August 8, 2022

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Start The Fauconberg, CoxwoldDistance 6.8 milesTime 2.5 hoursTotal ascent 230 metresDifficulty Moderate Google map of...

Start The Fauconberg, CoxwoldDistance 6.8 milesTime 2.5 hoursTotal ascent 230 metresDifficulty Moderate
Google map of the route

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Coxwold is an endearing, honey-hued village in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire. Part of the Howardian Hills and within the North York Moors national park, this bonny spot was once heralded as one of the best places to live in the UK. In the village itself, there is a row of stone cottages, a church, a pub, a few tearooms, even a cabinet maker, and at the top of the village sits Shandy Hall, the former home of 18th-century novelist Laurence Sterne.
The village was given to the Fauconberg family by Henry VIII, but records suggest its history started long before this: the oldest spelling of the village name is Cuhu-walda, Cuhu being a personal title and walda being a wood. In Domesday Book, Coxwold is cited by its Saxon name – Cucvalt – which means Cuckoo Wood.

The Kilburn horse, carved in 1857, is probably the largest hill figure in England. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
The White Horse of Kilburn is within walking distance of the village and the spectacular scenes as you reach it are an absolute highlight. At the very top, there is a Constable-like patchwork of dales that is utterly spirit-reviving. It’s easy to see why James Herriot once declared these dashing views over the Vale of York as the “finest in England”.
Etched into the hillside, the horse is 95 metres long by 67 metres tall – and is the biggest and most northerly hill figure in England; it is said to be visible from Leeds, 28 miles away. The main access is from a car park below, but the more adventurous can extend the walk along the bilberry-lined pathway, where it can be appreciated from every angle. There’s something different to see during every season, and at every time of day: the ever-changing landscape with its kaleidoscope of green and transient shadow and light always makes my heart flutter a little.
The horse itself was the brainchild of Victorian businessman Thomas Taylor, and completed in 1857. He had taken inspiration from the Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire, and designed an even bigger figure in his hometown, but he faced a problem: the local geology was of sandstone, not chalk, so to make his horse stand out, it was covered with light-grey limestone pebbles and painted white.

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St Michael’s Church in Coxwold. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
The village’s 17th-century Fauconberg pub is the ideal starting and finishing point for a beautiful stroll. We turn right as we leave the pub and walk uphill, past Saint Michael’s church on the left. We enter the signposted gate on the right-hand side of the road and walk across a field still blanketed in amber leaves and mellow golden light. As we head towards Kilburn, the feeling of sheer space, surrounding quietude and the restorative nature of birdsong envelops me.
After crossing a field of refreshing green, we come out of the opposite gate and turn right onto a rustic country track. I glimpse a bouquet of pheasants darting across the laneway, and the seasonal spectrum ahead of me is an impressive show: all the earthy shades with a splash of bright yellow for good measure. The saffron filter flickering over grass is glorious.

The village of High Kilburn. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
We pass Fox Folly farm and walk through the wooded valley until we get to a public footpath sign on the right. We join the path, taking a sharp left up the hill to the lovely hamlet of High Kilburn, part of Kilburn village – just a smattering of houses around a delightful green. From there, we trek on to the heart of Kilburn itself, an utterly idyllic Yorkshire spot.
We pass the Mouseman furniture shop – established by Robert “Mousey” Thompson in the early 20th century and where local craftspeople still produce hand-carved wooden treasures – and head up the lanes to see a spectacular, beautifully lit view of the white horse. Next we head into woods on the track to the base of the horse and enjoy some forest bathing. The peace and stillness of the woods is a lesson in the ancient Japanese art of shinrin-yoku or nature therapy.

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Sheep grazing in a field close to the village of Coxwold. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
Arriving at the car park, we brace ourselves before the short but steep climb to the top of the horse. It doesn’t take long but it’s not for those with vertigo – as my companion realises halfway up. I find myself stopping frequently to view the country spread out below from different elevations: every stop offers unique, breathtaking views, like wondrous chapters in a book. We return along the same route for pampering and refreshments at the pub – but mainly to thaw out by the fire.
The pub

The Fauconberg. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
The Fauconberg is a homely coaching inn and the hosts, mother and daughter Annelies and Claudia, have restored its original features and character. There has been an inn on the site since the 17th century and it is a warm and inviting place after a blustery winter walk: there’s a cosy lounge with a log burner that adds some hygge joy and the sense of history and antiquity is evident as soon as you step through the door to a warm Yorkshire welcome.
In the snug bar area, there are ales from Yorkshire brewery Isaac Poad and Masham-based Theakston on tap. There are flagstone floors, original beams and wood panelling, Mouseman furnishings and roomy fireside tables. There’s also a more formal dining room.

The Fauconberg proves a ‘warm and inviting’ stopover after a wintry walk. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Guardian
While the pub is known for its hearty breakfasts, for later in the day, the menu includes favourites such as the Fauconberg steak and ale pie (£14.95) and beer-battered fish and chips (£14.95), with some produce sourced from local butchers and fishmongers. There are also vegetarian and vegan options. For a quick walkers’ lunch, the house sandwiches (with salad and chips, £7) hit the spot.

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The rooms
Of the pub’s nine luxurious and classically styled rooms, my favourite is the Belasyse, with its four-poster bed and rich tones of bronze, yellow and chocolate brown – a decadent stay for a night.
Doubles from £110 B&B,


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