Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Yorkshire Wolds Way - Day Six - Ganton to Filey (29th May 2014)

Our sixth and final day on the Yorkshire Wolds Way dawned overcast but dry, although looking out of the window I could see that it had obviously rained heavily overnight.  I didn't really mind.  Today we were going to complete an unfinished ambition dating back 17 years and we weren't about to let the weather get the better of us.  At the same time, I was a little sorry that our adventure was drawing to a close.  Typically awake earlier than necessary, I drank coffee as I waited for breakfast time to arrive and reflected upon what a wonderful holiday this had been.  I hadn't really considered it as a holiday until this point, but then it struck me that this was exactly what it had been.  And, in its own way, it had been a relaxing holiday, each day mapped out for us, with no choices to be made other than whether to stop for a break.  I'd loved every minute of it.  Even the previous day's long slog in a persistent downpour had been rewarding, in the way that overcoming any challenge can be.

Our last day was to involve a slightly shorter walk of around 12 miles, so we could take our time, have a few little breaks and really savour the final stretch to the sea.  With no accommodation booked for tonight we should have plenty of time for a minor celebration in Filey before boarding a train for our journey home.  We ate a large breakfast before seeking out the Whitby Walkers to say our goodbyes.  They didn't say whether they were going to continue or not and I didn't ask but as I didn't catch sight of them again, I suspect they caught a bus home after all.

The A64 was reasonably quiet and we were soon on the other side after which a short walk returned us back to the Wolds Way.    It was a very drab, murky morning and a gentle rain was falling as we followed a track which led us along a field by the side of St Nicholas Church with its magnificent 14th century spire.  I took a photograph in spite of the poor light.  I dislike photos with white, featureless skies but sometimes this just can't be avoided.

St Nicholas Church, Ganton

Looking back as we walked alongside a hedgerow we could see heavier rain approaching the village of Ganton.  Wearing waterproofs from the start had certainly been the right thing to do, especially as the early sections of this walk involved wading through grass and cow parsley which seemed to be growing increasingly higher the further we progressed.

Long wet grass

Before long we found ourselves wading through waist high, dripping wet cow parsley along a field headland which I felt was unreasonably narrow.

This is the path?

Eventually the path became so overgrown that I stopped in my tracks and shouted out "Oh now you're just having a laugh!"  But it was no joke.  The path wasn't even visible, leaving us to thrash our way through as best we could.  Were it not for the sight of a Wolds Way signpost at the end of this section I'd have found it hard to believe this was a public footpath at all, never mind a National Trail. 

Seriously?

Thankfully the jungle-like conditions didn't last for long as we climbed uphill to emerge by the road at the top of Staxton Hill, which we crossed to carry straight on along a quiet lane.  This led us past RAF Staxton Wold, a military early warning station built in 1939 and which, for reasons of security, cannot be found on any publicly available map.  Surrounded by a high perimeter fence, it looked rather out of place and intimidating in such a peaceful rural setting.  I was tempted to take a photograph but, having spotted several CCTV cameras, I thought better of it and we swiftly moved along the lane which soon petered out to become a simple track along a delightful little wooded dale.

Better walking conditions by Staxton Wold

This short, pretty section of the route ended with an unexpectedly abrupt climb to the top of the dale.  I paused to get my breath back and, looking down over the dale, I was struck by the lushness of my surroundings.  Almost everything was green, even the Wolds Way fingerpost. 

Green and pleasant land

For around a mile and a half from the top of the steep hill the trail followed the edge of arable fields.  Thankfully these headlands were clear of undergrowth and the walking was reasonably easy.  A short distance along we stepped to the side to allow a couple of runners to pass by in the opposite direction.  As they approached they slowed their pace and then paused for just long enough to tell us that they were practising for an attempt to run the entire Wolds Way in a day.  Today's practice run was to take them from Filey to Fridaythorpe, a distance of 40 miles, which they hoped to complete in around eight hours.  We wished them well as they picked up the pace again, leaving us to wonder how they'd cope with the steep, slippery slope they were about to encounter.   Climbing up the loose soil and chalk had been a bit of a struggle in hiking boots. I couldn't imagine hurtling down it wearing shorts and running shoes.  And their legs were certainly in for a refreshing treat when they reached the cow parsley path!

A better fieldside path

It was something of a relief when the fieldside walking ended at the top of Flixton Wold, whereupon we were rewarded with a typical Yorkshire Wolds view down into the valley of Lang Dale. 

Above Lang Dale

A short walk along a minor road followed and then a little more fieldside walking led us to the top of Raven Dale, a fairly unremarkable valley but one with emerging views into the more interesting Camp Dale. 

Raven Dale

I calculated that at this point we were about half way to Filey and it was about time for a short break.  Ahead of us the trail dipped steeply downhill to immediately climb up again before turning to follow the edge of Folkton Wold above Camp Dale.

A rollercoaster path

Looking across Camp Dale I pondered on the strange undulations across the valley which gave the landscape an almost voluptuous appearance.

Curvy Camp Dale

A little further along the edge of Camp Dale brought us to the most welcome sight of the day so far.  A bench provided by the "Wander" art project was accompanied by an acorn mileage post which told us that we had just seven miles left to walk, not only to the end of the day's route, but also the entire trail.  It wasn't yet midday, we'd made good progress and it had stopped raining.  Happily, we could spend a while here, savouring our surroundings and finishing off our supply of cereal bars. 

A welcome bench

Suitably rested we set off again to begin what turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the day, starting with an area at the end of Camp Dale known simply as "The Camp".  Here there are earthworks thought to date from the Bronze Age, along with the site of a deserted medieval village.  The only evidence for these sites are various humps and bumps in the landscape, although they are rather difficult to make out at ground level.  The path opened up before us into a lush hawthorn-lined dale, carpeted in buttercups, the air filled with a chorus of birdsong.  After a morning tramping along fieldside headlands, this seemed like a little corner of paradise.

The Camp

Immediately after The Camp the path turned into beautiful Stocking Dale, an area of ancient woodland and wildflowers which was a sheer delight to walk through and a part of the Wolds Way we have promised to revisit in sunnier conditions.

Sylvan Stocking Dale

Stocking Dale ended all too abruptly, merging onto a farm track which led us up to the road by Stockendale Farm where a delightful old tractor provided the only blue I'd seen in a day that had been predominantly grey and green.  It looked wonderful.

A tractor!  And it isn't green!

A roadside sign at the end of the farm track caught my attention and I chuckled at the farmer's marketing skills, wondering just how you can tell whether a hen is truly happy.  The quantity of eggs they lay?  The tone of their clucking?  The colour of the egg yolks?  I nearly bought some just to see if the difference was apparent.

Cheerful chickens

Across the road it was time to leave the Wolds behind us as we descended the chalk scarp towards the village of Muston.  This was the only village on the trail since leaving Ganton and we were delighted to find that the pub, The Ship Inn, was still open.  We now just had two miles left to go and, although perhaps a little early, we decided to begin celebrating.  It was rather hot inside the pub and so we sat at a picnic bench by the front door enjoying a pint of Old Speckled Hen.  We'd just started on our second pint when the group we had met at Welton and  again at the Lavender Farm turned up, and we spent a pleasant few minutes chatting to a couple of them.  They told us that they had rented a cottage for the week and used a taxi to transport them all to and from each day's start and finishing points, thereby alleviating the need for heavy backpacks.  This seemed an interesting idea which was probably cost effective for a group, but I think I preferred our arrangements.  Arriving at a different location every night had certainly enhanced the sense of completing a journey, as opposed to merely walking a set route every day.

The celebrations start early

We left Muston in high spirits, fuelled not only by the Old Speckled Hen but also the knowledge that the end was now very close indeed.  Leaving the village we crossed the busy A1039 and emerged into the town of Filey behind a school playing field.  From here the route of the Wolds Way isn't signposted at all until the Coble Landing at the foot of Filey Brigg.  The guide books do recommend a course through the town via various streets, but any route down to the seafront will suffice from where it's simply a matter of turning left and heading up to the top of the cliff.  The sea was grey and the wind had picked up as we looked down on the seafront before turning to make our way to the finishing point.

Windswept Filey

Perhaps I was still under the influence of the Old Speckled Hen, or more than likely it was elation at being within sight of the finishing stone, but I virtually skipped along the top of Filey Brigg.  At the finishing stone we removed our backpacks and posed for photographs, pausing there a while to savour the sense of accomplishment not only on having completed the trail, but also upon having achieved an ambition we'd held for 17 years.  We expected to see other walkers arrive, particularly the group we had left in the pub at Muston, but there was no one else in sight.   Perhaps, we wondered, the lack of signs in the town causes confusion or walkers are under the misapprehension that the trail actually ends in the town itself? 

The end of the trail

Thinking of the late great Alfred Wainwight's favourite meal and being, as we were, at the seaside, we decided to end the day with a meal of fish, chips and mushy peas, washed down with another pint of beer.
 
Wainwright would approve

And so our Yorkshire Wolds Way adventure ended the way it had begun, with a train journey.  As our train travelled along, I could see the very edge of the Wolds in the distance and I found myself already reminiscing about our days on the trail.   There are those who would say that the Wolds Way is "easy" and I've also seen it described as a "beginner's long distance trail".  Whilst I'd agree that it presents no significant challenges, in my opinion such descriptions do the trail a disservice.  Walking the Yorkshire Wolds Way, I had discovered, isn't purely about completing a challenge.  It's a journey of discovery through beautiful landscapes not normally seen from the road.  It's an adventure to be savoured and anyone who dismisses it as suitable merely for beginners is missing the point.  Those who want a challenge may tackle it quickly, like the two runners we had met, but as for me, I'd recommend taking it slowly, one enjoyable day at a time. 




GPS Statistics
Total distance walked - 13 miles
Total ascent - 1,437 feet
Total descent - 1,1460 feet
Highest altitude - 574 feet
Mean temperature - 71.0ºF


Coming soon.....Just over a week after finishing the Yorkshire Wolds Way, we return to walk a circular route around the village of Goodmanham.   "The Yorkshire Wolds Way: The Missing Link" will follow shortly. 
 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Yorkshire Wolds Way - Day Five - North Grimston to Ganton (28th May 2014)

I awoke from a deep sleep with that strange feeling you can get when you're not entirely sure where you are.  It was a little after 5 a.m. and there was a steady, rhythmic tapping noise coming from outside.  I looked out to discover that it was the sound of rain beating down on a flat roof beneath our bedroom window.  Clearly it had been raining heavily for most of the night, judging by the size of the puddles in the pub's car park.  Ordinarily the sound of rain lashing against a window can be rather cosy.  If you've nowhere better to go, that is.  But we had 15 miles to walk to the village of Ganton where our next (and final) night's accommodation was booked.

There was no sign of the rain abating as we made our way down for breakfast a little after 8 a.m., to be joined shortly afterwards by the couple from Whitby.  From our table by the window we could watch the circling ripples on the car park's puddles as I provided a running commentary to our two fellow Wolds Way walkers who were sitting at the other side of the dining room.

"I think it's easing," I'd pronounce, swiftly followed by "Oh no...it's started up again.  It's actually getting heavier!"

Rain drop watching quickly ceased though when we were served with a delicious full English breakfast and, in spite of my having discovered small mushrooms growing in our en suite, I wasn't put off from tucking in to those accompanying my egg, bacon and sausage.  I'm sure they were a different variety entirely.  And it was actually a very nice breakfast indeed.

The Whitby Walkers (this is how I shall refer to them from now on) left a little before us and we let them get a head start before bidding farewell to the landlady of the Middleton Arms.  It had been a quirky but not entirely unpleasant stay.  The service and food had been excellent, although the standard of accommodation for the price had left quite a lot to be desired.  No matter.  It had served its purpose and now it was time for us to move on and (there was no way of avoiding it) to get a soaking.

Splashing our way down the farm track which led us away from North Grimston to rejoin the Wolds Way, I was faced with a couple of small dilemmas.  First of all, how was I going to get any photographs for my blog in such appalling conditions?  I just couldn't risk my camera getting water damaged and, as I had never walked this way before, I didn't have any images from previous trips to fall back on.  The simple answer was that I would quite possibly be left with a pictureless blog for this part of our journey.  

Then there was the small matter of what I could best describe as "trail etiquette".  I could see the Whitby Walkers ahead of us on the farm track and, although they were by no means slow walkers, it was quite likely we'd catch them up at some point.  As nice as they were, I was pretty sure they, like us, would prefer to walk without any extra company.  So what should we do?  Walk past them with a quick "hello again" only to have them overtake us when we slowed down, and so on - for 15 miles?  And calls of nature could be awkward, knowing other walkers were following on somewhere behind!  We would have to put a greater distance between us.

After picking up the trail where we'd left off the night before, our route took us uphill past a farm where a team of shearers were busy working their way through a shed full of sheep.  We paused momentarily, marvelling at the speed with which an animal could be shorn of its entire fleece and I wondered how long they would take to shear all the sheep we'd seen in the shed in Thixendale the previous day. 

The path then led us along the edge of Settrington Wood before turning to pass through a narrow plantation which provided us with a brief respite from the rain.  Aware of the fact that I had yet to take a single photograph, I used the shelter provided by the trees to take a quick snap.  Something, anything, to prevent my blog from becoming too text heavy!

A very wet day

We were now on high ground, known as High Bellmanear, and the map in my guide book showed a symbol for a viewpoint, but there was no chance of seeing anything beyond the low cloud cover.  A little further along the trail, at a point known as Settrington Beacon, we entered Beacon Wood where the dense tree cover provided some welcome shelter.  Emerging from the wood I smiled upon recalling a quote from an old Wolds Way guide book I had read, which stated that here was "one of the most memorable views on the entire Wolds Way".  This was definitely not a day for views.

Ahead of us we could see the Whitby Walkers and I realised that it would not be long before we caught them up.  At some point in the day we would need to take a break and, having studied my guide book, I knew that we had just two options, both necessitating a diversion from the trail.  The first opportunity for a break and refreshment could be found at a lavender farm, just outside the village of Wintringham and a short distance from our current position.  After that, the next (and only) possible place for a rest stop would be the Dawnay Arms in the village of West Heslerton.  The latter was further off the trail and down a fairly steep hill, which of course would have to be climbed back up again after our break.  For this reason, I preferred the first option, but we decided to wait and see which route the Whitby Walkers took.  Our choice would depend on where they headed after Wintringham.  I caught sight of them on the main road through the village, shortly after which they disappeared from view.  The road continued straight on and, although I couldn't see exactly where they'd turned off, it was obvious that they weren't going to the lavender farm.  I was relieved that our choice had been settled.  We were soon going to get a sit down and a hot drink!

Just half a mile along the reasonably quiet country road brought us to Wolds Way Lavender and, much to my relief, a sign confirmed that their cafe was open.  Inside the shop and cafe was a shock to the senses after almost two hours of walking in heavy rain.  It was bright, it was warm and it smelled wonderful.  We paused just inside the doorway for a little while, dripping onto the doormat, to the bemused looks of the only other two customers.  A pleasant lady shop assistant politely suggested that we should leave our wet rucksacks in a corner.  I then removed my jacket to discover that the rain had worked its way through where the rucksack straps had pressed and as a result my base layer was soaked.  Thankfully the waterproof cover on my rucksack had done its job and the contents were snuff dry and, a quick visit to the ladies' room later, I had changed into a dry top.  I returned to the cafe to find a steaming hot coffee and plate of lavender scones - a real treat at any time, but never more so than on a day like this.

Wolds Way Lavender - a welcome break

We spent a very pleasant hour at Wolds Way Lavender, enjoying various scones, cakes and two mugs of coffee each.  It also provided an unexpected opportunity for some retail therapy, browsing a variety of lavender products, all made on the premises.  The "Wolds Way Lavender Soothing Foot Balm" was just too good to resist, especially as the blurb on the box advised that "tired, aching feet will be instantly uplifted..."  Just the job!

Aware of the fact that we had so far only covered just over five miles, we geared up again to continue .  Another group of very wet and bedraggled walkers entered the shop just as we were about to leave.  We recognised them instantly as the group we had encountered on our first day, in the Green Dragon at Welton.  They remembered us too and we exchanged greetings and comments on the weather before we left,  discovering once outside that the rain had eased to just light spots.  And so it was in a much better frame of mind that we made our way back towards Wintringham, picking up the trail as it led us along a track behind the village church.

Back on the trail by Wintringham

 As we turned into a field, to follow the path along the hedgerow, we encountered yet another of the acorn mileage signs from which I worked out we had ten miles remaining to take us to Ganton.

Are we there yet?

The next couple of miles turned out to be the highlight of the day, beginning with a walk through the lovely Deep Dale Plantation.  This is the oldest and most extensive Forestry Commission operation in the Wolds, parts of it having been planted in Victorian times.  As we entered the woodland a pair of roe deer ran along the track ahead of us and we followed them for a little while, until they darted into the cover of the trees where they almost instantly seemed to disappear.  We followed the forestry track as it wound its way through the woodland until suddenly we found ourselves faced with an ascent which took us completely by surprise.  This was a climb to rival the Rabbit Warren between Millington and Huggate.  It may even have been steeper.  The direction sign certainly seemed to think so.  Once at the top we named this part of the walk "Sudden B*****d".  It was so steep in places I found it hard to keep my footing and, once again, I was grateful for my walking poles.

The sign that does not lie

Having conquered "Sudden B*****d" we were to be rewarded with a wonderful treat in the form of another "Wander" art installation.  Entitled "Enclosure Rites" by Jony Easterby, the artwork combines ancient, archaeological and natural aspects of the Yorkshire Wolds, including a Bronze Age barrow, fences to represent land enclosure, and a dew pond for biodiversity.  There is also a collection of intriguing carved figures.  I thought "Enclosure Rites" was a landscape masterpiece in a little corner of heaven.  I loved it so much that, four days after completing the Wolds Way, we returned to photograph this section of the walk under blue skies and sunshine.  Therefore, the images that follow are altogether cheerier than any I could have taken at the time we were on the trail.

"Enclosure Rites" begins with a charming gateway through which walkers pass when leaving Deep Dale Plantation.  Made from riven oak, it reminded us of something from The Hobbit.

Entrance to "Enclosure Rites" (taken on a sunnier day)

Once through the gate, the sight walkers are met with is both breathtaking and surprising. To begin with, there's the view, which is spectacular, reaching out over the Vale of Pickering and to the North York Moors and Cleveland Hills on the horizon.  Of course, on the day of our walk we were prevented from seeing anything at all of the view as it was entirely obscured by low cloud cover. 

"Enclosure Rites" (taken on a sunnier day)

"Enclosure Rites" begins with a representation of a Bronze Age burial mount with red painted riven oak posts along with a group of carved figures. 


The "Barrow" (taken four days later)

The figures were modelled on the small chalk carvings found in some of the excavated burials of the Parisi, the Celtic tribe who inhabited East Yorkshire.  These figures are known as "The Guardians". 

"The Guardians" (four days later)
 
Close up of a "Guardian" 
 
Then there's the dew pond, positioned at the end of an avenue of wild flowers and acting as a superb sky mirror. 

The Dew Pond on a sunny day

Just for contrast, I'm also including below an image of the pond taken on the day we passed through while walking the Wolds Way.  What a difference a couple of days can make!

The Dew Pond on the day of our walk

We found, to our delight, that the dew pond was teeming with tadpoles.  When we returned, four days later, we took a picnic and discovered that the tadpoles were rather partial to our sandwiches.  It was fun to watch them swarming round chunks of bread, spiralling like a weird, animated cartwheel.

Tadpoles enjoying a snack

Back on the trail, we couldn't hang around for very long at "Enclosure Rites" because not only was it rather chilly but we also had a further nine miles or so left to walk.  And so, promising ourselves that we'd return on the first available sunny day, we resumed our walk which went on to lead us along the edge of the delightful Knapton Plantation.  It had started to rain again and, not for the first time that day, we were grateful for the shelter provided by the trees.  Rabbits darted about in all directions and a roe deer leapt from the path ahead of us as we approached.

The path through Knapton Plantation (again taken four days later)

The path along the plantation edge continued for a mile or so before emerging onto open pasture land.  The cloud had descended and the way ahead was hazy and, through the mist, we spotted a vixen and her cubs scurrying into the undergrowth.  It was becoming so murky that even the trees close to the side of the path were disappearing from sight.  Returning to this spot, four days later, we could clearly see beyond the trees to the lovely view that we had been denied on our original visit.

The view through the trees four days later

The edge of the pasture was slightly hazardous in places, due to the large number of rabbit holes, and I was amused to see that a health and safety conscious North Yorkshire County Council have provided a humorous warning sign.  Of course, the image represents a rabbit peering out of its warren, but on a day such as this it also seemed to suggest the rabbits may be swimming.

Beware of the rabbits!

Leaving this particularly delightful part of the walk behind us, we crossed the road which leads down to the village of West Heslerton and began what, for me, was the least enjoyable part of the entire Wolds Way.  I'm sure that on a fine day this section would be very pleasant indeed, but as the wind picked up to drive the rain headlong into our faces, it became very much a case of "let's just get this over and done with".  Which is a great pity.  Because, as I found upon my return a few days later, the views are especially nice.

What a difference a day makes - the view four days later

For about a mile or so, not only did we have to contend with wind and rain, we also had to walk along a narrow field headland which was overgrown with long grass and cow parsley.  This slowed our pace until we reached East Heslerton Brow where, had the conditions been fine, we would have been treated to a fine view of the village of East Heslerton and beyond to the Tabular Hills. 

The view of East Heslerton four days later

Further along East Heslerton Brow we should have been able to catch our first glimpse of the sea, although, even on a fine day, this can be obscured by haze.

What we should have seen along East Heslerton Brow

On and on we trudged, for what seemed like mile after soggy mile, bypassing the village of Sherburn and the hamlet of Potter Brompton before eventually, and much to our relief, arriving at Ganton shortly before 5 p.m.  This just left us to negotiate a crossing of the very busy A64 Scarborough to York road.  I felt as if I was taking my life in my hands when I eventually spotted a gap in the long stream of fast moving traffic and dashed across to the other side.  This was the most traffic we'd seen all week and it was something of a shock to the system. I felt like I'd turned feral and wasn't ready for the fast pace and clamour of civilisation.

I can't recall ever being as pleased to check in to any hotel as I was the Ganton Greyhound.  We were greeted by a very pleasant lady who immediately provided us with a large pile of newspapers for our boots before showing us to our lovely room.  Our boots, trousers and jackets were dripping wet but, due to some prudent wading through very long wet grass on the outskirts of Ganton, all traces of mud had been "washed" away.  We badly needed to dry things out though and, having discovered that the radiator in our room wasn't working, we really appreciated the fact that a member of staff attended to it immediately and cheerfully.  The warmth of our welcome, the excellent service and the comfortable room all added up to a highly favourable first impression of the Ganton Greyhound.  And this early confidence was not misplaced.  Every aspect of our stay was faultless.

At dinner that evening we found ourselves seated on the next table to the Whitby Walkers who had arrived an hour or so ahead of us, just as drenched as us and disheartened by the latter part of the walk through the long wet grass and cow parsley. 

"There's a bus stop just outside," the lady said.  "We might catch a bus home from here tomorrow because I don't fancy another day like today."

Our evening meal at the Ganton Greyhound was superb.  Slow roasted belly pork from local free range pigs, with apple mash, followed by a mouth-watering apple and rhubarb crumble with ice cream, all washed down with a beer called Falling Stone from the local, and appropriately named, Wold Top Brewery. 

Back in our room I tried out some of the Wolds Way Lavender Soothing Foot Balm I'd purchased that morning and concurred that their packaging blurb did not make false claims.  My aching feet were indeed "instantly uplifted".  Sitting in our comfortable room with revitalised, lavender scented feet and a glass of Wold Top Falling Stone in hand, I realised that in spite of the weather I had actually really enjoyed this day.  It may have been arduous for a time, but that was all part of the adventure.     I couldn't imagine quitting at this point.  In fact, whatever the next (and final) day had to offer us, I was very much looking forward to it.



GPS Statistics

Total distance walked - 17 miles (includes extra from North Grimston and diversion to lavender farm)
Total ascent - 1,368 feet
Total descent - 1.526 feet
Highest altitude - 682 feet
Mean temperature - 68.0ºF

Coming soon.....Our sixth and final day on the Yorkshire Wolds Way.  We bid farewell to the Wolds and head to the sea at Filey Brigg and the official finishing stone.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Yorkshire Wolds Way - Day Four - Huggate to North Grimston (27th May 2014)

My mobile rang at exactly six on the morning of our fourth day on the Yorkshire Wolds Way National Trail.  I had set an alarm, although we hadn't really needed it.  We were already awake and ready to pack up and go.  Over dinner the night before we'd decided to leave the Wolds Inn as early as possible and walk to the next village, Fridaythorpe, where we could have our breakfast at the popular Seaways Cafe.    This was a distance of just over three miles and a quick check on the cafe's website confirmed that it would open at 8 a.m.  We'd calculated that if we left Huggate at seven then we should be there in just over an hour.  The route is one we were already familiar with, having walked in the area several times before.  It seemed like an altogether better way to start the day than to hang around, waiting until the pub served breakfast at nine - a ridiculously late time in my opinion.

I had an inkling that we'd been the only guests staying at the Wolds Inn that night.  There hadn't been many people in the bar and, after closing time, the building had been completely silent.  All the same, we crept down the stairs and closed the door quietly behind us, making sure that the latch fully engaged.  It was just after 7 a.m.  And it was pouring with rain.  Suitably clad in waterproofs, we strode off to return to where we'd left the trail, at the northern end of the village.  This, I hoped, was going to be something of a landmark day.  Two landmarks to be precise.  First there was the official halfway point, which we would pass in the centre of Fridaythorpe.  Then, a few miles further along at the village of Wharram-le-Street, if all went to plan we would pass the point at which we had abandoned the walk 17 years before.  In spite of the weather I felt confident and in excellent spirits.

The rain was falling heavily and, for this part of the walk, my camera stayed safely tucked away in my rucksack.  I wasn't going to risk getting it soaked and besides, I knew I already had several photos which I'd taken on previous walks in the area.  For that reason the images used to illustrate our walk from Huggate to Fridaythorpe were taken on another, much sunnier day.

From Huggate we followed a quiet lane which ascended steadily for a mile or so before one of the familiar fingerposts directed us along the side of a field, emerging above the beautiful dry valley of Horse Dale. 

Horse Dale (taken on a sunnier day)

From the top of the valley the way ahead was obvious, descending quite steeply on the slippery wet grass and, at the bottom, we turned left into the adjacent valley of Holm Dale.  The junction of these two dry valleys is the site of one of several medieval villages which were abandoned in the late Middle Ages.  The rain had soaked the ground where cattle had recently gathered and paddled and puddled the earth until it was almost liquid mud, leaving us to negotiate our way via tufts of grass through a gateway that led us from one dale into the next.

Looking down Horse Dale to the junction with Holm Dale

To walk along the bottom of a dry valley like Holm Dale gives you a feeling that you're following the course of a river or stream, even though the valleys are completely waterless.  It's like walking down a beautiful, peaceful corridor between small, rolling hills.  And it almost seems as if the valley bottoms of the Wolds were designed just for walkers. 

Holm Dale (taken on a previous, sunny day)

Holm Dale ascends steadily all the while in the direction of  Fridaythorpe until it ends almost abruptly with a steep climb up the valley head.    From this point it's just a short distance into the village.  I hadn't considered it necessary to consult the signposts or my guide book because I've walked this way several times before.  And yet, for some reason, instead of following the lane into the village we turned right and headed off in the wrong direction.   A large mill building on the outskirts of Fridaythorpe is visible in the landscape for miles around and, as we tramped along a cart track in the rain, I began to wonder why we had yet to catch sight of this building.  Suddenly it dawned on me.  We had walked about half a mile in the opposite direction to the village.  It was still raining and I was hungry. 

Holm Dale (taken on a sunnier day)

By the time we'd retraced our steps and reached the cafe the rain had eased a little and one very enjoyable breakfast later it had stopped completely, for the time being at least.   Nevertheless, we kept our waterproofs on as we made our way to Fridaythorpe village green.  The halfway point of the Yorkshire Wolds Way is marked with a commemorative sign which was erected in 2003 to celebrate the trail's 21st anniversary.  I was thankful the rain had stopped so that I could once again photograph key moments of our journey such as this one.  Close to the halfway sign is a further Wolds Way "art project" in the form of a bus shelter - of all things!  I squinted at this unfinished looking structure briefly as we passed but decided not to waste a photo.  I suppose art is subjective and bus shelter aficionados may disagree with me, but I thought it looked out of place and rather ugly.

The official halfway point

Before leaving the village we took a short detour to visit the unusual little St Mary's Church.  Described by the architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as "utterly barbaric", it certainly is an unusual looking building, with its plain, squat tower.  It seemed to me rather drab and featureless, which is perhaps why in the early 20th century it was deemed necessary to add the unusual clock face, which is allegedly copied from one found in a French chateau and bears the inscription "Time is short, eternity is long".  Fridaythorpe is the highest village in the Yorkshire Wolds and Danish in origin, the prefix "Friday" possibly being derived from the Norse goddess Freya.  In spite of being a fairly dreary spot, Fridaythorpe is one of the few places on the Yorkshire Wolds Way to offer facilities for walkers as not only is there a cafe, but also a small shop within the local filling station.

St Mary's Church, Fridaythorpe

Our route now led us away from the village, passing along the side of the mill and leading out to beautiful Brubber Dale.  Approaching the head of the valley our attention was drawn to the sky above us, where three Hawker Hurricanes were flying in close formation.  We stopped to watch them until they flew out of sight into low cloud.  Once the noise from their engines had faded we stood for a while longer to drink in the loveliness of the scenery before us and to listen to the sound of skylarks overhead and yellow hammers in the abundant hawthorns.  After the rain the scent of wet grass was pure and refreshing. 

Brubber Dale

It began to rain again as we set off to walk down into Brubber Dale.  Not the persistent, heavy rain of earlier in the morning, but gentler, lighter spots which soon petered out to a very fine drizzle.  The temperature was actually ideal for walking.

Walking along Brubber Dale (in the rain)

From Brubber Dale the Wolds Way climbs again, passing a farm before leading down into the valley of Thixen Dale.  Here, at the junction of three dales can be found a landscape artwork entitled "Waves and Flow", created by the artist Chris Drury for the "Wander" (Art on the Yorkshire Wolds Way) project.  Best viewed from the higher ground, the concept for this artwork was the shaping of the Yorkshire Wolds by the flow of ice and water after the last Ice Age.

"Waves and Flow" and the meeting of three valleys

The path leads steeply downhill to the artwork, which is rather like a maze.  We decided that to successfully walk the Wolds Way in its entirety we should follow the maze, walking round its spiralling banks, in one end and out the other.  It added a little extra to our walk, but it was good fun and I liked this feature very much indeed.

"Waves and Flow"

As we walked along the bottom of Thixen Dale, I suddenly had a clear memory of our previous attempt to walk the Wolds Way.  It was at this point, 17 years ago, that I had begun to realise I wouldn't be able to finish.  I had by then accumulated several blisters on my feet, but worst of all had been the blisters on my toes.  One of my little toes had become so badly blistered and bleeding that it actually looked as if it had exploded.  It was very painful and, as I had limped along Thixen Dale, we'd tried to keep my spirits up by singing.  For a reason I can't recall, the song we chose to sing back then was "Yellow Submarine".   We attempted another quick rendition of this song as we walked along this way again,  happier and thankfully pain free.  However, this song didn't do it for us this time, so instead we changed to a quick burst of the Pharrell Williams song "Happy" before giving up completely so as not to alarm the sheep any further.

The dale ended at a quiet, single-track road which leads to the village of Thixendale.  A car slowed as it approached and we stepped onto the grass verge to let it pass .  The car stopped and the lady passenger wound down her window.

"Are you walking the Wolds Way?" she asked us, and went on to explain that she and her husband had completed the walk five years ago.  Now they were holidaying in the area again, revisiting their favourite parts of the walk by car.  We chatted with them for a while before wishing them a pleasant holiday and continuing on our way, musing over the effect this walk can have on you.  Although it's really just a network of footpaths and bridle ways, linked together by sections of public highway, after following its course for a while it almost seems like a living entity, wandering through the beautiful Yorkshire countryside.  I could completely understand how someone would want to return and visit the walk again.  It would be like visiting an old friend.

Once again walking on a tarmac surface quickly began to make my feet ache and, as it was approaching midday, we decided a short break was in order.  Thixendale's pub, the Cross Keys, doesn't open its doors until early evening and so we found a bench near the village church where I could very gratefully remove my rucksack and rest my feet for half an hour or so.  The earlier fine drizzle had stopped and we ate a couple of cereal bars while watching house martins swoop in and out of their nests in the eaves of a cottage roof. 
 
Thixendale's Church

Thixendale has a delightful little village shop, which is located in a small conservatory built onto the side of one of the pretty cottages.  Before leaving the village we paid the shop a visit, bought some flapjack and had a chat with the very friendly lady proprietor.  As well as cakes, sweets, drinks and ice creams, I noticed that there was also an interesting selection of maps and local history books.  Ordinarily I'd have spent a while looking through these, but realising I didn't want any extra weight in my backpack, I made a mental note to return one day for a proper look.

The Wolds Way leaves Thixendale at the northern end of the main street and climbs steeply up a farm track.  Across the road from where the uphill track begins a barn was filled with sheep and lambs, probably awaiting a visit from a team of shearers we were to encounter further along the trail.  The noise the sheep were making caused quite a din, the high pitched cries of the lambs mixed with the deeper bleating of the adult sheep. 

Waiting to be sheared

Half way up the hill I turned to look back and was rewarded with a very pleasing bird's eye view of the village, before we turned a bend, to climb a little higher. 

Looking down on Thixendale

At the top of the hill we had a fine view of two dry valleys, looking down over the top of the flowering hawthorns which at this time of the year trim the Wolds like ermine.

Dry valleys and hawthorns

The next two miles mostly followed a broad path along the top of a grassy dale, alongside a shelter belt plantation. Again, I had a clear recollection of my previous, painful journey along this path and perhaps this latent memory began to have a physical effect on me, because suddenly I began to feel a little strange.  It was hard to pinpoint exactly how I felt, except to say it was a combination of nausea, breathlessness and dizziness.  I walked for a mile or so feeling gradually worse and not understanding the cause until I noticed that beyond the tree belt to my right stretched a large field of oilseed rape in full bloom.  As soon as we had passed the field I almost instantly began to recover, only then to be faced with a further hazard.  Cattle.  Or, to be precise, bullocks.  A small group of them stood across our path and seemed to be watching us, almost menacingly.  In this situation I was thankful for my walking poles as I merely had to lift one slightly and shout "Cush!" and they scattered to let us by, returning to their grazing once we had passed.

Beware of the bullocks!

At the end of the plantation walkers are faced with a choice - whether to carry straight on over the higher ground and then follow a country lane to the village of Wharram-le-Street, or to descend the side of Deep Dale to the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy.  I suspect, like us, most will choose the latter route.  Not only does it provide the chance to visit a site of great interest, but there's also the opportunity to have a proper sit down.  Once again, at this point I decided not take any photos because I knew I already had some from a previous visit.  Ironically, the image below, showing the downhill approach to Wharram Percy, was taken just after Christmas.  On a day with blue skies and sunshine!

Approaching Wharram Percy (taken on a sunnier day)

Evidence has been found that this peaceful valley was inhabited from the Iron Age, but it was in the 10th century that a village became established.  For three centuries this consisted of approximately 30 households, with a population of up to 150 people, a church and a cemetery, before being abandoned circa 1500.  Although many people believe its desertion was because of the plague, the real reason it was abandoned was because local landowners wished to turn the area over to sheep grazing.  The church of St Martin, however, remained in use by the residents of Thixendale until the 1950s.  A storm caused the tower to collapse in 1959 and in the 1970s the roof was removed for safety reasons. 
  
The ruined St Martin's Church (taken on a MUCH sunnier day!)

We sat on a bench by the millpond and ate our Thixendale flapjack, while watching a man with a dog descend the hill, all the while pursued by bullocks.  I wanted to shout "let your dog off the lead", because I realised that the dog was the reason the bullocks were running after the man, but he was too far away to hear.  Thankfully, he was able to reach the safety of the village's perimeter fence at which point he let his dog off its leash and it plunged into the millpond for a swim.  As we sat on the bench, watching the dog's antics, another pair of walkers appeared at the top of the hill, nervously negotiating their way around the herd of bullocks, which were still clearly unsettled.  The couple seemed to disappear for a while and then appeared again, at the other side of the millpond.  We exchanged greetings as they walked by and, from the size of their rucksacks, I guessed that they too must be walking the Wolds Way.  Shortly after they had passed we continued on our way, taking a quick look around the ruined church before heading out of the valley.


The ruined St Martin's Church, Wharram Percy

Once on the road we could see the other pair of walkers ahead of us and we followed them along the lane into the village of Wharram-le-Street - the affix  "le-Street" making reference to the fact that the village was built by the site of a former Roman road.  At the crossroads with the B1248 Beverley to Malton road we paused for a minor celebration, because this was the point where we'd abandoned the Wolds Way on our previous attempt, having spotted a post bus conveniently waiting by the cottages over the road.  No such escape route was needed this time, and we marked the occasion with a quick photo and a sit down on a nearby bench before following the road out of the village.

A significant landmark and cause for a celebration

Before we left Wharram-le-Street behind, a very short detour was in order to have a quick look at the Anglo Saxon St. Mary's Church with its tall, square tower. 

The Anglo Saxon St Mary's Church, Wharram-le-Street

On the outskirts of Wharram-le-Street we turned off the road and followed a track uphill and along the side of a field to reach a point called The Peak.  From here we could see over the brow of the hill to the town of Malton in the Vale of York below.  This was the point where we'd be leaving the trail and walking a mile off route to our base for the night, the Middleton Arms in the village of North Grimston.

The Peak

Ahead of us we could see the other couple of Wolds Way walkers and, as they turned off the trail, we realised that they too must be heading for North Grimston.  The village is about a mile away from the trail and can be reached by walking along a farm track.  By the time we reached the Middleton Arms it had started to rain again.  And, just like the previous night, we arrived to find the pub locked with the other couple waiting on the doorstep.  Thankfully we didn't have to wait long before a very apologetic landlady arrived to let us in and show us to our rooms.  I was rather disappointed to find that our room had no TV and a bath rather than a shower.  However, later that evening, as we shared an evening meal with the other couple, we discovered that their room had a shower but no toilet.  At least our room had a toilet and, after a long day carrying my heavy backpack, a hot bath turned out to be just the thing.

We enjoyed a very pleasant evening in the company of the other couple.  We learned that they came from the coastal town of Whitby but, I'm sorry to say, we didn't discover their names.  We were all too busy chatting about our experiences on this walk and others and, before we knew it, the restaurant area (in which we'd been the only diners) had closed.  Wishing our fellow walkers a good night we returned to our room which was old-fashioned and tired, with peeling paint and faded curtains, and a fair amount of damp judging by the fungus growing in the bathroom!  However, it was clean and the bed was comfy and, as with every other night on the trail, I was fast asleep virtually as soon as my head hit the pillow.
 
GPS Statistics

Total distance walked - 17 miles (includes wrong turn and one extra mile to North Grimston)
Total ascent - 1,736 feet
Total descent - 2,077 feet
Highest altitude - 732 feet
Mean temperature - 71.9ºF


Coming soon.....Day five on the trail sees us leave North Grimston to walk to Ganton, visiting a Lavender Farm, finding an unexpected steep climb and a lot of very long, wet grass.