Beside the Skell

The river Skell is perhaps best known (if at all) for flowing through the valley of Fountains Abbey and the Studley Royal water gardens (a world heritage site, on account of the latter). It rises on the moors east of Nidderdale, and joins the Ure on the eastern edge of the city of Ripon (which is half the size of Beverley, the third-smallest city in England). We’ll start at the latter, for lunch down by the cathedral, followed by a visit to the restored canal basin. The canal, which takes its feed water from the Skell, closed in 1956 – forty years later, it had been re-connected to the inland waterways network.

It’s only a short drive to Fountains. The ruins need little introduction – the abbey is one of the largest and best-preserved of its kind, and particularly photogenic, even on a dull grey afternoon. There’s plenty to explore, and afterwards we walk the length of the water gardens, a very pleasant stroll which is concluded by fine views as we approach the abbey once more. Little more needs to be said – visit the NT site (below) for more.

Fountains Abbey (NT)

Apedale, Wensleydale – Swaledale

Tuesday pm: There’s a most attractive “Apedale” along the road from Much Wenlock to Church Stretton (are Shropshire’s dales England’s southernmost?), and another Apedale in Staffordshire, home of a splendid 2′ gauge railway. This one’s a very minor, little-known dale in Yorkshire, and the coincidence is just that – quite accidental. The rough track we’re walking would take us over to Swaledale: we’ll stop at the watershed, admire the views, and turn back (walked far enough for one day). We had thought of making a circular route, following the ridge (a flat peaty moor) back round, but there was no path and the going looked hard on deep tussocky grass.

Yorkshire’s Apedale was most enjoyable, and retracing our steps was no hardship. It’s not the most spectacular part of the dales, but it’s very quiet – the only sounds are those of the birds (there are hundreds of rabbits, but they’re silent, and the sheep aren’t saying much). And what birds! A cuckoo, several lapwings, and more curlews than I’ve seen and heard for many years. Their rising, bubbling cry screams “lonely places”, sending a real shiver down the spine (try it: listen to the recordings on the links below). Sadly, they don’t like having their picture taken.

British Birdsongs: Curlew
RSPB: Curlew

View OS map on Streetmap


Tuesday am: We’re in Yorkshire for a few days – Wensleydale today, starting with the magnificent ruins of Middleham castle. It’s more colourful than we’d imagined – there are masses of pinky-purple flowers all over the stonework (“erinus alpinus”, also know as alpine balsam and fairy foxglove. I didn’t know that at the time…). This castle has an amazing assortment of dark nooks and crannies, making for a fascinating exploration. Afterwards, lunch at a small cafe across the road, where, sitting outside, we watch local life pass by – including numerous racehorses heading for, or returning from, the gallops nearby.

Middleham Castle English Heritage

Ryedale Ruins

Sunday afternoon: we’re visiting Rievaulx Abbey, in the quiet valley just a couple of miles from the summer bustle of Helmsley. There’s some dark cloud around, and the chance of a shower – if we carry the brolly we won’t need it. I’d been here before, many years ago, but had forgotten just how substantial and extensive these ruins are – as were the cakes and scones at the cafe…

Rievaulx Abbey (English Heritage)

No, we didn’t need the brolly…

The Brigg

Flamborough Head is an obvious feature of the east coast map; just a few miles further north is a lesser promontory. Flamborough’s cliffs are white chalk; Filey’s Brigg is mud… The popular walk from Filey to the Brigg is an easy stroll, on this occasion after a false start – a passing shower caused a diversion to the café…