We took a random route to Pickering Castle turning uphill at the North York Moors Railway station, up through the slopes of old terraced houses.

I noticed three stones named Ellis in a Quaker graveyard, a pleasant place to lie, eternity with a view.

The castle is a stunner, very much worth a visit. Built by William the Conqueror, it and 17,270 Yorkshire acres hereabouts are owned (in a constitutionally convoluted fashion) by the Duchy of Lancaster (the Queen).

Skinflint walkers can walk on by the gatehouse and follow the deep ditch that runs outside the high outer curtain of 14th-century walls. Then the only glimpse inside is through a heavy-barred door to the gloom of a perimeter tower.

Pay your money and enter and you can climb the central feature, the massive and original 12th-century earth mound (with later stone topping) called the Kings Tower. The views are dominant. To the south, over Pickering and the vale that bears its name, to the Wolds and the Howardian Hills. To the north, to the remnants of forests that we were to walk.

An info plaque informed us that the castle 'rarely had a military role' and mainly served as a hunting admin-centre.

The nature of this is graphically explained in the castle chapel. Control was total, the locals 'overawed'. Hunting was the royal obsession, poaching the dominant crime.

The castle had a court and jail. Eventually it was 'found more profitable to fine rather than mutilate offenders'. Dogs had to have their claws clipped to prevent them running after game.

We continued with our walk into the woods. They were nice, with quarry faces colonised by trees and bare beech woods that let you see down and into the narrow valley bottom. One is reminded not to fall foul of the Duchy as signs proclaim '...please keep out, Vermin Traps' and 'Please keep dogs on footpath. Vermin Traps in use'.

We kept to the path and later saw a big dead fox. The sound from the woods was not the hoot of steam trains (winter resting) but of the 'whoop...whoop...whoop' of beaters chivvying pheasants to the guns.

In Little Park Wood we dropped into the valley, bridged a muddy Pickering Beck, crossed the railway track and turned down the other side of the valley, finding a route slightly above its floor.

There are beckside fields for the summer backside and one can normally cross the water to what was, until last autumn, a 'secluded' Countryside Stewardship Site of wet meadows.

At Newbridge, we took a road to more woods, then passed below the castle, by a 'fun fishing' lake and the sidings of railway carriages, to finish for a cuppa in the busy town centre.

Fact file

Distance: Five miles.

Time: Two hours.

General location: Southern edge of North York Moors.

Start: The bottom end of Pickering Market Place (the main street).

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

Date walked: Saturday, January 26, 2002.

Road route: On A170.

Car parking: Various car parks, municipal and otherwise.

Lavatories: At municipal car parks.

Refreshments: Inns, cafs, fish and chips, and restaurants.

Tourist and public transport information: Pickering TIC, tel: 01751 473791.

Map: Based on OS Outdoor Leisure 27, North York Moors eastern area.

Terrain: Valley edge and floor.

Points of interest: St Peter and St Paul Church in the town centre has dramatic medieval wall paintings. Pickering Castle - open at this time of year, Wednesday to Sunday only, between 10am and 4pm (closed for lunch 1pm-2pm). Admission charge. English Heritage, tel: 01751 474989.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Dogs: Suitable. NB 'Vermin Traps'.

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


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

1. From the bottom of Market Place to Park Street. Fork right to Tarmac path uphill (Castle Road sign on house). Right to road at top then path in ditch anti-clockwise half-way around castle.

2. Path in dip on right at corner of wood and keep up by fence at wood edge (waymarks).

3. Right after new fencing to field-edge path (so hedge on right).

4. Left to hedged track then across fields (stiles).

5. At edge of wood at gate, right to field-edge path (gates).

6. Snickelgate into wood (waymark and white-painted post), 150 yards, left downhill (waymark), downhill at tracks junction.

7. Right at bottom of hill, ten yards, path on left, plank bridge then footbridge over Pickering Beck.

8. Cross NYM Railway Line - remember to stop, look and listen. Left to stony track.

9. Left to road, bridge over beck, 200 yards, path on left (no sign) angles up into wood then contours above road. Rejoin road just before castle.

Click here to view a map of the walk

Updated: 09:38 Saturday, February 02, 2002