GEORGE WILKINSON stretches his legs before an appointment with the surgeon's table...

If you drive the road from Thirsk to Ripon you will have been stopped at the start of this walk by the traffic lights on the bridge over the river at Skipton-on-Swale. There are not many places you can follow the Swale hereabouts and I've been meaning to have a look, and with the route almost as straight and smooth as a hospital corridor it suited me; (many thanks to Ward 11 whose attentions separated the walking and the writing of this - a 'nice big hernia' said the surgeon cheerfully).

So if you are passing by and have an hour or so to spare and conditions are clement just pull in and plod, there is hardly need for preparation, clobber or a map.

I was tempted to go for the river at dusk then thought there will be an infinity of winter gloom and took the tepid Indian Summer sunshine. One walks a floodbank, a ripple on the pasture, the water slid slow and tea-coloured clear.

Nearside riverbanks are naturally messy, soft soils chewed away by torrents, the far bank is overgrown with willow, their branches dragging in the water and the horizon encircles low with a rhythm of trees.

The place was quiet, the cobwebs were intact. Over the mile, the river hardly changes, no rapids, no swirling pools, a ribbon of reflections, broken only by the skitting and splashing of moorhens, the power ascents of ducks and a 'bull in field' sign.

Riverside access ends at the village of Catton and we return on a back road that parallels the Swale.

There is not much verge but not much traffic and I only registered when a gleaming JCB Fastrac hummed by, the Ferrari of the fields these, 40 mph (the British limit) and £74,000 in yellow, not red.

The usual monochrome mix of gulls and crows sat out the afternoon sunshine, squirrels in an oak were betrayed by a scattering of acorn bits and horses nuzzled under a chestnut at Catton Hall, which is small.

A competition of barking signalled the Jay Gee Sanctuary, a couple were looking in, after a new, or rather second-hand dog.

My 'Random' died a few months ago, the veteran of many an Evening Press walk, the scourge of rabbits far and wide, so I hurried past not to be tempted and thought of him the rest of the way.

Now I sit and shuffle convalescing with ill grace, not a happy bunny. Next week Victoria Ellis, ace navigator and countryside romantic, will be back in some approximation to action.

Fact file

Distance: Nearly three miles

Time: An hour or two

General location: Between Thirsk and Ripon and between the A1 and A19.

Start: The village of Skipton-on-Swale.

Right of way: The complete route is along public rights of way.

Date walked: Saturday, October 14, 2001.

Road route: From York, A19 to Thirsk then A61 or via A1.

Car parking: Three-hundred-yard-long lay-by on the A61 at the edge of the village, on the Thirsk side. Free.

Lavatories: None.

Refreshments: None.

Tourist and public transport information: Thirsk TIC tel 01845 522755.

Points of interest: The church spire is at Baldersby St James.

Difficulty: Very easy.

Dogs: Suitable, unless sensitive about dogs' homes.

Weather forecast: Evening Press and recorded forecast 0891 500 418.

Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers set out at their own risk.


When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed.

1. Into Skipton-on-Swale (pavement) stile on left after last hour before bridge (signed). Path on floodbanks (a few stiles).

2. Path goes under trees, left at fence, 20 yards up to stile. Tarmac for 100 yards by houses then left to road (nice old sign 'Skipton Bridge 1 mile'). Stay on road, right at A61 to 'lay-by'.

Click here to view a map of the walk