The morning was overcast, but actually the temperature was quite pleasant for a walk as we set out along the road in search of the first Yorkshire Wolds Way fingerpost which directed us alongside an inlet known as Hessle Haven. This was something of an inauspicious start to the walk and, looking at the mud, submerged shopping trolleys and rusty shipping containers, "haven" was the last word that sprang to mind.
As the path turned the corner to follow the banks of the Humber we got our first sight of the Humber Bridge, looming out of the murk to span the muddy waters below. This path is known as "Jean's Walk", named after Jean Hartley, who was a close friend of the poet Philip Larkin. Jean and her husband George published Larkin's first book of poetry, "The Less Deceived" (1955) and the poet would regularly walk along this path when visiting the couple. It may have even been along this very path where he got the inspiration for the line from his poem The Whitsun Weddings "where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet".
Jean's Walk ends where the Wolds Way proper begins, marked by a standing stone carved with the National Trail's acorn symbol and the names of places to be found along the trail.
After posing for a few photos we set off in the direction of the Humber Bridge Country Park. Opened in 1986, the park was developed on the site of a former chalk quarry. Here we passed Black Mill, which was originally a five-sailed windmill, used to crush the quarried chalk so that it could be used as whitening for paint. Black Mill was built in 1815 and its sails were removed in 1925.
There was no sign of the day brightening as we left the Humber Bridge behind us and walked along the path which runs close to the water's edge. Everything seemed washed with grey except for the splash of colour provided by the purple wild flowers growing along the bank.
(and this isn't one of them)
The path continues on the level for a couple of miles or so until it reaches the outskirts of the village of North Ferriby and here we paused to study a memorial to the North Ferriby Bronze Age Boats, the first of several art installations along the trail. It was by this spot in 1937 that the first of three oak plank boats was discovered (the third was found in 1963), which are believed to be approximately 4,000 years old, making them Europe's oldest known seagoing craft. This has been hailed as one of the most significant discoveries ever in maritime archaeology and what remains of the boats today is in the keeping of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. As well as the reconstruction, there was also a very informative display board providing lots of interesting facts about the boats and the significance of their discovery.
After leaving the site of the log boats we were faced with a choice - whether to take the high tide or the low tide route. If the tide is low and the beach area exposed (as it was at the time) then it's possible to walk along the shore and then turn into woodland beyond the village. However, I had spoken to someone earlier in the week who had recently walked along here and found that even if the tide was out it was still incredibly muddy. And, apparently, particularly pongy mud at that! Not wishing to run the risk of smelling like a pair of swamp creatures for the rest of the day, we opted for the high tide route. This led us through the village of North Ferriby, across the railway line and alongside a busy road, before joining the low tide route and entering woodlands at Melton Hill.
I remembered this woodland well from our previous attempt to walk the Wolds Way. Seventeen years ago we had set off on a very hot day and the humidity amongst the trees had been intense. Today it was much cooler. In fact, as we entered the woods, it began to rain. It was just a light drizzle to begin with making us glad of the shelter provided by the trees. As the path climbed steadily upwards though and we approached the village of Welton, the skies opened and the gentle rain turned into a deluge. Waterproofs were quickly pulled out of rucksacks and, leaving the cover of the trees, we made a dash for the village pub. Water was streaming down the village street and a man sheltering in a doorway stared in bemusement as we ran by, splashing through puddles with our heavy backpacks. As we sprinted into the village I suddenly realised that I had no idea what time it was and whether the pub was even open. Passing the church I made a mental note that its porch would provide shelter if necessary, but then as we turned the corner I could see the pub ahead of us. The door was open, the lights were on and it was indeed open for business.
The Green Dragon at Welton was not only welcome but also very welcoming. As we stood dripping on their carpet a young woman appeared from behind the bar and handed us a fluffy white towel. Her kindness was very much appreciated. It seems I hadn't put my waterproof coat on quickly enough and my base layer was soaked. A quick change later, with wet clothing stuffed into a dry sack, and I felt fully restored. I knew that at this point we had walked just over six miles, leaving only four miles to go to our first night's accommodation in Brantingham and, upon checking the time, I was surprised to see it was only 11 a.m. I know I had planned a leisurely first day, but even so we were well ahead of schedule. With some delight I realised that we could afford to spend at least a couple of comfortable hours in the Green Dragon. And that's exactly what we did. It was warm, it was welcoming and both the beer and the food were excellent.
In 1739 the Green Dragon hadn't been such a welcoming place for one John Palmer. Having stolen some horses in Lincolnshire, he had crossed the Humber to sell them in East Yorkshire. He then visited the Green Dragon, got drunk on the proceeds of his ill gotten gains, shot someone's prize gamecock and was subsequently arrested. Upon his arrest it transpired that John Palmer was none other than Dick Turpin, the notorious highwayman. Thereafter he was tried at York Assizes and sent to the gallows later that same year. I tried to visualise how different the inn must have looked in Turpin's day, as I happily munched on a delicious homemade fish finger sandwich.
It was warm and cosy, watching the rain lash down the windows of the Green Dragon whilst sipping a tasty pint of Cumberland Ale. And, although I knew that come rain or shine we'd have to venture outdoors sooner or later, there didn't seem to be any great hurry. After all, we only had four miles left to go and there was little point checking in to our accommodation too early. As the time ticked by though, I began to feel eager to be back on the trail. As soon as I noticed that the puddles outside were no longer circled with ripples of rainwater we put on our now dried out waterproofs, hoisted on our backpacks and set off on our way once more. As we left we exchanged greetings with another small, rather soggy group of walkers who we were to encounter again that week, further along the trail.
The pavements and roads were running with water, but the rain had stopped completely as we headed out of Welton, passing Saint Helen's Church which, due to its surrounding redundant mill pond, gives the impression that it's floating on its own little island.
As we walked along the lane away from Welton the hedgerows looked so green and fresh after their recent drenching and the smell of fresh, wet grass was intoxicating. Here, for the first time, we began to notice the profusion of white hawthorn and cow parsley which was to become a signature for the entire trail.
One of the aspects of the Yorkshire Wolds Way which I particularly appreciated was the lack of stiles. Nearly every time a field boundary is to be crossed this is achieved through gates of varying sizes. I think I only counted three stiles on the entire route. As I was carrying a large backpack and a pair of walking poles I was very grateful for this lack of stiles. Some of the gates included advice or warnings about, for example, bulls or cows with calves in a field. It's always helpful to be aware of any potential hazards and to be able to act accordingly.
The day began to brighten as we gradually climbed away from Welton, leaving the lower ground and the Humber behind us, walking through another of the lovely woodlands to be found on the earlier sections of the trail.
The countryside became more Wolds-like as we passed the site of the former hamlet of Waudby and we began to see the first hint of undulations in the terrain. The day was still overcast but even so it had brightened a little and we were in high spirits. At this point we were only eight miles in to the trail but already I just knew that this time we were going to make it.
Turning into an otherwise deserted country lane we were a little puzzled by what looked like a traffic jam ahead of us. A long line of cars was slowly edging its way along the lane before turning into a drive leading off to a hilltop farm from where I could hear what sounded like the distant trumpeting of a hunting horn. At the entrance to the farm's drive a homemade sign pinned to a post solved the mystery with just one word. "Wedding". The last car in the line was a large ribbon bedecked limo and as we stepped off the road to let it pass we were rewarded with an open view down to the village of Brantingham and beyond to the Humber Estuary.
Descending the lane into the village I looked back to see an ominous black cloud approaching and so our pace quickened as we turned off the lane and headed over a path between two paddocks. In the faintest glimmer of sunlight I caught my first glimpse of the pretty little All Saints' Church.
Nestling as it does at the foot of Brantingham Dale, this must surely be one of the most picturesque settings for a church that you are likely to find. While the church is 12th century in origin, much of what can be seen today is due to extensive restoration work in the 19th century, funded by the Sykes family of Sledmere.
Approaching the church I could see that the wedding party we had passed had obviously just left. The pretty little lych-gate was decorated with beautiful floral displays of hydrangea, daisies, roses and ears of corn, a simple arrangement, totally in keeping with the rural charm of the surroundings. The coincidental link with Larkin struck me at this point, as this weekend was indeed Whitsuntide and here there had been a Whitsun Wedding.
As I was admiring the floral artistry a man approached us from the direction of the church.
"Are you doing the Wolds Way?" he asked and, when I confirmed that we were he went on to add "It's a pity you won't be here tomorrow. We do cream teas on Sundays". We chatted to this very pleasant chap for a few minutes about the beauty of the area and country walking in general before asking him for directions to our accommodation. "It's just over there," he said, pointing to a drive with a clearly visible sign "Keeper's Lodge". "It's a lovely spot," he added. "I'm sure you'll like it."
It turned out his confidence was not misplaced. We did like Keeper's Lodge, very much indeed. I've already written a review for all the accommodation we used in my overview of our walk, but it's worth stating again just how nice Keeper's Lodge was and how reasonably priced too. Our room overlooked a peaceful lawned garden, bustling with rabbits which were great fun to watch. Shortly after we arrived it began to rain again and the rabbits retreated to the cover of some nearby trees where we could see their shadowy outlines as they sat up on their haunches, so that they almost looked spooky in the dim light. I was reminded, eerily, of the film Donnie Darko!
We had originally planned to have our evening meal at Brantingham's village pub, The Triton Inn, in the company of my sister-in-law and her husband who live not too far away. Unfortunately though, it turned out that the Triton had closed its doors for the evening to cater for a private event (possibly the wedding) and so instead we were picked up and driven to the Green Dragon at Welton. I was not at all disappointed to find myself back in the Green Dragon for the second time in one day and our evening meal was highly enjoyable.
(A note here for anyone staying at Brantingham - I would recommend checking whether the Triton is open on the night of your stay and, if so, to book a table. Otherwise transport would be needed to another village for an evening meal.)
Much later that evening we quietly let ourselves back in to Keeper's Lodge, all too aware that we were the only guests booked in that night and conscious of our every footstep. An enjoyable day's walking followed by an evening of excellent food, drink and company meant sleep was almost instant. Which is just as well. Because the next day we were to be faced with a much longer walk.
A few statistics have been recorded from our walk by means of a GPS device and I will conclude each day's write-up with some of these, for those who find such things interesting.
Total distance walked - 11.37 miles
Total ascent - 938 feet
Total descent - 719 feet
Highest altitude - 479 feet
Mean temperature - 71ºF
Coming soon.....Day 2 of our Yorkshire Wolds Way takes us from Brantingham, calling at North Newbald (off route) and to Shiptonthorpe via Market Weighton.