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Rievaulx Abbey - a short walk from Helmsley

Walk Summary
Distance: About five miles (8k) in all (2.5 miles each way)
Difficulty: Easy - ideal for kids
Start: Helmsley
Time: 2 hours each way, plus plenty of time to poke about round the abbey
Official Web Sites: Rievaulx Abbey
Rievaulx Terrace

Helmsley Castle from the Cleveland Way This is a lovely walk, starting from Helmsley, wandering through gentle countryside to Rievaulx Abbey and then retracing your steps back to Helmsley again. It's actually the opening two and a half miles of the Cleveland way so is very well signposted and maintained.

For those who don't know Helmsley, it's a charming market town at the foot of the North York Moors. It has everything going for it - a ruined castle, great pubs, cafes and delis, loads of touristy type shops, plenty of parking, Duncombe Park and the Walled Garden. It has become a very tourist oriented place, but still retains a lot of its character and is a great place to look round for the afternoon.

There's a long stay car park opposite the church, or if you just go through the town on the coast road, there's plenty of free roadside parking after just a couple of hundred yards.

Rievaulx Abbey from the roadside The Cleveland Way starts by the toilets at the far side of the long stay car park next to the castle. There's a wooden signpost proclaiming such, so it's impossible to miss. After just a few paces you're already into open countryside, going up a track and across fields crammed with livestock, particularly horses. Absolutely beautiful countryside with great views back to the castle.

After a short way, the path goes left, then right along the side of some woodland, and then through the wood itself. There's a couple of ups and downs but nothing too strenuous. All the way through it's clearly signposted. Eventually you emerge on the brow of a hill with great views out over Rye Dale. There's a gate house at this point, presumably originally for Duncombe Park, and what a splendid place to live that must be.

The path continues down through more woodland and eventually comes out on a road halfway down a steep hill. The road's very quiet and safe with a footpath along the side for large parts of the way, so continue downhill following the road, and very shortly Rievaulx will be visible through the trees.

And that's it. Turn right at Rievaulx Bridge a few hundred yards from the abbey and you're there.

Rievaulx Abbey The abbey itself is well worth the visit - especially on a sunny day. It's in the care of English Heritage and is immaculately looked after. There's a small visitor centre, a decent cafe and toilets too. But don't fall for the standard EH trick at the cash desk. They'll try and sell you a guidebook, and only once that little ritual is over will they  ask "would you like the free audio tour". I know they have to make money, but that tactic belongs in the high street, not at heritage sites.

Rievaulx is the oldest Cistercian abbey in the North, founded in 1132, and by the time Henry VIII suppressed it in 1538 it was enormously wealthy. After the dissolution it was partially demolished, but enough of the main buildings remain to make it possible to imagine how it used to be.

The abbey is in a horseshoe of hills, absolutely splendid. And if you look up at the top of the hill behind the abbey, you might just catch sight of what looks like a Grecian Temple at the top of the hill. And indeed it is a temple.

At the top of the hill is Rievaulx terrace and temples. Two giant garden ornaments built as part of "The Rievaulx Terrace" by the owners of Duncombe Park in the 1750's. It's very redolent of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal where the Abbey was included as feature in the garden, and  the views from the terrace are breathtaking.

Rievaulx Terrace - The Tuscan Temple But don't imagine you can get to them from the abbey. No chance.

The abbey is run by English Heritage and the terrace by The National Trust, and there's no footpath connecting them. I don't know why this is - maybe whoever owns the land won't allow it or maybe the two organisations aren't on speaking terms. Either way it's less than ideal.

If you want to see the temples, and you should, then you have to leave the abbey and walk up the road through Rievaulx village right to the top. And then of course you have to pay again. Joint admission ticket - no chance!

And it's worth ringing in advance to make sure when the Tuscan temple will be open. The interior is absolutely splendid and shouldn't be missed - which it will be if you turn up when the guardian is on his lunch break.

All in all, minor gripes aside, Rievaulx Abbey and Rievaulx Terrace are well worth a visit - and if you combine it with Helmsley and maybe the castle and Duncombe Park it makes for a great day out. 

Pictures From the Helmlsley - Rievaulx Abbey Walk

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