Stroll With Stu: Moorbus back to take us out for roam from abbey to abbey

Byland Abbey.
Byland Abbey.

The Moorsbus is back. Hurrah! Bigger and better this year, with a longer season (Sundays and Bank Holidays, May to September) and now with four buses, eliminating any worry about parking meters or officials armed with breathalysers.

The volunteer organisers have worked wonders securing funds and generally doing their little bit to reverse the austerity cuts that destroyed the service in the first place. Buses starting from Darlington, Saltburn, Pickering and Northallerton trail across the moors all day long, with other services available – including the X93 from Whitby.

View over Cockerdale.

View over Cockerdale.

It would be rude to ignore a public transport system that allows a seven-mile walk between the abbeys at Byland and Rievaulx, and a friend and I took advantage on a nice spring day in May.

Byland Abbey is an impressive gothic ruin with the lower half of an impressive rose window still visible and I wonder why it doesn’t get quite the publicity reserved for Rievaulx.

Built in the 12th Century (though they added a conservatory and double-garage in the 13th) by monks who had fled from some unpleasant stramash in Scotland, the site was busy with sheep farming, watermills, deer parks and fish ponds.

As is usually the case, Henry VIII was behind its demise, dissolving the monastery and handing the land over to Sir William Pickering in 1538.

River Rye at Rievaulx.

River Rye at Rievaulx.

Big Bill celebrated a few years later by heading off on a jolly to London with his mates where he was sent to the Tower after being found guilty of smashing windows, firing crossbows at passing plebs and – the arrogance of the man – “eating flesh during Lent”. (I guess he was also chucked off the 2200 from Kings Cross at Peterborough, the drunken old pig).

In order to build the monastery, the monks first had to drain the land as it was a smidge swampy.

Well, they missed a bit, as you will find when you follow the road right after the pub and take the first track on your left towards Abbey House, then soon over a stile into a field.

Spongey is an understatement, but climb away to the far corner of the field, through a swing gate behind a bench and eventually left on a metalled track leading uphill away from Wass village. The track goes through woods, then straight on at a sign marked “observatory”. Intriguing as it is, we never actually reached Mount Snever observatory, built for a John Wormald to house the telescope he got for Christmas in 1837 off his Mam.

Our path snakes right after 10 minutes, over a fence, then downhill along a wide track, rising steeply back up again in the woods.

At a path junction turn right on the grassy bit and soon it’s over a stile through open fields until reaching Cam Farm.

Pass through a gate to the left of a farm, and onwards to Cam House where you take a sharp right, behind it.

Soon you will reach the busy A170 where you need to turn right and plough through assorted litter despatched carelessly by years of thoughtless dipsticks, and after 400 yards turn left down an unmarked but prominent track leading to new woodland.

When your track curves right, go straight on to join the road leading downhill towards Scawton.

Pretty well the first building you come too is the Hare Inn. Once a typical village pub, the Hare has understandably taken the gastro route towards survival with a £70 tasting menu involving Mastercheffy ingredients such as bone marrow, razor clams and kohl rabi.

All served, I guess, in perfectly constructed puddles of jus and aromatic foam.

A far cry from when it opened in the 13th Century, presumably serving the occasional sweaty monk rocking up for a pint and a bag of nuts after a hard day’s swamp draining.

Take a path immediately behind the pub, which soon runs parallel with the road before heading right up through a gate to follow waymarkers down through a gorgeous wooded gill. Leave the woods and head into a grassy field, before a stile takes you onto a metal track leading steeply down and left.

Primrose, Bluebell and Wood Anemone were in abundance, attended by early butterflies – a reminder that the English countryside is hard to beat when it bursts into life in Springtime.

The track joins a minor road which you should follow to your right for a mile to reach Rievaulx Bridge, just a stone’s throw from our second abbey.

Having made a visit to the ruins last year, my friend and I caught a handy Moorsbus to Helmsley for a pleasant hour or two in the splendid Helmsley brewery, following a cheese pasty from Thomas the Baker.

Then the charabanc turned up bang on time to take us home after a grand day out.