Discover captivating dale

St Gregory's Minster has a Saxon sundial and Saxon coffin stones.
St Gregory's Minster has a Saxon sundial and Saxon coffin stones.

Written by Maureen Robinson

This short, beautiful walk is set in a captivating dale just outside Kirkbymoorside. Kirkdale is perhaps best known for St Gregory’s Minster and its Saxon sundial. Nearby is Kirkdale Cave, where an old archaeological site produced findings in 1821 that suggested new ideas about the far distant past!

Ancient animal remains discovered in Kirkdale Cave.

Access is by private or public transport along the A170 Scarborough-Helmsley road as far as Moorland Trout Farm, or Starfits Lane, just west of Kirkbymoorside. Turn off as signed to Kirkdale ½ mile, and see the ford ahead. Approaching the ford from the footbridge take the footpath off right uphill to enter a tree-encircled quarry. High above are two openings in the quarry wall. These are entrances to the Hyena Cave within.

Here, in 1821 John Gibson noticed teeth and bone amongst stone newly laid on a road near Kirkbymoorside. His search led to the quarry by Hodge Beck at Kirkdale. He collected bones from a cave there. William Buckland, Professor of Geology at Oxford, identified them as being bones etc from 
rhinoceros, hippopotamus, reindeer, bison, wild ox, 
elephant, mammoth and lion etc. He believed the animals had been dragged there by hyenas, using the cave as their lair.

Return to the lane, and crossing the ford continue up the lane and turn right to St Gregory’s Minster. If you have private transport, park in the car park to face a low stone building with red roof. Start from this point for a shorter walk. Walk down the adjacent slope to the church’s driveway, and follow it to St Gregory’s Minster, in the seclusion of cypress trees.

A Saxon benefactor named Orm rebuilt St Gregory’s Minster and endowed it with a finely carved stone sundial above the door. Enter the large porch with a timber gable to see the Saxon sundial for which Kirkdale is 
renowned, sheltered inside.

Set in the wall, above the simple Norman doorway, the dial is carved on a stone, with an inscription. It’s marked with the eight hours of the Saxon day, and the words, “This is the day’s sun-marker at every time” below the dial. On either side, in the English of a few years before the Norman Conquest, are more details.

Inside the church are Saxon coffin stones of interest too. Set into the outer walls, see how many similar stones you can trace!

Leaving the minster by the gate, turn right to follow a route through a gate to the left of St Gregory’s. It leads into a field. Cross the open field and head towards Hodge Beck. Cross the stream bed, which is usually dry owing to sink-holes in the limestone.

Beyond, follow a cart-track turning upstream towards Cat Scar. Hodge Beck flows from Bransdale, across moorland to enter Sleightholmedale, which gives way to narrow Kirkdale.

Keep to the blue way-marked bridleway as it ascends through woodland, passing a ‘private’ gate to your left.

Take the left forking of ways through Thin Oaks Wood. There’s a field to the left of this woodland. Springtime strews a ‘confetti’ of primroses, violets, wood 
anemonies and later bluebells across the woodland floor.

Enter a kissing gate and the bridleway shortly becomes lined by conifers. At the foot of the embankment your path follows the field boundary, and wild garlic (ramsons) carpets the ground.

There may be a little mud in places slow to dry. Observe the steep drop down to the beck on your left!

A good, dry stony track gently ascends. Note butterflies such as orange-tip, brimstone, peacock and 
tortoiseshell etc.

Descend to view Hold Caldron with its bridge, weir and scenic location. Just beyond is a gated field and stile, but keep to the main bridleway, and where you’ll see an old gate, turn right up through a conifer plantation. It’s a pretty steep climb to meet a cross-track, but keep ascending to the right, veering onto a footpath between brambles and trees. We had a coffee stop here! The path leads through the wood, with rabbit burrows in the sandy bank, and a steep drop to the right.

Veering left to a nearby gate, exit woodland and enter the field ahead. A broad grassy track leads between fields, with Low Hagg Farm to your distant left.

Keep straight forward to the far end of fields to find a three-finger post. Here turn right, as blue bridleway 
arrow indicates.

Hedging is to your left and Hagg Farm behind you. Almost immediately turn left to a handgate and waymarked public footpath.

Follow this path towards a gate, but turn sharp right between trees to enter Kirkdale Howl with post and wire fencing to the left.

Descend as arrowed, meeting more mud at lower levels, but nothing serious! Shortly, you’ll recognise a gate to your right as observed on your outward route. Keep to the bridleway as it descends to a field. Leaving woodland, cross the green field and re-cross the dry Hodge Beck to access the final field.

St Gregory’s Minster indicates your return over the green to the church and its lovely car park.

Distance: A good 4 miles from bus route near Moorland Trout Farm. Shorter route from Hyena Cave and St Gregory’s Minster 3 miles approximately, though it seems longer.

Refreshment: Take a picnic – none en-route. Try Kirkbymoorside.

Map ref: Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure 26. North York Moors Western Area. Scale 2.5 inches to 1 mile.

Bus: Service 128 Scarborough to Helmsley.

Rural Rambles

The first run of Rural Rambles Volume 15 has sold out, a re-print of a limited edition is underway. The booklet contains 17 walks plus larger maps and some illustrations, for £2.50. Entire profits to charities. For a copy send a cheque for £2.50 payable to EM Robinson and enclose an A5 sized stamped addressed envelope (a 53p stamp will cover cost). Send to Mrs M Robinson, 14 Malvern Crescent, Scarborough YO12 5QW.