bluebell wood

Howsham Bluebell Woods and a Favourite Walk

May is the time for walks in bluebell woods. Around York there are a number of beautiful bluebell woods to enjoy as the weather gets warmer. We made the most of a warm mid-week day by leaving work slightly early and heading to a favourite walk round Howsham Woods.

You can start this walk either from Kirkham Abbey, just off the A64 between York and Malton or from the village of Howsham. We usually choose to start at Howsham, so I will describe this walk from there.

Park in the village close to the Church and set off down the hill until you see a public footpath to the right, this goes down a drive and then across a couple of fields before turning left towards the woods, just before a hedge. In May this can be spectacularly covered in may flower - hawthorn blossom. Follow the hedge until you are directed through the gate to the other side of the hedge. Turn left up the track across a bridge between to artificial ponds - look out for tadpoles - then climb the hill, taking a right-handed route to Howsham Woods.

A gate takes you into the woods, then turn right up the track. In May this wood is carpeted with spring flowers: look out for wood anemones, wood sorrel, primroses and garlic. The wood is full of bird song too and if you're lucky you may see a great-spotted woodpecker.

Bluebell Woods

Bluebells have been voted England's favourite flower - on this walk it is easy to see why. But don't just look at the stunning sea of blue. Nestling in the woods, you will also see clumps of primroses and I was delighted to find a patch of early purple orchids to the left hand side of the woodland track. As you go up the hill keep on the track as it bears left and follow that path straight on. As you move further into the woods the carpet of bluebells gradually builds up until you get a mist of blue across the woodland floor. The smell of the bluebells can be quite intoxicating, so take a deep breath!

You can turn left down the hill to return back to Howsham via the woods, but we continue up the hill until you reach the road. Turn left onto the road and walk down the steep hill to Kirkham Abbey. The Stone Trough Pub is always tempting and is well worth a break at this half way point of the walk.

Kirkham Abbey

Kirkham Abbey (or Priory) is a picturesque ruin - it was founded 900 years ago as an Augustinian Monastery. It was one of our favourite locations for family evenings out back in the 1970s. Nowadays you can only visit during the English Heritage opening times, but it is an interesting landmark.

The view from the Priory carpark across to the bridge is stunning and this pool above the weir is a popular wild swimming and picnic spot.

To carry on the walk you need to pass the Abbey and cross the River Derwent before turning sharply left alongside the riverbank.

Now you just follow the Derwent for 3 miles or so until you reach the Howsham Road. This path takes you through woodland, scrub and fields, giving good views across the river where you can often glimpse a kingfisher. The mixed habitats are good for birds - if you are walking it in May listen out for the warblers.

The Derwent is prone to flooding and there are some board walks in place, but the path can still be muddy after rain.

Just before you reach the road you will see Howsham Mill across the river. This has been renovated and is now open to the public. Once you reach the road turn left over the bridge. If is is a warm day the pool just downstream of the bridge gives you an opportunity of a cooling dip before you return up the road to the village.


May blossom in the hedge
Peter next to the may blossom hedge
Early purple orchid
Early purple orchid
Bridge at Kirkham Abbey
Bridge at Kirkham Abbey





Distance:   11km

Difficulty:   Medium

Terrain:      Mixed, single track across fields, forest tracks and country roads


  • bluebells
  • early purple orchids
  • wild garlic
  • may blossom
  • water avens
  • greater spotted woodpecker
  • kingfisher
  • sedge warbler

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