The hamlet of Cockayne is tucked away at the end of Bransdale, one of the most remote 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.
The literary mill
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 date 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, 6.25 miles (10.1km) 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, heading north from Kirkbymoorside to leave the northern edge of the Moors near Kildale. Along its route you will find old stone waymarkers 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 the result of confusion with Barnsdale Forest, more than 31.5 miles (50km) to the south, which is a rather more likely area for the outlaw's home.
From your parking place in Cockayne, cross the cattle grid and bend right towards Kirkbymoorside. Follow the road uphill and, as it bends sharp left, go through a gate beside a sign 'Bransdale Basecamp' and follow the track down the hill to a gate. Continue along the track, through a gate.
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 three 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 the ridge, then ascend to a waymarked gate.
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 waymarked field gates and follow the grassy track along the field-edge to go through another waymarked gate. At the top of the field go over a stile beside a wooden gate onto a lane.
Turn left. Pass farm buildings to reach a road junction and turn right. Follow the road uphill for 0.25 miles (400m). At a bridleway signpost turn left onto the moorland.
Follow the narrow path through the heather to a track, where you turn left. Follow the track to a T-junction. Turn right and follow the track to a crossroads.
Turn left and follow the gravel track for 0.75 miles (1.2km), past a boundary stone and the Three Howes tumuli. Where the gravel track is crossed by a grass track, turn left, following the bridleway mark on the post.
Follow the wide track downhill. Where it turns right, go straight on along a rough track. It passes the end of a wood and continues to wind downhill. Go through a wooden gate and then bend left along the field-edge to a stile beside a gate onto the road. Turn right and follow the road back to the starting point.
Field paths and moorland tracks, some road walking, 2 stiles
Farmland and heather moorland
On lead on farmland and as indicated by signs
AA Walker's Map 19 North York Moors (western)
Roadside parking near cattle grid at T-junction in Cockayne
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Discover North Yorkshire
North Yorkshire, with its two National Parks and two designated Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is England’s largest county and one of the most rural. This is prime walking country, from the heather-clad heights of the North York Moors to the limestone country that is so typical of the Yorkshire Dales – a place of contrasts and discoveries, of history and legend.
The coastline offers its own treasures, from the fishing villages of Staithes and Robin Hood Bay to Scarborough, one time Regency spa and Victorian bathing resort. In the 1890s, the quaint but bustling town of Whitby provided inspiration for Bram Stoker, who set much of his novel, Dracula, in the town. Wizarding enthusiasts head to the village of Goathland, which is the setting for the Hogwarts Express stop at Hogsmeade station in the Harry Potter films.
York is a city of immense historical significance. It was capital of the British province under the Romans in AD 71, a Viking settlement in the 10th century, and in the Middle Ages its prosperity depended on the wool trade. Its city walls date from the 14th century and are among the finest in Europe. However, the gothic Minster, built between 1220 and 1470, is York’s crowning glory.