North York Moors

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Cycling by Tony Bartholomew

Bransdale Loop

The ‘lost dale’ of Bransdale – north of Kirkbymoorside and Helmsley – is a gem, smaller and more remote than the dales on either side, only accessible on a single road that loops around the flanking moors via the dalehead at Cockayne. There is no village in the dale – just a necklace of farmhouses set halfway up the dale sides, a shooting lodge and an old mill – while most of the farmland is owned by the National Trust. Consequently, Bransdale retains a serene, traditional character, with little to get in the way of the fabulous cycling. However, the final southern section – cutting through the villages south of the A170 – rewards you with a string of cafés and country pubs as you follow the quieter back roads from Helmsley to Kirkbymoorside.

Cycle route info

Route type:
Road route
26½ miles (44km)
3½ hours
Start point:
Kirkbymoorside, ride anticlockwise
Cycle hire
Grid Ref:
SE 697 864
OS Map:
Ordnance Survey OL26
Kirkbymoorside, Gillamoor, Helmsley, Harome, Wombleton

About this cycle route

Road route, for road bikes and hybrids.

Bransdale is a joy to cycle, offering a mix of moorland road riding and fabulous broad valley views. Ride the route anticlockwise from Kirkbymoorside for the best experience.

The road in reasonable condition throughout. The key hill is the pull up out of Bransdale, heading southwest – take care on two areas subject to landslip near the start of this climb.

Bransdale Mill

Water mills were first built by medieval lords of the manor to serve the dale’s farmers – in return, the lords took a proportion of the grain as tax. The early mills were mostly small, simple wooden buildings, though climbing wheat prices and technological advances in the 18th and 19th centuries led to many mills being rebuilt in stone and expanded to incorporate storage, and dressing and rolling machines. Bransdale Mill is a typical example, rebuilt during the 19th century to become in effect a small milling hamlet. Corn was ground here until 1917 and grist (grain separated from its chaff) as late as 1953. It’s a fine-looking range of red-roofed stone buildings, now owned by the National Trust and used as an education and recreation centre.

Farming in Bransdale

Bransdale’s farmers have left their mark on the dale for centuries, from building dry stone walls to ‘taking in’ land from the encroaching moor for cultivation or grazing. Today, the farmland in Bransdale is owned by the National Trust and let to tenant farmers, who continue to have a beneficial effect on this living landscape. The farmers of Bransdale are encouraged to help improve the natural environment, whether it’s converting to organic farming, employing mixed grazing using traditional breeds of sheep and cattle, or producing more hay, which benefits ground-nesting birds, insects and wildflowers. The ongoing removal of Bransdale’s Forestry England conifer plantations has also led to a gradual ‘greening’ of the dale. Using the wood for fuel means less reliance on oil (and fewer tanker trips into the dale), while native oak and ash trees are being planted in place of the pines.

St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale

The ancient Saxon church of St Gregory’s lies in a secluded dale near Kirkbymoorside – be sure to make the slight detour, since it’s a remarkable sight. The main surviving Saxon features are the narrow arch from the tower to the nave and the celebrated sundial above the south door. This bears an inscription which states: “Orm, the son of Gamal, bought St Gregorius Minster when it was all broken and fallen, and he has made it new, in the days of Edward the king and Tosti the Earl.” This dates it to around 1060, just before the Norman Conquest, and this thousand-year-old church, with its delightful churchyard, is a peaceful place to rest and consider the unchanging face of the North York Moors’ hidden dales.