I walked the Yorkshire Wolds Way in two bites, one just before the foolishly-delayed 2020 Covid-19 lockdown in England, the other in late 2021, just before Omicron struck.

So, good timing, and in another way too. I’d been having hip discomfort from late 2019, and neither medic nor physio had got to the bottom of it, so I saw three days on the YWW as a good little tester. Well, it was OK, sort of. By the time autumn 2021 came round, the belated diagnosis of early arthritis had come through, but bolstered by a minor op and loads of physio I was keen to see how successive longer days would work out. Fine, as it happened.

The 2020 trip took me from North Ferriby (not Hessle; the estuary bank was closed for repairs) to Pocklington, with a couple of pubs for overnights. Pocklington itself is a couple of miles from the Way, but with an easy link path.

Returning there in 2021, three more days, with one pub and a glamping pod, took me to Filey. I didn’t have to walk out to Filey Brigg and back again as I’d already included that in a Cleveland Way section from Filey to Scarborough in 2017. I tagged the missing link of the Humber onto the end of 2021, with thankfully simple logistics.

The map also shows my links from Hessle station and into North Newbald and Pocklington

Friday 26 November 2021: Hessle to North Ferriby, four miles (three on Way)

For me, the first few miles of the Yorkshire Wolds Way came last.

When I was planning the 2020 stretch, the estuary path was closed for works, so rather frustratingly I had to begin that stretch from North Ferriby rather than Hessle. Luckily the logistics in 2021 weren’t too tricky – I caught a morning train from Filey to Hessle (changing in Hull, enough time for a coffee), and had a nice relaxed couple of hours to stroll beside the Humber.

It’s very pleasant too, wide open views across the tidal river, with the stunning highlight of the Humber Bridge soon after the start. It is a low key start however, barely a hint of recognition at the footpath junction with suburban Livingstone Road, just a wooden waymark with tellingly only an arm pointing forwards.

Never mind. It gives a tidal symmetry with the Way’s last couple of miles, to Filey Brigg. An odd sort of symmetry though: here you’re at sea level on a river estuary, there you’re high above the North Sea.

Humber Bridge

Flood defence works were in progress at the bridge and they forced me off the footpath onto the foreshore, but not for long. Thereafter, all is straightforward, though there’s a touch more foreshore walking just before the end (this stretch has a high tide alternative). Other than the bridge and the wide open views, the highlight is the outline of one of the three Ferriby boats, excavated here in the 1930s and 40s. Something like 4,000 years old, they are the earliest known boat relics in the world, save for a Pharoah’s barge from ancient Egypt. Quite a find for an unassuming Hull suburb.

The trail’s first acorn waymark

Wednesday 11 March 2020: North Ferriby to Welton, 3½ miles (three on Way)

So my first 2020 stretch of the Way was frustratingly short. It did involve a bit of foreshore – again, the tide was no problem – before heading north through a thin stretch of woodland that is perfectly pleasant bar two incursions: first and worst, a multi-level junction on the A63 dual carriageway, the main road entrance to Hull, and second a chalk quarry.

Shortly before the quarry I met the first of the Way’s distinctive mileposts, a sculpted wooden acorn. They were to occur from time to time throughout the rest of the route, and they’re a nice touch I’ve not met on any other National Trail.

Finally the Way enters but quickly turns away from the village of Welton. Go a bit further, as I had to for my night at the Green Dragon, and you pass the village’s pretty centre with church, duckpond and relic of a green.

Thursday 12 March 2020: Welton to North Newbald, 13 miles (12 on Way)

So far there’s barely been sight of a Wold but that quickly changes heading out of the village into Welton Dale and hence up on to its eponymous Wold. This establishes the core pattern of the Way, that will be followed for post of the trail – sometimes in the dales, sometimes on the Wold tops. This means that there’s a fair bit of ascent / descent every day; this quite short one has 1500ft, for example.

Welton Dale

One of the deeper dales rises outside the village of Brantingham and I took refuge from a brisk wind for a few minutes at its isolated church. It’s a steep climb out of here, followed by a quick up-and-down through Woo Dale, before a near-encounter with the large village of South Cave.

Not far above South Cave, on Little Wold, I met the first of another recurring feature of the YWW, a sculpted bench. It bore a verse:

We shed them one by one, by shattered field and barley seas,
Until the way is open for echoes of us,
Of shadows on the Humbri, Humbre, Humber,
Our mouths to springs that speak in tongues of thirst.

It merited another pause on this rather short day. Alas some of its companions, I was to find, were not in quite as good shape.

The bench on Little Wold

Little Wold also hosts one of England’s most northerly vineyards

There’s quite an intricate dale system now – down by Comber Dale, along Weedley Dale (which bears the remains of one of the Wolds’ various abandoned railways), and then up by wooded Hunsley Dale.

Hunsley Dale

After crossing the open wold for a mile or so, there’s a nice stretch through the open Swin Dale. I was to find that I far prefer the open dales to the wooded. Leaving it, I dropped down the road into the village of North Newbald, which boasts two pubs named for animals. The Tiger, a bit posher, and no rooms; the Gnu, a much better pun, and homely accommodation.

North Newbald and its two pubs

Friday 13 March 2020: North Newbald to Pocklington, 16 miles (13 on Way)

Back out along the road for starters, and then a fairly relentless steady climb over the open wold to one of the Way’s few trig points, at 144 metres on Sober Hill, looking out now on a wind farm. The associated steady descent starts after crossing the A1079, the York to Hull road, into Spring Dale. This dale once carried the York to Hull railway and if it ever gets rebuilt presumably will do so again.

The Way splits here. One route goes through the town of Market Weighton, and the other through the village of Goodmanham. It seems most walkers prefer the services of the town, but for me the slightly shorter village route made more sense, and as a bonus there was a decent café the Fiddle Drill in which I could pass a bit of time.

The Fiddle Drill in Goodmanham

The two routes recombine in Londesborough Park, one of the highlights of the Way. At the height of the 1840s railway boom the estate was briefly owned by George Hudson, the railway magnate whose desire was to “make all the railways come to York”, but it was his successor as owner – the eponymous Lord Londesborough – who caused the sculpted grounds you see today to be laid out. Just beyond the park is the village of Londesborough, very much a child of the estate.

Cottages in Londesborough

A little further on lies the village of Nunburnholme, though the Way prefers a few scruffy fields to a stroll through its centre. From here the Way climbs to just below the crest of a shallow escarpment, giving good views west over the Vale of York. Information boards tell about the Pilgrimage of Grace, which passed this way in the 1530s in a serious, but ultimately futile, attempt to overthrow Henry VIII’s break with Rome and re-establish Catholicism as the religious doctrine of England.

Looking over the Vale of York

Pocklington is a couple of miles off-trail, but it’s a good little market town and I can’t be the only Way walker who diverts here. A late afternoon bus direct to York station and a fast train south meant that I was back home late evening.

Tuesday 23 November 2021: Pocklington to Thixendale, 15 miles (13 on Way)

This is a seriously good day – with the first stretch of tomorrow, you’re in the heart of the Wolds, following many dales onto their wolds and then down again. And to cap it all, a gem of a village pub at the end.

Against that, there’s the return plod back from Pocklington, with a golf course bang in the middle of it (though the Buddhist retreat centre at Kilnwick Percy is something of a counterweight). I was soon back on the trail though, and met a guy even older than myself saying “I’m getting too old for this now”. This was about half 10. He’d walked from Fridaythorpe, three hours away for me. He couldn’t have been doing too bad.

I was climbing back onto the scarp, higher up than the last stage, and with a grand view across Millington Bottom to Millington village. The good folk here open up their village hall to Wayfarers with a sleeping bag – others please copy.

The view across to Millington

Then the dales start in earnest. Down into Sylvan Dale, up on a zig-zag; ditto Nettle Dale, then skirt the top of Pasture Dale. There’s a more prosaic stretch either side of the village of Huggate, not quite entered, though if I’d known earlier about its tea shop, I might have done, but scenic splendour resumes with the descent of Horse Dale and the ascent of Holm Dale.

The Sylvan Dale zig-zag

Bench above Horse Dale

Not far from the head of Holm Dale comes the village of Fridaythorpe – on a main road, quite a shock! Its Seaways café was my lunch target, almost certainly where the older guy had stayed the night. It’s a popular haunt for bikers, and since I was one once, I never mind them. Alas one of today’s group was bleating on about racist banter not being racist.

Still, nothing wrong with a cheese and tomato toastie with a mega mug of tea on a chilly day in late November. Only four miles left on the day, but with two grand dales, Brubber Dale and Thixen Dale. The latter bears a piece of land art, Waves and Time by Chris Drury, and on a tree trunk nearby a couple were sitting waiting for something. Dusk, I guessed. “Wild camping?” I asked; it would be a lovely quiet spot. “No, the sack has just got some mats in it,” he said. Honestly, I’m not going to spill the beans.

Thixen Dale at dusk

From the dale-end, its nearly-eponymous village Thixendale, and my room at its pub the Cross Keys, is a short walk away.

Wednesday 24 November 2021: Thixendale to Manor Wold Farm, 17 miles

There are it seems two Thixen Dales, a longer one running south on which I had entered the village, and a shorter one running west. The Way does not quite take the latter, but there’s a good view of it from the ascent out of the village – and an equally good one looking back to the village itself.

Thixendale village

The western Thixen Dale

But you’re actually heading out of Water Dale. Over Cow Wold, and a quick shuffle down and up to Back Dale, you’re on Toisland Wold – not its summit, but high enough to reach the high point of the trail at something like 713ft / 217m. Now begins a grand high level sweep, contouring above Deep Dale as the direction changes from east to north. Finally, drop down into the dale, which harbours the abandoned village of Wharram Percy. What a great morning.

Wharram Percy – the derelict church, and outline of abandoned buildings

I thought there might be a lunchtime bench here but no. A couple of miles on, the still-living village of Wharram le Street obliged very nicely with a little cluster of benches, so I stopped there instead. Another couple of miles on, and prepare for a shock. A bridge over a stream. While not exactly unique, this one is in a valley that owes more to the Yorkshire Dales rather than the Wolds. The clue, maybe, comes from the name of the dale that the valley becomes, Nine Spring Dale: enough water to produce a proper beck.

Somewhat further on, there’s a drop down the scarp and with it long views over Wintringham and the final northern outposts of the Wolds, which the Way will follow to Filey.

Woodland before the scarp slope dropping down to Wintringham

Wintringham too has a proper beck, with a couple of little ponds beside them, but for my break I pressed on to the church at the other end of the village. I’m not sure I would have routed the Way along a nondescript path behind the village, if the village street is quiet and pretty. The church itself no longer has enough regular church-goers to hold regular services.

The honest sign post

The way back up to the Wolds is by means of (another) Deep Dale, and it boasts one of the most truly honest signposts on any National Trail. Yes, it’s steep. Short though. Not much further on, you come to the northern escarpment of the Wolds, which the Way follows for most of the distance to Filey. It overlooks the Vale of Pickering, with the North York Moors beyond.

This confirmed something I had suspected. The Moors today, twice the height and more of the Wolds, were today in sunshine while the Wolds had cloud. I could tell from yesterday’s cloud-end that the same was true then. How is this possible? Higher ground equals more cloud surely? Just have to cope with it though.

Rather like the South Downs Way, the trick in walking this part of the route is deciding where and how to drop down to the villages at the bottom of the slope for accommodation. But not quite. There are two opportunities right by the Way, or nearly. If you’ve got a tent, there’s West Farm, which is seasonal. If you haven’t, there’s Manor Wold Farm and its glamping pods. I used one of these in Wales in July and it was ideal, so I went for it.

Thursday 25 November 2021: Manor Wold Farm to Filey, 16 miles

To begin, you’re on farm tracks and paths on the scarp top. For me, the weather seemed more sensible; I had sun, mostly, while the cloud and rainbows to the north showed that the Moors were having some pretty heavy showers.

Looking across to the North York Moors

The Way dips down after a couple of miles till you’re nearly in the village of Sherburn, stays low to Ganton, and then heads up to the radar station of RAF Staxton Wold. From here, there’s one last burst of dale-and-wold activity: down-and-up through Lang Dale, then along Camp Dale – a nice lunch spot – and the wooded Stocking Dale.

Camp Dale

A bit more scarp, dropped down with glimpses of the sea, brings you to Muston, and then it’s field walking to Filey.

The end of the Yorkshire Wolds Way at Filey Brigg

Saturday 26 August 2017: Filey to Filey Brigg, one mile (and on to Scarborough by the Cleveland Way, a further eight miles)

We were in Filey for a big family reunion (it’s my sister’s favourite resort), and I got permission for a day out on my own. I knew I wanted to walk both the Cleveland Way and Yorkshire Wolds Way, so it made sense to walk this section, the end of one and the start of the other.

It’s good cliff-top walking but with the Wolds Way section barely half an hour, hardly a challenge. It was however to make my logistics four years later much easier.