A walk in Bransdale from the remote hamlet of Cockayne and along an ancient moorland track.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 754ft (230m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Field paths and moorland tracks, a little road walking, 1 stile
Landscape Farmland and heather moorland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 26 North York Moors - Western
Start/finish SE 620985
Dog friendliness On leads in farmland
Parking Roadside parking near cattle grid at T-junction in Cockayne
Public toilets None on route
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1 Cross the cattle grid and turn right at the T-junction towards Kirkbymoorside. Follow the road uphill and, as it bends sharp left, go through a gate signed 'Bransdale Base Camp' and follow the track down the hill to a gate. Continue along the track.
2 At the signpost by the crossroads of tracks next to Bransdale Mill carry straight on, continuing parallel with the stream on your right. Go through two gates, following the side of the stream. Climb over a slight ridge to reach another gate. Continue with a wire fence on your right, keeping on top of the ridge, then descend to a waymarked gate.
3 Cross the stream and continue ahead. At the top of a rise go half left across the field, making for a corner of the wall. Go through three field gates and follow the grassy track along the field edge to another waymarked gate. At the top of the field go over a stile beside a wooden gate on to a lane.
4 Turn left. Pass the farm buildings to a road junction and turn right. Follow the road uphill for ¼ mile (400m), passing a bend sign. Where a track joins the road from the right, turn left on to the moorland.
5 The path through the heather is indistinct, but goes half right, passing a quarried area. You will eventually reach a track, where you turn left. Follow the track to reach a metal barrier. Turn right at the junction just beyond and follow the track to a crossroads.
6 Turn left and follow the gravel track for ¾ mile (1.2km), past a boundary stone and three howes. Where the gravel track is crossed by a grass track, turn left.
7 Follow the track downhill. It passes the end of a wood and continues to wind downhill. Go through a wooden gate and then bend left to another gate on to the lane. Turn right and follow the road back to the starting point.
The hamlet of Cockayne is tucked away at the end of Bransdale, one of the most remote of the valleys of the North York Moors. Here the road loops back into the lower moors, and walking country lies ahead. Its remoteness may be the origin of its name; the 'Land of Cockayne' was a distant and mythical place, of idleness and luxury, popular in medieval literature. Pleasant though Cockayne may be in good weather, any idleness in winter is no doubt enforced by the results of its isolation.
After leaving Cockayne, the first substantial building you will come to is Bransdale Mill. Here the infant Hodge Beck has been dammed into a series of pools to feed the millwheel. They may date back as far as the 13th century, when Bransdale Mill is first recorded. The current buildings are, however, from 600 years later, when the mill was rebuilt, as the inscription says, by local landowner William Strickland. His son Emmanuel was responsible for the inscriptions that adorn the buildings, in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Emmanuel was vicar of Ingleby Greenhow, 6¼ miles (10km) to the north, over the hills.
After the climb from the traditional farm buildings at Spout House, the walk takes you on some of the many tracks that cross the high moorland. As you pass the grouse butts you are on an ancient route that traverses the ridge from Farndale (famous for its wild daffodils) into Bransdale. Soon you will turn left along Westside Road. Like most of the main routes in the North York Moors, it follows the summit of the ridge; this one is Rudland Rigg. Westside Road is one of the longest (and straightest) in the National Park, running 34¼ miles (55km) north from Kirkbymoorside to leave the northern edge of the Moors near Kildale. Along its route you will find old stone waymarks and boundary stones. As you leave the track along the ridge, you are rewarded with a view back down into Bransdale.
Much of the north end of the valley is owned by the National Trust, and Bransdale Mill, passed at the beginning of the walk, is a centre for volunteers on the Trust's Acorn Projects - indeed, it was they who restored the buildings. Bransdale has also been suggested as the home of Robin Hood (fairly handy for his Bay, perhaps!), but this is probably only the result of confusion with Barnsdale Forest, more than 31½ miles (50km) to the south, which is a rather more likely area for the outlaw's home.
The isolation of Cockayne means there are no pubs or tea rooms along the walk. In Gillamoor, which you are likely to go through on the way to Cockayne or when returning, the Royal Oak Inn offers home cooking, Sunday lunches and some excellent Yorkshire beers.
The rough-legged buzzard has sometimes been seen in Bransdale - though its appearance can't be guaranteed. The feathers on its legs have led to its name, and mean it can be distinguished from its smooth-legged brothers, the common and the honey buzzard. In Britain they can be found in Scotland and eastern England, where they come in the winter from their arctic breeding grounds in northern Scandinavia - they have not been known to breed here. Their main food is small mammals, though they are not above feeding off dead farm animals. If they're around, you are likely to see them in the air, though they have occasionally been spotted on low fences and gateposts, watching keen-eyed for their prey.
If you're visiting in spring, take a trip over the ridge into Farndale. Along the banks of the River Dove wild daffodils flower in great drifts of yellow, drawing many visitors to follow the Daffodil Trail. The bulbs may have been planted by monks in the Middle Ages. There's a Park-and-Ride service along the dale, which you should use to prevent congestion.