A Walk into History from Thornton Steward

A couple of blogs ago, I mentioned how the Yorkshire village of Thornton Steward gives a very friendly welcome to visiting walkers. And this lovely area in lower Wensleydale, or Yoredale, is certainly worth visiting. Not just beautiful scenery, but a wealth of English history along the way.


St Oswald’s Church Thornton Steward (c) John Bainbridge 2016

We followed a shady woodland track down past the Manor House to the parish church of St Oswald’s, particularly interesting as some of it is pre-Norman. It stands alone – a good quarter mile from the village. But if you look at the fields nearby you can see a lot of bumps and hollows. An indication that many years ago the village was much closer to this place of worship, these houses abandoned after a plague or just a change in economic fortunes? In 1966 an archaeological dig here revealed burials dating to 680 AD.

A good track led below Danby Grange and then right in front of the Victorian facade of Danby Hall, once the home of the Scrope family, who feature so much in English history. The Bainbridge family originated a little further up this Dale, so I do wonder if they encountered each other in times past?


Danby Hall (c) John Bainbridge 2016

Interesting that the owners of the hall never closed these ancient rights of way over the years. So many lords of the manor did in other parts of England. Perhaps Yorkshire folk are more accommodating? The hall remains in private hands.

Soon after we arrived at the River Yore (Ure) itself, close by the old manorial mill. Then out on to Ullshaw Bridge, once a crossing point for an ancient track between Kendal and York. In the refuges are slab seats and a sundial dating to 1674 – just imagine the travellers who must have passed this way? Look closely at the stones in the bridge. You can see the marks of the masons who built it.


Ullshaw Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2016

Just beyond is the Coverbridge Inn, an old coaching hostelry, which itself dates to at least the 1500s. Crossing the Cover Bridge, we followed the Six Dales Trail along the banks of the River Cover to its confluence with the Yore.

Very pleasant river walking this, though folklore says you have to beware of the Kelpie, a water monster which stalks its victims along these very banks.


The Sundial (c) John Bainbridge 2016

We arrived at the picturesque ruins of Jervaulx Abbey. We’ve visited before, a place of peace, though its history was not always as tranquil as the locality suggests. It dates to       c 1156. Wensleydale cheese-making had its origins here. The last abbot, Adam Sedbar, came to a bloody end, being executed for his role in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Paid to keep your heads down when the Tudors were about.

If you are visiting, seek out the tearoom, with its very fine selection of cakes. You might want to linger there… we did!

A good wide path took us past fish ponds to Kilgram Lane and then Kilgram Bridge, which is thought to be pre-Elizabethan. A good place for a quiet sit down as you watch the brown waters of the Yore hurrying by.


The River Yore (c) John Bainbridge 2016

Local legend relates that it was built in a single night by the devil himself. See if you can spot the missing stone… the same tellers of legend warn that a dreadful spell will be cast if it is ever replaced. Note the mason’s marks of the long-dead builders of the bridge.


Kilgram Bridge (c) John Bainbridge 2016

We followed field paths back to Thornton Steward, very pleasant pastoral walking on some very good footpaths, well-maintained by the local farmers. Interesting that the stiles hereabouts seem to be decorated with the cast-off feathers of birds. Whether this is a local tradition I know not. I don’t recall encountering it before.

This is a walk full of history, one that might be repeated at different times of the year – and ramblers seem to be most welcomed. Recommended. The little guidebook sold in the Village Institute in Thornton Steward does this walk the other way round, I noticed. Either way is a delight.



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