National Character Area 29

Howardian Hills - Key Characteristics

  • Complex landform of ridges, plateaux, plateau fringes, hills and valleys, with prominent scarps along the outermost edges, and glacial drift deposits forming a more undulating landform in the south and west.

  • Extensive and varied woodland cover, often ancient in origin, including large coniferous plantations, mixed and deciduous woodlands in sheltered valleys, with alder woods in damp valley bottoms. Trees are a feature within the farmed landscape, demarcating boundaries and infield.

  • Mixed agricultural landscape, with arable cropping predominant. This is mixed with pockets of pastures, unimproved calcareous grassland on steeper slopes and calcareous mires on the damper valley floors.

  • Botanically-rich verges along roads and farm tracks, many designated locally as ‘Special Interest Road Verges’. Locally uncommon knapweed broomrape is known at three sites within the AONB.

  • Regular rectangular fields dating from 17th- to 19th-century enclosures, associated with large-scale courtyard-plan farmsteads, are most characteristic within the NCA. These are predominantly bounded by hedges and trees, with some fences and drystone walls on elevated plateaux.

  • Country houses with their designed parklands, wood pasture, veteran trees and often actively managed woodland. Notably Castle Howard, Newburgh Priory, Hovingham Hall, Whitwell Hall and Nunnington Hall, and others such as Crayke Castle and Gilling Castle.

  • Scattered settlements and small villages with village greens, such as at Hovingham, with buildings constructed in local limestone and sandstone, with red pantile roofs. The stones vary in colour from rich reds to pale creams.

  • Many fine examples of early churches, with churchyards.

  • Archaeological and historical features, ranging from bronze-age and iron-age earthworks on prominent hilltops to medieval monasteries at Newburgh and Kirkham, and evidence of a long history of arable cropping.

  • Small rivers rising in the NCA drain outwards towards the River Derwent, its upper reaches in the Vale of Pickering, and its middle reaches in the Howardian Hills and Yorkshire Wolds/Vale of York. The River Derwent has cut the deeply incised and winding Kirkham Gorge, a glacial overflow channel that is of national importance for wildlife. The Derwent is internationally recognised for its otter, bullhead and lamprey populations.

  • A very tranquil area, with low levels of intrusion or disturbance.

  • The Ebor Way long-distance route crosses the NCA, as do the Foss Walk and the Derwent Valley Heritage Way. (Howardian Hills AONB Management Plan 2009–2014, Howardian Hills AONB Joint Advisory Committee, 2009)

  • A very rural area, served by a dense net.