Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Howardian Hills cover 77 square miles of woods, farmland and historic parkland. The Howardian Hills form a line about 15 miles long, separating the vales of York and Pickering, also acting as a bridge of higher land between the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Wolds. The Howardian Hills take their name from the landowners whose great mansion still dominates this area. Castle Howard is a spectacular 18th century palace, built by Vanbrugh in 1699, with important collections of furniture, statuary, paintings and porcelain, and some 1,000 acres of parkland.
The region is one of great interest and beauty with gently rolling countryside, pretty villages, woodland and historic landmarks. Many ancient sites have been recorded in the area although there are few visible signs of any of these today. The River Derwent cuts through the Howardian Hills at the spectacular Kirkham Gorge in the east. It forms one of the most pristine river systems in the north of England, and supports a unique collection of plants and animals.
Woodland has always been important to Ryedale's economy, and for hundreds of years timber from this area was sent to Whitby and Scarborough for use in shipbuilding.
Picturesque villages include Slingsby, with a central green and dancing around the maypole every May Day, and Hovingham. Village cricket is still played in the grounds of Hovingham Hall, which is the ancestral home of the Duchess of Kent.
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