11: Bishop Wilton Wold, East Riding of Yorkshire

Summit copse
The copse, on the tumulus, on the summit of the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Date: 13th May 2020.

Weather conditions: A dry day, reasonable for walking, but not particularly warm for May. On the other hand, the northerly airflow meant that visibility was very good.

County Top bagged: Bishop Wilton Wold, the highest point of the East Riding of Yorkshire. Its summit is located at grid reference SE821570. There is a trig point nearby which has a spot height of 807 feet/246 m above sea level on the OS map, but when there, it looks as if the actual summit — the copse pictured above — may be a few feet higher than this.

Rankings by altitude:

It is the highest point in the Yorkshire Wolds. Geographically these are essentially the same hills as the Lincolnshire Wolds (see Normanby Top) but the wide estuary of the Humber splits the two ranges, along with their respective counties.

Given Dale
In the valley of Given Dale

Bishop Wilton Wold is sometimes known as Garrowby Hill, but this is more accurately the name of the main road (the A166) that ascends the escarpment to the west. David Hockney painted this road in 1998: the picture is in the collection of the Boston Museum of Fine Art.

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Start and end point of walk: Started and finished in the village of Bishop Wilton. about 15 miles east of the city of York. This can be reached on a bus from York railway station (see ‘Access’, below). The walk took me about three hours and fifty minutes.

Pub at end: Sadly, the Fleece Inn in Bishop Wilton becomes the latest pub I have been prevented from patronising due to restrictions imposed during the Great Fear of 2020.

Distance walked: 8.5 miles/13.7km approximately.

View over Bishop Wilton
View over Bishop Wilton, from the opening sections of the walk

Total ascent: 700 feet/215m approximately.

Difficulty: ★★. This walk is more than ‘just a stroll’, but it’s pretty straightforward. Any steepness is occasional. Mercifully, there are no impediments. Thanks to the permeability of the underlying chalk, there is no mud; you never have to plough through rampant undergrowth; it is well-signposted; and all gates (except one…) actually open. Hurrah!

Ease of access: ★★★. The 747 bus connects Bishop Wilton with York railway station, right on the East Coast Main Line and one of the best-served destinations in the country. But to do the walk by public transport you need to be able to get there no later than about 8.50am, because the morning bus from the station to Bishop Wilton leaves at 9am (see the timetable here). Miss this and you might as well forget it, as you will then be unable to do the walk in time for the last bus back to York, which presently leaves Bishop Wilton at 14.12.

Cow and calf.
Cow and calf. Cattle are the dominant lifeform on the walk.

I drove today anyway, thanks to The Paranoia having cut a direct train from home to York. And this County Top can be driven to, as the summit is right on the A166 road (see route notes below), although it would be rather pointless bagging it in that fashion. Bishop Wilton lies a mile south of the A166 and you can park easily enough in the village.

Scenic qualities: ★★★. Those who know the landscape of the South Downs in Sussex might be surprised to find a good facsimile of the place a couple of hundred miles north, in the Yorkshire Wolds. These hills have the hallmarks of chalk downland: smooth sculpted lines, dry valleys and splashes of white where the underlying rock is revealed. It’s an attractive look. There are also extensive views off the escarpment to the west, over the Vale of York, although this means seeing a lot of not very much, if you catch my drift.

The summit is definitely the least attractive part of the whole walk, not helped at all by being next to a main road.

Dry valley
Classic dry chalk valley, at the head of Deep Dale.

The area: Yorkshire is the biggest of the historic counties of Great Britain but has never been governed as a single entity. Historically it was sliced into the three Ridings, North, West and East. The exact boundaries have wavered over time but the modern version of   ‘East Yorkshire’ more or less corresponds to the historic East Riding, and Bishop Wilton Wold, in its north-western corner, remains its highest point.

Over on this side, Yorkshire is quite different-looking than in the west (see Black Hill). The two sides of the county lie on different sides of the geological divide known as the ‘Tees-Exe Line’, the boundary between the two fundamental parts of Britain: highlands to the north-west and lowlands to the south-east. One cannot get further north than the East Riding and remain in the lowlands. Its shared geological heritage explains why it looks rather like Sussex despite being a long way from it. It’s a pleasant-looking part of the world, but I doubt much happens there.

View north from near summit
View northwards, from near the summit

Map: Although this walk deserves credit for its good quality signposting, OS Explorer 294: Market Weighton and Yorkshire Wolds Central was still a useful item of luggage.

Route: Other than at the very top, this walk is a good one, and gives a proper geographic impression of the whole hill. Bishop Wilton Wold is basically a dog-leg ridge which joins the main spine of the Wolds more or less at its summit, and is otherwise bounded by the defile of Deep Dale, which the route comes down before rounding the butt end of the hill and returning to the starting point. I recommend this circular walk in either direction, but will describe the route the way round that I did it, which is clockwise.

From the bus stop in the village, head up the road on the right-hand side of the little green valley. Before this takes a sharp left, turn right, up what looks at first like the drive of a house, but the footpath is there, confirmed by the first of the many helpful signposts you will pass today. This ascends the escarpment immediately, passing through woodland that will be mecca for wild garlic enthusiasts like me (see the picture), then bending round the rim of the dry valley before dropping down onto a tarmac lane that doesn’t look like it is used very much.

Old Wood and its wild garlic
Just a tiny section of Bishop Wilton’s wild garlic stash.

Turn right here and keep climbing. You will shortly come out onto the A166: cross with care and head down the lane straight ahead. A hundred yards further on is a gate on the right, which despite having a ‘public footpath’ sign pointing down it, and a right-of-way marked on the map, is locked — this is the only such obstacle faced today but it’s still annoying, particularly as at the far end of this footpath, there is free access. Once you come out at that end of the path, you need to walk along the road for a few hundred yards, but there are wide verges and then a pavement on the south side, so it’s not a trial.

Air crash memorial
Memorial to the victims of the air crash in 1944.

Look for the memorial to those killed in an air crash here in 1944 (see the picture). Seven died on the plane, and the accident also took out a guy driving his milk lorry along the road. The summit is just beyond this. It has a trig point, but this is inaccessible, stuck behind the locked gates that bar access to the covered reservoirs. But the true summit of the East Riding seems to be not the trig but the copse of trees a few yards further east, pictured at the top of this page and marked as a ‘tumulus’ on the OS map. Mind you, this should also be considered inaccessible as to reach it requires trampling over crops. But you’re near enough to it at the roadside to consider it done.

Having paid your respects to the summit of the East Riding of Yorkshire, continue along the main road for a short stretch before turning right down a lane marked as a Roman road on the map and apparently called “The Bence”. A bit further on, turn right again onto a path that drops down into the valley of Deep Dale (this really does look like Devil’s Dyke above Brighton).

At the bottom of the valley, you could head straight on and, with a bit of extra climbing, be back in Bishop Wilton soon after, a total distance of about five miles. But turning left and following the valley down gives more variety to the day, so let’s do that. Head down Deep Dale on the forest road, but once a stream finally appears in the valley, look to cross the water at a bridge on the right and follow a path down the other bank instead.

Deep Dale
View down into Deep Dale.

After another half-mile or so this comes out onto a lane, which, though not signposted at this point — a rare omission on this walk — is the ‘Minster Way’. Turn right and follow this through fields full of cows until it comes back onto tarmac at the tiny, secluded church of St Ethelburga’s (what a marvellous name that is). Go then straight on, through the village of Great Givendale, which has about eight houses and where I bet nothing happens, ever: if this is ‘Great’ Givendale then I do wonder what the Little version of the place looks like.

The Minster Way is signposted to the right at the end of the village and will eventually drop you down across a colourful and cow-filled common back to Bishop Wilton. Hopefully by the time you do this walk the pub will have reopened and you’ll have time for a pint before heading home.

St. Ethelburga's
St. Ethelburga’s church and its minuscule graveyard.

Taking liberties commentary: What happened to life in the UK in March was the social and economic equivalent of sticking, say, a hefty crowbar into the wheels of a motorcycle as it was cruising along at 70mph. Carnage. And no one has any real idea how to start it all up again. Certain things have to happen before other things, but no one wants to be the first to move. Unions push back against suggestions that their members be compelled to return to what are perceived as unsafe spaces. Schools may, or may not, be reopening: no one seems truly sure. None of it seems any longer to have much connection to scientific data on, y’know, IT, because no one has yet been able to do the sort of statistical analysis which would help sort the reality out from the media-driven hysterical noise. In my opinion we are well up Shit Creek and the paddle long ago floated out to sea.

But from today — I am allowed to travel any distance I like to go and take some exercise. It’s official! Boris told us all. Immediately after he did so, every National Park executive officer in the country then gravely informed me that I shouldn’t possibly consider returning to their own particular hallowed acres. One wonders if it’d be the same had BloJo also agreed that pubs and cafes could reopen, meaning our visits to the Lakes or Dales or Districts of any kind could have some beneficial impact on local economies that you can already hear gasping for air. But he didn’t.

The Bence
The old Roman road known as ‘The Bence’.

I didn’t go to the Lake District today, though I will be returning there soon. I felt it would be best to avoid the honeypots today. But I had to get out. East Yorkshire, sorry, the East Riding of Yorkshire offered a good alternative, scoring highly on the technical elements of the walk in that it agreeably dispensed with many of the usual irritants of low-level agricultural rambles, particularly mud and other tangly, squelchy obstacles to free progress. I passed three other people all day: a couple of women walking their dogs and an elderly chap doing something mysterious with a big antenna up on The Bence. Risk to public health — rather less than one presently faces from listening to the news.

I have lost everything outside my immediate home that gives my life pleasure — except this one thing, walking. The cost of losing this kind of outlet cannot be overstated. When I came home my wife was rather upset as she heard that a family friend had died today. He had been depressed, and after seven weeks of lockdown, couldn’t take it any longer and hanged himself. What did ‘Stay Safe’ mean for him?

Top of Garrowby Hill
Ploughed field at the top of Garrowby Hill.

We need to get this machine started again, and right soon. We need to learn to trust one another again and to realise that there will never be zero risk. Or there will be more of these tragedies, lost in the chaos but no less real than the ones that make the news.

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