Wending my Way Through the Vale of Mowbray

Days 4 & 5 on the Swale Trail

Skipton-on-Swale to Thrintoft

FOLLOWING the course of the river Swale from where it joins the Ouse at Myton has taken me to many places I would not otherwise have been.

Today’s article covers two walks either side of the summer, in May and September.

Both walks followed the Swale where it passes west of Thirsk and Northallerton.

As on previous occasions I dropped off a bicycle at the end of each walk so I could get back to my car.

Between Helperby/Brafferton and Richmond the Swale was crossed by no less than six now disused railways, of which five bridges survive.

On this occasion I crossed two, although I should advise the public that the second bridge, near Morton-on-Swale, is not open to the public.

In May I walked through fields of gambolling lambs and woods full of bluebells. By September the lambs had all grown up and the bluebells had gone. Sadly two pubs, the Buck Inn and the Busby Stoop, had closed. But despite the approach of autumn, the English countryside, even in a heavily farmed area, can still appear beautiful.

York Press: Cow at PickhillCow at Pickhill

Day One

Parking opposite the church at Skipton-on-Swale I crossed the river and headed northwest on a footpath along the river. The river was cobalt blue in the sunshine and reflected slow moving clouds. There was the bleating of lambs and the sound of birdsong and a gurgling stream – Howe Beck joins the river here. The sheep had gnawed the grass bare and I tiptoed sideways to avoid their droppings.

I then walked along the west bank of the Swale as far as the hamlet of Holme. On the opposite bank there was a whole series of turkey farms built on the perimeter of the old Skipton airfield.

After Holme, Church Lane led me towards the village of Pickhill. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Just before the village the lane disappeared and I had to retrace my steps only to find my way blocked by cows and an electric fence.

Having been electrocuted twice in Scotland by such a fence I was taking no chances and detoured to another footpath that entered Pickhill at its southern end.

Pickhill is a picturesque village with pub, green and church raised up on a bank, just like Topcliffe. There were men and boys playing five-a-side on the green. The village used to be on the railway map, with the line from Leeds to Northallerton passing through.

York Press: Morton Road BridgeMorton Road Bridge

Its church, All Saints, dates from 1150. I found an interesting grave with a raised stone cross with fleurs-de-lys carved around it. I

t was the grave of Graham (surname indecipherable) who, after residing for over 20 years in Verona, became a reputable merchant in London. He died in 1793 at the age of 73.

Just across the river, to the northeast, lies Danotty Hall Farm. In 1702 Daniel Awty (or Auty) was murdered by his son-in-law, Thomas Busby. They had apparently been arguing over the profits from an illegal counterfeiting business. Several rooms in the hall had apparently been fitted out for the purpose of ‘coining.’ Busby was executed and his body hung on a gibbet at a crossroads near Skipton-on-Swale, a place known to this day as Busby Stoop.

I then followed the disused railway in a straight line due north all the way to the village of Maunby. Some of the route was along an embankment with great views across the river valley.

Just to the west is the deserted settlement of Swainby, now just a series of mounds and hummocks. There was a monastery here until 1212, when the monks relocated to Coverham, 23 miles to the west.

Approaching the village of Maunby, visible from the railway embankment, it was unclear whether it was possible to cross the old railway bridge.

York Press: Maunby GatesMaunby Gates

Luckily you could as there was a notice informing me that permission to cross was a ‘privilege and not a right’ and was allowed due to the ‘goodwill of the owners on both sides’.

Hats off to both. It was a magnificent bridge, at least I thought so, constructed like a Meccano kit from iron latticework. The line itself was originally established by the Leeds Northern Railway as single track in 1852, doubling in 1901 when the bridge was built. It closed in 1967.

My bike awaiting me in the churchyard of St. Michael and All Angels, a one-bell chapel of Victorian vintage, like the Methodist Chapel nearby. The Buck Inn looked inviting with outside tables busy with cyclists. I made a mental note to return.

Day Two

Four months later, as I walked through Maunby, I was sorry to see that the pub had now closed and is already a private house. The Buck Inn served the village from 1855 and was designated to be an asset of community value. Planning consent to convert to a house was allowed last May, just after my first visit.

Today’s walk took me just over five miles along the east bank of the river through fields of sheep, and arable fields being ploughed for winter crops.

To my left I could see the gap in the hills, framed to the south by the escarpment of Pen Hill, that is the entrance to Wensleydale. Just before Far Fairholme there was evidence of medieval ridge and furrows in a field that had escaped modern ploughing.

York Press: View westView west

After a long and rather tedious stretch of farm track I reached the A684 just west of Morton-on-Swale. This road crosses the river on yet another John Carr bridge, dating back to 1800.

I am beginning to recognise the famous York architect’s designs, bridges built out of mellow stone with curved pedestrian ‘retreats.’

I retreated into one of them to get a look at the iron bridge of the Wensleydale Railway that crosses the river just north of here. It leaves the mainline at Northallerton and used to go as far as Hawes, before joining the Settle to Carlisle line at Garsdale Head. A section remains open to the public between Scruton and Redmire.

It was then less than a mile to my destination, the tiny hamlet of Thrintoft (Norse for thorn bush). Journeys end was the Chantry Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen (c.1253), now a private house. It is situated on a small hill above the river, with good views in all directions – useful to spot any marauding Scots.

On the way back I should mention that I cycled through Ainderby Steeple, a pretty village also situated on a small hill, but unfortunately transected by the busy A684. Incidentally its church does not have a steeple but does have a very nice tower.