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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.