Paul Rose explores the 79 miles of the Yorkshire Wolds Way. He gets a unique view of this stretch of chalk downland and gets a special invitation to a military base.
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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.
CHUCKLING: I just love it, they're so close.
I love that feeling that they're sort of like little kids.
In this series, I'll be following the 79 miles
of Britain's least well-known national trial.
I'll get a very different view of the Wolds.
I'm flying over the Wolds Way. Wow, this is amazing.
I'll be going underground, too.
This might have been for Queen and country, but to me, it seems like
a job from hell.
And I'll see a side of the Wolds that's hidden from view.
-There we go.
That's a big thing up there.
This is Yorkshire as you've never seen it before.
Welcome to the Wolds.
I'm used to gruelling expeditions in far-flung places.
So, for me, the Yorkshire Wolds Way is a joy.
It's almost 80 miles of easy-going terrain across
the most northerly chalk landscape in England.
And even if you take your time, you can cover it in just over a week.
The hike starts by the Humber Estuary
and finishes by the North Sea.
And I'm almost at the halfway point.
But before I hit the trail, I'm taking a short detour to Pocklington
for a chance to see the Wolds from a whole new perspective.
This aerodrome was once an RAF bomber base.
These days, the flying's a lot more peaceful.
I'm here for one of the big events in the club calendar.
It's the national Two Seater Competition.
The way they win these things is to fly a prescribed course,
and the further they go, the more points they pick up.
But if they're too ambitious,
they're going to land in a farmer's field,
or Sheffield, or the M62.
More than 30 gliders are involved in the week-long event.
Gordon Basey is a leading contender.
But 12 years ago, his whole world came crashing down.
One Wednesday I was on my motorbike
and this drunk-driver turned in front of me, right in front of me,
and I just T-boned, went over the top and landed a bit funny.
Just nipped my spinal cord, left me paralysed from the waist down.
The accident happened on his way to the airfield.
It seemed Gordon's flying career was over.
I got back in the club glider before I got driving on the road.
-How did that feel?
It felt really good.
-How do you fancy your chances today?
-We always fancy our chances.
It's a fun event, but there's always that element of competition.
And we like winning!
Gordon now flies a specially adapted glider, and like the rest of
the pilots, he'll be pitting his skills against the British weather.
Ah, here's Gordon.
Good luck, mate!
Gordon's towed to the right height by one of the tug planes.
They're the workhorses.
And one pilot here now has 40,000 sorties under his belt.
I started towing in 1974.
-And I've been towing regularly ever since.
Are you one of the oldest tug pilots in the country?
Well, I've been told I am the oldest in the country.
-How old are you?
Wow. Well, the extent of my research shows that being a tug pilot
-is very good for your health.
-Yeah, keeps you going!
With the gliders now up and away,
instructor Graham Wadforth is going to show me the Wolds
from a few thousand feet.
I'm looking forward to the very good feeling of being in this bird.
Here we go, Graham.
We've floated off, the tug is off,
and now it's just a case of remaining behind the tug.
He is staying low to increase speed and, once he's got a bit more speed,
as you can see now, we start to climb.
It's great to be up, Graham!
It doesn't take much, does it?
It doesn't. Going to release now,
so watch the ripple travel along the rope.
-Look out to the left, it's clear.
Pull the rope. There's the ripple. Climbing turn to the left,
and the tug has done a diving turn to the right.
-And he's disappeared.
-And it's so peaceful.
I feel as if I can see almost the whole of the Wolds Way.
-Well, you can, actually.
You can, literally.
'You can fly one of these things aged just 14,
'which means I'm definitely old enough to have a go.'
See the way the nose is tracking around the horizon?
-Keep the same angle of bank and just make small adjustments
-to keep it in this turn.
-You have control.
-So you're doing the flying now, Paul.
Yeah, I've got it. Trying to keep my eye on the horizon.
Oh, I'm actually flying, Graham!
You're actually doing the flying, Paul.
I'm flying over the Wolds Way!
This has to be the perfect way to reflect on the bit of the Wolds Way
I've done, and make a very accurate reconnaissance of where I'm going.
'Now that's what I call an uplifting experience.'
Wow, Graham. Thank you very much, sir.
Did you enjoy it?
Did I ever enjoy it! As you say,
it can be addictive, or it is addictive,
so I'm hooked.
I've been up and down, but Gordon is still flying high.
The gliders have been gone for most of the afternoon.
Now the race is on to get back to the Wolds.
Good man. There comes Gordon.
He's been doing about 150mph.
He's going to come down and land.
He's had a long flight, so I expect he's done really well.
Gordon's covered almost 200 miles.
It's been a great effort,
but not enough this time to land him the championship.
CHUCKLING: Welcome back, Gordon.
-That was good fun.
-Was it good fun? It looked fantastic.
I know you're busy thinking about the competition,
but what I was thinking about was the sense of freedom.
Here's a man who got knocked off his bike.
When you're driving around, walking around,
you have a bit of a hard time. But when you're up there flying,
-you're free as a bird.
-You don't think about that when you're flying,
because you just fly along, doing it like anybody else.
Hats off to Gordon and the rest of the gliders who ride the thermals
high above the Wolds. But, for me,
the view from ground level is just as stunning.
Boy, these valleys are beautiful.
We call them the dry valleys,
and they're one of the real special features of the Wolds Way.
It looks for all the world
as if it's been sort of man-made, doesn't it?
Like a railway cutting.
But, in fact, it's been cut by a run-off from the last ice age.
When the glaciers melted 11,000 years ago,
all that water cut these wonderful valleys,
and that water has now gone down, deep in the chalk.
I find these valleys really beautiful.
I'm looking forward to getting amongst it.
There's a whole network of dry valleys in the Wolds.
And, in summer, these well-drained banks, with its calcium-rich soil,
burst into colour.
You find these benches all along the Wolds Way.
They're beautiful shapes,
and this natural, weathered wood
reflects the shape and texture and geology
of the landscape. Plus, most of them have got this poetry on,
which helps us connect with the whole idea of walking the Wolds Way.
All in all, this is just a great place to sit and take in the view.
There are great views around every corner,
and artist Robert Fuller has one of the best.
But his main interest isn't the landscape, it's the local residents.
We've got live cameras, and these are
all around the garden and just the surrounding area.
So all of these are within 100 yards of here,
but they're all live cameras on wildlife.
So we've got all sorts of things going on here.
And, just to be clear, this isn't your garden fenced in, you know,
zoo-type thing. This is the wild Wolds?
-It is, yeah.
-You just happen to have cameras in there?
Yeah, yeah. Across the Wolds, all this action is happening,
but we've managed to capture some of the stuff that's happening locally.
The cameras at his gallery near the village of Thixendale have captured
almost every detail of these animals' lives.
So, this is the garden.
Yes. And this is exactly what I mean.
Because it looks at first glance just like a beautiful garden.
With no hint of all this wonderful activity that's going on.
Yeah, and if you start looking closely, you can see we've got
a pile of old roots there, but inside there,
it's like technology in there.
We've got a feeding box, we've got a camera in there,
we've got motion sensors, so when the weasel arrives,
I know straightaway, it alerts me to their presence.
The thing that really strikes me, standing here,
is that there is the beautiful Wolds, out there,
and of course all of this wild activity is going on all the time,
but we can't see it when we're walking around.
But you've managed to capture all of these secret, intimate lives?
Yeah. It's looking into the secret world of them,
especially the weasels.
And then, just around the corner here, we've got the kestrel nesting.
He's actually got so used to me now, he actually nests in the garden,
which is just great.
With a remarkable amount of patience,
Robert's got close to the very best of British wildlife,
including a family of tawny owls that nest near his gallery.
They're tricky to spot, but they're up in this canopy.
I can see there's one right here, he's looking straight at us.
Yeah, they're beautiful, aren't they?
They're about ten weeks old, these owls,
-so they're well on their way.
-So they are flying?
They can fly, yeah. They look fluffy, but they can fly well, yeah.
Young tawny owls sometimes fall out of trees,
and people mistakenly think they've been orphaned.
Over the years, Robert's looked after many owlets.
So, to keep them wild,
he takes advantage of the fact that his own adult owls can't count.
I've got away with putting seven in.
They already had three chicks of their own,
and we managed to get them to raise ten one year.
But we do that by supplement feeding the parent birds,
so we're not adding a vast amount of extra pressure on those birds,
and we actually then put the food up in the garden at home,
and the chicks then learn to come up into the garden.
This extra feeding means Robert gets an amazing night-time show.
One by one, the tawny owl chicks arrive for their free meal.
I've never seen so many owls in one place.
We've had seven baby owls, just all in the garden,
-plus one of the parents. So it's been really good.
CHUCKLING: I just love it, they're so close.
I love that feeling that they're sort of like your kids.
Yeah, they are. I do feel responsible for them.
I've brought them into this area, some of the chicks.
I just think it's a lovely connection
between the real bit of the wild Wolds,
and your bit, which is right onto it.
I think it's just terrific.
I'm now 50 miles into the Wolds Way.
And nestled deep in the land of dry valleys is the isolated village
of Thixendale. A place where, for centuries, not much changed.
Steve Lyus and Ivy Eden grew up in the village,
just as Thixendale of old was giving way to the new.
One day, I came home from school and my mother was scrubbing the floor
with the light on. I couldn't believe we'd got electric!
Electric! There was no traffic.
Look at that, that's the main street.
Everybody played in the street.
And everybody made things.
You know, you'd lose your coat in September,
and it'd come back at Christmas as a teddy bear.
And you thought, "I've seen that before somewhere!"
Nobody mentioned disease or anything.
And whatever was wrong with you, Paul, does not matter.
Whatever was wrong with me, "Thou's been in a draught."
What were you doing for entertainment?
When I first came to Thixendale,
it was just a black-and-white TV then,
with a really poor signal.
Watching football was like watching through a snowstorm.
Oh, you can't...
The only way you could tell where the ball was was by watching
which way the players were running.
The signal was poor because Thixendale lies at the bottom of
these steep valleys.
A communal aerial was set up with
a cable that went in and out of people's houses.
But interference from passing cars played havoc with the TV reception.
You would know who was passing by the line,
dot or square that was going along.
Ah, because each car had a different signal?
We knew when our George... "Where's he been?
"He's late tonight!
"He's going home.
You know, "He shouldn't be here tonight."
Everybody knew everybody's business by these lines on the television.
With the arrival of digital TV in the late 1990s,
Thixendale became one of the last places in the country to get
a decent television signal.
So with all those beautiful stories in mind,
what would you sooner have - Thixendale then or Thixendale today?
Then. Definitely then.
-Then was really good, but I think possibly a bit of both.
-Ah, well, you're very wise.
You're very wise.
The great thing about doing the Wolds Way is that it's so quiet,
you can have much of the trail to yourself.
Well, some of the time.
Blimey, look at this lot.
-This is quite a parade here.
-Where are you going?
-We're going to Sledmere, Sledmere House.
-I'm going to Sledmere House.
-Are you? Do you want a lift?
We're actually... There's a car rally on this weekend,
so you couldn't have picked a better weekend to come.
-Perfect timing. My name's Paul.
-I'm Chris. Nice to meet you.
There's a whole group of you. How many?
We've got 30 of us out on a road run.
Every summer, around 500 vehicles gather on the Wolds for one of
the biggest classic car rallies in the north of England.
Beautiful car. Is it your car?
It is, yes, yes, thank you.
It's a 1923 Crossley.
-Perfect for a sunny summer's evening.
It's absolutely beautiful.
Made in Manchester. So a proper northern car.
-Bit of northern steel.
We're so lucky in Yorkshire. We've got the Dales to the west,
we've got the Yorkshire Wolds with these big rolling, massive views,
got the North York Moors.
And this is the way to see it, isn't it?
The cars are taking me to Sledmere,
one of the Wolds' great country houses.
It's been in the hands of the Sykes family since the middle of
the 18th century. But this Georgian pile isn't all it seems.
-Good to see you.
-Christopher, thanks a lot.
-Come in, come in.
-Thank you very much.
It appears to be Georgian, but in fact, the entire house is a fake.
Because it was destroyed by a fire in 1911 and gutted,
leaving only the outside walls.
They were able to evacuate 90% of the contents of the house.
Everybody in the village came.
There was a human chain started
with the men inside
and the little children out on the lawn.
The very last thing to go was the great statue of Apollo,
which was carried out at the end by four or five men.
Weighs at least a tonne.
Work to rebuild the house started in 1913.
The Great War soon followed. But despite that,
the refurbishment continued and wasn't finished until 1916.
It's remarkable that 90% of these contents could be salvaged.
But even more remarkable, don't you think,
that a house like this can be rebuilt
during a time of such conflict?
I know. It was rebuilt by elderly men, because all the young men
were at the war. I mean, the fact that during the war,
while people were dying on the battlefield,
this house was being built,
you know, a great house being built in Yorkshire,
it is quite odd, isn't it?
Today, Sledmere House is playing host to a nostalgia weekend.
And as well as the classic cars that are on parade,
everyone's getting in the mood with a bit of dressing up.
I've ended up with a little mismatch of uniforms here.
But it doesn't necessarily fit that well,
but I was more interested in the medals and the ranking.
It's fun now, but back in 1940,
the Yorkshire Wolds was on full invasion alert.
For Charlie Mason,
it was the start of a secret life in a small unit of volunteers who were
recruited to harass the enemy with bombs, bullets and assassinations.
This is Charlie in his latter years, and you can see he took his role
very seriously. Charlie's no longer with us,
but his daughter Jo knows his story.
My father, during the war,
was an aircraft engineer and he worked at what was then
Blackburn's aircraft factory.
And during the war he was in reserved occupation.
-Good-looking fellow, fit.
-Yes, he was.
Yes, very fit, yes, kept himself active all his life.
My mother didn't know anything about what was happening.
The only thing that he did say to my mother was,
if the invasion took place, that what she was to do was
to let the chickens out of the coop so they could fend for themselves.
She was to get on her bike and go to her parents
and stay there with them,
because he said, "You won't see me again."
Having signed the Official Secrets Act,
the men were determined that no-one should know their role.
I think some people started to get
a bit suspicious, particularly the local gamekeeper,
who, obviously, by the nature of his job,
was used to prowling around and keeping an eye on things.
He said to my dad one time, "I know what you're doing.
"I know what's going on."
My dad thought, "Well, that's not very good."
So when he talked to the rest of the unit,
they made an agreement between them that should the invasion take place,
that he was going to be the first one to go.
They weren't going to let him fall into enemy hands
and betray their secrets.
There's a rich vein of military history running through the Wolds,
but not all of it is obvious.
I'm on the trail of some strange structures that were built
when the country was gripped by the Cold War.
You could easily walk past this,
assuming it was water supply or something to do with services,
but it's actually a nuclear bunker.
And ten feet below me, three men would have been sheltering.
And their job? To report back on how badly Britain had been damaged
in a nuclear war with Russia.
'When you hear the attack warning,
'you and your family must take cover at once.'
As East and West pointed an increasing number of warheads
at each other, the government made preparations
for nuclear Armageddon.
This might have been for Queen and country, but to me,
it seems like a job from hell.
You leave your family and friends behind, come down here,
wait for the bomb to drop.
The men were volunteers and trained to use monitoring equipment
for detecting the size and direction of a nuclear attack.
And this 7x16 foot room would have been their home.
Wow. It feels pretty good down here.
I thought it was going to smell like hell,
but it's in pretty good condition.
It's warm, pretty dry.
This concrete bunker high on the Wolds was one of around 1,500
built across the UK. They were only stood down in the early 1990s.
The team down here had one single important thing on their mind,
and that was, after the blast,
get up, retrieve the equipment, come back down,
report the findings to their headquarters in York.
It was then a case of sitting out the nuclear fallout.
But with limited air filtration,
it's sobering to think that this building
could so easily have become a tomb.
The Cold War bunkers aren't easy to find.
But there are other wartime locations on the Wolds
that are impossible to miss.
These buildings can be seen for miles,
and they have a proud history.
In the late 1930s, with a war against Germany on the cards,
the government set up a network of radar bases
to keep the Luftwaffe at bay.
Remote Radar Head Staxton Wold is the only one that remains,
making it the oldest radar base on the planet.
At the height of the Battle of Britain,
Staxton Wold was in the thick of it,
countering German attacks
during a critical part of the air war in August 1940.
The Wolds Way passes right by the base.
And I've been given special permission to have a look inside.
Oh, yes, good afternoon. It's Paul Rose here, BBC.
All right to come in? Oh, thank you very much, thanks.
The original radar has been replaced by something
a lot more sophisticated. But it's still looking
for unauthorised incursions into British airspace.
There she is up close.
And, of course, it's a bit noisy, isn't it?
It is, there's a lot of moving parts going round and round.
-How far can that thing see?
-It can see out to 250 nautical miles.
Which is quite a way.
That gives us a 360 degrees look.
So we've got a series of these air defence radars all round
-the UK's coast.
Which give us long range look-out so that we can identify and detect
anything flying around the UK's airspace.
Wow. 250 nautical miles, 360 degrees.
-We're looking at the whole of our skies.
Staxton Wold has been a lookout post for more than 1,000 years.
Viking raiders were spotted from here.
And today, it's still keeping the country safe.
Here's the radar picture that we can see from the radar we've just been
looking at. Just to give you a bit of orientation,
we've got Humber down here, up to Flamborough Head,
Filey, and on up to Scarborough.
So this is the Wolds Way, which is good, because there's Filey.
-Exactly what you've walked.
-There's the Wolds Way, great, OK!
All the green responses you see,
that's where we've detected something
and the radar's making up its mind
whether there's an aircraft there or not.
When it's happy there's an aircraft,
we get one of these yellow responses,
-such as this one down here.
And the leader, the little stick you see on the front,
-the longer that is, the faster it's going.
Anything suspicious could mean fighter jets
being scrambled to intercept.
A few months ago, we had some Russian aircraft coming through
the UK Flight Information Region.
The Russian aircraft don't send out a...
secondary surveillance response,
which our air traffic-ers use to tell
where it's going and what height it's at.
So by us launching a pair of Typhoons and intercepting it,
it was making that area safe for flight.
Keeping the skies safe by this brilliant technology.
With the radar base behind me,
I'm on the downhill stretch to the coast.
Ah! An important moment. I can see the sea.
Filey's just five miles away.
But before I head there,
I'm going to spend my final night on the Wolds
at one of my favourite spots on the east coast.
There's a great view, which I'm going to save till morning.
That's it. It's the end of a long, pretty hard day
and I can't think of a better way to celebrate
than camp right up here. Fantastic.
Wow. It is the east coast. Couldn't see this last night.
And sheep. Good morning!
Has to be THE perfect place to wake up in the morning.
I've camped close to the RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs.
At the height of the breeding season,
there's 250,000 sea birds here.
They call it a "seabird city",
and these chalk cliffs are its skyscrapers.
I can see the end of my walk, just around the corner.
And at last, I can see what I've been walking on for all these miles.
The chalk that is the whole bedrock
and underlays the complete Wolds Way.
It's terrific to be here.
Filey is a fitting end to a great walk.
It's not the biggest of Yorkshire's seaside resorts,
but it is one of the prettiest.
When the railways arrived in the 1840s,
Victorian holiday-makers flocked here, building these grand villas.
Today, Filey remains timeless and popular.
The walk ends just outside the town on Filey Brigg,
a dramatic spit of land that juts into the North Sea.
Well, that's it. My walk is over.
It's almost 80 miles from the Humber Estuary to the North Sea,
here at Filey Brigg.
And, you know, some hikes can be just sort of tests of endurance,
but I found it accessible, easy, surprising.
There's something great around every single corner.
So if I can encourage you to do one thing,
it's go and take a walk on the Wold side.
And I think you'll find it every bit as great as I did.
Adventurer Paul Rose continues his exploration of the Yorkshire Wolds Way, arguably Britain's least well-known national walking trail. The 79-mile trail starts at the Humber Estuary and ends at the Yorkshire seaside resort of Filey. In this episode, Paul takes to the skies to get a unique view of this stretch of chalk downland and gets a special invitation to a military base that's been keeping the country safe since the start of the Second World War.