Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Yorkshire Wolds Way - Day Three - Shiptonthorpe to Huggate (26th May 2014)

Nothing tells you that you're waking up in the countryside like the sound of a cockerel crowing.  And chickens.  Lots of chickens.  It wasn't even 4 a.m. and, looking out of the window, I could see the first hint of sunrise on the horizon.  For the first time since we'd left home there wasn't a cloud in the sky.  I wanted to get up and set off immediately.  Breakfast was still four hours away, but those chickens were making sure I'd get no more sleep.  I didn't really mind though.  Our room was very well stocked with tea and coffee, I had wi-fi and my copy of the Cicerone Guide to the Yorkshire Wolds Way.  And as our room was so self-contained, we could move around, talk and watch TV without the worry of disturbing other guests.

The sun rises on another day on the trail

Breakfast at Robeanne House was something of a revelation.  The previous evening we'd only seen four other guests and, because it had been so quiet, we had the impression there were no others.  On entering the large conservatory, we were surprised to see lots of tables set out for breakfast and, as we helped ourselves to cereal and orange juice, a steady stream of people arrived until, after a short time, every table was taken.  I've never stayed anywhere before where so many people had been so inconspicuous!

We'd had a wonderful but all too short stay at Robeanne House.  Every aspect had been outstandingly good and I felt a little sorry that we weren't able to stay at least another night.  But the trail was calling, our bags were packed and immediately after breakfast I found the owner, Jeanne, and settled our bill. 

"It's going to be a lovely morning," she told me.  "There may be a shower later on.  But tomorrow's going to be awful.  Just awful!"

I pretended I hadn't heard.  At this point in our journey I didn't really want a weather forecast.  It didn't matter.  Rain or shine, we were walking!

Leaving Robeanne House behind us, we walked alongside the busy A614 for about half a mile to pick up the Wolds Way again, as it follows a track to the site of the medieval village of Towthorpe.   It was a truly beautiful morning and already quite hot as we walked through the long wet grass of a lush meadow, heading in the direction of Londesborough.

Long wet grass where once there was a village

So far on the trail we'd rarely needed to consult the guide book for directions, because the signage was just so clear and consistent.  Even when it's fairly obvious which way you have to go, there are still regular fingerposts and acorn symbols, just to confirm that you're on the right track.


Please shut the gate

Entering Londesborough Park through an ornate gateway, the route follows a road as it gently ascends across extensive landscaped parkland.  The original Londesborough Hall had been an Elizabethan house which was demolished in 1819 by the then owner, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, so that the stonework could be used to repair his main residence, Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.  Today's Londesborough Hall is a Victorian building, hidden from view, to the north of the original house. There are, however, a few remnants of the previous building still visible here and there, along the margins of the park.   Beyond the signposts marking the point where the trail merges with the route from Goodmanham, I caught a glimpse of an intriguing red brick structure of arched recesses.  This was formerly a deer shelter, built before 1678, and used to provide food to the deer which then roamed the parkland.

The meeting of ways and a former deer shelter

Having left the parkland and entered the village of Londesborough, we passed an eighteenth century red brick archway which would have led to the original house, but now just leads back into the park.

Former entrance to Londesborough Hall

The little village of Londesborough has just three streets - Top Street, Low Street and the charmingly named Love Lane.  The route of the Wolds Way follows Low Street, passing the pretty All Saints' Church, which is 12th century in origin.  We were unable to look round the church on this occasion, but if time allows it's certainly worth calling in to see the 10th century Anglo-Danish cross which is set into the wall above the south door.

All Saints' Church, Londesborough

Londesborough is a picture postcard kind of village, worthy of a little exploration, if time allows.  The cottages along Low Street are particularly attractive, especially on a sunny summer morning, with the backdrop of a clear blue sky.

Pretty Londesborough cottage

We didn't tarry long in Londesborough, following the road out of the village and over a crossroads where the trail continues up a quiet country lane for a mile or so.  The heat from the sun was pretty intense now and walking uphill was a slightly laboured affair.

Walking uphill was hot work

Our exertions were soon well rewarded as a wonderful panorama opened up before us, all the way across the Vale of York.  At the point where the view is at its most visible, an information panel and National Trail bench have been provided, allowing walkers to rest and identify features in the landscape.  We spent a little while here, congratulating each other on spotting landmarks such as York Minster, Goole Docks, Ferrybridge Power Station and a very distant Ilkley Moor.  I really appreciate a nice view (who doesn't?) and this was a particularly fine one, I must say.


I can see for miles

The road continued to climb until a junction was reached, after which we cut through a farmyard and then out into a field of cattle.  This involved walking through a herd of cows with young calves and I kept a wary eye on them all the time, aware of the fact that cows can become aggressive if they perceive a threat to their young.  Thankfully the field was quite small and soon we were walking along a more relaxing path, by beautiful flowering hawthorns, until the village of Nunburnholme came into view, nestling in the valley below.

Looking down on Nunburnholme

Nunburnholme, like Londesborough, has no facilities for walkers but it too has a church containing an ancient cross (Anglo Saxon).  My guide book informed me that to visit the church would necessitate obtaining a key from somewhere (it didn't say where) and so we didn't get to take a look inside.  As its name suggests, Nunburnholme was once the site of a nunnery - the Benedictine Priory of Saint Mary.  The Priory was suppressed at the time of the Dissolution in 1536 at which time it was recorded as being the poorest in the county, retaining only five nuns and a prioress.

St James' Church, Nunburnholme

We entered the village by crossing a wooden footbridge over Nunburnholme Beck where we enjoyed a quick game of "Pooh Sticks" before continuing through the village and across a field to another quiet country lane.  Here we paused to watch a pair of Red Kites circling overhead.  Red Kites were re-introduced into the Yorkshire countryside by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust between 1999 and 2003 at Harewood near Leeds.  A breeding pair became established in the Wolds in 2001 making them the first Red Kites in East Yorkshire for over 150 years.  Although they were soaring too high for a photograph, it was still a joy to watch these majestic birds for a while before the trail took us steeply uphill along a track through a wood to emerge in open pasture.  Once again, we had a commanding view over the Vale of York.  The sun was still beating down but, looking over in the direction of the Humber Estuary, we could see that rain clouds were beginning to gather.
 
After passing through a farmyard we continued down a lane and then crossed the B1246 at Kilnwick Percy Hill.  Normally a reasonably quiet road, today it was rather busy with Bank Holiday traffic and we were somewhat relieved to get back into another field.  A gentle wind had picked up, which provided a little relief from the heat of the midday sun, as we passed a field of barley rippling in the breeze so that it looked like moving water.


A breeze blows through the barley

It was late morning now and in spite of our substantial breakfast we began to feel like a bite to eat.  An acorn mileage post advised us that we had now covered a total distance of 30 miles, with 49 miles remaining, and a bench by the side of the post gave us somewhere to sit and consider our options for a lunch break.  From where we sat I could just make out the roof of Kilnwick Percy Hall among the trees below us and, although it would add a further mile and a half to our journey, we decided that this would be the ideal port of call for lunch.  For the past 25 years Kilnwick Percy Hall has been home to the Madhyamaka Buddhist Centre, which includes the highly popular World Peace Cafe.  I had checked their website that morning and established that the cafe would be open from 11 a.m. and, as this is a place I've wanted to visit for some time, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. 

An acorn with a view

Suitably rested, we strode off purposefully down the hill and turned off the trail to follow the lane in the direction of the hall.  The area was busy with cyclists heading in the direction of Millington, possibly taking part in some kind of rally.  At the end of the lane we turned off to head towards the hall when a cyclist called out to us.

"Are you going to the World Peace Cafe?" he asked, "Because I've just been there and it's closed."

Disappointed, we thanked him and retraced our steps for the three quarters of a mile back to the trail as I muttered something about Buddhists being too relaxed to keep their website up to date.  I'd been looking forward to some carrot cake.  I imagine Buddhists make nice carrot cake.

There was nothing for it but to resort to our emergency rations, which consisted of a box of cereal bars.  At the junction where the trail left the road to Millington we sat on a bench and munched on a couple of bars each, having removed our boots to give our feet an airing.  I'd noticed a small blister had appeared on one of my little toes the previous day and so I took the opportunity to apply some BodyGlide anti-chafe balm, which was doing an excellent job of preventing the blister from worsening.  The junction was busy with cyclists and walkers too, several of them stopping to enquire whether we were walking the Wolds Way and to ask how we were finding it.  People seemed to be particularly interested in our itinerary and the distances covered per day and we were happy to share our experience on the trail so far.

It was very pleasant, sitting at the junction, chatting to passers-by and catching the breeze, and before we knew it an hour had passed by and the sun had disappeared behind a rapidly expanding blanket of cloud. The first spots of rain began to fall as we left the junction and followed the track which climbed steadily uphill.  As we approached the ridge which passes above the village of Millington the rain began to fall more steadily and I quickly stowed my camera away before fitting the waterproof cover on my rucksack.  The rain fell quite steadily for a while as we walked above Millington and beyond, and therefore I have had to illustrate the view of the village with a photograph taken on a previous visit (in the winter).

Looking down on Millington (taken on a previous visit, when it wasn't raining)

This section of the walk is where I would consider the "proper" Yorkshire Wolds begin.  Where the dry valleys fold over and over and roads and pathways snake their way through the valley bottoms.  From Millington to Wharram Percy, in my view, can be found the best of typical Wolds scenery.  It's something of a pity then, that for most of this section of our walk the light was less than ideal for photography.

Above Millington (taken on a previous visit)

After a short distance of level walking, we approached one of the steepest (if not the steepest) ascents on the whole of the Yorkshire Wolds Way.  Known as "the Rabbit Warren" a short descent is followed by a climb up a hillside into which steps have been carved.  These are quite deep steps and, in my opinion, it may be easier to climb the hill without them, although the combination of loose soil, grass and chalky shale can be slippery.  And obviously the steps are a good way to prevent further erosion.  Thankfully, the Rabbit Warren only involves a short climb but nevertheless, what with the added weight of my backpack, I was rather pleased to get to the top.  The rain had eased a little by now and, after the exertion of the climb, it was actually quite pleasant, in a refreshing kind of way.

The Rabbit Warren

A further short, level ridge walk was followed by another descent and ascent at Nettle Dale.  Before we descended, I got a quick shot of the valley ahead, partially obscured by hawthorns, but illustrating nicely the folding nature of the Wolds landscape.  I call this type of landscape a "foldy wold".  I think it's extraordinarily beautiful.

The folding nature of the wolds

The dry valleys of the Yorkshire Wolds (locally known as "dales" or "slacks") were formed at the end of the last Ice Age (approximately 18,000 years ago) when fast-flowing streams cut through the frozen ground.  The chalk from which the landscape is formed was laid down in the Cretaceous period, between 65 and 140 million years ago and is formed from the shells and bones of billions of tiny sea creatures.  As chalk drains rapidly, once the ice had retreated the valleys ran dry and remain so to this day.  Water is actually something of a scarcity within the Yorkshire Wolds.  Where one would expect to see a river or stream, there's usually a road, a path or a farm track, winding its way along the floor of the valley. 

The road through Nettle Dale

From Nettle Dale the path took us around the edge of a small wooded area known as Jessop's Plantation after which we emerged to walk along the top of the valley above Pasture Dale.  This section of the walk is known as the Huggate Sheep-walk.  Until cereal production was increased at the time of enclosures in the 18th century, the Yorkshire Wolds had been covered in sheep-walks since medieval times.  In fact, the amount of grazing provided for sheep had been responsible for the abandonment of many villages in the area during the Middle Ages. 


Huggate Sheep-walk

Upon leaving the Sheep-walk we crossed a road and walked over open farmland.   From here on a clear day, so my guide book told me, one can see  as far afield as Sheffield, Lincoln Cathedral, the Humber Bridge, York Minster and Flamborough Lighthouse.  Unfortunately for us, we could see little beyond one of the now familiar acorn mileage markers, which surprisingly informed us we had only walked a distance of five miles since the last one.  All those ups and downs had somehow made it seem further.

An acorn without a view

The last part of this stage of our journey was along a quiet lane which took us into the village of Huggate.  Like the previous day, walking on tarmac quickly intensified the throbbing in my feet and I was therefore relieved when our accommodation for the night was in view.  We had walked a total of 13½ miles and I was keen to have a sit down, a shower and a cold beer - not necessarily in that order.  It was just after 4 p.m. and, although our arrival was a little earlier than  anticipated,  we were rather surprised to find the Wolds Inn was locked with not a soul in sight.  Thankfully, there were a couple of picnic benches on the pavement by the door and we waited here for half an hour or so until a man on a motorcycle arrived.  He was the chef and he told us he couldn't get in either, until the landlord arrived with a key.  After a wait of a further 15 minutes or so a car arrived, a man got out and proceeded to ignore us.  This, it transpired, was the landlord.  A man I have subsequently learned with a widespread reputation for being curmudgeonly.   When I eventually tracked him down he almost begrudgingly showed us to a small, drab room which was rather old-fashioned but was, at least, very clean and included everything you'd expect, such as an en suite, a television and hot drink making facilities. 

The Wolds Inn

Our meal that evening had, by necessity, to be taken at the Wolds Inn as the next nearest village is four miles away.  We both ate what was described on their menu as "Our Famous Steak Pie" and I have to say, it was very good indeed.  As was the beer.  The atmosphere in the pub though was rather strained, thanks to the dourness of the landlord.  In the locality his grumpiness has attained almost legendary status.  However, this may not deter everyone, as some people, I'm told, will pay a small fortune to be treated with disdain by waiters in the posh restaurants of London.

Fortunately, the bar was also being tended by a younger, pleasant member of staff and when the time came to settle our bill, I waited until the landlord was out of sight so that I could deal with this more cheerful person.  Breakfast at the Wolds Inn is extra to the price of accommodation and, we discovered, not served until 9 a.m.  Over our drinks we'd decided on a Plan B for breakfast the next day and so I was able to pay for our stay and establish that we'd be able to let ourselves out whenever we wanted, as the main door would lock behind us.  Day four was going to start early and I knew exactly where we'd be having breakfast.  Somewhere much more cheerful!

GPS Statistics

Total distance walked - 13.5 miles
Total ascent - 1,532 feet
Total descent - 1,350 feet
Highest altitude - 686 feet
Mean temperature - 76ºF


Coming soon.....In day four we leave Huggate behind and head for North Grimston, passing through Fridaythorpe, Thixendale and the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy.




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