Date: 9th August 2022.
Weather conditions: A second very warm and sunny walk in a row. If anything, it was warmer even than last month’s hike in Oxfordshire, and with less shade.
County Top bagged: Stock Hill, which is the highest point in the City of York. At roughly SE544473, there is a trig point with a spot height of 43m above sea level, but just to the north-west of this, the 1:25,000 map shows another spot height of 144 feet/44m.
This could have been a historic Top. York has never officially been a part of any of the three Ridings into which the county that bears its name — Yorkshire — was once divided, and since 1836 it has been governed as a separate city. However, I list it only as a modern Top.
Allowing for the fact that it is of equal height to the Top of Sefton, in Merseyside, there are only five County Tops lower than this (those of the Isle of Ely, Blackpool, the City of London, Kingston upon Hull and Lincolnshire/Parts of Holland). It ranks 170th on the list of modern Tops by altitude and equal 196th on the list of all Tops. Deliberately (see the commentary), this becomes the lowest Top I have bagged so far, ending the 20-month reign of Racecourse Road in Peterborough.
[ << Bald Hill, Oxfordshire (historic) (56) | (58/59) Garrel Hill, North Lanarkshire and Darrach Hill, Falkirk >> ]
Start and end point of walk: I started in the grounds of Askham Bryan College, having engaged a taxi to get me to this point from York station (see the notes on accessibility below).
My original plan was to walk all the way back into York city centre, but because of the closure of the crossing over the railway line outside Copmanthorpe, I was forced to finish the walk in that village — see the route notes. From there I caught a bus #13 back to York.
Pub at end: In Copmanthorpe there is the Royal Oak, but this does not open at lunchtimes on any day other than Sunday, at least according to the notice board on the door. I instead patronised the Little Acorns cafe next door, which did a very good lunch, though it is not licensed. (Both establishments can be seen on the picture above.)
No one is going to complain about the choice of watering holes in York city centre, though. With the sole exception of Sheffield this has to be the greatest drinking city in the north of England. Virtually every pub serves a wide range of real ale and is full of character. Today I waited for my train home in the Maltings, which is about five minutes’ walk from the station, but there are literally dozens of other options.
Distance walked: Had I been able to complete my planned walk all the way back to the station it would have been around 9 miles, but as it was I did only about 3 miles on the day, making this my shortest CT walk yet.
Total ascent: Approximately 75 feet/23m, and even that is pushing it. This is the lowest total ascent of any walk so far, but at 25ft/mile it’s not quite the flattest yet, as the longer walk in Liverpool (approx. 19.5 ft/mile) still retains that record.
Difficulty: ★. As suggested by those figures, an obvious one-star award. Training shoes would be entirely adequate footwear.
Ease of access: ★★★★. Had I been able to get back to the station I would have given this five stars. York is one of the best-connected train stations in England, and every service up and down the East Coast main line will stop here.
However, it’s too far to get all the way out to Stock Hill and back on foot, even if the path over the railway had been open. Not feeling like messing around with public transport any more than I had to, I got a taxi out to the college, but this set me back £16 and so I did slightly regret not using the bus instead.
Scenic qualities: ★★. This is unexciting countryside with a dash of suburbia, though at least you do get a view from the top. Perhaps it would have been better had I been able to walk along the river back into the city, but perhaps not.
The area: York is certainly one of the country’s most interesting cities. It has pretty much every period of English history layered into its streets and buildings, from the old Roman city of Eboracum through the Norse Jorvik, the medieval Minster and into the Victorian railway era. There are several excellent museums and one could easily spend a few days here (and enjoy plenty of great places to drink, as I have already noted). The only disadvantage is that it is always heaving with people, and as it’s a seller’s market, it can be expensive to eat. I like it though, and have had some good times here.
Map: Purists might pick up OS Explorer 290: York, Selby and Tadcaster, but trust me, you’re not going to get lost in the wilderness on this one.
Route: As already noted, I had to truncate this walk from what was originally planned. What’s left is just a stroll that only took me about 90 minutes. Even that was longer than it might have been thanks to a lack of clarity over where I could and could not walk in the vicinity of Askham Bryan college (a specialist agricultural college). I wouldn’t come great distances to do this walk but you could use the buses to complete it in the morning and then spend the rest of the day exploring the city centre.
The problem with the paths and lanes around the college is that they do that thing where ‘Private’ and ‘No right of Way’ signs appear on one side of gates but not both. This applies both to the road through the college itself, and through Westfield Farm next door, which would otherwise be the quickest route up to the summit, as the map makes clear. I asked my taxi driver to drop me at the main college entrance and then just walked from there, but it might be that this is not always possible (say on Sundays or holidays when the place might be shut).
If the sign initially deters you from going straight through Westfield, turn up past the houses onto the road that runs to the north of the college and then head west, until a ‘Public Footpath’ sign points through the field and allows you to attain the lane that rises to the summit.
This is the only slope encountered today and it is almost amusingly slight, like a three year-old’s ‘mountain’ climb. But there are distant views, in both directions, and despite its negligible altitude, the panorama does nevertheless suggest that Stock Hill is the highest point for miles around. The trig point sits by the path, and there is a seat there as well (pointlessly ‘protected’ by barbed wire: why? The gate to it is not locked). But it is apparent that the highest point, at 144ft/44m, is to be found instead on a low hump of land just inside the field past the trig point, to the north (right-hand side, as you approach it).
To continue the walk from the summit, bear in mind, first, that despite the map suggesting that a right of way extends from Westfield Farm south across the A64, that road cannot safely be crossed at that point. I did check it out, but it took only a few seconds to determine that this would be too hazardous, and might end up with me stranded on the central reservation. Another possibility is to not bother with York itself at all, and instead carry on the way you were going, which in a few miles would lead you into the town of Tadcaster.
Still intending to hike back to the city, I was obliged to walk along the side of the dual carriageway (there is a pavement). If you do this, come off at the exit ramp and, at the roundabout, turn right, following the signs for Copmanthorpe. This road leads into the village centre, where there is the pub and cafe, not to mention a chippy and a couple of Indian take-aways if you fancy something different for lunch. The bus stop for York is across the road from the cafe.
My desire was to walk on from here along the ‘Ebor Way’, through Bishopthorpe and then back to the city along the River Ouse. The problem was that the crossing of the railway line, just outside Copmanthorpe (SE571472), was barricaded off with signs announcing its closure. No alternative was offered, and no notice given on the other signs for the Ebor Way that directed me out of Copmanthorpe — it is just as well I did not adopt an alternative plan, of trying this walk in the opposite direction and thus walking several miles out of York only to find the walk could not be completed. Little choice then but to use the bus to get back to the city instead.
No Way Through Commentary: This was the second time this year that the roll of a dice was used to decide the destination for a walk, after that method was used to settle on our trip to Galloway in March. This time, what I had decided was that I definitely wanted to bag a Top that would be the lowest so far. Six of the Tops that are under 266 feet/81m a.s.l. — the height of Racecourse Road — are an easy day trip from home, namely Halton; Trafford; York; Sefton; Blackpool; and Hull. Six choices, thus allowing the roll of a die to decide, which, once again, Joe conducted, and York it was.
What today demonstrated was that barriers to access are far more likely to arise in the lowlands than up on mountain peaks. There were at least two profound ones encountered today — the A64 and the railway line — but nor did Askham Bryan College exactly welcome the walker. At least I could bag the Top unhindered: what I then found irritating was that there were no signs on the other side of the farm, suggesting that I should not just descend off the hill and back past the milking sheds (which is what I did). I wish landowners would make up their minds, and keep it unambiguous.
The closure of the level crossing was also an obvious irritant. Pedestrians need to make journeys too, and I’ll bet there was no really pressing reason to close it, except that probably someone, somewhere had just done it with the stroke of a pen, and bollocks to the few people who might be inconvenienced by it.
I’m not looking for reasons to have a moan. It was getting very warm on the day, and in truth, heading all the way back to the city might just have been more trouble, and sweat, than it was worth. I’m glad the Top is bagged, I got enough reasonable pictures to make this page look as good as I can manage, and it did give me an excuse to hang out in York for the afternoon, which is almost always worth doing. But Stock Hill is a Top for completists only. Undeniably though, I am one of those, or at least aspire to be.
Let’s go up a mountain next time, though. I still have my eye on Helvellyn at some point soon: the one Lake District Top I still need to also rebag for my Wainwright project. No firm commitments yet, but it would be nice to pick that up some time in September. Another trip to Dundee beckons around that time as well, so maybe something on the way up.
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