abbey walks

Thurstan Round

abbey monk This 157 km / 97.5 mile circular walk starts at St Mary's Abbey, York and is a homage to Archbishop Thurstan who (1070 - 1140) was the son of a priest. The Thurston Round incorporates crossings of rivers Foss, Ure, Swale, Rye, Skell and Ouse.  It meanders along river banks, quite country lanes, farm land, tracks and woodland. Along the Round pass through several medieval villages including Haxby, Farlington and Crayke to leave the York valley.  Ascend into the Howardian Hills, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to reach Helmsley, and Coxwold before returning to the valley and Boroughbridge and Ripon.  After leaving Ripon pass the deserted village of Wallerthwaite before continuing on to Ferensby, Arkendale, Green Hammerton and Poppleton, finally returning to York.


Thurstan entered religious service from an early age and was elected to the see (domain of authority) of York in 1114. He was immediately involved in a five year dispute fighting the attempts by the Archbishop of Canterbury to assert primacy over York. Eventually, Thurstan was successful in this dispute and was consecrated personally by the Pope.


Bernard of Clairvaux and Thurston were great personal friends, so it's not surprising that Thurston was a strong patron of monasticism in the north of England. There were few religious houses in the north of England at the start of Thurston's time in office, the only orders being the Benedictines, Augustinian Canons and Cluniacs at Pontefract. Thurstan was a 'reviver' and during his term of office six new Augustinian houses were established in Yorkshire ( Kirkham, Gisborough, Bridlington, Bolton, Nostel and Drax ) and the first Cistercian Abbeys in the north of England,  Rievaulx, Byland and Fountains Abbey. These three abbeys ( top 3 abbeys listed on our UK Abbeys page ) are linked in history, as being known in monastic circles and as described by the 12th century historian and Augustinian Canon William of Newburgh, as the 'shining lights of the North'.


The site of Fountains Abbey had been Archbishop Thurston's own property until he gifted it to Prior Richard on the 26th December 1132. Prior Richard had fled St Mary's Abbey following a bitter dispute with it's Abbott over the slack Benedictine rule that had developed there. Wishing for a more rigid rule similar to that of the Cistercians, Prior Richard left York with a number of monks and sought refuge with Thurstan in Ripon. Thurston then led them to the Valley of the Skell, the site that would soon become that of Fountain's Abbey. Fountains Abbey became the second Cistercian monastery in northern England and Prior Richard became it's first Abbott.


It is probable that the monks who colonised Rievaulx had originally been sent to Yorkshire by St. Bernard himself, in the hope that Thurstan would provide them with a resting-place. 


Thurston, a few days before his death, in accordance with the advice of St. Bernard and in fulfilment of a vow made at Cluny in his youth, became a monk among the Cluniacs at Pontefract. He died on 5th February 1140 and was buried before the high altar of the Cluniac Church.


Click on a stage name to get details and see map information.


Stage Number / Name Distance ( km ) Distance ( miles ) Time ( hours )

Stage 1: St Mary's Abbey, York - Crayke



7.5 - 8

Stage 2: Crayke Rievaulx Abbey, Helmsley



5 - 5.5

Stage 3: Rievaulx Abbey- Byland Abbey



3 - 3.5

Stage 4: Byland Abbey - Brafferton



4 - 4.5

Stage 5: Brafferton - Fountains Abbey



6.5 - 7

Stage 6: Fountains Abbey - Whixley

27.1 16.8 6.5 - 7

Stage 7: Whixley - St Mary's Abbey, York

20.5 12.7 5 - 5.5


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Walking can be a dangerous sport.  Walkers should always be suitably equipped, including carrying and knowing how to use a map and compass.