Looking forward to snow

We saw our first snow of the winter today. We reached the top of the path to the Wainstones above Bilsdale, and turned to admire the view towards Bransdale. There it was, a light sprinkling of white on the tops.

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That reminded me of the last time we were at St Aidan’s in the snow, in January 2016. 

We went for a walk up to Cowhouse Bank. 

The tracks are from an all-terrain buggy that was in front of us, with three generations of one family aboard. OK, I’ll admit to buggy envy.

It was a perfect day, cold and bright. The silence lay like a blanket on the landscape.

Timber stacked at the side of the path had that newly sawn wood smell.

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As evening fell it turned bitter cold and the light went quickly. Suddenly it felt like a good time to leave, and we hurried back.

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Looking forward to snow again.

Bike ride, and 5k trail run in the North York Moors

Easy-peasy bike ride in the North York Moors

We appreciate a good scenery/effort ratio for a bike ride and the Sutton Bank National Park Centre made a great starting point earlier this year.  It’s perfect for a holiday outing or for families - or even if you can’t remember the last time you got on two wheels! 

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Kid carrier on the trail - see that little patch of blue sky? 

No lycra was worn for the expedition and we just used our everyday bikes that are ok with a bit of bumpy ground. You can hire proper mountain bikes from the Sutton Bank Bike centre.

 We followed the blue route from Sutton Bank and it was beautifully signposted all the way. There is a little riding on the road but there’s not a lot of traffic.

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Back offroad, ride down the side of a field and arrive at a gate to go through onto the cliff at Sutton Bank.

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This is what you see when you get through the gate. 

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The path goes along the side of the cliff.

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Back to the Sutton Bank Centre along the winding path.

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Littl’uns can have fun just doing this bit

...and whilst we’re on active pursuits:

Easy-peasy Trail Run in the North York Moors 

The Rabbit Run is only 5k and perfect for Park Runners who’d like to try trail running.


Runners eagerly contemplating the moorland route at the start

It started at the Moors Centre at Danby, organised by the North York Moors National Park and the HardMoors folk. Mums and Dads, kids, park runners, tri athletes,  serious runners - everyone had a great time.

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Of course I only stopped to take a photo of the wonderful scenery. Nothing to do with being out of breath

The organisers did a great job, and there will hopefully be more in 2016.

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Historic artefact from the North York Moors

Baltic Gothic

One of the first things we discovered when we started renovating St Aidan's was that it had been designed by an architect called Temple Lushington Moore.

We’d never heard of him either ;) but to our astonishment, it turned out that this little church was designed by a young man who went on to become 'arguably the greatest of the Victorian Gothic Revival church architects”, according to Gavin Stamp.

Temple Moore Trail points

Even more amazing, the North York Moors are full of his work. Clearly we had to find out more, and the slightly obsessive research that followed led to the Temple Moore Trail. 

St Jakobi watercolour

Last year we got an email from the owners of a watercolour dated 1884, signed Temple Moore. It was of a church –  could we identify it, they wondered? 

At that point the anwer was no, but the challenge was on. The date on the painting meant it had been done early in Moore’s career, the same year he married. In 1884 he was still holding together the remnants of George Gilbert Scott Jrs. practice*, as well as working on his own early commissions. We also knew from Geoff Brandwood's book that Moore had been on a tour of the Baltic in 1883, where he did a lot of sketching, so that was an obvious line of enquiry.

450px-St Jakobi Luebeck

Much internet searching of images followed and the painting was finally identified. It was St Jakobi in Luebeck, built in 1300. This was very satisfying!  Moore must have worked up one of the many sketches he made on his tour of the Baltic, once he was back home. 

It was fascinating to see how directly the  Baltic Gothic churches that he sketched as a young man influenced Temple Moore’s work decades later. I've always liked the  churches at Middlesbrough and Scarborough on the Temple Moore Trail, but didn’t realise where Moore got his references from for these big brick urban churches.

St Columba in Scarborough, and St Cuthbert and St Columba in Middlesbrough look straight back to the Baltic Gothic brick churches from the 13th century. Temple Moore kept the memory of what he saw and sketched in 1883 for many years. We don't have the tradition of the brick gothic here in the UK and the reference is likely hidden from most people, but in these urban churches Moore was re-imagining the form of the Baltic Gothic churches from the 12th and 13th centuries.

* Dan Cruikshank’s The Family that Built Gothic Britain tells the story of the Gilbert Scott dynasty. First shown on the BBC, and still available on YouTube. 

Public transport and bike routes to St Aidan's

So, we wondered, is it possible to travel to a small hamlet outside Helmsley in the North York Moors using public transport , perhaps bringing a bike ? 

It turns out that the answer is yes, although you will probably need to involve a taxi if you are on foot. are a local company, well-used to ferrying people into and around Helmsley and other Ryedale towns and villages. They can collect and deliver you to airports and stations, and can also can pick you up at the end of a walk, provide transport to York for a day trip, or drive you to a restaurant for dinner during your stay.

We’ve researched the public transport services. Some of them are infrequent in this rural area, and bus timetables in particular can vary depending on which day of the week or time of year it is, so planning in advance is definitely recommended.

By train:

For Thirsk: Trains run to Thirsk from Leeds, York, London, Middlesbrough and Sunderland.
From Thirsk we suggest you get a taxi to St Aidan's..

If you are bringing your bike on the train, avoid cycling up Sutton Bank on the A170 as it is spectacularly steep and not bike-friendly at all, until you reach the top and the bike centre and trails at the Visitor Centre. An alternative route goes up Boltby Bank which although equally brutal, is at least quieter to push your bike up! 14 miles.

For Malton: Trains run to Malton from York, Leeds, Huddersfield, Manchester and Liverpool.

From Malton there is a bus to Helmsley, service 194. 

From Helmsley you can either walk the couple of  miles up to St Aidan's, or call a taxi for the last bit of your journey.

If you are bringing your bike on the train , expect a few steep hills and gorgeous scenery. 18 miles. 

We’ll be testing these routes soon and will post some photos!

Helmsley in December

Norman arch in Helmsley parish church

December sees the parish church In Helmsley hosting a two week Christmas Tree festival, until December 19th, so on Saturday we went in through the magnificent doorway of All Saints to find the interior fully lit up and sparkling trees inside. 

The additional lighting also makes it a good time to look at the colourful wall paintings, and the painted roof by  Temple Moore, the architect of St Aidan’s.

Close up sparkly jewelry

We continued back into the town where the sparkling continued with shop windows and decorations although we were a bit sorry not to see the old-fashioned dodgems that sometimes appear in the market square, but hopefully they’ll be back soon. 

Jaunty visitors to Helmsley

There are some fine reindeer though, parked up with their sleigh by Gilbert Scott’s memorial to the Earl of Feversham.

Christmas lights and trees were everywhere and the town looked lovely.

Closer to baked goods

Helmsley is full of interesting small shops, including several selling delicious food of one kind and another. This one is a few steps from the square. 

We also spotted a new independent wine shop that’s just opened, so now the whole range of food and drink is covered - there’s an amazing range for a market town.

Hats off to the business folk and the church community for making Helmsley a delightful place to wander round on a chilly winter afternoon :) More photos on flickr

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Sutton Bank bike trail

Winding down Sutton Bank on the A170, back down to the Vale of York, is a little bit of compensation for leaving the North York Moors. The road is steep and the view is amazing as you glimpse it through the trees.

We were at Sutton Bank this weekend as the light was beginning to fade. We remembered that we'd had a wonderful walk from the Visitor Centre around the same time of day earlier this year, when the sunset lit the cliff with an astonishing golden light.

Sutton Bank in sun

This has to be one of the must-see sights of the North York Moors!

This time we could just fit in a short stroll along Sutton Brow, but it was another revelation. The sunset wasn't as spectacular on this occasion but the colours of the trees and the misty atmosphere around Lake Gormire were gorgeous. 

Lake Gormire

Lake Gormire. You can practically see the hobbits, dwarfs and elves.

We also spotted a brand new cycle track running parallel with the path, which looked exciting. Back at the Visitor Centre we learned that it is a family route, about 3 miles long. Can't wait to try it out! It'll be great for families and anyone who doesn't want a longer route – just the right length, easy access from the Visitor Centre carpark, and taking in some amazing scenery.

There's a brand new bike centre too where you can hire bikes, opening any day now. There are two longer routes planned for next year, using existing bridleways with waymarking. One will be moderately challenging and one will be proper 'ard, so there'll be a route to suit everyone who wants to ride at Sutton Bank. 

It's the perfect location for it - good work by the North York Moors National Park.

Tea with the vicar

East Moors St Mary Magdalene exterior with doorway, designed by George Gilbert Scott and completed by Temple Lushington Moore

On a sunny Sunday in July we were delighted to host a tea party as part of the celebrations of the life of the wonderful Victorian, Vicar Gray of Helmsley. Martin Vander Weyer spoke about him during Evensong at neighbouring St Mary Magdalene at East Moors and then everyone came back for victoria sponge, flapjacks and gallons of tea!

Martin writes:

'St Valentine’s Day 2013 marked the centenary of the death of one of Ryedale’s most remarkable residents. Charles Norris Gray arrived in Helmsley in 1870 aged 29 as the town’s new vicar, and was its dominant personality for some 43 years.

The Eton-and-Oxford-educated son and grandson of bishops, bearded like an Old Testament prophet, driven by unstoppable righteous energy, as keen on hygiene and sanitation as he was on high-church devotions, Gray could ‘hold his own in a boxing match against any of his parishioners with one arm tied behind his back’, according to one historian.

He was a prolific writer and campaigner in addition to his work as a priest, using his parish magazine (of which copies fortunately survive) to hold forth on topics ranging from beekeeping to the Boer War, from alcoholism to women’s fashions. When it came to parliamentary elections, he did not hesitate to tell parishioners which local candidate met with his approval. For Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, he organised a Pageant in Helmsley Castle that was attended by 3,000 people and conceived on a scale no modern Festival director would dare to contemplate.

Old photo of Vicar Gray of Helmsley, patron of Temple Moore in the North York Moors.

The spirit of Vicar Gray still looms large in All Saints’ Church, Helmsley. If you visit, take note of the austere St Aelred’s Chapel which he created in memory of his father, and of the elaborate murals he designed in 1909 for the north wall, mapping out his dogmatic view of the structure and history of the established church — and Helmsley’s place in it.

Both his parish and his vision were much wider than the town itself. Gray was fortunate to have as his patron William Ernest Duncombe, 1st Earl of Feversham, who owned most of the town and vast estates around it. Feversham had many projects of his own but was also willing to fund Gray’s — despite spats such as their disagreement over the building of Helmsley’s tiny Roman Catholic church, which the vicar abominated.

Gray’s determination to provide a place of worship in every hamlet under his sway left an architectural trail that can be enjoyably followed today. He inherited a passion for church-building from his mother Sophy, who took a hand in numerous projects during her husband’s tenure as bishop of Cape Town. Stern advice was forthcoming from the bishop himself: ‘The parish is quite a little diocese,’ he wrote to his son. ‘You may in your strength and zeal be able to have for some years a network of services all around; but fifty years hence will the living be able to support a staff of curates for these?’

Nevertheless, Gray pressed on. A grand scheme to rebuild Rievaulx Abbey came to nought, but from 1876 a series of smaller projects moved forward. Involved in all of them were the architect George Gilbert Scott Jr — who had been at Eton with Gray — and his pupil Temple Lushington Moore. Their first commission was to turn a chapel of ease at Pockley into the church of St John the Baptist. Next they supervised the moving of a 17th Century chapel from West Newton Grange (a settlement whose population had dwindled) to become St Chad’s Sproxton, opposite the Nelson Gate of Duncombe Park. Both in Sproxton and in All Saints Helmsley, Gray also brought in carvings from Oberammergau in Germany.

In the remote hamlet of East Moors, Scott’s design for the tiny church of St Mary Magdalene was completed in 1882 by Moore, who later added the panelling between the nave and the south aisle — where the curate would sleep the night in a hammock when despatched by Gray from the town to take services.

Scott having been declared insane, Gray commissioned Moore in 1885 to build St Aidan’s Carlton, noted for its simple Early English detailing. After the opening of the new church, at Whitsuntide 1886, Gray wrote of the appropriateness of the dedication to Aidan, the 7th Century missionary who went about the moors and dales ‘civilising and Christianising the people’; there’s no doubt that Gray saw himself in that role too. 

There were more hamlet churches to come. In 1894, Gray and Feversham commissioned St John’s Bilsdale Midcable, ‘midcable’ being a contraction of ‘middle chapel’, the chapel sitting in the middle of this wild dale. In Rievaulx, the old Gate or Slipper Chapel of the ruined abbey, dating from the 13th century, was handsomely restored as St Mary’s church in 1907, with the addition of a chancel and a steeple.

Meanwhile Gray set Moore to work in Helmsley itself, refurnishing the chancel in All Saints and the remodelling Canon’s Garth, the medieval clergy house which had fallen into delapidation. In 1889, Feversham had given this property to Gray as trustee on behalf of the parish; it later served as a sanatorium run by nuns, and is also now undergoing meticulous refurbishment under new owners, Hugh and Elisa O’Loughlin.

Gray’s home for 30 years was the half-timbered house that is now part of Helmsley’s Black Swan hotel, but in 1900 Moore designed for him the ‘model’ vicarage that is now the headquarters of the North York Moors National Park. The great vicar died aged 72 — of over-work, it was said — and lay in state in his vicarage, silent at last, clad in Eucharistic vestments with chalice and paten in his hands, for parishioners to file past his coffin. What a formidable and overbearing figure he must have been in his prime — but what a legacy of lovely little churches he left behind.'

For more about Moore’s work, see