Nunnington is a charming village about six miles south, by east, of Helmlsey. It’s pleasantly situated on ground sloping down to the River Rye, and is typical of the scenic Howardian Hills. Lying to the north of Hovingham, it’s entered along The Avenue, and is 1.5 miles north of the B1257 Malton-Helmsley road.
Start from the 13th century church of All Saints and St James, which guards the village from its high place on the hill. It’s a fine church with a tower of 1672 resting on a modern arch.
With the church to your right, turn left along a broad, rutted bridleway signed, ‘Stonegrave 1 mile’. The direct route ascends very gently to the hilltop, with a seat to your right by a hollow tree trunk.
At the top of the field you meet Caulkleys Bank and woodland. A partially hidden sign indicates The Avenue ¼ mile left, and Stonegrave ½ mile right. Turn right alongside conifers and follow the woodland perimeter along a superb section of Caulkleys Bank, with cowslips bedecking the field edge to your right. A very gentle descent along the grassy track leads to a forking of ways. Go left to find a metal farmgate. Enter, and discover a bankside riddled with rabbit burrows. A tree trunk to your left is a grand spot for your cuppa, with a fine view beyond the farm nearby.
Continue along the green, sunken track to a stile and metal farmgate. Beyond is a handsome stone property named Caulkley Bank House. This is your turning point for the return route, but do visit Stonegrave’s minster first. Just turn left along the B1257 for several paces, to find a kerb-sign on your right announcing Stonegrave Minster. Founded before 757AD. Turn briefly along a lane and grass track to enter a metal gate into the graveyard of the minster.
Although Stonegrave is a small place, sheltering under the wooded slope of Caulkleys Bank, which juts into the Vale of Pickering, it has a notable church. The bulk of the tower is Norman or Saxon. You’ll find beautiful woodwork with 17th century pulpit, chancel screen and carving in the panelling behind the stalls and on the solid screen across the north aisle. A great possession is a splendid Saxon cross with damaged wheel head, seen as you enter.
Standing about 6ft high, it’s covered with rich plaitwork and has on the shaft two quaint little men with a cross between them. The upper one has his arms uplifted and the lower has his arms akimbo. It’s 1,000 years old!
Leave the minster, return to the road and go left up to the stone-built residence of Caulkley Bank House. Turn right and walk beside the house, and as you retrace your earlier steps for a few paces, seek loose stones where the bank has eroded on the left. Halt! Don’t go uphill, but go right in line with hedging screening the B1257 below.
The next highlight follows, as you keep beside post and wire fencing, with the bank to your left possibly grazed by sheep. Please leash any dogs. At the end of the sheep pasture, enter woodland by a tied handgate and re-fasten please.
It may be springtime, but the woodland floor reflects a carpet of snow? No - a dense covering of wild garlic or ramsons. Crush the leaves - and you’ll know it’s garlic! Your narrow path follows the edge of Caulkleys Wood, revealing primroses, violets, bugle, stitchwork, ground ivy (ale hoof), goldilocks, and an increasing flow of bluebells. The only sounds are those of rooks, and the little chiff-chaff.
All too soon a gate opens onto the road, which may prove busy, so keep close to the verge and ascend the steep hillside. Go round the bend, or cut across to discover more wild flowers.
At the hill-top is a small car park and well-placed seat for a cup of coffee! A beautiful avenue of sycamore trees climbs almost to the top of the green hill known as Caulkleys Bank, which has charming views of hills and dales. What goes up must come down, and your descent leads to cross roads.
Reaching the crossroads, go straight ahead as signed to Nunnington Hall, passing the village hall to your right.
In the valley bottom is Low Street off left, but just beyond do pause to view the beautiful bridge of three arches which spans the River Rye. From this 18th century road bridge, you may be lucky enough to glimpse a trout. Beyond the river, and half-hidden by trees is Nunnington Hall, which is perhaps the best known feature of Nunnington.
Make a point of visiting this imposing, stone built mansion house. It was built on the site of a nunnery by a squire named John Hickes, and parts of it date back to 1552.
Having included this attraction in your day out, don’t miss the bewitching Carlisle Collection of miniature rooms housed here and cherished by the National Trust.
Leaving the hall, cross the road to enter Low Street, and at the end bear right to discover Nunnington Studios. It’s the perfect place to end your outing. It has not only a tea room, but an art gallery, garden ornaments and furniture, ironworks, and remarkable sculptures. You could spend an hour or more browsing there alone!
Then, having explored the village lanes return to the church with many happy memories and the Royal Oak en route.
Distance: Approximately 4.5 miles. Good terrain throughout.
Refreshment: Nunnington Studios on Low Street.
Toilet: Nunnington Studios, also the Royal Oak (below the church).
Map Ref: Howardian Hills and Malton, OS Explorer, Ordnance Survey 300. Scale 2.5 inches to one mile.