GEORGE WILKINSON braves the snow to rediscover the joys of winter walking.

SNOW - or 'snow shock' as the headlines proclaim - and with it came personal fury that I hadn't managed to organise proper all-weather mobility. The new (nearly new) car wouldn't take the snow chains and I wished, for the first time in years, for a 4x4 and vowed to get a pair of old wheels with knobbly treads.

Nevertheless spirits were lifted by the beauty of it all, the clean white that muffled the little market town of Kirkbymoorside, a place described in the late twentieth century by John Rushton as a 'gem of the moorland fringe'.

A crunch up Castlegate brought us to the outskirts where the remnants of a castle -- a wall 20 feet high with a hole in it gave all appearances of being about to give up its last ghosts and topple into the valley.

This valley, the Manor Vale Nature Reserve, is an interesting ecological slice, a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, with mountains of highways depot salt at one end and a golf course at the other.

Next we tackled a length of the road to the moors. Not a vehicle moved up or down, a paralysis of sub-zero. One had forgotten what bitter feels like. For a moment the sky flashed sunlit blue and we yearned to be high up north on the heather. Then the moorland skirt vanished in another freezing flurry and with some relief we slipped into the shelter of Robin Hood's Howl.

A howl is 'a hollow, a smooth shallow depression, a dry valley', and here it is a long thin wood. As for Robin Hood, I know not why, except that he was a hero.

Deer run here, but nature was subdued - the soft coo of a pigeon, the tracks of a rabbit, the thinnest of the branches bent low and coated thick. But it was warmer especially because the howl lines up north/south and is also angled to any heat. The path through its midline is narrow and, over a mile, drops 200 feet, a slightly slithery insulated descent.

We emerged at the level land of Ryedale into blinding sunshine with Great Edstone on a hill, Snipes Wood on the slopes, with a few fields to tramp and the pleasure that winter can still bite.

Fact file

Distance: Four miles.

Time: Two hours.

General location: Southern edge of North York Moors.

Start: Kirkbymoorside.

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

Date walked: Saturday, January 4, 2003.

Road Route: Kirkbymoorside is on the A170, between Helmsley and Pickering.

Car parking: Roadside or pay and display car park.

Lavatories: Car park.

Refreshments: Tea rooms and inns.

Tourist & public transport Information: Pickering TIC 01751 473791.

Map: Based on OS Explorer OL26, North York Moors western area.

Terrain: Mainly woods.

Points of interest: The castle remnant should be preserved thanks to an English Heritage grant.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Dogs: Suitable.

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. Uphill from Post Office in Market Place, fork right at mini-roundabout, fork left at top of Castlegate, one hundred yards on access track.

2. Fieldgate by bit of castle wall into Manor Vale woodland, 150 yards, fork left to path downhill, right to metalled access road, 150 yards, path on left (signed) up bank.

3. Right to road (verge), first left to Hagg Road (bench).

4. At dip, stile/fieldgate on left to valley-bottom path through wood.

5. Gate at end of wood and left for fifty yards, stile and right by hedge, left hand corner then vehicle-sized hedge gap on right, 11 o'clock (pass hedge corner to right), through gap, edge of field (hedge to right), stile, 11 o'clock, stile, across field, stile, across field, stile to path between houses.

6. Right to road downhill, left at bottom and back to Market Place.

Click here to view a map of the walk

Updated: 09:58 Saturday, January 11, 2003