Castle Hills near Northallerton

Castle Hills near Northallerton

A walk around Castle Hills with a little bit of history and some reminiscence!

There are rude words and the occasional questionable anecdotes so avoid if you’re easily embarrassed.

It’s been peeing down for four days and the likelihood of clean boots at the end of our little excursion is limited. Owain has promised a dry morning with only limited chance of showers this afternoon.


Peter and I start our walk from Winston Court and meet the others at All Saints Church and we head towards the cemetery, we are all in our 60’s and don’t think we’re being stalked by a man with a scythe but you never know.

Dead Man’s Hill

We make our way to a point that allows a view of “Dead Man’s Hill” which is the site of the Bishop’s Castle. Bishop Rufus or Prince-Bishop to give him his proper title was both spiritual and secular governor of the area. The King made them ‘Prince’ Bishops to keep them on his side and act as a buffer to the marauding Scotts who were prone to the odd excursion to England and it wasn’t normally a holiday or to visit relatives.

The Bishop needed a pad in the area that represented his status so although the building on what we quite accurately call ‘Dead Man’s Hill’ was built like a castle complete with a moat; however, moats at that time and around buildings the size of his new pad were largely to represent status. Bishops Cumin and Pudsey improved it a bit then Henry II razed it as it was a fortification that had not been approved by the crown. Fickle buggers these royals!

Its significance to us is that we used to roll things down it and if we could get inside them then so much the better. Our greatest claim to fame involved a large rubber tyre about the size of us which needed three boys to get it to the top. We then decided that it would be great if one of us were to sit with backside, shoulders and hands triangulating a rigid pattern to hold our body so that with the aid of the other two boys he could roll down the hill.

Alan volunteered and both Stuart and I didn’t – so Alan would be the Buzz Aldrin of this new era of travel. He first sat on the rims of the tyre then grabbed them with his hands. At this point, we supported the tyre whilst he put his feet on the rim creating a rigid triangulated structure.

So… we’re waiting for his order and it goes something like this (Oh, you may want to shield your eyes from the following text as it does have a word that, in those days, ten or eleven-year-old boys didn’t normally use).
“OK, are you ready”
“No just gimme a minute”, pause, shuffle, shuffle, “Right, I think I’m ready”, pause, “Just let me go, no need to push”
If you re-scan the dialogue, you’ll see that he said the word, “Right” we missed everything from that word and we pushed like a toboggan team.
He was in full flow by the time we heard the words, “If I live I’m coming back to kill you, I’ll kill you ’til you’re dead”
Now, this dialogue reached us but the rotation and subsequent Doppler effect made him sound like human hurdy-gurdy and whilst we really wanted to rush after him and slow him down before he hit Sun Beck, we just couldn’t see for the tears…

I take the opportunity to tell my friends about my Great, Great, Great Grandfather who drove the last stagecoach north before the railways took over and show them the impressive gravestone. I think it’s important if you have a captive group!

We turn left out of the cemetery gates and walk adjacent to the Odd Fellows Arms and pass the allotments leading on to the first Willow Beck Bridge.


There’s a fair amount of water running today but when we were small we would play and catch fish and “balloons” under that bridge. The “balloons” were usually knotted and had an interesting little nipple thingie on the end; however, like all balloons after a few days, they had deflated. We would unknot them and fill them with water then swing them around our heads. If they were swung with a mix of care and vigour they grew to five or six feet in length and when released with an appropriate flick of the wrist they could be aimed at your friends with an alarming degree of accuracy. If they were not completely switched on to the watery threat, they would end up very damp indeed.

It would be two years before we discovered that they were not “balloons” but the result of some horizontal jogging in the days when unmarried bedroom activity was singular and, if the weather was kind, adventures with an enthusiastic girl were more likely outside where bushes and meadow grass were the only privacy and the banks of Willow Beck had both in abundance.

On reflection, I’m so glad that we were taught to wash our hands thoroughly before any meals!

We turn right off the bridge and then almost immediately left up the bank to the bridge over the low line three or four hundred metres to the west of Low Gates. This bridge used to be made of brick with coping stones on each of the walls. There are and were some tank barriers on the west side of the bridge. We would use these to jump onto those coping stones and run across the bridge wall. This was especially thrilling if there were steam trains running underneath. The smell of the steam is so strong in my memory I can smell it now and recall these foolish pranks with a mixture of regret and excitement but mostly with nostalgia.

A little further along the path and we come to a point that used to have a style which is not here now. Around October and November each year, we would buy penny bangers and Hayden tells us that they would put them into milk churns and the resultant explosion would blow the tops clean off.

The fuses on the bangers were about 5 seconds-ish but about one in 15 or so would fizz and then explode in less than a second. We called them fizz/bangs and they would leave you with a very sore hand indeed.

White House farm used to have a dairy heard of wonderful Friesian cows that would stare at you with beautiful mournful eyes whilst shitting an ark of poo that spread into an eighteen-inch (450mm) pat. After a couple of days, a thin skin would develop. If it were more than a couple of days it would become too strong and leathery for what we wanted to do.

Fireworks and Cow Shit

One day we were hiding behind the hedge near the style that I’ve referred to above waiting for some unsuspecting soul and we’d hit the jackpot. It was a man and woman clearly out for a walk and they were chatting, smiling and carefree. We had charged this particular cowpat with a thrupenny (threepenny) whopper of a banger. The poo was a couple of days old with a perfectly developed skin, not too thick. We watched the couple and made some mental calculations regarding the fuse and where they would be in five seconds. At about three metres from the style, I struck my match and nervously offered it to the blue touch paper. No sooner had I lit the paper than there was a huge explosion, a noise that defied description. It was accompanied by a flash followed by the most amazing and disgusting shower of shit that hit me in the face. It had been a fizz/bang and I was covered. Karma had struck and the couple, oblivious to the fact that it was meant for them asked if I was all right. I nodded without opening my mouth…

With this image still in my mind, I take the team along the footpath that divides the field of memories with the full-scale development of houses on what was York Trailers. The going has deteriorated and we slide about on the mud. There are vicious brambles that reach out and hook our clothes. Bri suffers a real stopper when one of the briars lassoes his leg and drags him towards the fence. He mentions the fact that he’s displeased with some ‘fluffing words’ that seem to cover the situation nicely and the briar releases his leg as if by command.


Castle Hills

We are adjacent to High Castle Hills now. The hill is only a small fraction of its size when King William 1 ordered that a Castle be built on a raised area referred to as the ‘motte’ with an enclosed courtyard referred to as the ‘bailey’ hence the general name of this kind of construction as ‘motte and bailey’.

King William was reputedly camped at Northallerton when he decided that this would be a good idea. Clearly, a man who recognised an area of beauty with local inhabitants of intelligence, charm and breeding. He was a man of immense taste. Sadly in just over 70 years Bill Cumin drifted by and seized it for King David of Scotland. Not many years after that Bishop Pudsey of Durham got involved and gave it away in 1174. A couple of years later it was destroyed.  states “In 1838 construction of the railway destroyed the majority of the earthworks, which prior to that date “consisted of a circular mound in the centre, and high embankments below at some distance, with deep trenches and ditches, altogether occupying an area of at least 20 acres. So it was a decent size then!

All of the above is very interesting but my memories are rather more contemporary and involve three huge advertising hoardings. The one that really sticks in my mind though was a plank or ladder (I’d appreciate some help here) that was suspended between two huge wooden men. It sat on their shoulders and was suspended about 10 feet (3 metres) above the hillside. We would climb one of the men and grip the plank then swing our bodies from side to side and by shuffling our hands along the plank we would attempt to reach the other end – or fall off.

Sledging in Winter

Sledging in Winter 1950’s style

In winter the High Castle Hill would become a sledging resort and we found every way possible to negotiate a small wooden sledge with metal runners down different parts of the hill. 

The steep part was exciting and fast but the corrugations that were left when the main north/south railway line was excavated meant that you vibrated all the way down then at the bottom your teeth fell out. More excitement could be injected into the adventure by trying to sledge between two painters that were carrying a plank. Yes, you read that right, along the lower third of the hill were three advertising hoardings two of which were what might be referred to as standard in as much as they were twelve to fifteen feet long (up to five metres) and six feet high (two metres) and they would be painted with some kind of slogan that was so forgettable that I’ve forgotten it; however, the third and middle sign was a bit different. It was two men carrying a plank advertising a brand of paint. They were about fifteen feet apart and carried the plank on their shoulders. 

In the summer our challenge was to climb up one of the men and then cling to the plank. We then manoeuvred our swinging bodies from one end to the other using various tactics from simple hand over hand to swinging our legs up and over the plank then shuffling our way along using all four limbs. The latter was the easier technique but did require some significant energy to swing our small bodies up high enough to get our legs over the plank. In winter we would try to get between the two men and sledge under the plank but the pounding our ribs took from the corrugations on that part of the hill meant it had limited appeal and was usually the result of a ‘dare’.

Route two was down the East side which was quite dramatic at the beginning but levelled out and you had to have a particularly good sledge to make it into the next field. However, after much use, the snow would be compacted and icy, when this was achieved you could go to town on sandpaper but there were accidents when sledges ran out of control and hit one of the three huts that were anchored in the field. There was plenty of room not to hit them but they were like wooden magnets and as the preferred sledging position was head-first-and-prone there was a tendency to produce crimson snow when attempts to stem gushing nostrils were made by taking handfuls of the white harvest and pressing it gently against the bridge of the nose. I’m not sure that it did anything for the pain but it certainly had an effect on the flow.

Route three involved an initially slow and comfortable descent along the North of the hill. This was followed by a more exciting stage that involved making a full 180-degree turn whilst trying to avoid the fence. There was a built-in conflict here as it was important to have enough momentum prior to the turn.  In fairness, you needed to be going at the speed of light so that when you stuck your leg out to encourage the sledge to turn you still had the impetus to complete the course. However, we learned new techniques that didn’t have the same drag as a toe ploughing a furrow in the snow. We would do bunny hops that were achieved by a kind of reversed push-up. You jolted your body up whilst clinging to the front of the sledge and simultaneously hauled the whole of the front of the sledge to the left. Bear in mind, the velocity was now below the speed of light but well above that of sound and the full one-eighty was still in progress. 

If you got all of the above right AND you’d said your prayers the previous night AND the sledge was on your side AND the snow had not yet turned to ice AND you could still see enough through the powdery blizzard thrown up by the person in front AND you still had a modicum of control then you didn’t break the fingers on your right hand as the sledge rattled along the lower rails of the fence that protected us from certain death on the main Edinburgh to London railway line.

If any of the above didn’t happen then the little finger and sometimes the ring finger of your right hand would be broken and your mam would be extracting spells, usually with a sewing needle, from the back of your hand for a week. We usually knew when something was broken so we’d walk to the Friarage to get it fixed before we went home.

The broken fingers were always on the right hand!

Morris 1000 Bonnets

This wonderful hill was not just a winter source of entertainment. We had acquired a Morris 1000 bonnet and stripped it of all chrome bits and during the summer, especially if it had been wet, we took it to the top of the hill and at least 4 of us would climb on board. We’d then rock simultaneously back and forth until it began to move. At first, the movement would be imperceptible and the outside hands of the riders would grasp handfuls of grass to aid the pulsing mass and get the unit passed the critical point when it took on a mind of its own. As it picked up speed the noise from the combined group of riders would rise until it reached a crescendo just before the bottom of the hill. It couldn’t happen today without a risk assessment and ear defenders but we loved it.

We did try this in winter. It was a frosty but sunny and crisp day with blue skies and the wind blowing towards the hill, it was perfect. The snow was ‘frosted’ so very powdery and slipperier than Teflon. We all sat in the bonnet and began the rocking motion but on the first rock the unit shot forward like a drag racer and I don’t think we got the opportunity to scream or shout. I do remember the faces of my friends; we must all have looked like free-fall skydivers our faces contorted by the speed and wind. We clung on tight and ensured that no one fell out but ended up in the ditch between the fence and the railway line. I remember my hand had got caught between the sharp edge of the bonnet and various corrugations in the hillside resulting in a deep cut to my wrist such that we could see the sinews and veins and small globules of fatty stuff but not much blood. Without the evidence of blood, my pals clearly thought it superficial and lost interest quickly. We were all very wet, very cold and very miserable. We didn’t do it again in winter.

Back to reality and the footpath crosses the main north-south line. If you choose to walk this route you might want to ensure that any children or people that need extra care who are with you are cared for like no other time. The rail traffic here approach at over 100 miles per hour and you don’t have to be that good at maths to appreciate the distance between the crossing and Zetland Bridge is about half a mile and the train will cover that in 15 seconds. If you can see a train, no matter how far away, then let it pass, you’ll enjoy the sight anyway.


Water Troughs and Steam Trains

A mile or two north of this crossing were water troughs that enabled the old steam trains to refill with water without stopping. We would walk along the embankment or in the fields and sit on the fence to see this site which was nothing short of wondrous. Whiske Moor troughs were 613 yards long and we always sat at one end or the other as this gave the best view and if the fireman didn’t get the scoop back up quickly enough the noise and sparks were quite spectacular. The engine would appear in the distance and adjust its speed; too slow and the water wouldn’t go up the scoop and too fast meant the majority of the water would be lost in sideways spray. A steam engine pulling a train is always a great site but when you see it at dusk and picking up water, well that’s in a different league. If you’re lucky and the fireman has the boiler door open there’s an orange glow that projects against the steam to generate the illusion of butterfly wings floating above the tender and when you introduce the spray from the scoop being lowered into the trough it becomes a gigantic multicoloured dragonfly. The spray becomes a rainbow and, although the engine is travelling at speed, the steam seems to cling to the tender with a shadow that is cast against it from the cab roof; gentle undulations complete the picture with a ragged tail where the carriages break the flow of air and steam. We’d go back home smelling of a mixture of steam, coal smoke and creosote from the fence that we’d been sitting on.

We make our way up the West embankment and look south towards the cinders that denote the old war line and what we called ‘War Jungle’ which was a thicket of birch and willow trees. These were saplings when we were kids and for the first few years grew at the same rate that we did. We played cowboys and Indians in this little wood and just adjacent to it we’d build a campfire and roast potatoes and the odd wood pigeon.


Brick Yard Pond

We pass along adjacent to the edge of the field and look out over what was “Brick Yard Pond”.

It’s filled in now and only discernible with the aid of methane detection equipment but it was the town rubbish tip opposite the real tip now. As the name suggests it was an open clay mine that had filled with water and was very, very deep. The council had been filling it with the town’s rubbish for years and it was an easily identified blot on the landscape by the number of gulls and rubbish that would be flying around, especially in high winds. 

We were forbidden to go there on pain of death. This was both literal and figurative. It was literal if we went and had the misfortune to fall in as the chances were that you would drown in the seething, fermenting and stinking sludge. Should we survive then the number of dreadful diseases that were carried on the tins, distended corpses of long-dead animals and rotting foodstuff was countless. 

On the other hand, death was figurative because, if we did venture there, and we did, then the excursion would be conducted secretively as it was patently against the wishes of our parents and the consequences dire. 

The worst scenario was for one or more of us to fall in whilst attempting to jump, jog, hop or stagger across various floating jerry cans or islets of bubbling sludge. If the inevitable happened there was no way of disguising the fact as the stench attached itself to our clothes and was absorbed through our pores ready to bear witness to our transgression when we were within olfactory distance of our homes. It mattered not if our parents were out of the house; the evidence would remain to lurk wherever our clothes were stashed and, if we tried to leave them in the outbuilding or garage with a risky naked streak to the back door, the smell on our bodies would remain even after a prolonged bath. 

There was also visual evidence! The flies that had been alerted from hundreds of miles around would be murmuring like starlings at the autumn migration. 

The insect fraternity used a variation on the early Christian technique of spreading ‘the word’. Two people would be given the message and instructed to tell two other people each – the result was tens of thousands after only a few iterations. The flies knew this technique and could surround an area showing promise within seconds. Fermenting clothes locked in a shed was such a treat that the resultant pulsating swarm would outperform autumn starlings with a single murmuration forming a clenched hand with a finger pointing at the evidence ready to give the game away to always inquisitive parents on their return.

If we suffered the double misfortune of NOT dying and our parents actually discovering the transgression, then circumstances were grim and their reaction would have meant we’d have preferred to have drowned or caught a lethal disease. 

If we had visited the site and survived then there was all kinds of treasure from bike frames, bike wheels, chains and handlebars to stuffed birds, real birds (but dead) and any number of tins some with the furry remains of their previous content and serrated edges sharper than a razor blade with which you could slash fingers, wrists or veins with little or no effort in the blink of an eye. It was like walking on a floating island as it bobbed and wobbled under our feet. 

It was utopia if you wanted some practice with a catapult ‘cos the number of rats was unbelievable… 

…or so I’ve heard!

PS: You may wonder what we did with pram wheels – well I’ll tell you another time. 

There’s been a huge amount of rain and when we climb the next style we can see a pond at the bottom of the next field that tended to form every winter and, like the one near Willow Beck at Low Castle Hills, it would be the basis of much fun when the temperature was cold enough to create ice thick enough on which to skate. The reeds would protrude through the ice and we’d have to drift gently from foot to foot carefully avoiding the clumps of living straw.

We’re over another two styles now and back on to a very muddy “Lovers Lane” or to give it its Post Office title Springwell Lane. In fairness, our local name is more descriptive and certainly more appropriate. I’ve never seen a spring in this area and certainly no well.

Out of the end of Lovers Lane and directly over the Romanby to Yafforth Road, the public footpath is clearly signposted. It’s still very muddy but the sky brightens for a few minutes with blue and even a little sun.

Through the gate and turn left along the hedge still sliding about but the going is a little easier now there is more breadth to walk.

As we approach the Wensleydale Line we’re meant to turn right along the lane to the Golf Clubhouse but there are signs that proclaim this to be private property. My OS map says differently and I’m prepared to argue the toss but my colleagues have re-routed us whilst I make the mistake of answering the phone. It’s not a big deal but it does mean we’ve reduced the walk by about a mile and introduced a bit more duplication.

Eventually, we make out way across the approved crossing of the Wensleydale Line and onto Saddleback Bridge where copious amounts of photographs are made.

Our return is via Romanby/Yafforth Road past Willowbank and under the bridge then back towards Lovers Lane. I’m not happy with my planning here as there are far more cars on this road than anticipated and we have to stop numerous times.

We’re heading towards town now and cross the Wensleydale Line at Ashby House. To the right is the path to the Northallerton West platform. If you’re intent on taking the Wensleydale Line to Redmire, and I urge you to do this, then this is your station.

A little further along the lane, we reach the “War Line”. To the right is an embankment that carried a very tight loop that joined the main north/south line and would be used to turn locomotives or even whole trains around. The curvature was so tight that the engines and trains were restricted and the noise from their wheels could easily be heard up to 5 miles away. Looking to the right of the War Line embankment you will see a gap. This used to be an iron bridge that transported the loop over the lane to the farm. It was stolen by a group of men in high-vis jackets who turned up one Saturday morning. It was so barefaced that no one dreamt they were thieves.

The Brothel at Castle Hills

Over the hill and there is a house on the left that was rebuilt over the years. When I was a kid it was occupied by Mr Huby so the hill was called Huby’s Hill; we were very imaginative! When he had it there were two houses complete with loose boxes for horses although I don’t remember him having any. It was reputedly used as a brothel for the officers at Leeming during the war but fell into disrepair sometime in the ’60s.

Under the bridge and Mary, my big sister is in her garden. Most of my childhood years were spent living next door. As we were only yards from the main North/South line we got used to the sound of trains. We even capitalised on them.

Bombed by Coal

All the trains were steamers at the time and we discovered that if you put bottles on the fence and keep replacing them then the firemen and sometimes the drivers of the engines would throw coal at them. We would pick up this free harvest at the end of each day. This went on until my cousin, who used to be a fireman, thought he’d do us a favour by launching a huge piece of coal the size of a small car from the tender.  It careered down the embankment like a bouncing bomb. We had a corrugated tin garage at the time and it caused enough damage for my dad to tell us not to encourage them anymore!

I have my photograph taken with my big sister Mary and we carry on past the terraces and bungalows that make up this wonderful little community, just far enough out of town to be in the country yet just close enough for convenience.

Past Adams’ scrapyard and down to the confluence of Willow Beck and Sun Beck and what we called Low Castle Hills.

Low Castle Hills

When we were very small this was our place of choice for sledging in the winter and rolling boiled eggs at Easter. We gathered yellow gorse flowers to put in the boiling water to colour them. Miss Wise would bring the whole class across Low Cas and she’d pick out various flowers and trees and ask us to identify them. If we didn’t know she would give enough time for someone else to whisper the answer before telling us. She always encouraged us to try to find out or do things ourselves but never let us struggle.

Further up the path and we pass above what we called Calcutta. The path is restricted in width and there’s been a fair amount of erosion since we were kids. Hayden makes some observations to this effect as we inspect what there is left and discuss how long before remedial work becomes necessary.

The tree that we used for a rope swing across the beck is still there and there’s even a rope hanging from it but we’re not tempted (or are we?).

We ‘found’ a rope when we were about ten or eleven years old and fastened it to this tree. We then had a limited but spirited ‘fight’ about who would go first and I lost. The winner took a long run along the embankment with the intention of describing a smooth arc that kept your feet dry and gave you the opportunity to land on the opposite bank if you so desired. If you chose not to land then the rest of the journey was a mirror image of the first and, if you were fleet of foot, you’d land on the side of the beck that you left and hand the rope on to your friend. If you were not fleet of foot you hit the tree!

My friend who will remain nameless ran along the bank with the above mental rehearsal in his mind. He had the speed and the angle all perfect and left the river bank with grace. The rope snapped and he hit the water with the elegance of a brick. I suppose the gentlemanly thing to have done would have been to help him out of the water but I was helpless with laughter and I’m still sitting here with a smile as I finish this paragraph.

On reaching the footbridge that awakened the memories of the balloons and the Castle Hills Loop is complete.

The Tan Yard – Tannery Lane

We make our way along Tannery Lane, a journey that we did twice a day when we were at secondary school. In those days there was a real tannery here and boy did it stink there were numerous pits of bark, animal pelts and other decomposing bits as well as other elements going through the tanning process which included:
Scraping off the flesh
Washing the hide
Drying the hide
De-hairing it
Soaking it to get it soft

Every one of these processes stunk. If you think you’ve smelt something awful I can categorically state that you haven’t. The smell that came from the tanyard hung in the atmosphere, it saturated every molecule of air, it clung to your clothes and got in your hair, it even got in your mouth as well as your nose. With most smells, exposure to anything more than a few minutes and you don’t notice it. It wasn’t the case here, it even made your eyes hurt!

We clean our boots on some brush-type plants on the green that had been helpfully trimmed and left to look like an upside-down yard brush and then make our way to The Standard. The Standard is an excellent pub opposite Sainsbury’s and can easily be passed without notice. It is named after the flag that was flown at a particularly bloody battle a couple of miles to the North of the town where the Scotts had dropped in to give the English a good thrashing and the local Bishops took a different view.

The Landlord and Landlady of The Standard are well-liked and run a very popular traditional pub. To cap it all, the beer is always good and the meals are plentiful and tasty. It’s a great place to end the walk and we’re ready for an excellent meal and a drink to round it off.

The walk is just over 4 miles and quite muddy. Best done in dryer weather. It’s relatively flat but not fit for disabled access.

Enjoy the snaps…G…x

Please feel free to like the Yorkshire Ramblings FB page and you’ll receive updates when I post. You’re welcome to share the posts but copyright remains with the author or photographer. Thanks, G. x

Feel free to share.

Written permission must be obtained for commercial use of any part of these posts or photographs.

4 thoughts on “Castle Hills near Northallerton”

  1. Fab stories I remember many of the places you mention with great fondness and childhood memories

    • Thank you, Julie, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to your comment but I appreciate it and take great pleasure in knowing that other people enjoy these bits of nostalgia.

      Thanks also for taking the time to respond.

      Kind regards,

      George x

  2. Loved this. Did parts of this walk with WI ladies in March in the snow. As a child, remember booling hard boiled eggs dyed with onion skins down castle hills. Not as daring as your antics. Debbie Eames

    • Hi Debbie,

      Thank you for responding to this article. It’s such a delight to know that other people have the same affection for this beautiful area. I know that times have changed and children don’t have the same freedom as we had but I do think they were wonderful, innocent and carefree times with much less pressure. Ironically, I also think that the lack of social media in those days was a bonus.

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, I very much appreciate it.

      Kind regards,

      George x


Please comment - I love comments...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.