What’s on : Activities

Cawood, Stillingfleet and Naburn Locks

20 Apr 2023
Start time
10:30 AM
Cawood, Stillingfleet and Naburn Locks

Event Information

Cawood, Stillingfleet and Naburn Locks –with an optional visit to Saturn
– all via the B1222!

Thursday 20th April – Cost £8

Own transport* – meet at Cawood Castle at 10.30 am

Over lockdown, local historian David Lewis set himself the project of documenting many fascinating stories about the places linked by this quiet B 1222 road. The resulting book – ‘Rhubarb, Royalty and Rings of Saturn’ is the inspiration for this tour, which visits just three of the sites in the book.

Cawood, now a quiet village with a swing bridge crossing the Ouse, is the site of Cawood Castle, home to the Archbishops of York before the Reformation. It was the scene of many royal visits, and the site of Cardinal Wolsey’s downfall. Only the gatehouse and attached great hall  remain, but we can take a short walk in Castle Garth, the park covering the ruins. Interestingly, the Landmark Trust manages the gatehouse as holiday accommodation – see


At Stillingfleet, our next stop, we will see the C 12th St Helens Church, where the ‘exceptional’ south doorway is richly carved with traditional Norman symbols. such as chevrons, beak heads, and foliage patterns. Parish Councillor John Cook has offered to show us round the interior, where there is much more to see, including a remarkable door that may predate the church by as much as two centuries. More information at https://www.britainexpress.com/counties/yorkshire/churches/stillingfleet.html

Naburn Locks Managed by the Canal & River Trust, this fascinating area includes a nature trail and sensory garden as well as the old canal buildings such as the forge, workshop and lock keeper’s cottage. Rather more surprisingly, there is an adjacent Banqueting Hall – once derelict, but now brought back to life as a vegan café, where we will have lunch (at own cost) We will have a guided tour of the workshop, and an opportunity to explore the nature trail.


Optional Extras

A short drive from here, you can join the York Solar System cycleway to see ‘Saturn’ and the ‘Fisher of Dreams’ sculpture on the bridge spanning the Ouse.


Alternatively, you could take a quiet walk along the towpath to Naburn.


If you do not have your own transport, but would like to take part, please contact us using the form below, and we’ll try to help


We will contact you later with details


We will contact you later about food choices


Member’s report

On a lovely but windy day we arrived in Cawood to a bonus treat before our walking tour.  They were testing the swing bridge – we saw it rotate as it opened and closed – not once but twice.  We started the walk by looking at Cawood’s problems with flooding.  First, our guide indicated the area by the river that routinely flooded and then the extent of the area under water in the worst floods.  To protect the houses, some 30 years ago an impressive wall was built of a double layer of engineering bricks.  This wall has an annual check when repairs are done by the Environment Agency.

We continued our walk to the Gatehouse and Banqueting Hall – all that is left of Cawood Castle, home to many Archbishops of York. It was built at the time of the Wars of the Roses and is remembered as the place where Archbishop Neville held an extravagant feast to demonstrate his wealth and power, and also as the place where Cardinal Wolsey was arrested for High Treason after falling out of favour with Henry VIII. The extensive grounds, known as Castle Garth, are open to the public. The Banqueting Hall had become derelict but the roof has recently been repaired by the Landmark Trust, who hire the Gatehouse as holiday lets.

Next we drove to St Helen’s church at Stillingfleet, founded in 1154. This has an outstanding Norman arch with 5 rows of carving; a mixture of mythical beasts, grotesques, chevrons, and ‘beakheads’. Its door, which is considered to date back to at least the 12th century, was moved indoors for protection in 1990.  The back of the door has been reinforced but the front retains many decorative features including two C shaped hinges with dragons’ heads, a longship, and two figures thought to represent Adam and Eve.

Having looked at the memorial in the churchyard to the 14 Church singers drowned in a river accident on Boxing Day 1833, we proceeded to Naburn where we were shown round the locks in 2 groups.  Our guide started by indicating the extent and depth of the regular floods.  Historically, problems developed as the commercial boats going to York began to increase in size. The first attempt to solve these problems was to build a weir in 1741 but this was unsuccessful so in 1757 the first lock was built raising the level of water. This sufficed until the boats became too large for the lock, when a new one was built which was opened in 1888 by a grandson of Queen Victoria.  As this area continues to be subject to regular flooding, people still must pre-book their passage through the locks.

The construction of the locks created an island on which a corn mill was built. Though it was demolished in 1958, the base is still clearly visible. Our tour concluded by visiting the forge, workshops and other related buildings.

We would like to give our thanks to Margaret and Rod Leonard for organising this fascinating visit and all our guides for their excellent tours.

Mary Fairbrother