Walk 163: Pickering Town Walk

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 1.5 miles (2.35km)

Time to walk: Roughly 1 hour

Difficulty: All on hard surfaces

Parking: Pickering has several car parks. The nearest one to the start of this walk is in Vivis Lane

Public toilets: Ropery public toilets opposite the Information Centre at the start & end of this walk & then cafes & bars etc throughout it

Map of the route:

I recently spent a few days in Yorkshire & visited the agricultural town of Pickering, which gave me the opportunity to have a look at their short town trail

Known as the “Gateway to the North Yorkshire Moors”, Pickering is a small market town, probably best known for its castle & being at one end of of the famous North Yorkshire Moors Railway

The name is thought to be derived from “settlement of a family, or followers of a man called Picer”. However the town website tells us that “Local legend says that the town was founded & named in around 270 BC by King Peredurus. One day, the King lost his ring, & accused a young woman of stealing it. However, later that day, the same ring was found inside a pike that was caught for his dinner in Costa Beck. The town got the name “Pike-ring” – an image of which is featured in the town’s coat of arms to this day”

Shall we go & see what I thought?

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts outside the Information Centre in Ropery Road…

Facing the Centre, turn right & walk along the road

2. On the left you’ll see the end of the line for the North Yorkshire Moors Railway…

This heritage railway runs through the North York Moors National Park & was first opened in 1836 as the Whitby & Pickering Railway. The railway was planned in 1831 by George Stephenson as a means of opening up trade routes inland from the then important seaport of Whitby. The section between Grosmont & Pickering was reopened in 1973 by the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust Ltd & is now a tourist attraction which has been awarded several industry accolades

In 2007, the railway started to run regular services over the 6 miles section of the Esk Valley Line north of Grosmont to Whitby. In 2014, a second platform was opened at Whitby which allowed the NYMR to run an enhanced service & led to passenger numbers in the same year of nearly 350,000 people

As of 2020, the Railway runs for 24 miles & is owned & operated by a charitable trust, with 100 staff who work full time, 50 seasonal staff, & over 550 volunteers

3. Continue up this rather attractive street…

…passing the wonderfully steep Brant Hill…

& then turn right up Castle Hill. You wouldn’t think it, but this was once a public road! Given the name, I wonder where this is going to lead to…

4. The higher up the hill you get, keep looking to the left to get a good view of Pickering Station. The large building is High Mill, one of three mills the town once had

Note the grassy hill in the distance, known as Beacon Hill, thought to probably be an early 13th century earth & timber ringwork siege castle, founded in the minority of King Henry III. In 1216-17, the castle provided a base for supporters of Prince Louis of France, to check the activities of the besieged Pickering Castle garrison. The hill was modified, by cutting back its sides to create a steep sided, roughly oval mound topped by a low bank, encased by a ditch & an outer bank…

The structural remains used by at least two mid 20th century Royal Observer Corps posts, have damaged the earthworks. Fortification were known to be built in the mid 12th century Anarchy, in the reign of King Stephen & Beacon Hill could be an example of one

5. At the top of Castle Hill are the walls of…Pickering Castle

Turn right & walk up towards the entrance to the Castle

The original structure was built by the Normans under William the Conqueror in 1069–1070. This early building included the large, central mound (the motte), the outer palisades (enclosing the bailey) & internal buildings, notably the Keep on top of the motte. Ditches were also dug to make assault on the walls difficult. The main purpose of the castle at this time was to maintain control of the area after the “Harrying of the North”.

Its remains are particularly well-preserved because it is one of only a few castles which were largely unaffected by the 15th century Wars of the Roses & the English Civil War of the 17th century

It’s now in the hands of English Heritage

6. Turn right down the wonderful Castle Gate. I loved this wide thoroughfare with its beautiful old cottages

Look out for the ‘Mounting Steps’ at the end of the row of cottages on the right. These may have served High Hall which was on the opposite side of the road

They’re also outside gateway to the Meeting House of the Society of Friends. Owned by the Quakers, it dates back to 1793. Walk down the drive & have a peep

7. Continue down this beautiful street – it really is stunning…

…&, at the end, enter the expanse of the Market Place

8. On reaching the Market Place, turn immediately left & climb the narrow steps up to the Church of St Peter & St Paul (imagine the thousands of footsteps that have climbed these steps before you)

The first church to stand on the current site is believed to have been built in Anglo Saxon times. Little is known about the first church, but remains from its construction can be seen inside the current building, including the stone font & a carved cross shaft. The church was rebuilt around 1140, & significant additions were made in the following decades.

In about 1200 drastic alterations were made due to the collapse of the tower, which had until then sat in the centre of the building. The tower was replaced, but with a new structure at the west end of the church, to which the spire was later added

What this church is really famous for though is its medieval wall paintings, considered by many to be the best in England. Sadly today (at 3pm) the church, despite displaying a “The Church is open” sign, was locked

9. Walk through the churchyard pass the main entrance, noting the lovely ancient sundial…

& down the narrow alley into Hallgarth…

10. On emerging into Hallgarth turn left where, at the top, are the impressive gates to the equally old vicarage

Also here, on the left’s the Church Hall…

…& the names above the doors show what once this building was

11. Walk down the hill. Again, this is a beautiful street with some highly desirable residential properties

The grassy area towards the bottom on the right was once where the old cattle market was held. The market cross dates back to 1902

On the right of this is the Liberal Club, overlooking the green

12. Continue to the bottom of Hallgarth. Across the road the large building, now a hotel, was once Low Hall…

Turn right along Hungate…

13. Note the blue plaque on the property on the left…

It tells us that this property was where, once Francis Nicholson, artist & printmaker, father of English watercolour painting lived 

14. Carry on towards the next plaque on the white-washed house…

Dr. Kirk once lived & practiced here, who was the founder of the collection of artifacts, now displayed in the Castle Museum, York

15. Note the two church-like buildings facing each other either side of the road. The one on the left’s the Kirk Theatre, home to the local drama society

The theatre building is the former Wesleyan Methodist Chapel. It was transformed into the theatre in 1982

Opposite that’s the United Reform Church, which was sadly on the market when we visited in 2022

16. Continue along Hungate, crossing the bridge over the river…

At the traffic lights, cross the road & walk through the bollards up Train Lane

17. Walk up Train Lane which eventually widens out into the extremely attractive Potter Hill…

This really is a charming area & again has a cluster of religious & impressive properties…

On the left’s the Methodist Church…

Slightly further up the hill, on the opposite side’s St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. The Church website tells us that “After the Reformation Catholic worship in Pickering was carried on in secret and under penalty of death. Fr Nicholas Postgate, Priest of the Moors, travelled the area taking work as a gardener and bringing the sacraments to Catholic families. He spent time in Pickering. His portable altar stone, taken from his clothing on the morning of his martyrdom in York in 1679, hangs at the front of the altar in St Joseph’s”

18. Walk back down the hill. The impressive building ahead’s the Memorial Hall…

The building is another of Pickering’s former mills & was converted after World War I into a memorial for the fallen (the actual memorial is on the left of the building as you look at it). Today the building is very much a community hub

19. Walk down the small slope on the left, just before the bridge. This attractive area houses Beck Isle Museum of Rural Life. Originally built as an agricultural college, it gets it’s name because, in times of flood, the building becomes an island

This is a social history museum in & features period business displays including the shops of a barber, blacksmith, chemist, cobbler, cooper, printer, gentleman’s draper, dairy & hardware store. There’s also a Victorian-era pub & parlour, & a historic costume gallery

20. The bridge over the River Beck’s a little stunner…

Come back out of the entrance…the war memorial I mentioned is ahead of you on the side of the hall

21. Continue over the bridge to the junction…

…& turn right to return to the Information Centre & the start of this walk

So that’s a very quick look at the small market town of Pickering & maybe next time we’ll have a look at the castle too. There is an excellent bakery leading up towards the Market Place that sells amazing delicacies such as huge sausage & black pudding rolls, that is well worth a visit

It’s an interesting & varied stroll so…

Go Walk!