normans who inherited Liulf’s land in Yorkshire. Sometime in the twelfth century Ansketil Bulmer is said to have married the daughter of the Lord of Brancepeth Castle in Durham and their son Bertram Bulmer, who succeeded him as High Sheriff of Yorkshire inherited the property.

Later the Bulmers intermarried with the powerful Norman family called the Nevilles, who adopted the Bull’s for their coat of arms and inherited Brancepeth Castle. Raby Castle, the other great Neville property in Durham may also have belonged to the Bulmers as the oldest part of this castle, the Saxon Bulmer tower is inscribed with the initials BB for Bertram Bulmer. Later the Nevilles with their Bulmer blood would rise to great heights and would produce non other than Warwick the Kingmaker who has strong historical associations with Middleham Castle in Wensleydale.

Stamford Bridge

The village of Stamford Bridge stands on the River Derwent nine miles south west of Malton and about six miles north east of York. It was the site of one of the most important battles in English history. It was a battle that signified the end of two hundred years of Viking domination in Yorkshire and the North of England and took place on September 25, 1066.

In that year Harald Hardrada, the King of Norway, had been attacking the coast of Northumberland and was planning an invasion of Yorkshire. At around the same time, Tostig, the exiled brother of the English King Harold also planned to invade the north. Tostig’s army which included reinforcements from Scotland failed in its invasion attempt, but joined forces with the greater raiding fleet of Hardrada at the mouth of the River Tyne. It may have been a pre-arranged meeting.

Hardrada’s men harried the Cleveland coast and Scarborough before entering the River Humber with Tostig in support. They sailed along the Humber and River Ouse before landing at Riccall half way between Selby and York. From there they headed north to York.

On September 20, 1066, the Norwegians under Hardrada defeated the nobles Morcar, the Earl or York (who virtually ruled Yorkshire) and his brother Edwin the Earl of Mercia in a great battle at Gate Fulford on the outskirts of the city. Following his victory the citizens of York gave their support to the Norwegian King, perhaps they did so willingly considering York’s Viking roots. Morcar their leader had after all been an outsider from Mercia appointed to the post by Osulf of Bamburgh who ruled Northumberland north of the River Tees.

By September 25, 1066 the Norwegian King Hardrada was encamped at Stamford Bridge where his army was taken by suprise by the appearance of an army led by Harold Godwinson, the Saxon King of England who had marched all the way north from Sussex. The two opposing sides faced each other on either side of Stamford Bridge with the Vikings on the west bank of the Derwent. At first the Vikings seemed to have the upper hand in the battle when a giant of a Viking, high on Bog Myrtle – a berserker – cut down 40 of the Saxons with his axe. It is said that this man held up the battle for several hours.

This particular obstacle was only overcome when one of Godwinson’s men, unnoticed, made his way beneath the wooden bridge, apparently by floating down the river in a tub. Once under the bridge, he thrust his spear with careful aim through the latches of what was then a wooden bridge straight into the Berserker killing him instantly.

The Norwegians suffered a heavy defeat. Hardrada was killed by an arrow through the throat. Tostig would also lose his life. Soon after victory, King Harold Godwinson learned of the invasion of William the Conqueror and his Norman forces in Sussex. Godwinson had to march his exhausted troops south to deal with this new invading force at the Battle of Hastings, but that as they say is another story.

There has been a bridge at Stamford Bridge since Roman times but the present rather narrow arched bridge dates from 1727 and was built by William Etty. Stamford Bridge’s other notable bridge is its viaduct of 1847 that crosses the River Derwent. It originally transported a railway from York to Beverley but is now part of a cycle route. It is well beyond the reach of a Saxon spear. The most notable building in Stamford Bridge is the old corn mill which is said to date in parts to the sixteenth century but in truth it is mostly Victorian. It now houses a rather neat collection of apartments.

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