Walk: Rievaulx Abbey, Cold Kirby and Old Byland

in Helmsley

The magnificent ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, wooded valleys and historic churches.

The Route

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  • Start Point: Rievaulx Bank, Rievaulx, Helmsley, York YO62 5LB
  • Finish Point: Rievaulx Abbey
  • Distance: 9 Miles

GPX Route Map

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Walk Description

Rievaulx Abbey is an architectural masterpiece set in stone, with soaring pillars, walls and windows. The impressive ruins have a romantic setting in the wooded valley of Ryedale, from which the abbey is named. Its history stretches back to 1132 when twelve monks came from Clairvaux in France to establish the first Cistercian abbey in the North. They had been given 1,000 acres of waste land by Walter Espec of Helmsley Castle, which met their requirements exactly as theirs was an Order of poverty and simplicity. Their land holdings soon increased as Norman lords sought favour with the monks and, they hoped, a passage into Heaven.

It was during the mid 12th Century that the abbey prospered and when most of the major building work took place, with Rievaulx becoming the largest monastic establishment in England with 140 choir monks and over 500 lay brothers. By the early 13th Century Rievaulx Abbey had acquired several thousand acres of land predominantly in the North York Moors but also across the North of England on which they developed sheep farming. The fortunes of the abbey turned for the worse during the 13th Century due to poor wool prices as well as debts accrued due to land purchases and construction work. This was compounded in the 14th Century when Scottish raids became more frequent. When the abbey was suppressed in 1538 on the orders of Henry VIII there were only 22 monks left. 

From Rievaulx Abbey, our route heads south to reach the historic Rievaulx Bridge, built in the 13th Century by the monks. The beautiful wooded valleys of Nettle Dale and Flassen Dale lead to the village of Cold Kirby. The layout of this linear village has changed little since medieval times with cottages and farms lining the single street. St Michael’s Church dates from the 12th Century, although almost completely rebuilt in 1841, and was originally ministered by the Order of Knights Templars. 

Not far from Old Byland stands Tylas Farm where the monks of Byland Abbey first settled in the early 12th Century, having fled their previous home at Calder (Cumbria) due to Scottish raids. However, this new home was not suitable as they could hear the bells of Rievaulx a few miles down the valley so after four years they moved to Oldstead and then finally settled at Byland Abbey, where they built their magnificent abbey.

Book Rievaulx Abbey tickets

The abbey itself is managed by English Heritage and tickets can be booked online here.

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