Walking the Wolds

Since lockdown eased, the number of people walking in the countryside seems to have sky-rocketed. Strangely though, everyone’s flocking to the same places – honeypots such as Buttermere, Snowdon, the Jurassic Coast … 

Exploring a well-kept Yorkshire secret...

Walking In Brownmoor Dale - a blog by Vivienne Crow

A track leads down into Thixen Dale in the Yorkshire Wolds 

Since lockdown eased, the number of people walking in the countryside seems to have sky-rocketed. Strangely though, everyone’s flocking to the same places – honeypots such as Buttermere, Snowdon, the Jurassic Coast… Where’s the imagination in that? (And where’s the social distancing?) We live on a reasonably large island; there’s plenty of room for everyone if we just got our maps out and opened our minds a little more.       

Last summer, while visiting East Yorkshire, I decided to escape the seaside crowds by exploring the secret world of the Wolds. This unusual landscape forms the northernmost limit of a line of chalk that runs all the way from England’s south coast.

When I first drove across this heavily farmed plateau, I wasn’t impressed – all I could see were seemingly endless fields of grain and rapeseed. But then I realised there was something special slicing into this flat, raised table of land; something hidden from view…

Walking In Brownmoor Dale - Vivienne Crow Blog -

Walking along the top edge of a 'slack'

Having parked the campervan near Fridaythorpe, I set off with my partner Heleyne and our terrier Jess to find out more. Before long, we were dropping into our first ‘slack’, the local name given to the steep-sided dry valleys that meander secretively across this south-east corner of Yorkshire. While industrial-scale agriculture dominates the high ground – with huge machines spraying chemicals on to the vast fields – livestock grazes the well-concealed valley bottoms.

Down in the slacks, we walked alone among wildflowers – cowslip, lady’s bedstraw, betony, bird’s-foot trefoil and hoary plantain were among the species I spotted. Colourful butterflies, such as the orange-tip, marbled white and common blue, flitted about at the periphery of my vision, while hares scampered up and down the slopes. It felt like we’d entered the pages of a Thomas Hardy novel. I half expected to see a smartly dressed Victorian gentleman come trotting past on horseback, tipping his hat to us ‘lady-folk’.

Various theories have been given to explain the creation of the slacks, although it seems likely they were created by the flow of meltwater over frozen ground during the last glacial period. Freeze-thaw would have helped the process, allowing weathered material to slip down the ever-deepening valley sides. With time, the water that once flowed here penetrated the porous chalk, leaving a dry landscape.

Vivienne Crow Blog - Walking In Brownmoor Dale

In Brownmoor Dale

While I’d been reading up on the area, the one name that’d kept coming up, particularly in relation to walking, was Thixendale. Internet searches offered up various descriptions – “unspoilt”, “serene” and “relatively untouched by tourism” among them. This tranquil village isn’t the sort of place you just stumble across on the way to somewhere else; reaching it involves negotiating a labyrinthine network of increasingly narrow lanes, and there’s no public transport.

There’s a pub here, a village hall where you can get tea and cakes on a Sunday afternoon, and a tiny shop in the back room of a red-roofed cottage. (That was pre-pandemic, of course, so things might be different now.) There was no tea room, no gastro pub, no car park, and I counted only three other visitors during our few hours in the area…

The village provided us with access to some of the area’s most beautiful dales, including Thixen Dale itself and secluded Brownmoor Dale. After exiting the top end of the latter, we found ourselves on the lip of Hanging Grimston Wold where the ground suddenly plunged away into a V-shaped valley. Standing on the western edge of the plateau, we could see far across the Vale of York. Out there were the towns and cities of Yorkshire, with their busy streets and their dynamic businesses and their bustling crowds, but we had this ancient, bucolic chalk world all to ourselves. Room to breathe… 

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