A linear walk linking two nature reserves that are run by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Leaving the side of the old Al, the walk drops downhill through Ledsham Bank Nature reserve to the village of Ledsham. The route then goes through fields and lanes to a small settlement on the edge of Leeds at Ledston Luck. This is the site of a former coal mine and land associated with the pit has now been transformed into a nature reserve. The return is the reverse of the route out except for a small diversion into a Woodland Trust wood still at Ledston Luck. Distant views East and West across the county, roman roads and the oldest building in West Yorkshire are just some of the highlights.
A short walk around the perimeter of St Aidans RSPB Reserve just south of Leeds. The site was previously an opencast coal mine and derelict for many years after it flooded. In recent years it has been taken over by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and has been transformed into a wonderful nature reserve. River, Canal and Railway follow the valley floor. The flooded mine alongside them is now a home for nature. On the day of the recording the wind gradually increased as it came off the Pennine Hills and was funnelled into the valley. I hope that there is still a feel for the tension, excitement and cacophony of noise that can be a spring day in such places.
Episode 20 – The Aire Valley South of Leeds – Gone Walking
Today I continue my walk around the Leeds Country Way. Starting from Barwick in Elmet and walking the few miles to Thorner. This area is close to built up areas of East Leeds but passes through lovely countryside. I spend a while little exploring the rich and varied history of Barwick before exploring fields paths, tracks and beautiful woodland in the area. An iron age settlement, a Norman Castle, World War 2 observation post, bluebells steal the show. A far off glimpse of the Hambleton Hills, a disused railway, and a wander through an ecologically friendly farm.
Episode 19 – Leeds Country Way (2) to Thorner – Gone Walking
(Walking and birds singing)
Hello and welcome to Gone Walking. I’m in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park today, walking the second section of the Cleveland Way. It’s a gorgeous day, we’ve had a bit of cold weather recently but today has dawned sunny. About 11C, very little wind so a perfect day for walking.
On the first section I walked from Helmsley to just passed Rievaulx Bridge. Today I’ve parked at the top of Sutton Bank and I’m walking down through the hills to the point where I finished last time.
(Walking and birds singing)
Leaving the car park, I head through Hambleton Plantation. A commercial woodland, with a series of footpaths, cycleways, horse riding trails. The walk on the outward journey today will be mostly downhill till I get back to the point near Rievaulx Bridge where I then turn round, pick up the Cleveland Way to bring me back up to my start point.
The Hambleton Hills that I am now walking in are clear for many miles as you come across the flat Vale of York. On the hills here is the famous White Horse of Kilburn. I’ve passed through Hambleton Plantation now and I’ve picked up a short section of the Cleveland Way before I turn off and take a different route down to Rievaulx.
There’s a sign at the side of the path that tells me this is the site of the site of the ancient Hambleton Racecourse. There’s a stable just as you leave the forest and horses grazing. People out exercising horses.
The Hambleton Hills and further North the Cleveland Hills form a ridge running South to North. It’s a very clearly defined steep hill that abruptly stops when it reaches the Vale of York which is to the West. To the East of the hills all the way to the coast is the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Now having passed the woodland, the house and stables, I can see from my high position the rolling hills looking towards Helmsley and ultimately to the Yorkshire Coast.
(Metallic sound unlocking and passing through kissing gate)
I’m heading initially to a village called Cold Kirby between here and there is a footpath along the side of a field with freshly sown crops and a broken-down wall on the righthand side.
There’s no real sense of the fact that a mile or so to the West is a precipitous drop for hundreds of feet yet to the East a gentle slope and rolling hills.
I can now see Cold Kirby in the distance and a lovely green lane with a drystone wall on one side and a fence at the other side where the wall used to be. It’s very pleasant and the views are fabulous, way off into the East a slight mist in the air. The sun beating down and on this downward slope, not a breath of wind.
(While walking and talking, the sound of cattle)
Just passing a field full of black cattle. Lots of young calves with them, they all seem a little bit excited. Glad I don’t have to walk through there.
(Sound of Cattle)
I’ve left Cold Kirby, now walking towards a village called Old Byland that I visited the other day when I did the first section of the Cleveland Way. I’m following the road; the old road sign tells me it’s two miles. When I get to Old Byland I’ll pick up the lovely valley I walked down last time, at the bottom of which is Ashberry Reserve. One of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust owned reserves. Shortly after that just before I get to Rievaulx I turn right and then follow the Cleveland Way back to the start. This is beautiful countryside though. Dry stone walls, old stone barns in the fields, pasture with lots of Daisies and Dandelions growing through. The villages are all made of stone, well maintained and life in the country, I’m sure it doesn’t but seems to go on at a much slower pace than the city.
The road I’m on is very narrow, has passing places. It’s not wide enough for two vehicles to get down. Luckily for me I don’t think I’m gonna see any vehicles. Apart from the farmer on his quad bike who’s just passed.
(Walking and birds singing)
This walk over to Old Byland is delightful, very little traffic on the road, there’s been a hare, started off running towards me in the road and then shot off into a field. For a wile it was just sitting until I think it was disturbed by two passing cyclists and it took off at full flight across the field. It was lovely to watch. The whole area is criss crossed by public footpaths, green lanes, bridleways. There are endless connotations of day rambles that could be had in this area.
Not long after leaving Cold Kirby the road to Old Byland turned right. Since then, it’s almost dead straight and downhill, between two stone walls. Pasture at both sides. Valleys going off to the left and right, lined with trees. The walk will keep going downhill, all the way until I get back down to the valley bottom, almost to the River Rye.
The road I’m walking on is a modern road covered in tarmac. Obviously very old and in places near the edge, the tarmac has broken away. I was surprised to see what looks like the original cobbled road still there in places. I knew they did this in the city. There are older parts of the city where they just put in the 60’s and 70’s tarmac on top of the cobbles. I suppose there’s no reason why they shouldn’t have done the same out here.
There are Holly trees dotted all along this road. Very big, very old ones. They have had to be cut in a straight hedge line along the road. I think if they grew naturally, they’d cover most of the road. Great find just by the roadside. Not sure if it’s a pheasant feather or a bird of prey. Beautiful, it’s about a foot long, brown, with alternate darker stripes going across it up the central spine.
It can go in my tray of treasure that I keep on the windowsill by the front door. I started a few years ago bringing little trinkets back. A stone, a pinecone, a feather, an acorn. It’s now filled to the brim with memories of nice days out. This one would be quite the largest item I have in it.
(Walking and birds singing)
I’ve turned off the road at Old Byland and turned down into the valley that I walked down just last week. The one that takes me down to Ashberry Nature Reserve. It was so pretty; I was more than happy to come back and walk this way again en route to the start of my next short section of the Cleveland Way.
(Walking and birds singing)
Walking down the valley, I’ve just come across an old tree that was obviously dead. It’s been cut back in places, the bottom maybe fifth of the trunk is still standing. A good six or seven feet in circumference filled with holes and hollows and it looks as if there’s a hive of bees nesting about a third of the way up.
(Much bird-life and peaceful)
It looks as though the tree is going to be left. The dangerous bits that were hanging over have been cut off or fallen off. That stump would make an incredible home for nature. The valleys round here, I think I described them the other day. Steep sided, filled with woodland. The bottoms are flat and often covered in grass or have streams. I discovered during my walk last week, they were formed during the last ice age by glaciers moving down the valleys that gave them this distinctive shape. In that time, when this part of the UK was uninhabited under a vast ice sheet. Hard to believe that where I am walking would have been under hundreds of feet of glacier.
(Bird-life and peaceful)
I’ve just stopped for lunch in the valley, sat down on the grass slope.
(Bird-life and peaceful)
It’s ever so quiet. There’s a pheasant just walking down the hill. Got to the bottom and started going back up. The Blackthorn trees in front of me. The flowers bright white against the slope. The trees aren’t quite in leaf yet but there are flashes of green. It is though very, very peaceful.
(Birdlife and peaceful)
I am now in the lower half of the valley. I think we’re in the area of the Ashberry Nature Reserve. It’s an area of ancient trees and wetland in the valley bottom. I believe it’s been protected since the 1800’s.
(Walking and bird-life)
As springs and little streams have appeared the nature of the valley bottom has changed. Higher up it was flat grass, easy to walk on. This bottom part is marshy and boggy. I believe the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust pretty much leave the woodlands as they are. They’re left over to nature. The gate on the entrance to Ashberry Nature Reserve tells me.
This gate was erected by the Yorkshire Naturalists Union and the Yorkshire Naturalists Trust. In grateful memory of Catherine Murel Rob (1906 – 1976) Who knew and loved Ashberry throughout her life and as an outstanding botanist did so much to create this nature reserve and to further the interests of both organisations.
(Gate being unlocked and opened)
Inside the gate is a sign from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, it says.
Ashberry Nature Reserve. This varied and fragile 48-hectare nature reserve is predominantly woodland with associated limestone grassland, fen, wet grassland, wet woodland and lime rich springs and streams. The reserve is part of a larger site of special scientific interest and has been known to naturalists since the 1800’s at least. Sheep and longhorn cattle graze the fen and wet grassland in order to keep it species rich. The woodland is largely left to develop naturally. Holly is thinned in places to prevent it dominating the understorey and inhibiting natural regeneration of other species.
There motto is, ‘love Yorkshire, love wildlife’.
I’ve retraced my steps through Nettle Dale on the Cleveland Way. I’m at the head of the dale now. Callister Wood is in front of me where I climbed through and over the last time, I came round here to get over to Old Byland to take me back to Helmsley. Today instead of going in that direction I’ll follow the Cleveland Way. I’m just crossing the stepping-stones now over the stream. The stream that in a mile or so joins the River Rye near to Rievaulx Abbey.
(Walking and birdlife)
The path forks right to go towards Callister Wood or left to carry on the Cleveland Way and in a mile or so I reach Cold Kirby (gate opening) where I passed through this morning,
(Walking, bird-life, and many lambs bleating)
From the stepping-stones the wooded valley that at first was mostly deciduous became an almost alpine valley. Steep sided, conifers, and little lodges. I’m not quite sure what they were possibly a camping ground or something.
The path got then quite steep. I suppose I had it coming, as most of my journey out was downhill so most of my journey back had to be uphill. It was a steep ravine through the conifer forest that then brought me out onto open farmland and a long hike up a green lane, called Lowfield Lane. That eventually came out into Cold Kirby. I’m now at a little path behind the old church. I’ve got an excellent view of it.
(Birds singing and peaceful)
What a delightful village Cold Kirby is. It’s two rows of houses two rows of hoses either side of the road going up the hill from the church. A broad grass verge at each side of the road and a line of trees along the left-hand side. A very peaceful place and for me it’s at the top of a long hill that stretches all the way back three miles to Ashberry Farm.
Leaving Cold Kirby as the road goes uphill, there’s a track on the left. It’s called Cote Moor Road, it’s a green lane that continues up to the top of Hambleton Plantation and Sutton Bank beyond. As this morning there’s no indication of the fantastic view that awaits across a large portion of Yorkshire when you reach the top of Sutton Bank. Behind there is some indication as the whole of the moors over towards Helmsley is in view.
I was quite taken with Cold Kirby, it seemed quite a pleasant little place. There were places where you could buy tomato plants, strawberry plants, free range eggs which I didn’t as I didn’t want to damage. I was glad I didn’t because the few that I had I spent at the next table. About five houses up which has some beautiful handmade buttons. I’ve never seen them before. All different kinds, big ones, little ones. All painted by hand, they were really, really nice. One packet contained buttons in the shape of the sweets Liquorice Allsorts and then in another container there were buttons in the shape of yellow and blue sunflowers which were being sold for charity, for Ukraine. I only had a few pounds in cash to put in the honesty box so I was limited to what I could buy. Otherwise, I may now have had a rucksack filled with hand painted buttons.
I’m now back as far as the various plantations that run alongside the main road as it approaches Sutton Bank. To my left is a quite mature conifer plantation. To my right the stables and racehorse gallops that I passed this morning. The area that I just walked through has a little sign on the end by the gate, it says.
You are currently on the site of the historic Hambleton Racecourse. A key element in shaping today’s horse racing scene as we know it. It was described as one of the finest natural racecourses in the country. Noted in records stretching back to 1622. It has been site to many a famous race and now home to Brian Smart racing.
There’s also an honesty box for flapjacks, water, and brownies which I could die for at the moment but there are none (laughs) just my luck.
(Walking and bird-life)
I suppose I should tell you a little bit about myself. I’m in my seventh decade and not as fit as I should be, but I do love exercise, being outside, walking. I went through a long period of my life where for one reason and another I didn’t go walking, it’s a long story but now I do, and I don’t want to stop. So, I’ll keep on struggling up these hills for as long as I can. I only mention this as I didn’t want anyone to be under the misapprehension that this was one of those extreme outdoor pursuit type podcasts. It’s a man going to visit and walk round a lot of the places he’s never got round to doing or seeing before.
So, bear with me if some days I sound utterly exhausted and crave flapjacks, brownies, and bottles of ice-cold water.
I’m now walking the last few hundred yards before I reach the National Park Centre at Sutton Bank. I’m nearly back to the main road that goes from Malton to Scarborough, I think. So, before I get to the side of the road, I’ll bid you farewell. Please do join me next time if you can and it would be wonderful if you could tell other people about this podcast, cheerio,
(Traffic noise, podcast ends)
In this episode I re-join the Cleveland Way near to Rievaulx Bridge for my second day walking it. I walk steadily uphill through Nettle Dale and Flassen Dale. Going from the valley of the River Rye to the top of Sutton Bank. An ancient horse racing track, empty moorland roads, pretty villages and isolated valleys. At Sutton Bank the walk meets the escarpment of the Hambleton Hills and further North the Cleveland Hills. There are some stunning views to come across the open countryside to the East of the hills. In the next episode I will explore the area around Sutton Bank before starting the journey North and West towards the sea.
Episode 18 – Cleveland Way (2) to Sutton Bank – Gone Walking
In this episode I begin my walk around the Leeds Country Way. A 62 mile circular walk around the periphery of Leeds. The path is often in open countryside and said to be never more than 7 miles from City Square in the centre. I begin at the large suburb of Garforth and walk to the pleasant village of Barwick in Elmet. At first there are busy roads and urban development. These soon give way to lovely lanes, field paths and woodland. We walk through an ancient kingdom, here of tragedy in World War 1 and at Barwick find one of the biggest maypoles in the country down for restoration.
Episode 17 – Leeds Country Way (1) to Barwick in Elmet – Gone Walking
Hello and welcome to Gone Walking. Today I’ve started in the small market town of Helmsley on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. It’s a bit of a honey pot as far as Yorkshire tourism goes but I’m here for a reason. The Cleveland Way, a long-distance footpath, goes in a long horseshoe from Helmsley to Filey on the Yorkshire coast. It’s a hundred and some miles long and follows the Cleveland Hills until Saltburn and then the coast.
Conveniently it starts at the car park in Helmsley. So, I find myself here on a Friday morning when the sun’s shining with hundreds of like-minded people. Leaving the car park the path follows a clear track uphill and then skirts the edge of Duncombe Park. I haven’t done that many long-distance footpaths, but I did the last half of this quite a few years ago. I started at Redcar, picked up the Cleveland Way at Saltburn and walked down to Filey over five days. It was absolutely fabulous. It was in November as well; the weather was great.
So, I thought I’d do the first half and, in all likelihood, the last half again. I’ll not be doing it all in one go. For convenience I’ll do small sections, make them into circular walks. Here we are, Day one, section one of my adventures along the Cleveland Way.
Helmsley’s a lovely little spot, hence all the early morning tourists. It’s got a great castle, it’s got a walled gardens, birds of prey centre and enough trendy shops and coffee bars to fill a small city.
So, if that’s your thing Helmsley is a great place to go. If it’s not, do as I did leave the car park and begin steadily climbing uphill and into the lovely countryside outside of Helmsley. As I climb the track Duncombe Park is on my left with a low wall. On my right is open countryside, arable, cattle, sheep. Today is beautiful, the weather’s gonna be about 16/17C, clear skies and a fairly stiff breeze but not a drop of rain in sight. I’m hoping today to get as far as Rievaulx Abbey
There have been a number of woodlands on the left as I’ve walked. First the wonderfully named Blackdale Howl Wood. Shortly after that is a house standing alone which is Griff Lodge and then on the left is Jinny York Bank which is a steep bank. I can’t actually see the bottom of it amongst the trees and then a little bit further along is Whinny Bank Wood.
The Celandines are still flowering, as are the Bluebells. I’ve seen the first Yarrow flower and there are Pheasants in the fields and the woodland is alive with birdsong.
On the right in a field is a medieval village of Griff, g, r, i, double f. I’m not sure there’s much to see except humps and hollows where the houses once stood.
(Walking and birdsong)
There are wild primroses all along the path.
(Walking and aeroplane noise)
The woodland on the left is commercial pine forest. Quite densely planted. On the right dividing the path from the farmland beyond is a newly planted hedge. Hundreds and hundreds of young saplings planted in the double row that you need to get a good hedge.
(Walking and birdsong)
Whinny Bank Wood gives way to Quarry Bank Wood as I start once more dropping downhill. This is a much more mixed planting and seems to have a lot more wildlife. The primroses are absolutely beautiful.
(Walking and birdsong)
The woodland floor filled with bluebells and Wood Anemones, a mass of blue with hundreds of thousands of little white specks. As the little white star shaped flower peeps through, it’s beautiful.
I’ve left the woodland now and I’m in a deep tree lines valley by the side of a small country road.
(Walking and sound of quad bike going by)
Complete with a little four-wheel drive farm vehicle. The valley floor is broad and flat, all grassland from farm animals and horses.
The road I’m on, very soon will bring me to Rievaulx Abbey. Behind me it would take you back to Helmsley and carrying on towards the West, it would take you where the Cleveland Way goes. Higher into the hills to the point where they reach the Vale of York. The Cleveland Way turns right there and heads North.
(Walking, pheasant call and birdsong)
I’m in the valley of the River Rye (sound of rushing water) just sitting by a three arched bridge that takes the road over, continues to Old Byland. To my right would take you up to Rievaulx Abbey but for the moment I’m just sitting on a tree stump watching the world, hikers and tractors go by.
(Sound of rushing water and birdsong)
It’s the first time I’ve ever been to this valley and it’s so peaceful. Just small roads coming in from three directions and yet only twenty miles or so from York. Sitting by the bridge is beautiful, opposite is a garden that comes right down to the river side. There’s also a small stream that is the rushing of water you can hear that joins the River Rye. The River Rye continues its journey and much further downstream it joins with the River Dove and they both flow into the Derwent north of Malton. The Derwent that I walker along a few weeks ago near to its tributary with the Ouse. I’ll not visit Rievaulx Abbey today but I’m continuing on the road over the bridge towards Old Byland. A little bit further along the Cleveland Way. I’ll then loop back and follow the track back to my start. Although on a day like this I think I’d be happy to just keep going towards the North Sea.
I’ve now crossed Rievaulx Bridge I’m continuing up the road with a little stream that entered near the bridge on my righthand side. The hedgerows are coming into full bloom now. The Hawthorn still a little way to go. After Rievaulx Bridge the Cleveland Way follows a section of road for a mile or so and it’s very pleasant with hedgerows at both sides.
(Walking and a car passing by)
The valley’s narrower now, steep slopes to either side filled with deciduous woodland. There are just hints of green among the trees in the woods as they slowly come into leaf but predominantly a lot of the trees are still bare.
(Walking, birdsong and sheep)
The Cleveland Way has now left the road and I’m going along the side of a steep hill on the left, through some woodland and soon I’ll turn back. Heading back through the hills towards Helmsley and will have to continue the Cleveland Way another day. On my right is a little stream but also some quite large ponds. I think there’s about three that fill the entire valley floor, and they are actually higher than the stream. I’m not sure what they are, whether they are an old quarry or naturally fed lakes.
(Walking and birdsong)
This is definitely Kingfisher and Dipper country. Neither of the two birds have I ever seen often so I’m not holding out too much hope but the woodland now on all sides is absolutely gorgeous. Steep sided valley, ancient trees and still the canopy not fully formed. So, a great view looking up of the amazing shapes.
(Walking and birdsong)
I’ve reached the point where the Cleveland Way continues without me. According to the map it heads up into Flassen Dale. I’m continuing as I have been for the last mile or so in Nettle Dale crossing a small stream (dog barking in distance) and then following the path up the ever-narrowing valley.
Well, that was a steep old climb, almost straight up through Callister Wood. What beautiful, beautiful stretch of woodland that was though but just as quickly we reached higher ground. Farmland (out of breath and sound of wind blowing) hedgerows. This is very pleasant, between two valleys now walking along a field of newly sown crops blowing in the wind. Making those many different patterns. Like waves across a green sea. The landscape here looks flat, the valleys hidden from view. So, the horizon is quite a way, maybe ten/fifteen miles away dotted with pockets of green and trees and farms and walls and hedgerows. Just while I was standing here trying to shield the microphone from the wind, a Hare came between the hedge from the next fields and trotted off down the path where I’d just come without even noticing me. There are butterflies now, along the path, bees, dragonflies, horseflies. The insect kingdom seems to have come back to life in this past week or so.
The small hamlet of Old Byland is about a mile/three quarters of a mile to my left. I think fairly soon I’ll turn right and head back towards Rievaulx, down another steep sided valley.
I think this is the first time I’ve ever been walking in this area, and this is the sheer joy of these little adventures for me. I’ve just come off the farmland into what on the map looks to be a steep sided valley and it is absolutely stunning. I think my path towards Rievaulx is fifty/seventy-five feet below me and I’m slowly working my way down to it and it’s really hard to explain how pretty this is. Trees growing out of rocks, wildflowers, birds. A real revelation, I was walking across a field of cereal crops a few minutes ago and now I’m in a valley with overhanging rocks and (quiet and peaceful) complete solitude.
And I was a little disappointed as I thought I had to trek up to the road near to Old Byland to pick up the path, but this is the actual path. I’ve now done a zig zag and I’m now walking downhill in the opposite direction, and it looks as if this valley is my footpath for the next few miles. Gaining all that height was hard work but well worth it and to be fair, since I first left Helmsley amongst dozens of other people all heading out on the Cleveland Way and since I left the vicinity of Rievaulx I’ve barely seen a soul. A party of schoolchildren on an adventure camping holiday, a few farmers and that’s really it.
(Walking and birdsong)
And now it seems I’m to have the North Yorkshire countryside completely to myself for the next few miles. Although there is a slight possibility that I’m a little bit lost.
It’s OK I wasn’t lost, just taking a less trodden path. I’ve now picked up the main path that would have brought me down from the road. I could see in the distance a white shape and I was looking on the map to see if there was a lake or a house and… brilliant white in the valley bottom, thinking it was some kind of building or some kind of water and as I get closer, I think it’s Hawthorn. Blackthorn or Hawthorn, just an absolute mass on a dozen or so trees.
(Walking, birdsong and wind noise)
I think it’s sometimes easy to exaggerate the beauty of the environment, but this is the first time in my life I’ve set foot in this valley, and it is breathtaking. What it must be like when the trees are all in leaf.
(Walking and birdsong)
It was Blackthorn, flower before leaf. Unlike Hawthorn, leaf before flower. There are old trees and branches strewn all around covered in moss and there are fungus on all the dead trees.
(Walking and birdsong)
I just heard an Owl. The valley now is, it’s opened up. The first part of it where I was raving about it, was like something out of Tolkien but it’s opened up now, maybe thirty metres wide, flat, with grass on the valley floor and then the steep V shape of the wooded sides.
(Walking, birdsong and faintly an owl)
The sky is almost clear blue. A few high wispy clouds and high above that strong breeze.
(Walking, birdsong and sound of wind)
I’m just walking down the lane back into Helmsley. I can see the church, the castle and the whole of the town laid out before me. About twenty minutes ago I was walking along the high ground with the valley to my right, just chatting with a couple and we heard this almighty road and when we looked through the trees. There was, I believe it was a, I think it was Hercules transporter plane at our level flying no more than a few hundred feet above the valley floor. Quite a sight, a nice spectacle to finish a nice day.
Until the next time, I’ll say cheerio.
(Walking, wind noise and podcast ends)
In this episode I embark upon the Cleveland Way, a 110 mile horseshoe shaped walk from Helmsley to Filey in North Yorkshire. It may take some time as I plan to do it as a series of circular day walks. I begin in the pleasant market town of Helmsley, following the Way to just beyond Rievaulx Abbey where I take a less trodden route back. Pristine waterways, wildflowers, ancient woodland and spring dominate this splendid day.
Episode 16 – Cleveland Way (1) to Rievaulx – Gone Walking
Hello and welcome to Gone Walking. It’s mid-morning in the week before Easter and today I’m taking a walk around the fields, lanes, and woodland to the East of Leeds. It’s a murky old spring morning. As I travelled to the start of the walk, there was low cloud and mist hanging over the fields and vales and just as I took my few steps the rain, that I think may have set in for a couple of hours began.
The walk today starts by the Crooked Billet. It’s on the road from Garforth to Tolton. In the field opposite the pub is an old chapel. The Lead Chapel, a settlement at Lead was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book back in the ten hundreds and all that remains of the settlement now is the chapel. I think the field that it’s set in would have had timber houses, but they’ve long gone. Just the bumps and hollows, presumably where buildings once were.
(Walking and birdsong)
Apart from the rain, it’s a gorgeous morning. Blackthorn is still flowering and some of the Hawthorn is just coming into flower. There are fields planted with Rapeseed that is grown for its oil and is already flowering, starting to mature and there are other fields around that have been left fallow where another crop of Rapeseed from last year seems to be coming through.
(Walking and sound of rain)
The Vale of York is about five miles to the West, and this is just the start of the low Pennine foothills. The hills that here are low and rolling, slowly get higher the further West you travel. After crossing the field with the church sitting atmospherically at the centre, we join a lane that gradually climbs uphill. This if you continue travelling North would take you straight through to the Hazelwood Castle but I’ve turned off and I’m heading West now along the course of the Cock Beck or River Cock as it’s sometimes known. This small river starts actually in the Leeds city area and flows East for maybe ten miles before it joins the River Wharfe just South of Tadcaster. It has some notoriety as the river that ran red with blood following the Battle of Towton. The battlefield is on some higher ground about two miles to the West of this location. If memory serves me correctly it was in the War of The Roses that the battle was fought. Its renowned to be the bloodiest battle fought on I guess English soil. There tens of thousands of people killed on the day in the most brutal fashion you could imagine. Hard to imagine on a peaceful day like today.
(Walking and sound of rain)
Along the flat valley floor is a line of trees. Not yet in leaf but covered in Lichen, every branch dripping with bright yellow Lichen. To my right is a field and the hill gently climbs up to some woodland. In the distance and to the right is Hayton Wood which I think I’ll walk through. Just seen a Hare in the field to my right, not sure what it was doing running backwards and forwards and then disappeared into the distance. Often see Red Kites and Buzzards when walking round here and I have been lucky enough just last year to see an Otter. I felt so privileged as the creature I don’t think had heard me as it had its head under water, just its tail and back legs were sticking up and it must have stayed like that for two or three minutes. Just flowing with the current looking for food. I froze because I wanted to get my phone out to take a photograph, get my binoculars out to have a closer look at it but in the end, I just stood perfectly still and enjoyed the moment, it disappeared upstream.
(Walking, birdsong and tranquil)
I’ve turned away from the river now and up the gently sloping valley sides to a point where I can enter Hayton Wood plantation. It’s a beautiful spot this, I often stop to have my lunch here and it’s no less beautiful in the rain. Trees along the top of both ridges, the whole landscape has a misty quality. The trees still dark brown mostly, not fully in leaf yet. A field in the distance bright yellow from the Rapeseed but very calming, a lovely day.
This wood’s lovely it’s not very mature I think it must be a commercial woodland. Walking uphill along the track, there are Bluebells, Wild Primroses, and little creamy white flowers in profusion of the Wood Anemone. Spring really has arrived.
(Walking on wet ground, birdsong, tranquil)
There are Primroses all along the side of the path, Bluebells in the woodland and occasionally among the Primroses the tiny little purple flower of the Common Dog Violet, with its small flowers hanging like bells very close to the ground.
(Walking, birdsong and tranquil)
I’ll just stop walking for a moment. If you can imagine, even though we’re at low level we’re shrouded in low cloud, the rain steadily falling.
(Birdsong, tranquil and sound of rain)
In places the leaves are just starting to burst through on trees in the wood and they look like, well to my wild imagination distant galaxies, drifting off, deep into space. One huge cluster of tiny green shoots, followed by another and another. Going further and further back, almost to infinity in the mist.
I’ve left the wood now and I’m walking on a good track that serves the farms in the locality. I’m gonna turn right shortly, go through the hedgerow. This area has quite a lot of horse racing stables. Not really something I know much about but through the hedgerow I come out onto some gallops with the little white plastic fencing that runs around racecourses, a racetrack. I’ve never yet seen any horses galloping round it and in the middle of that is a small copse. A small, wooded area and it’s one of the few areas on this whole walk that has very mature trees.
In the distance just coming into view is Hazelwood Castle.
Crossing the field inside the racetrack and dropping down Hazelwood Castle comes fully into view, and it looks very nice on a day like today. Shrouded in mist, set as it is in parkland. I’m not sure of its exact history, it was originally a stately home. I believe Mary Queen of Scots stayed there overnight on her travels. I think later it passed into private hands and for a long time was a religious retreat. In more recent times it has become a swanky hotel.
There are two lovely horses now in a field that I have to go through. Big horses, both looking at me. Don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before but I’m a city lad. They are lovely though, but I do hope they move before I have to walk through the field. Well so far so good. I didn’t think they were going to move away from the stile, but they did. I’m not sure if shoo, please go away is a proper horse term but they seemed to understand.
I’ve left the fields now and I’m back on a well-made track. This whole area between Aberford and Saxton and Stutton near Tadcaster is criss crossed by farm tracks linking up the various small communities. I don’t know if it’s unusual so close to a city but there are mile upon mile of unmade roads around here and its always fairly peaceful to walk. Just by the side of the track is an old summerhouse about two storeys high built like a round small castle that I guess would have been used when this was a home and the land all around private. It’s a lovely feature but has fallen into disrepair and now sitting as it is by a busy farm track surrounded by farm buildings, but one seems to have a good use for it.
(Walking, birdsong, and distant traffic noise)
I can now see the A64, that’s the main Leeds to Scarborough road. I’m still on high ground, to my right now I can see the Vale of York just beginning. I remember from a school geography lesson that although the A64 crosses the Vale of York, as it does so its higher than the surround land. This I remember being told is due to the fact that it had been built on a moraine at the end of a glacier that ended here in the last ice age. Hard to imagine really looking at this green rain-soaked afternoon that it would have once been like Antarctica. All along these tracks are farms every few miles most of them as ancient as Hazelwood Castle
(Walking, birdsong, and traffic noise)
I’ve skirted the edge of Hazelwood Castle and I’m now heading back into woodland. Another plantation. This one is called Hazel Wood, again mostly deciduous trees. The woods are very still, peaceful today. To my right a large area that’s recently been cleared and hundreds if not thousands of new young trees have been planted.
(Walking on wet ground and traffic noise)
I’m reaching the end of Hazel Wood. There’s a farm just beyond the boundary. It’s absolutely delightful this last section. Ther are Wodd Anemones and there are literally thousands of them. Twenty, thirty yards wide on either side of the path. I think its stopped raining, the droplets are dripping from the trees onto the woodland floor splashing on the delicate leaves and flower. They’re a creamy white bell-shaped flower with just a hint of pink where the flower meets the stem.
I’ve left the wood now and I’m walking down a pleasant lane with a hedge at one side and mature trees and open fields with electricity pylons running through on the right. In the distance going up from the valley bottom near Aberford towards Hook Moor and Micklefield I can see the eight lanes of the A1(M) in the mist and murk. It looks quite ominous, the lights on vehicles moving at seemingly a snail’s pace. Yet they’ll be hurtling along in the rain at sixty, seventy, eighty miles an hour. It looks quite eerie like some far off monster slowly working its way across the North of England.
Ahead just where there is a fork in the track there’s a Kestrel hovering about twenty feet above the footpath. Beautiful birds when you see them up close.
(Walking, loud traffic noise)
I’m now walking at the side of the motorway. Theres a steep banking leading down to it and at the opposite side a steep banking going up to the village of Aberford. The village is cut off from this countryside other than a couple of footbridges and a couple of access tunnels. It is a nice village though. Still got lots of pretty little cottages along what was the main road. Hard to imagine all the traffic going North to South passing through it. Even here though wildlife is making its presence felt, the banking is covered in bright yellow Cowslips the trumpet like flowers quite majestic against the violent noisy backdrop.
(Loud traffic noise)
The whole of this area that I’ve been walking in today is criss crossed by ancient earthworks. I’m just coming up to one of them now at the lowest point I reach by the motorway so therefore the noisiest. There is through an information board so for once my podcast may have some accurate facts.
(Lound traffic noise)
I’m standing by Becca Banks. The longest of three large banks and ditches known as the Aberford Dykes. The other two are South Dyke and Woodhouse Moor Rein. The run across a North South limestone ridge an important prehistoric route which was later followed by the Castleford to Tadcaster Roman road. The medieval Great North Road between London and Edinburgh, the former A1 and the present A1(M).
The dykes were previously thought to have protected the local Iron Age tribe the Brigantes against the advance of the Roman empire in the first century AD. Others have suggested they defended the later British kingdom of Elmet against the Anglo Saxons in the late sixth and early seventh century or protected the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Deira against the Mercians. Archaeological excavations have confirmed Becca Banks and South Dyke are 2500 years old, dating to the late iron Age around 400 BC to AD 70.
Becca Banks runs East to West for 5.5 Kilometres, from Potterton bridge in the West to Hayton Wood in the East. The bank was built above the north side of the beck with a ditch on the downslope. By using the natural slope, the earthwork would originally have been almost nine metres high from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the bank.
South Dyke lies on the South side of Cock Beck to the East of the A1(M) and is only one kilometre long. The ditch is on the upslope north side of the bank and the West end runs down towards a possible crossing point of the beck. In the best-preserved parts, the bank stands up to three metres high and the ditch ten metres wide.
Woodhouse Moor Rein is almost two kilometres long and in place the bank is five metres high and up to sixteen metres wide. The exact date and function of this substantial earthwork remains obscure.
(Walking and traffic noise receding)
Walking away from the motorway towards the East Becca Banks is to my right. I’m actually on top of the earthwork with the banking dropping sharply down to the ditch. To the West the whole area has been destroyed by the motorway. Going in this direction the bank goes all the way into Hayton Wood where it’s actually very clear that here is an earthwork there.
I’ve now turned off and I’m heading on a service road still following the course of the motorway. I go passed the water treatment plant for Aberford, uphill and then back inland towards my starting point. Even in recent times Aberford had three pubs which were all coaching inns in earlier times. The mail coach and stagecoaches travelling on the long journey North and South would stop. They had stables and accommodation. Two of them are now closed, been sold I think for private houses and there’s just one pub left in the village. As teenagers or in our early twenties we got into the habit of coming out here on a Fridy night. I’m not sure who we thought we were. There were plenty of pubs in the city that we went in, but we used to like our bus ride. I think it was just the fact that a bus came to the very edge of Leeds out into the countryside. So, we’d finish work on a Friday. Come here, drink copious amounts of beer, have fish and chips and go home on the bus.
I’ve left the service road now; I’m heading back inland towards the Crooked Billet. Behind me is the motorway and at the other side of it Aberford. I followed the road for about a mile and a half, and my ears are throbbing from the noise.
Ahead of me going roughly North to South, Woodhouse Moor Rein. The whole thing is now filled with hedge plants and trees but the closer you get the clearer it becomes. From my side there’s a straight drop down into a ditch and then on the other side a steep banking leading up to a raised earthwork. Standing where I’m stood human beings have been busy living their lives for thousands upon thousands of years. I always imagine there would have been wooden fencing running along the top and inside presumably communities, farms, animals.
Just negotiating the banking (slips and laughs) it’s a little bit treacherous after all the rain for the last few hours and out the other side the view opens up once again. Looking across to Hazel Wood in the far distance and Hayton Wood in the near distance.
(Walking, birdsong and tranquil)
I’m at the point now where I pick up my path that I followed out this morning. I’m at the crossing point of the beck. The waters quite fast flowing with all the rain but lovely and clear. I’ve never found anywhere deep enough to swim yet; I imagine there’s a little pool somewhere along here.
(Walking and birdsong)
Theres a Red Kite just overhead, not often I don’t come on this walk and see one. They’re quite common now and I believe were either extinct or almost extinct in the UK not so many years ago. Has to be one of the most successful reintroductions of a bird.
I think Otters are doing well though because growing up as a child they were very rare, or they seemed to be. A lot of the rivers were very badly polluted, and I read somewhere that there aren’t many rivers now in Yorkshire that don’t have Otters in them which is wonderful because they’re such a beautiful creature.
This little river or beck has had a lot of work done to it. I believe the environment agency did work to improve its flow and put weirs in and I believe there are Salmon now coming to lay their eggs in it which maybe explains why I saw an Otter in it.
I’ve been lucky the sighting last summer was the third time I’ve seen Otters. The first time was at a campsite at Ullapool about twenty-five years ago and to this day I swear it came up out of the water, took and Oyster Catcher, took it underwater, came back up and sat on the rock eating it.
The second time was a wonderful experience. I was walking with one of my sons on the Kyle of Durness in the very North of Scotland and he went all David Attenborough on me and laid down in the path. I followed suit and the cliff there is only a few metres. Three or four metres down to the beach and it’s a vast expanse of sand is the Kyle of Durness when the tide goes out and there was an Otter and a young Otter.
And we watched it for about twenty minutes and basically the mother or the father had caught a fish that was still alive, and they came up the shoreline amongst the rocks, let go of the fish which then tried wriggling back to sea and the little Otter was having loads of fun. Chasing it, catching it. I guess it was teaching it how to hunt and this went on for about ten minutes and the poor fish had no chance. Until eventually the mother went to the water’s edge got the fish, came back up on the shore and bit into its head and we were so close we actually heard the crunch. It was fabulous and then the two creatures sat there, ate the fish and we watched them walking off across the sand disappearing into the distance.
But they’ve all been great sighting that I’ll remember all my life. Not least the one last year because I never really expected to see one a mile or so from the Leeds boundary.
Almost back at the start of my walk back in the field where the Lead Chapel is, the Crooked Billet Pub in the distance. I forgot to mention earlier, its well known for its giant Yorkshire Puddings. Has been for many years, I think there’s been a pub there for hundreds and hundreds of years, but you can get Yorkshire Puddings for every course, starter, main and desert.
I’m just coming up to the chapel which is now owned by the Redundant Churches Trust. I think for a lot of years it was derelict and then was restored. Its no longer used as a church apart from once a year when they have an annual service but its open to the public and it’s a lovely spot to sit outside in summer or to sit inside on a cold winter’s day.
A place to pause and reflect on the days walk, the days exertions and what tomorrow might bring. Theres often sheep in the field surrounding it so there’s a little gate (gate unlocking) protecting the door which is ancient and weathered. (Enters chapel, door opening and closing).
The first documentary evidence of the church is in 1421 and that it was a church for a little estate and that 1596 it was in complete ruin. In the eighteenth century it was restored and the three-deck pulpit that it now has in the left-hand corner was installed. Its very simple with just half dozen rows of pews, the three-deck pulpit, and a stone altar. The roof is made of wood and there are various coats of arms and inscriptions on the walls. The doors interesting, it has various writing on the back of it.
Rededicated by the Bishop of Whitby in 1932, this chapel was repaired in 1784, built about 1150 AD.
There are streaks of lights coming through the gaps in the panel. I do love sitting in old churches where people have sat before me for almost a thousand years. The pews are beautiful, I’m guessing they’d be Oak, but they’re damaged, and you can see the marks of the tools. Where bits of wood have broken off, they show their age.
(Door opening and closing as leaves church)
I’ll say cheerio and if you can join me next time for the Gone Walking Podcast.
(Walking, birdsong, and podcast ends)
An exploration of the fields and lanes near the village of Aberford in West Yorkshire. Starting near the old chapel of St Mary, Lead, walking to Hazelwood Castle, then skirting the A1(M) before heading back to the start point. Woodland, wildlife, ancient earthworks and giant Yorkshire Puddings!