VICTORIA ELLIS takes in the medieval ruins along the Magna Via from Helmsley

We drive north out of the centre of Helmsley, not as usual on the busy Bilsdale road, but on a more ancient parallel highway. It is the Magna Via, first recorded in 1145.

We use its three miles of dead-end Tarmac to reach the car park that sits on the top of Helmsley Bank at an altitude of a thousand feet.

From here conifers flow down the steep bank and fingers of the woods clutch a small valley. We are going beyond all this to Helmsley Moor, which on the day stretched away to grey, mysterious and lovely in the soft late-autumn mist.

The view is celebrated by a good space-framing grey metal abstract sculpture.

We angled down Helmsley Bank, levelled out through Roppa Wood, which was lively with great tits, and set off across the moor - steadily.

The once important Magna Via is now a single-person channel through knee-high heather.

These very old roads were made on dry ridges rather than in the muddy valleys, nevertheless there was an attendant ditch-cum-stream of mini waterfalls and pools, and I spotted a lone water beetle.

This was, bar sheep and grouse, the only animal I saw on the moor and indeed the only vivid colour was the orange tips of lichens and the only sounds were mist-muffled shotguns from an indeterminate direction.

One is reassured of the approximate route by two medieval crosses. 'Roppa Cross, South' has half its wheelheaded shaft standing in a socket, and another piece of shaft beside it.

'Roppa Cross, North' is more damaged, looking like a pestle and mortar.

Hereabouts are Bronze Age cairns that I did not seek out, but I did notice a brick hut that I hazard has something to do with Helmsley Moor being an RAF practice bombing range in 1950. The Air Ministry said at the time that 'in view of the nature of the practice bombs there will, in fact, be little danger of damage'.

The Magna Via has gradually brought us up to a thousand feet again, we leave it for a shooters' track. Now you can put away your compass and enjoy the views. With visibility down to three miles these were to the always-shapely Hawnby and Easterside Hills and the spurs of the west flank of Bilsdale.

We track on, dip a bit, climb a bit and, because this is a walk on a stalk, do Roppa Wood and Helmsley Bank again.


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

1. From parking area by sculpture, right to road and downhill (dead-end). Straight on at crossroads of tracks when Tarmac ends, 25 yards, fork left (right fork is signed to Potter House Farm). Stay on main track through wood (felling on left).

2. At corner of wood, stile/fieldgate to moor (into Bransdale/Nawton Towers Open Access Area, no info plaque). Almost immediately right to track, 20 yards, left at small cairn to narrow footpath on left of drainage ditch. Stay on this path which sometimes widens, sometimes just about disappears.

3. At remains of curious stone structure in drainage ditch, right to first cross (150 yards) then return to path. Switch sides of ditch sometimes for better walking. After second cross (100 yards to right) path dips just east of north and heads towards wooden and stone grouse butts.

4. Left to shooters' track just before stone grouse butts.

5. At left-hand bend, take right fork for 50 yards to Grouse Butt 'No. 6' for views up and down Bilsdale, return to main track.

6. At left-hand bend by wall, ignore faint right fork.

Fact file

Distance: Five and a half miles.

Time: Three hours.

General location: North York Moors.

Start: Helmsley Bank by sculpture. GR 594904.

Right of way: The complete route is along public rights of way or in open access area.

Date walked: Saturday, November 17, 2001.

Road route: From just outside the very centre of Helmsley take Cannons Garth Lane between the church and the Feversham Arms Hotel, then second left (signed swimming pool) then stay on this road and ignore left fork to Beckdale Road.

Car parking: Free parking area.

Lavatories: None.

Refreshments: Nearest at Helmsley.

Tourist and public transport information: Helmsley TIC 01439 770173.

Map: Based on OS Outdoor Leisure 26, North York Moors western area.

Terrain: Narrow footpath through heather. Good track. Mostly on moors.

Points of interest: Open access, views, sculpture, ancient road, cairns and crosses.

Difficulty: Moderate, reasonable navigation skills needed in bad visibility.

Dogs: Suitable.

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.

Click here to view a map of the walk