Paul Rose explores the 79 miles of the Yorkshire Wolds Way, arguably Britain's least well-known national walking trail, starting at the Humber Estuary and ending at Filey.
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I'm taking a hike through one of the least-trampled parts of the UK.
A land of big skies and majestic views.
This is the Yorkshire Wolds,
a swathe of rolling chalk hills
in the eastern part of God's own county.
It's a tranquil corner of England
that's well off the normal tourist track.
But I've heard the Wolds are full of surprises.
I'm flying over the Wolds Way.
Wow. This is amazing.
In this series, I'll be following the 79 miles of Britain's
least well-known national trail.
I'll meet the folk who are proud to call the Wolds their home.
I can't believe it, look at this.
There's a whole herd of penny-farthings.
I'll take on some extreme challenges.
Are we on some sort of collision course with that cargo ship, do you think?
And explore its secret history.
This might have been for queen and country,
but to me it seems like a job from hell.
This is Yorkshire as you've never seen it before.
Welcome to the Wolds.
I've been lucky enough to spend much of my life exploring isolated parts
of the planet, like Antarctica or remote islands in the middle of the Pacific.
You know, I'm really excited about doing the Yorkshire Wolds Way.
It's a part of the world I know nothing about and so for me this is
a real voyage of discovery.
I'm following the route from the south to the north,
which means I'm starting right by the Humber Estuary and I'll end
nearly 80 miles later,
with the North Sea at my feet in the seaside town of Filey.
The Wolds are a hidden jewel,
a land of tranquil, secret valleys and isolated villages,
all just waiting to be explored.
The start of any expedition is always exciting -
that wonderful sense of energy and anticipation,
but I've never started a hike with a view as magnificent as this.
Look at that!
The Humber Bridge is one of the great marvels of British engineering.
It's more than one mile long and took almost nine years to build.
When it opened in 1981,
it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
In terms of length, it's been overtaken by a few others since then,
but standing here, feeling tiny in comparison, you just have to say,
this is an incredible structure.
We might take the Humber Bridge for granted, but the men who built it
were pushing at the boundaries of what was technically possible.
And one of the chief engineers was Douglas Strachan.
Hi, Douglas, it's great to meet you here at the foot of the great bridge.
How do you actually go about building the world's longest suspension bridge?
How do you actually start something like that?
It was the longest bridge in the world for 17 years,
but it's just developing techniques which have been used previously
on other bridges. You look at the geology of the area and so the north side -
we're on the chalk on this side -
but on the south side it's on to Kimmeridge Clay.
And so we had problems on the south side,
building the anchorage and the foundations.
The clay at the south end was so soft, engineers had to devise a delicate
balancing act involving hundreds of thousands of tonnes of concrete.
There are about 160,000 tonnes of concrete,
there's about 300,000 tonnes of concrete at Barton.
This structure only exists because of the ingenuity of the engineers
and technical teams.
The bridge is held up by 15,000 of these cables that were spun across
the estuary and Douglas is going to show me just how they did it.
You be the Hessle tower.
-Right, I'm this tower, OK.
-And this is the Hessle anchorage.
The spinning wheel sets off, it goes up to the top of the Hessle tower.
-Right. Which is me?
And for demonstration purposes we'll call this the Barton anchorage.
The wheel then comes back empty.
-And then sets off again.
-Up to the Hessle tower.
Down to the Barton anchorage.
So because it's two at a time, and there's 15,000,
that's why it's 7,000 crossings?
-So each one of them big wires up there has got...
-..15,000 of them in it.
-But they're dead straight.
The opening of the bridge cut 50 miles off the road journey from Hull
to Grimsby and connected the great counties of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire,
though motorists have had to pay for the privilege.
So after seven years hard work, you've probably now got this
-lifetime pass, free pass?
-No, I'm afraid not!
Unfortunately I have to pay my toll as everybody else does.
-After all that they don't give you a free pass?
Douglas and millions of motorists will continue to pay the tolls
for some time to come.
The Humber Bridge cost nearly £100 million to build.
Almost 40 years later, we are all still paying for it
and the debt itself might not be cleared
for another couple of decades.
Whatever the cost, to me one thing's undeniable - the bridge itself
is the wonder on the Humber.
Wow! Look at this.
Absolutely bloomin' fantastic.
You can't imagine, can you, Douglas and his mates, stringing those cables?
And because it's so far and now so heavy that they just sag,
running them back and forth 7,000 times to get all the cables in place.
I mean, this is where they worked.
They walked along them everyday.
Never seen anything like it.
There aren't many walks that start within the shadow of such an amazing
piece of architecture, and even though we're all still paying for it
nearly 40 years after it was constructed,
as my mum would have said,
this remains a grand old view.
The bridge is certainly impressive, but it's not been the only way of
crossing the Humber Estuary.
And we know that by what was found right next to the Wolds Way
at North Ferriby.
In 1937, two brothers, Ted and Willie Wright,
found planks sticking out of the glutinous mud of the Humber,
but there was more to this find than met the eye.
The wood looked like it was once part of a boat.
But how old it was, well, that came as a massive surprise.
The shape of the boat led the brothers to believe that it was a Viking craft.
But the reality was much more exciting.
It turns out that this boat was over 4,000 years old.
These planks were situated in the most gloopiest, horrible, brown,
You know, how they managed to do it.
You know, twice a day the tide's coming in and covering over
everything they've actually excavated.
I mean, what a complete and utter nightmare.
The mud acted like a preservative and, over several decades,
three boats were uncovered.
Not only were these the oldest craft of their type to have been found in
Europe, but historians believe they were capable of crossing
the open seas.
They were plank-built boats made out of maybe seven or eight planks.
Certainly all three Ferriby boats show a base plank with then planks
attached to the side of it.
And they are literally tied together.
They are caulked with moss to make them watertight.
Which, again, is absolutely fantastic. That's boating technology
you would be familiar with today if you went to a boat yard
making a traditional wooden boat.
Yet this was done 4,000 years ago.
The finding of these boats has given all of us a unique insight
-as to life in those times.
These boats showed us they didn't just look inward, but they looked
outwards, out beyond Spurn Point,
out beyond the Humber Bridge we see today.
So why were people coming to the Wolds,
and in reality just how difficult a journey was it to make?
It's fantastically early in the morning.
The sun is only just up and we're about to do something that seems
but back in the Bronze Age this would have been absolutely normal.
Neil and I have come over to the south bank of the Humber to use the
waterway in the same way as our ancestors did - as a superhighway.
All we have to do is row across.
The current on the Humber can be lethal, which is why I've roped in
a bit of extra help from a local adventure centre to get us across safely.
We're off, Neil.
So the early people that were living right here on the Wolds Way next to
the Humber will have just crossed the river when the timing was right,
so when the tide was right for them,
and they would use it to go back and forth carrying...
What were they carrying? Was it trade?
Well, it would have been pretty much everything to do with daily life,
you know, whether it was actually harvesting the resources, fishing,
or actually getting people from the south side to the north side.
So, again, if you're wanting to get to the Wolds,
this precious landscape that again has such abundant natural resources,
you know, you're not going to travel 50, 60 miles inland.
So this really was a superhighway.
This was the M62.
But I'm a bit concerned cos... Are we on some sort of collision course
-with that cargo ship, do you think?
Well, that's got to be the perfect way to get the spirit
of our ancestors and start the walk.
Hey, thanks very much again!
See you, thank you.
With less than 80 miles to cover, you can comfortably do the Wolds Way
in a week, but it's worth taking your time.
In Yorkshire, the Wolds are often overshadowed by the Dales or Moors,
but they are special in their own right.
This is the most northerly outcrop of chalk in England.
The soil's rich, and on a sunny day these south-facing slopes near
the village of Welton feel just like Provence.
Blimey, that's a nice surprise.
It's a Yorkshire vineyard.
Didn't expect to see that.
I've still a few miles to do, so I'm going to save my glass
of Cotes de Wolds for another time.
Because as well as being great walking country, the Wolds
are perfect for something a bit more adventurous.
I can't believe it, look at this!
There's a whole herd of penny-farthings.
Hey, this is all right.
Hey, can you stop a second?
-I've never seen these except in a museum.
Well, they're wasted in museums.
They should be ridden.
-So is this a family bike ride or something?
I was just joking, it really is a family?
We've got a mum, daughter and granddaughter.
I'm dad. And son-in-law there and a former pupil of mine.
Is there a chance of having a go?
I've always, always wanted to have a go on one of these bikes.
I spend a lot of time on, you know, modern bikes,
but not as beautiful as this.
I mean, mine are carbon and aluminium and all this sort of flash,
but they're just not beautiful like these are.
Well, about a mile down the road there you'll get a cup of tea
-and we'll put you on one.
-Right, it's a deal, even better.
-Hey, thank you so much.
OK, right, I'll see you there.
I need to watch how you do it, actually.
Now I'm going to have a go, I need to...
That's a bit of luck.
They're really going to let me have a go on this.
Can't flipping wait.
Penny-farthings, or high bikes,
were once the height of transport elegance.
And for Tony Huntington and his family, they are much more than a hobby.
They race them, and even take their bikes on holiday,
and have been spotted riding high in New Zealand and Russia.
Tony's done 50,000 miles on his penny-farthings.
He is now such an authority that people from all over the world
have sent their bikes to be fixed in his workshop.
What are your top tips for me?
I mean, I'm about to have a go...
-Don't fall off.
-Don't fall off!
-That's the first one.
-Know where the step is.
-Learning to get on and off is far more important than the
-pedalling bits in between.
Well, how do I ride the thing? How do I get on it?
Well, you step there.
-Right. Stand astride it.
-Like this you mean?
Yeah. Without your toes sticking out.
Cos if your toes stick out too far then you won't be able to steer it
-and balance it.
-Then you've got to reach the handlebars and then,
with your right foot, you're going to have to scoot
until you are going fast enough to think that you can get up.
So I get scooting like this, as it were...
-And then once I've got some momentum, I'm up.
OK, yeah. It's flipping high up, Tony.
No, it's not, it's a low one, is this.
And when you want to stop you've got to find that step again,
-Right, so hang on, let me just bloomin' get the feel of this.
-So feel where the step is.
Flipping high, it's flipping high.
-Feel where the step is.
-All right, step is...
-You can't afford to look.
-Is that it?
-If you can find it
you can come down again and then you're safe.
'I've done some crazy things in my time.' I'm up!
'But this takes the biscuit.'
It's a lot higher than it looks, let me tell you that.
And out of all the great things you can do on the Wolds Way,
who'd have thought you can do this?
It's like relaxing is the trick.
Can't flipping relax.
If I look ahead I can convince myself I'm not ten feet
above the ground.
Tony, I think I'm all right!
No, you know you're all right!
-I don't feel very relaxed.
-Don't go on the grass, though.
What do you reckon, Tony, I'm still on!
If I didn't think you could stop on, I wouldn't let you ride it!
The bike's too precious!
-OK, well done.
-I flipping did it.
Holy smokes. It's a bit of a gripper.
I didn't feel I could relax.
-But I rode this, you know!
-I rode that.
I can't promise a sighting of a penny-farthing,
but if you're near the village of Sancton,
you'll probably see plenty of these.
This beast is obviously a tractor.
Even I know that.
And in a region farmed as heavily as the Wolds, you see plenty of this
kind of machinery. But, believe me, this is no ordinary tractor.
And what makes it different is its hi-tech GPS.
The one in your car seems pretty accurate,
it'll tell you which side of the road you're on.
But this one's a step ahead of that.
This will give us accuracy to less than an inch.
This tractor might be rooted in the Wolds, but up there
there are 18 satellites keeping it on the right furrow.
It'll not only tell us what's where in the field,
so we can go back to it year after year,
we can treat particular parts of the soil, particular crops,
in a particular way, but it'll do more than that.
This will steer itself.
Now we're talking!
When mechanisation came to the Wolds,
self-driving tractors would have seemed like science fiction.
Back then, farming remained a backbreaking job,
requiring a small army to bring in the crops.
-Fire up the JCB.
How things have changed!
-Right, we're off.
-I'll just press this little button here and the...
-And it takes over?
-The computer takes over.
So all you have to do then is get us in the right place,
press the button, and of course instead of dividing your attention
between the machinery and what's happening at the back,
you can concentrate entirely on the work.
By using these techniques we can improve the quality of the land.
There's loads of potential with this type of equipment that we're really
only beginning to scratch the surface of.
We are on the edge now, aren't we, of driverless cars on the public roads?
-Could you see the day when the farmer can be back in the farmhouse
or somewhere else and these vehicles are going around on their own?
Well, I think that day might be a lot closer than many people realise.
I think we'll certainly see that in my lifetime.
The last time I drove a tractor, both hands were definitely on the wheel.
So just how does a hands-free vehicle like this shape up?
All I have to do
is get looking at the great GPS readout,
come back more or less online.
Press that button. Green light.
I'm now hands-off farming.
And, unbelievably, I'm doing high-quality farming to a great standard,
because the machine knows exactly what to do.
I mean, this is great.
I have to say
I'm relaxed. I'm completely relaxed, I could read a book, you know.
Cos I'm farming. Smoke a cigar, glass of champagne...
Self-driving tractors may soon be a common sight, but elsewhere
on the Wolds there's an event that's simply unique.
Each way, if you like.
Ten quid each way on number 11.
On the third Thursday in March,
and that's every third Thursday in March since 1519,
Britain's oldest horse race runs across four miles of countryside
in the Wolds. And, believe me, it's a proper spectacle.
This is the Kiplingcotes Derby, and unlike its famous namesake at Epsom,
anyone can enter.
Just fill in one of those for me.
Back in the 1950s, race day brought out the crowds, and the best part
of 65 years later, it remains a cracking day out.
-You must be Sam.
-I am Sam.
And therefor this must be Mr P.
'Sam Osborne had the ride of her life at the Kiplingcotes Derby.
'She won it on Mr P, an ex-racehorse who was called the Mad Professor.'
Well, he looks absolutely beautiful.
-What's he like to ride?
A monkey. The first year we came third.
And then last year...
..he took control at the beginning.
-And brought us home for victory.
'But how the winning pair got to the finish line was less than
'straightforward. Because Mr P is one highly-strung horse.'
I just want to show you this.
This will remind you of the great day.
Right, here we go.
-That's the start, I mean, the start looks really organised.
-All pretty much together.
-Yeah, all together.
-Can you see now?
-You're in front.
By now, Sam was hanging on for dear life.
Through my lack of concentration, he decided to bolt.
And it was pretty scary when he took over,
went across the road with my eyes shut,
praying I was going to stay on.
We led from start to finish.
He had no intentions of letting anyone past him.
That's the devil in him.
He scared the living daylights out of me, he did.
When we crossed that finish line it was awesome.
He bolted! I couldn't stop.
Well done, well done.
-It's all right, you're here.
-I couldn't get him on the grass.
You're here, you're all right.
Come on, smile, you're on telly.
There's no doubt about it, you are a hero.
-Am I a hero?
-Yeah, dead right you are.
-Would you do it again?
Never, never on Mr P, never.
Sam's a winner and in my mind so is the landscape of the Wolds.
And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
These big skies and grand vistas of the Wolds are really something
special. And they've been brought to life by someone who many people
would say is Britain's greatest living artist.
For a couple of years, the Wolds were David Hockney's playground.
Living nearby, he could often be found painting at some of his
I've learned an enormous amount in the last year
by looking at nature and trying to represent it.
Very, very beautiful.
I shall paint it.
His giant canvases opened the eyes of the wider world
to the beauty of this tiny corner of England.
I like that!
Walk through the Wolds and you're stepping through a work of art.
Matching the real-life locations with Hockney's pictures can be fun,
but as I'm finding out at Millington Vale, it's not as easy as it looks.
All right, so...
Yeah, there we go. Tree on the left, bushes on the right,
there's two fences, the road going downhill.
It's really satisfying to know you're in the exact spot where
the great man David Hockney would have painted this.
And of course he's captured the feel of the place perfectly.
It does what his intention probably was, which was to, you know,
make us look at the landscape in a different way.
Which of course is wonderful. But for me this sort of washed-out,
over-simplified look aren't as nice as the original.
I prefer the original. So here goes, let's...
..see what I can do.
There you go. Got my own beautiful original.
These big sky views have made the Wolds famous, but it's also worth
checking out its churches, too.
This one at Nunburnholme is pretty typical,
but it does have a remarkable claim to fame.
In the shadow of St James Church is the grave of the Reverend Francis Orpen Morris.
He was the vicar here, but he was much more than a man of the cloth -
he was one of the great naturalists of his age.
And to find out more about who he was and what he achieved,
I've called in the help of TV wildlife presenter Mike Dilger.
Being a church vicar back in the day, he was busy on Sundays,
preaching to his flock. That left basically Monday to Saturday free
to wander around with a butterfly net and identify everything
that flew, crawled, swam.
He was basically a full-time naturalist and part-time vicar.
But catching and cataloguing was no easy task.
Back in the day, bang, he would use a gun for the birds.
He would use a butterfly net to catch the butterflies and it was
back in the era of kind of pin it, pickle it, squash it, stuff it.
You know, they really would bag and tag specimens.
With the knowledge he gained, he wrote the definitive guides to
British wildlife that were lapped up by the Victorian middle classes.
The Wolds were the perfect habitat for this inquisitive vicar and they
remain a great place to see some amazing creatures.
All we have to do is wait for darkness to fall.
Right, Mike, this is exciting, what is going to happen?
This is a very special bowl, it's a mercury vapour bowl.
First and foremost, it goes pink, then it gets whiter and whiter and whiter,
like a brilliant, bright, white light.
And you shouldn't really spend too long staring at it cos it can
actually damage your eyes.
But what it does is, it pulls moths in like you've no idea.
One theory about why moths find bright lights so irresistible is
that they confuse them for the moon and become disorientated.
And once they're in the trap, there is no escape.
So when we come back in the morning and the bottom there,
where those egg boxes are, there'll be moths in there, alive,
but asleep or something?
They'll be perfectly alive and the great thing is each egg box you lift
out, you never know what you're going to find underneath.
It's like Christmas, it's astonishing.
Seven hours later we're back at Reverend Morris's old stomping
ground and I'm hoping it's going to be as good as Mike suggested.
Let's just kind of dive in, shall we?
If I just take this off.
-The art is to just kind of remove one egg box at a time
-and see what you've got.
-Oh, there's loads in there.
-Occasionally they'll wake up. Most of the time
they're calm, you get really lovely close-up looks.
-Look at them.
-That's a moth called a buff ermine.
If you're looking, you might need your glasses.
There's a reason for me saying put your glasses on.
-Have a look at the front of his face.
-He's got glasses on.
-He's called the spectacled.
Isn't that brilliant?
Every time you turn over an egg box, you've no idea what
might be underneath.
When I'm camping, I'm usually trying to stop moths getting into my tent.
But seeing them so close, I can now really appreciate their beauty.
But of course it's not just moths we catch.
-Look at this.
-That's a beetle.
Check out the antennae.
I always think they have Denis Healey-type eyebrows.
Denis Healey eyebrows, yeah.
This is a cockchafer or May bug.
Cockchafer, that's some name.
Often called May bug cos it flies in May,
and this one's probably a little bit late.
-Look at that!
-I think this moth is the Gucci of the moth world.
-Pink and lilac.
It's an elephant hawk moth.
That dispels the myth that moths are dull, boring and brown.
I'm enjoying this, Mike, cos this is my first ever positive moth experience.
There he goes.
-Look at the colour underneath.
Now that is a bobby-dazzler.
That is a bobby-dazzler.
Wow. Thank you, Mike.
Next time on the Yorkshire Wolds Way,
I'll take a trip through a magical landscape...
..and see the Wolds from a whole new perspective.
It's so peaceful.
Adventurer Paul Rose explores the 79 miles of the Yorkshire Wolds Way, arguably Britain's least well-known national walking trail. The trail starts at the Humber Estuary and ends at the Yorkshire seaside resort of Filey. On the way Paul takes in the views of the Yorkshire Wolds from the top of the Humber Bridge, learns to ride a penny farthing and searches out the spots made internationally famous by the artist David Hockney.