AS Abbot Gerold left Furness Abbey with his band of 12 monks to begin a new life at Calder on the Cumbrian coast, he couldn’t have envisaged the problems he and his followers would face before reaching their final destination in Ryedale. Gerold actually died before they built their beautiful abbey at Byland.

It was in 1134 that they set out for Calder, but after only four years they were attacked by a marauding band of Scots who destroyed the building. They decided to return to Furness but were not welcome.

With no other choice, they loaded their belongings and headed for York, calling in at Thirsk Castle along the way.

This was fortunate for the destitute monks, as Gundreda, the owner of the castle, welcomed them and instructed her son, Roger de Mowbray, to allow them to settle at Hood (Hode) where a Benedictine monk was living as a hermit.

Still unsettled, they moved on again and in 1143 they were given lands in the village of Old Byland which was described as being an area of a vast and horrid wilderness.

However, being monks, this did not matter and they duly built their abbey. This was not a good idea as the abbey was in close proximity to Rievaulx Abbey and the ringing of bells from both abbeys could be heard at both locations causing utter confusion, especially in the dark hours.

So once more the beleagured monks moved again and in 1147 settled at Stocking near Coxwold.

There are many places with the name of Stocking so it is uncertain as to where the monks settled but it must have been within reach of the current Byland Abbey. It is possible that the Stocking they settled at was Oldstead where some remains have been found.

The monks prepared to make their last move while they lived at Stocking, receiving land a little further away at the site of the Abbey we know today. They sent lay monks to commence building and by 1177 the construction of the buildings were complete, except for the church, and the choir monks abandoned Stocking for their new home.

Byland Abbey was finally completed in the mid-1190s and there they lived, collecting great wealth from sheep farming, the wool from the sheep being sold abroad. As an example of how far their wealth spread they held land in West Yorkshire and Cumbria.

And there they worked, prayed and lived happily until the Dissolution, when their lands and wealth was pillaged by the Crown and the monks pensioned off to perhaps finish their lives as they started – wandering the countryside looking for shelter and food and praying for better things to come.

Your route

Start from the church entrance and cycle to the roundabout, go right here onto the A170 signed to Thirsk.

Leave the town over the bridge and start to climb. In one-and-a-half miles, turn left signed to Ampleforth, Wass and Coxwold. Cycle down the hill through Sproxton, then start to climb and take the next turning on the right signed to Ampleforth.

It is a long climb now, though not very steep and soon you have grand all round views. Not for long, though, as you soon start to descend a very steep hill. Take care.

At the T-junction go right and cycle through the village. However, if you are in need of refreshment, there is the village shop on your right, the White Swan on your left and a little further along the White Horse.

Exit the village up a steep hill, which is thankfully only short, then cycle along a rural twisty, undulating road to arrive at Wass. Bear left through the village, past the Wombwell Arms and shortly you will have a stunning view of Byland Abbey.

At the abbey, turn right past the Abbey Inn signed to Oldstead and Kilburn. Pass under an old stone archway and take care on this quiet, single track road. Pass another pub, The Black Swan, as you enter Oldstead, then keep straight ahead following a sign for Kilburn.

Enjoy this country ride as the road twists, turns and undulates. I am sure you will like the switchbacks.

In a little over a mile from Oldstead, look for a right turn along a narrow lane signed to White Horse. This is a serious ascent of almost one mile up the side of Roulston Scar. It is very steep in places and very narrow.

About halfway up there is a car park on your left where you can have a breather and a look at the White Horse.

Eventually (and thankfully) you reach the top with the gliding club on your left.

At the T-junction, turn left onto the A170, then in a couple of hundred yards, turn right with great care signed to Cold Kirby and Old Byland.

If you require refreshments or toilets, drop into the visitor centre on your left. If not continue along the road still following the signs for Cold Kirby and Old Byland.

Enjoy the grand views and keep straight on at the crossroads to descend into Cold Kirby, turning left at the entry to the village signed to Old Byland and Rievaulx.

Another twisty single track road, but not long and you arrive at Old Byland. As you cycle uphill through the village, the entrance to the very interesting 12th century church is across the green on the right.

Bear right at the top of the village to take the road to Helmsley and Rievaulx, the road soon descends down a twisty, slippery hill to eventually reach the road at Ashberry Farm.

Go left here, then over the bridge to go left again signed to Rievaulx. Pass the grand abbey remains on your right, then climb up through the pretty village of Rievaulx, continue climbing, quite steep now, to a T-junction. Go right here to cycle downhill all the way back to Helmsley.


Country cycle ride facts

Distance – 22miles/35km.

Best map – OS Outdoor Leisure 26.

Start/grid ref – Helmsley church, grid ref: 612839.

Terrain – Narrow country roads with one lung-bursting, severe ascent.

Refreshments – Helmsley and lots of pubs along the way.

Public toilets – Helmsley main car park and off the Market Place, Sutton Bank Visitor Centre.

York Press: Gazette cycle ride around Byland Abbey