St Hilda’s Way – 43 miles – 4 days – Hinderwell to Whitby Abbey. St Hilda’s Way celebrates the life of St Hild, Anglo-Saxon princess, spiritual leader, arts enthusiast and peacemaker, by visiting places dedicated to her (including eight churches) in the beautiful North York Moors. In 664, as the first abbess of the double monastery of Streonshalh, now known as Whitby Abbey, she hosted the famous Synod of Whitby. This momentous conference decided on following the Roman, rather than Celtic, Christian rites for Britain. At 13 years old, she was baptised by the Roman St Paulinus on the same day as her father’s brother King Edwin- yet, years later, she personally preferred Celtic Christianity. She trained five male bishops, and it is said that seabirds in Whitby still dip their wings in honour of her, and her logo, the ‘Hildoceras’ ammonite, came about because her holy presence was famed for turning snakes into stone!
You begin at a holy spring discovered by St Hilda in Hinderwell and end at the sea at Whitby. Along the way you will traverse the North York Moors, grand and yet also modest, allowing you to be deeply with yourself as you engage with the bleak openness of the landscape. You feel the ancientness all around you- humans have never held full dominance here- it is landscape that is true to itself. The paths feel old, the rivers timeless, the pace slow. The thread of Hilda runs through the churches dedicated to her, evenly spaced along the route, inspiring a quiet devotion to someone we can imagine but never fully know. Nevertheless, one gets the sense that for centuries she has been loved by many people, and there is no reason why that should cease now!
Highlights of St Hilda’s Way
Powerful and yet peace-inducing sense of Hilda’s womanly sainthood
Striking, bleak backdrop of North York Moors
Good transport links for such a remote area
St Hilda’s Way (shorter version) – 22 miles – 2 days – Danby to Whitby. You follow the River Esk, Yorkshire’s only salmon river, to finish at Whitby Abbey.
Train to Danby for start of Day 1 and Egton Bridge for start of Day 2. Or taxi if parking car in Whitby. The train line running alongside the route allows easy transport back to the start of each day’s pilgrimage, although there are only four trains per day so check timetable carefully.
If wanting to start your pilgrimage at St Hilda’s Church, Danby, rather than the train station, you could drive there, or get a taxi from Danby station (book in advance). Otherwise, follow the alternative walking route to the Church from the station (adding 4 extra miles (2 hrs) to your first day), or miss out the church altogether and walk from Danby station straight up to Danby Beacon, where there are the remains of a stone cross.
At Crowdy Hall Farm on the outskirts of Whitby, you have a choice of a fork in the road. One route goes directly to Whitby Abbey and stays along the top on roads, the other drops down to walk along the Harbour, and then climbs the 199 Steps to Whitby Abbey from below. The main marked route also gives the option of walking around Whitby to discover more places with a dedication to St Hilda (this adds on an extra 4 miles, 2hrs). Otherwise, turn from the train station straight towards Whitby Abbey.
Optional first night in Danby (Duke of Wellington or Fox & Hounds). Then at the end of the first day’s walking, Egton Bridge (Horseshoe Hotel) or Grosmont overnight. Or Whitby if nothing available.
Check opening times of churches (particularly rural) to avoid disappointment. Or perhaps call their churchwardens if you want access.
Footpaths, fields, some roads and uphill walking.