Yorkshire Wolds Way Reflections

Background

I chose the YWW to walk as part of my long term quest to complete all* of the National Trails**, with a specific sub-project right now which I am calling “Walk the Chalk” – completing the 4 National Trails that travel through chalk landscape: The North Downs Way, the South Downs Way, the Ridgeway, and of course the YWW***

The key features of the Wolds are the dry valleys – deep flattened-V shaped valleys carved through the chalk, formed by glaciation of the area – unlike the better known chalk landscapes further south, the Wolds was covered by the ice sheet, resulting in a unique landscape not totally comparable with the chalk of the south. Nevertheless, much of the flora and fauna is the same, and I felt quite at home in this landscape. I would even say (quietly) that in some ways it is better than my home chalk – it’s quieter, more remote and more dramatic. Pretty much all I could want in a landscape.

So, it will come as no surprise when I say is that I loved this trail, and would go so far as to say it was my favourite so far this year, having also done the South Downs Way, Elham Valley Way, St Swithun’s Way, and of course a TGO Challenge (I tend to regard these as fully equivalent to a trail).

That of course may not still be the case by the time I get to the end of the year, with the West Highland Way, completion of the Cambrian Way, a full re-walk of the North Downs Way and maybe something else still to come. But it’s significant that I should have loved one of the more obscure National Trails as much as I did.

Firstly, it was empty. I overtook one couple walking the trail just after Nunburnholme, and passed another pair who looked like they might be doing it going the other way just after Vessey Pasture Dale. That’s it, apart from locals on dog walks and the like. usually I have to go to the hills proper to get that level of aloneness.

Second, it was summer, which meant two things: long days giving lots of flexibility, and good weather. Rain fell twice on the penultimate day – in both cases fast moving showers that I could see coming and how long they took to pass over places before they got to me. I didn’t need my waterproof jacket – my umbrella was enough. This trail could have been a lot grimmer in winter, but I suspect would have been even lonelier to compensate.

Third, it hit the sweet spot in terms of length for a backpacking trip. 5 nights is enough to feel you’ve been out properly, without overdoing it.

Fourth, and most importantly of all, the scenery absolutely hit the spot. I grew up on a chalk landscape, and still walk a lot on the North Downs when I can, and the Yorkshire Wolds mostly felt a warm familiar embrace, whilst also offering enough of a twist on what I’m used to to provide interest. It’s the deep dry valleys that people go for, and it is obvious why. There are no prizes for guessing that this was obviously the highlight.

Indeed, the landscape coupled with the lack of people gave the walk a much remoter feel than you would expect. As a result the camping was a lot less stressful than stealth camping nearer home would be.

To sum up, the YWW hit a sweet spot in terms of landscape, remoteness, ease of walking, length of trip etc etc.

I have only one gripe about the landscape: the fact that after a journey of 78 miles through chalk, the last bit out to Filey Brigg is clearly very much not chalk – being formed of a mixture of rocks, but very clearly involving a lot of sandstone. In some ways it might have been better to turn south along the coast instead and stick with the chalk – Flamborough Head is chalk and would have been a good finish.

I suspect that the practicalities of creating the trail involved some compromise here – the need to not make it too long, but also to have reasonably accessible trail heads. I’m sure the attraction of finishing where the Cleveland way starts had something to do with it too – a sense of handing over the geological baton.

This doesn’t really diminish the trail itself, but it is very noticeable that after days of walking on white rock, the finish is on yellowy-brown rock.

*all here doesn’t necessarily include the full England Coast Path, which when complete will be something like 4,500km long. The aim is to walk as much of that as I can, but not beat myself up if I don’t manage it all.

**the number of National Trails is scheduled to grow in the near future with the addition of Wainwright’s Coast to Coast. I’d expected this, and although it will take a while to implement, I’m going to treat it as one from now on for the purposes of my quest.

***I’ve already walked the North Downs Way, South Downs Way and now, obviously, the Yorkshire Wolds Way, so there’s just the Ridgeway to do. That itself will form part of a larger walk scheduled for next year.

Practicalities

Timing

Originally the plan was to do it in June when the fields would be covered in poppies, but I caught them late, and that was before I had to bail out and return later. When I walked the trail there were only odd remnants left.

The trail, however, is suitable for year-round walking. It doesn’t involve any really serious rocky ground – the vast majority is arable farmland or pasture. There are some steep ascents and descent into and out of some of (but by no means all) the dales, which might become a bit slippy in wet weather or snow. Some of the paths can become quite dry and hard in high summer – similar to the paths on the South Downs Way with all that hard-packed chalk.

Given how unbusy the trail itself was, I would say summer is the best time to walk it – good weather, business open along the trail (except certain days of the week!), and still not very busy. Long hours of daylight work especially well for wild camping.

Getting To / From the Trail

Both the start at Hessle and end at Filey are served by railway stations, making it relatively straightforward to plan the transport. For me coming from the south, it meant a train from Kings Cross to Doncaster and a change for the Hull train. And obviously the same in reverse.

Coastliner buses serve Scarborough just up the coast, which could then link in with either a bus or train leg home. National Express run services to Hull, although I didn’t find the timing worked for me – they arrive late afternoon or evening. But this is fine if you want to stay overnight before starting the trail with a full day. I just wanted to get straight out there.

When I had to bail out partway through the second day, I found myself in the middle of nowhere in terms of public transport. The nearest village, North Newbold, is served by a bus one day a week (not the day I needed it of course), so the only option to begin the journey home was a taxi to the nearest railway station – which was at Brough. Even that taxi was hard to come by – with two numbers on the noticeboard at the pub in North Newbold, one was a complete no, and then I had to try the one the publican thought was even less likely – luckily they actually came up trumps.

To rejoin the trail, I travelled to Brough, and simply walked to intercept the trail partway along the bit I’d already done, meeting it just outside South Cave. This is where the scenery starts getting interesting in my view, so it was no hardship to repeat some of that.

YWW in blue, Route to rejoin from Brough in red

Accommodation

I chose to camp for a number of reasons: to keep the cost down, to keep it as flexible as possible, to cope with the fact it was peak holiday season, and simply because I enjoy it.

Actual formal campsites are few and far between. On the face of it the map shows a decent number, but many of them are actually caravan-only sites, and moreover ones where campers are expected to bring their own facilities, and in some cases stay for two nights. Increasing many of these are glamping sites, and so expensive too. The best campsite options for walkers doing the trail are at Goodmanham, Fridaythorpe and Wolds Way Campsite near West Heslerton. I had a booking at Fridaythorpe for night 3 of my first trip, which I never got to take up.

Wild camping of course comes with all of the caveats about it not being legal, the need to ask permission from the landowner (if you can even work out who and where they are), arriving late and leaving early, and leaving no trace, lighting no fires and generally causing no damage or disturbance. Then there are a number of SSSI and other designated protected sites which have to be avoided. But on a pure practical level, the YWW is pretty straightforward to wild camp due to the fact it has some remoter bits and is generally unfrequented.

There are B&Bs scattered along the trail though – the couple I met near Nunburnholme were doing just that. Sometimes it may involve a mile or two’s detour though. As for hostels, there just aren’t any to speak of. Yes there is one in Hull at the start, but that’s it really, barring a long detour to Beverley.

Schedule

I spent a total of 7 days on the trail, counting any day I spent at least a part of there. But 3 of these were only half days, so I was really walking for about 5.5 days. The National Trails website and the official guide generally reckon on 5-6 days. Personally, I think unless you’re a reasonably strong walker, you’d want to add another day onto that. The couple I met outside Nunburnholme were taking 7 days, staying in B&Bs (and therefore, travelling lighter than me).

However, you cut it, I can recommend one thing: slow down in the middle. The section between Goodmanham and Wharram Percy is reckoned to be (which I agree with) the best bit of the trail. It would be a shame to rush through that in a single day. I would say it is better to make up ground at the northern end if needed – the walking there is less dramatic, and a bit of fitness is likely to have kicked in anyway.

My schedule was actually as follows:

DayDateStartEndDistance (km)Ascent (m)Notes
1Wed 29 JunHessleEllerker Wold21380
2Thu 30 JunEllerker WoldNorth Newbold15340
3Tue 2 AugBroughNr Sancton21380
4Wed 3 AugNr SanctonNr Huggate32700
5Thu 4 AugNr HuggateWharram Percy23470
6Fri 5 AugWharram PercyFlixton Wold38770
7Sat 6 AugFlixton WoldFiley Brigg17300

The observant will see that I tended to alternate bigger and smaller days. This worked well, although it was in some ways an accident.

Guide Books and Maps

I’m usually a big fan of the A-Z Adventure Atlas series, which cover a number of the main long distance trails, especially the National Trails. It was just my luck that the A-Z map for the YWW was out of print. So for maps I fell back on printing A4 sheets from Memory Map, and of course navigating using the app itself on my phone.

For guide books, my first port of call is always Trailblazer, but they don’t do one for the YWW. In this case the best bet is the official National Trail guide. I found it useful for highlighting facilities at or near the various villages, and as a means of swotting up on directions for the next day each evening. I didn’t use it to navigate whilst walking – it simply doesn’t show enough area. The YWW is marked on OS maps, so you certainly don’t need the guidebook maps to show you the way.

Waymarking of the trail is pretty good. I went wrong twice – both times really my own fault for daydreaming. It would certainly be technically possible to walk the trail without a map at all, although I don’t recommend it. Even with good waymarking, a map is useful for providing context, showing things you might want to detour to see/use, and also to gauge progress.

I noticed a bit of difference in the standard of waymarking along the trail, though. In the south it was very good and clear, with both the signs and the trail itself in good repair. Once stepping into North Yorkshire though, the standard definitely dips a bit: a lot more of the paths are overgrown, and the signs largely consist of standard footpath waymarks, with the occasional acorn symbol. By contrast a lot of the signs further south are full wooden finger posts stating the path name, with the acorn, direction and distance to places.

Another thing that is useful to gauge progress are the acorn sculptures – wooden posts with carved acorns atop them, stating distances back to Hessle and on to Filey (or vice versa if you’re walking north to south). These are approximately every 5 miles.

What Would I Do Differently / The Same

First up, let me say that this is one of those paths I would happily re-walk next week. I absolutely loved it. So in many respects I would do largely the same.

If I were to return, I would also consider exploring some of the other dales to the east of the trail, maybe building in bits of the Centenery Way or Chalkland Way. I think I’d find a customised version that swings east to Flamborough Head and a finish in Bridlington hard to say no to.

I would certainly adopt the same approach to accommodation, given how relatively uncrowded the area is.

I would however, walk the trail slightly earlier in the summer to get the full effect of the poppies. It may even be that it could be possible to catch both bluebells and the poppies, which would make things pretty much perfect.

Gear

I took largely the same gear on the two trips, but made some adjustments for the weather and my cooking plans on the second trip. Here are the main items..

Pack: Atompacks Atom+ 40. This was just perfect for this trip, with enough flexibility to cope with a sudden influx of provisions and water.

Tent: Liteway PyraOmm Duo with homemade inner. Again a good choice. However, I think I will be making a mark 2 version of the inner to address a few niggles with the first attempt – mainly down to sewing quality rather than design.

Liteway PyraOmm Duo with homemade inner, seen here on the South Downs Way

Sleeping bag: Valley & Peak quilt (initially), then swapped out for my Cumulus Quantum 350 purely because it packs a bit smaller.

Sleeping mat: A length of Evazote Ev30 3mm foam with a Klymit Inertia Xlite inflatable pad on top. For the last two nights I didn’t even bother with the Klymit and just slept on 3mm of foam.

Stove: initially a cheap alcohol burner setup, but swapped out for my Soto Windmaster for the second trip. It just works

Pot: Initially I took both of my Vargo Bots – the 1000ml and 700ml as I was still working out the sweet spot in terms of how I used them in combination with other items. For the second trip, I took the larger Bot to use purely for cold soaking overnight and during the day, but also added my Fire Maple heat exchange pot set which I could use to boil water, cook in or use as my mug.

Hydration: I took my Sawyer filter on the first trip, but didn’t bother on the second. On both occasions I took a Speedster 5L water carrier (mainly because it weighs less and packs smaller than my 3L Nalgene one), along with a Smartwater bottle to drink from.

Base Layer: originally a cheap sun hoody, but swapped out for my lightest Rab baselayer for the second trip. I took my Montane Dart baselayer as backup and for nightwear in both cases.

Legwear: both times I wore a pair of cheap shorts from Decathlon, but packed a pair of leggings in case it got cold.

Socks: a mixture of Injinji, X-Socks and a pair of Orienterring socks from Decathlon.

Midlayer and insulation: Mountain Equipment Switch Vest – so versatile, and now my go to extra layer.

Shoes: Salomon Xultra 4 initially, but after the first trip I picked up a pair of Altra Timp 4’s in the sale and wore them on the second trip. The Altras were easily more comfortable.

Poles: a pair of MBC carbon trekking poles (find them on Amazon), which extend to 160cm and include a tripod screw thread in the head. I actually only used one most of the time, but needed the second for my shelter as I was using an A-frame configuration. These are the only poles I’ve used this year since I got them. Brilliant for the price.

Umbrella: it’s by Euroschirm

Food: breakfast was overnight oats soaked in my Vargo Bot comprised of oats, dried fruit and Nido. Dinners were home dehydrated beef mince and vegetables added to cous cous, bulgur wheat or pasta with whatever herbs and spices took my fancy at the time. On the first night of the second trip I took some leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, which had been frozen overnight and then allowed to defrost again in my Bot – this was an absolute triumph.

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