Hidden Gems in the Howardian Hills, Dalesman June 2010

Dalesman this month features an interview with Jennifer Smith, who is searching out Hidden Gems such as Hovingham Spa in the Howardian Hills around Sutton Bank.

Hovingham Church

Hovingham Church

I met Jennifer, who works for the North York Moors National Park, in a cosy cafe in Hovingham. Jennifer enthused about ‘Hidden Gems’ – little known places of interest in the area around Sutton Bank.  After coffee,we walked around the village, where Jennifer told me about Jurassic Limestone, and Thomas Worsley, who loved riding so much that he built a riding school as the entrance to his new home.

Jennifer’s Hidden Gems range from Spa baths near Hovingham, to an observatory tower built to celebrate the accession of Queen Victoria, from extensive water engineering works carried out by the monks of Byland, to a mysterious maze known as the City of Troy.

Troy Maze

Troy Maze

She is interested in the spa at Hovingham. Jennifer comments, “The spring waters of the area have been attractive for many generations: the Romans built a villa with a large bathhouse here.”

In the eighteenth century, with the revival of interest in spa waters, basins and baths were built at the spa. It was of note because three springs, each with water of a different character, arose in a small area. In the nineteenth century, the railway station was ‘Hovingham Spa’ in the hope of encouraging visitors. Today, says Jennifer, Hovingham Spa Villa is a private house. But, with current interest in spa breaks, Jennifer wonders how long it will be before the next revival in the Spa waters of Hovingham.

She also told me about the City of Troy Maze, near Brandsby, an intriguing mystery. It is believed to be the only surviving ‘classical’ turf maze in England. The turf path, defined by gravel gullies, is banked towards the centre, to allow it to be run.

It seems that there is more unknown, than known, about the maze. Similar designs are found on ancient Greek vases, and in stone mazes in Scandinavia, so some people think the design arrived here via Viking raiders – but why is it called ‘City of Troy’?

The maze is known to have been recut several times, but its age is unknown. It is thought to have existed at least since the eighteenth century enclosures, as the turf contains wild flowers that would have grown in the open grassy heath before the fields were enclosed.

The maze is near Brandsby, and, said Jennifer, “I’ve heard that the Moorsbus stops there.”

The capacity of people to alter their environment has always existed, and at Byland Abbey, the monks did it in a big way. Jennifer said that they permanently altered the way that water drains through the land.

When they arrived at the site in 1177, there was no natural water supply. Therefore, the monks dug channels to redirect numerous springs and small becks in the vicinity. They used the water not only for drinking, cooking and sanitation, but also to run mills, to operate bleaching and dyeing works, and for fish farming. Today, says Jennifer, “There is hardly a beck in the area around Byland that follows its natural course.”

We concluded our walk on one of the many bridges over the beck in Hovingham, admiring the clear, sparkling water.

Stone pineapple at Hovingham Hall

Stone pineapple at Hovingham Hall

Jennifer is organising events for people to learn more about the local landscape heritage. See www.visitthemoors.co.uk

Read the full article in Dalesman, available through all good newsagents. www.dalesman.co.uk

Houses alongside the Beck in Hovingham

Houses alongside the Beck in Hovingham

About Helen Johnson

Freelance writer specialising in Yorkshire's history and heritage.

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