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Helmsley to Rievaulx

Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey

The route from the market town of Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey is a well-trodden one, but it never loses its capacity to delight and inspire. This 7-mile circular route climbs gently for sweeping views of town and castle before dropping down through charming bluebell woods to reach the peaceful village and tranquil ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. From Rievaulx Abbey, return the same way back to Helmsley.

Walk info

Great for:
history buffs, woodland wanders, big-sky views, list-tickers
7 miles (11km)
4 hours
Cleveland Way car park, Helmsley
Grid Ref:
SE 609 838
OS Map:
Ordnance Survey OL26
Helmsley, Rievaulx Abbey
Start/Finish of walk

About this walk

WalkThe walk from Helmsley to Rievaulx forms the first part of the Cleveland Way National Trail and is well signposted and waymarked. There are two woodland paths en route, with steps in places.

DogsThe walk passes through fields where sheep and horses may be grazing. Please keep your dog under control at all times, and always on a short lead when livestock are present.

Rievaulx Abbey

In 1131 a group of twelve French monks clad in long white cloaks first set their eyes on a serene site located deep in a wooded valley, nestled in the curve of the tranquil River Rye. They and their abbot, Stephen, set to and laid the foundations of what was to become the largest and richest Cistercian house in England. The monks cleared wasteland and forest, and built outlying granges, or farms, that supplied the abbey with food. The intriguing humps and bumps near Griff Farm are all that now remains of Griff Grange, the abbey's original 'home farm', where crops were grown to feed the brothers. At its height Rievaulx Abbey probably supported 140 monks and 500 lay brothers and servants. Such great wealth, and the monastic obedience to Rome, led Henry VIII to dissolve the monasteries – Rievaulx was suppressed in 1538 and left to decay.

Evolution of an estate

In 1689, Sir Charles Duncombe, a wealthy London banker, bought the extensive Helmsley Estate, associated since medieval times with Helmsley Castle. The castle was deemed unfit for gracious living and, in 1713, Thomas Duncombe erected the mansion of Duncombe Park, giving it elegant gardens and beautiful terraces with an Ionic temple overlooking the castle. Not to be outdone, his son, Thomas Duncombe II, built a third terrace on estate land at Rievaulx in 1758, with a Doric temple at one end and an Ionic temple at the other. It's this terrace that's now owned by the National Trust – decked with wildflowers in spring and summer, including primroses and orchids, and perfect for picnics and panoramic views. The mansion is still the home of the Duncombe family, and while the house isn't open to the public the gardens and parkland are.