Oh my good god. This walk from Kirkham Priory was intense, and not in a good way. It could have been lovely, and maybe it once was. Maybe it will be again. But right now, it’s pretty aggressive….
What I’m going to do in this guide, is first give you an overview of what to expect on the circular river walk from Kirkham Priory, with all the logistics. Then I will go on to describe the route, with lots of photos, so you can see what I mean. I’m not saying don’t do it. You just need to be very prepared.
What to expect on the Kirkham Priory circular walk
The walk starts off at the ruins of the Kirkham Priory, on the edge of the River Derwent. So far so good. You will then cross the railway, and make your way uphill through the woods.
The route then takes you through a variety of fields, country lanes, and more woodland with a little bit of stinging nettle overgrowth.
Then after another railway crossing, where the gate is manually operated (something I have not seen before), you will head back to the River Derwent. This is where it starts….
I have experienced a lot of overgrowth in my walking life, but nothing like this. For the whole walk back to Kirkham Priory along the river, I was engulfed. It’s so extreme, that you barely actually see the river.
By the time I had finished, my legs were raw red and covered in scratches. Now, overgrowth can be fixed. Someone just needs to do it. I just don’t know when (or if) that will happen.
On a positive note, there were some pretty bits, with bridges and flowers.
How long is the Kirkham Priory circular walk?
The Kirkham Priory circular walk is just under 5 miles. It took me about 1h40min to complete.
Is the Kirkham Prior walk hard?
The Kirkham Priory circular route itself is easy. It’s the overgrowth that makes it hard. There is one main hill at the start. The rest is mostly level or downhill.
Is Kirkham Priory free to visit?
For this walk, you don’t go inside Kirkham Priory. However, if you want to explore it, Kirkham Priory is English Heritage, which is free if you are a member. For everyone else, it’s £5.90 per adult and £3.10 per child (at the time of writing). There is discount for families.
Fun Fact: Kirkham Priory is an Augustinian Priory, and was founded by Walter I’Espec, who also built Rievaulx Abbey.
Rievaulx Abbey, and Whitby Abbey, both in the North York Moors, are also English Heritage. So you could use your membership there too.
Read more: Helmsley to Rievaulx walk guide
Read more: Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby walk guide
Parking for the Kirkham Priory Walk
There is a free parking area right next to the Kirkham Priory.
Tips for the Kirkham Priory walk
- Take trousers. You don’t need to wear them the whole way. Just for the river section of the walk back to Kirkham Priory.
- Take a little picnic. The section of river next to Kirkham Priory is so lovely, and very picturesque with the bridge and the priory on the other side of the river, and would be a lovely place to hang out after the walk.
- Take snacks and enough water in general. During the summer months there is an ice cream truck, and up the road there is a pub. Otherwise, there is no where else to buy food.
- Don’t do it.
- Just joking. If you take trousers, and it’s not a crazy hot day, it might not be too bad. Maybe a bit adventurous.
- Start/Finish: Kirkham Priory
- Where is it: Kirkham Priory is located in the Howardian Hills AONB, which is connected to the North York Moors, in Yorkshire.
- Distance: 4.8 miles
- Time: 1h 40min
- Terrain: Dirt, road, grass, overgrowth.
- Difficulty: Easy in theory
- Amenities: There is a pub, called the Stone Trough Inn further up the road. Toilets somewhere at Kirkham Priory. I didn’t see them, but I didn’t look. Occasional ice cream van.
- Time of year: I walked the Kirkham Priory circular in summer
Map for the Kirkham Priory Circular walk
You can find my more detailed route map for the Kirkham Priory walk on Alltrails.
Route description for the Kirkham Priory circular walk
Starting from the car park next to Kirkham Priory, walk over the bridge, and follow the road over the railway, and up the hill.
A short way up, look out for the wooden gate and trail signpost to the left.
Uphill through the woods
Through the gate, you will be on a dirt trail through the woodland. Keep on the main path, which will soon take you uphill, all the way to reach the road.
At the road turn left, then a short way along, take the path leading off it to the left. You should see a partially hidden trail signpost here.
Now you will be walking along the edge of a field, with nice countryside field views to your right and back.
Keep following the track, which will lead you into the woods again.
Overgrowth part one
To get into these woods, I was faced with a mass of stinging nettles. I had some waterproof trousers in the bottom of my bag. They live there for emergency situations, however, I was too lazy to get them out. Plus, we were in the middle of a heat wave and I didn’t want to put them on. So I carefully tried to slide through, minimising skin contact.
Luckily, the stinging nettle overgrowth was only to get into the woods. Once in, the path was nice and clear…for a bit.
The next section is pretty flat, along a woodland trail. I came across the odd moment of slight overgrowth. Nothing a bit of sideways walking couldn’t handle.
The fields and railway line
When you reach the gate, go through it and turn right. Now, follow the perimeter of the field which will lead you down to the road, where you then continue straight along it.
At the cattle grid, there is a really bizarre set of stiles. They lead to no where. Just take the cattle grid.
At the end of this road, turn left, and keep going to reach the railway line.
The gates were closed when I got there, so I waited for the train to pass. After it did, the train man came out of his hut to open the gates. I had never seen this before. He then starts asking me if I was here to see the King. I thought he was making some sort of joke that I didn’t get. So I just smiled.
He then asked me if I understood. I said no. He then asked me if I was English. I said yes. Once he realised that I had no idea what he was talking about, he explained that the King actually was nearby, and would be on a train running through here.
I didn’t really feel like seeing the King, so continued on my way.
Walk to the river to head back to Kirkham Priory
Over the railway line, continue along the road, looking out for the trail signpost on the right. It points you through the crop field to the left.
The trail through the crop field is nice and easy. I always enjoy these crop field trails. You’re sort of engulfed, but not.
On the other side, go through the gate, and keep going straight, through a couple more gates, to reach the river. At the river, turn left to walk back towards Kirkham Priory.
Walk along the river back to Kirkham Priory
Straight away, I was faced with a mass of overgrowth. I had it in my head that this was just a short messy bit I needed to get through, then the rest of the walk back to Kirkham Priory would be a lovely riverside stroll.
As such, I still refused to put my trousers on, and ploughed on through. It wasn’t too bad to start. Some overgrowth, some clear(ish) path. Lots of butterflies.
There were no stinging nettles so far. Although, there was a lot of Hogweed. I couldn’t tell wether this was the innocent kind, or the burning kind.
Giant Hogweed does something to your skin. If it touches you, then you are exposed to sun, you get sever burns. Some of the Hogweed looked a bit giant, so I just tried to avoid those ones.
Never ending overgrowth
Once the trail took me along the edge of a field, I felt relieved. Thinking that the overgrowth was over. I was also aware though, that the sun was hitting me hard. I hoped that that hogweed hadn’t got me. But I was also too hot and fed up to care too much.
Once I saw that the trail was about to take me through more overgrowth, my heart sank. There was no getting out of it at this point, so I put my head down and fought my way through.
It continues like this for a little. Overgrowth riverside path, mixed in with edge of field walking.
I realised at this point that I had barely seen the river, despite being right next to it. It might as well have not been there.
There did come a point in the overgrowth, where there was a bit too much stinging nettle for my liking, so I gave in and put my trousers on. Although, by now it was too late. My legs were already pretty scratched up.
Once on, I stuck my arms in the air, and powered on through. After I was through that section, I decided to keep my trousers on. I didn’t trust that there wouldn’t be more overgrowth soon.
And sure enough there was more. A lot more. With the occasional field and woodland relief.
Reaching the end of the Kirkham Priory walk
The whole ordeal goes on for about 2 miles, pretty much all the way back to Kirkham Priory. In fact, as soon as you get your first view of the priory, this is when it stops.
Once I walked through the gate, with Kirkham Priory on the other side of the river, I felt such relief. It was over.
I walked over to the river to look at the water cascading down. Taking my trousers off, my legs sweaty and stingy, I wanted nothing more than to jump in the river. Then I remembered I had a full bottle of water in my car, so hurried on back and poured it all over me.
More walks near Kirkham Priory
I came to walk Kirkham Priory straight after this route from Terrington. It’s only 10 min drive away.
The best I have done in the Howardian Hills, is this route to Castle Howard. You don’t go into the castle itself, but rather walk through the fields around it, with wonderful views of it.