ABOUT three miles from Easingwold, perched on the top of a hill, stands Craike Castle, commanding an extensive view over the wide and fertile vale of York. Drake, in his Eboracum, supposes that the Romans had a castrum exploratorum upon this hill : the situation is strongly in favour of the conjecture ; but as no Roman road has been traced directly to the place, nor any foundations, entrenchments, coins, or other indicia of their occupation, found in the locality, we must dismiss it as untenable.
The earliest authentic mention we have of Craike is in 685, when it was given, with the lands around it, by Egfrid, king of Northumberland, to St. Cuthbert, in order that the saint might have a resting place in his journeys between Lindisfarne and York. About which time, he is said to have founded a monastery here; which continued to flourish until the invasion of the country by the Danes.
In 882, after the rude Danes had ravaged Holy Isle, and burned the monastery there, the monks fled forth, bearing with them the bones of their patron, the sainted Cuthbert ; and for a while, the monastery of Craike, then ruled by an abbot of the name of Geve, was their resting place. It is probable, that, shortly afterwards, the monastery was entirely ruined by the Danish marauders.
At the time of the Domesday survey, it was in the possession of William, bishop of Durham; and there was a church and priest here. A strong castle was built upon the hill, soon after the Conquest, by some of the bishops of Durham ; most probably Hugh Pudsay, the sixth of the Norman prelates, who was a great builder. Of this building no well ascertained traces remain.
Leland, Writing in the reign of Henry VIII., says :--
There remaineth at this time small show of any old castle that hath been here. Ther is a Haul with other offices, and a great stable vaulted with stone of a meetly ancient building. The great square tower that is thereby, as on the toppe of the hill, and supplement of loggings is very fair, and was erected totally by Neville, bishop of Durdome. Ther is a park, and the circuit of the lordship is seven miles.
As bishop Neville was enthroned at Durham, April 11th, 1438, and died July 8th, 1457, we may form a pretty accurate guess at the age of the present building.
Singular to say, the parish of Craike, though actually in the centre of Yorkshire, forms part of the county of Durham ; and the greatest part of the land in the parish belonged to that see, until sold by bishop Van Milclert, who sat from 1826 to 1836, when he procured an act of parliament enabling him to dispose of it, and purchase another estate with the proceeds. It was purchased by John Richard Thompson, Esq., of Kirby Hall ; but is now the property of W. Waite, Esq.
The present castle is a square building, in the Tudor style of architecture, four stories in height, embattled on the top. The greatest part of it is occupied as a farm-house and offices. There are no symptoms of decay or ruin about it, and its walls seem calculated yet to endure for ages. At the north-east corner of the hill, is a fragment of ruin, half buried in the earth, which may be a remnant of the first castle.
What must ever give Craike its chief attraction in the eye of the tourist, is the beautiful and almost boundless prospect from the hill on which it stands; embracing the vast basin watered by the rivers Swale, Ure, Nidd, Foss, Derwent, and Ouse. Extending on the north-east, to the Howardian and Hamilton hills; closed in, at an immense distance, by the mountains of Wensleydale, Craven, and the British Apennines; towards the south, extending with an uninterrupted stretch over a fruitful and interesting country, until earth and sky appear to meet in the blue misty distance ; to the east, the Yorkshire Wolds present their whole extent to the view ; directly to the south, rises York minster, an object above all others conspicuous in the level valley in which it stands. Any attempt to enumerate even a few of the most interesting places visible would be in vain. Many an historic spot does the eye Wander over; many a bloody battle-field; many a pleasant town, and happy rural village.