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Country walk at Cockayne
George Wilkinson enjoys the unspoilt charms of Cockayne.
COCKAYNE, the remote hamlet in Bransdale, is one of my favourite starts. No knick-knack shops, no tea shops, no ice cream, this is the quiet zone. As for the name, according to an AA guide “the land of Cockayne was a distant and mythical place of idleness and luxury”.
A couple of walkers passed as we booted up and said with a laugh that we’d taken their favourite parking spot, and sure the views of the valley are great, but they were probably concerned with the seemingly limited parking. This is the case if you misread the National Trust sign near the road junction that states ‘No Parking Off the Verges’ as ‘No Parking On the Verges’.
We idled along the road for a while, a cyclist zipped past on doubtless the Bransdale Loop, and we turned up the valley side for a path that after a steep start levels out when it reaches the heather. The purple carpet was out for us, fabulous, and there went the grouse skimming away and a buzzard flew high.
Soon we reached a junction, one marked by the ancient Stump Cross, which is a stubby stone snug in a sandstone socket.
At this junction was parked an extraordinary thing, a large wood-clad lorry trailer, which is a mobile ‘lunch trailer’ for the grouse shooters.
We had a sandwich, from the rucksack, and then strode off for a most spectacular mile along Bransdale Ridge, by grouse butts smooth with bilberry. This is no ordinary route being the medieval Thurkilsti hill road that may have run all the way to York.
Dog walkers please note that the public right of way along the ridge as shown on the OS map is parallel and a mere stone’s throw to the east, but it has vanished and the shooters’ track has taken over and so is a usage route that is legal.
We chatted to a couple of mountain bikers and then popped down to the valley floor, a lovely contrast with its patchwork of National Trust fields, intricacy of paths and oaks older than they look.
A length of stone flagged ‘trod’ led to Bransdale Mill, a fascinating complex of buildings restored by the National Trust. One old inscription is apparently in Greek, Hebrew and Latin. I’m not minded to translate. A recent notice on a mill door read “Welcome Home Beautiful People”, another sign reads “Bransdale Basecamp”. Cockayne is just round the corner.
When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed.
1. From church, downhill on road, right at junction (Helmsley), gate/cattlegrid, gate/cattlegrid, ignore road on left, fieldgate, ignore track on right.
2. Path on right (fingerpost bridleway) immediately steep uphill to right of shale gully, becomes path uphill through bracken, less steep when reaches heather, now cairns at intervals.
3. Left to main track (Stump Cross), one mile.
4. Barrier gate and left to road (signs and notices), ½ mile.
5. Immediately after conifer wood, grass on right for 20 yards. At fence (fingerpost), five yards to left and path through bracken by fence to your right downhill, 200 yards, gate (waymark) to grass field, downhill, over small stream and by wall remains to your right.
6. Stile and right to road, ten yards, gateway on left by barn (fingerpost), 25 yards, fieldgate and downhill by wall to your right.
7. Stile (waymark) and steep down to step over stream, 50 yards, wallstile near corner with loose stones, 50 yards, and modern footbridge on right with stiles, left, wallstile in corner (waymark) and downhill by fence for 50 yards.
8. Stone slab bridge and gate (waymarks), 11 o’clock, not to hill top, gate, gate, stepstream, gate to paved path in trees.
9. Pass to right of mill, concrete track (four-way fingerpost).
10. Gate and left to road to Cockayne.
Distance: Five miles.
General location: North York Moors.
Right of way: Public.
Date walked: September 2011.
Road route: Via Helmsley or Kirkbymoorside.
Car parking: Roadside in or near Cockayne.
Tourist & public transport information: Helmsley TIC 01439 770173.
Map: Drawn from OS OL26 North York Moors western.
Terrain: Moor and valley.
Difficulty: Moderate if fine.
Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers set out at their own risk.