Named after the famous stately home Castle Howard, the Howardian Hills are a small range of hills situated between the North York Moors and the Vale of Pickering to the north, the Yorkshire Wolds to the east and the Vale of York to the south. To protect the area the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was created in 1987. Covering just 79 square miles it is one of England’s smaller AONBs.
‘Hills’ is a somewhat ambitious designation for an area whose highest point is actually the village of Yearley at a modest height of 174m (571ft). Due to their lack of height and proximity to the Hambleton Hills to the north not one of the Howardian Hills achieves Marilyn status. While the gently rolling, often wooded hills, are low by most standards their situation next to the flat Vales of Pickering and York means that even from their lowly summits there are some impressively extensive views to be had.
For such a small area there are a goodly number of historical buildings within the AONB and it is perhaps these, rather than the opportunities for walking, that draws the visitors to the Howardian Hills. Apart from Castle Howard, one of the jewels of Yorkshire, the Howardian Hills also contain Kirkham Priory, Newburgh Priory, Nunnington Hall and the remains of a castle at Slingsby.
It was only at the start of 2012 that I went for my first walk in the Howardian Hills. Given that peak bagging is one of my favourite walking activities it is perhaps not surprising that it has taken me so long to visit an area that is only about an hours drive from where I live. My first impressions were most favourable with a mixture of sweeping views and beautiful woodland, much nicer than the conifer plantations I’m used to encountering.