Walking: Dawdling by the banks of the Ouse

Easy does it... gentle strolling along the Ouse floodbank.
Easy does it... gentle strolling along the Ouse floodbank.
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The attractive community of Wistow lies at the heart of a vast rolling agricultural landscape covered at the height of summer with a golden carpet of never-ending wheat fields.

When the sun beats down on this burnished sea of gold, it provides a walking opportunity of the highest quality.

Although mainly on the level – there are no hills in this part of the county! – this picturesque circuit is full of variety and interest, finishing with a near-three-mile journey along the floodbank of the River Ouse where map reading becomes irrelevant – just close your eyes and put one foot in front of the other.

Wistow lays claim to being the biggest parish in the Diocese of York and, as if to back up this boast, the parish church of All Saints takes on an almost cathedral-like appearance as it stands tall and proud at the centre of the village, as it has done since the first decade of the 13th century.

Although now thriving on arable farming, Wistow has an unusual “industrial” past – its residents from the Middle Ages onwards earned their keep from the salmon that travelled this far up the Ouse, which lies half a mile to the east of the village. The salmon had all but disappeared by the early years of the 20th century, but one family struggled on making a living until the 1930s.

In recent times, Wistow rode the crest of a new industry for the locality – coal. The Selby coalfield was launched in 1976 with the aim of providing fuel for Yorkshire’s power stations and among the six mines in the Selby area forming the new venture was Wistow; the pit was situated in open country a mile west of the village.

The industry peaked in 1994 at 12 million tonnes a year. But various factors - not least the loss of subsidies and the low cost of UK coal - brought the new coalfield to its knees and all production had ceased by 2004.

THE WALK

WISTOW and the RIVER OUSE

7 miles: Allow 3 – 4 hours. 
Map: O/S Explorer 290 York

Park in the side streets around Wistow church – we parked just east of the church in Pinfold Hill.

From wherever you park, make your way to the church and leave the church with the Black Swan on your left on the road to Cawood. Turn first left along the road signposted Biggin and Sherburn (Station Road).

After about 500 yards, at a house called Derymar, turn right along a minor road. On passing the last property on your right, the road enters an “S” bend. As it swings left, go straight on along vehicle track with a pile of gravel on your right. Fingerpost on your right.

After about 150 yards, there is a vague fork – turn RIGHT into a ploughed field and follow hedge on your right. At end of ploughed field, turn left along its top for 30 yards and then turn right across a ditch on a grass-covered culvert. Now turn right for 10 paces and then turn left along field edge.

After about 80 yards, turn right and left over a footbridge and then, after another 60 yards or so, turn left over next footbridge and go straight ahead along edge of field. At end of this long field, turn left for 10 yards and then turn right through a barley crop (on our visit) on tractor tracks to a walkers’ gate in the hedge ahead.

Go straight across a harvested wheat field on a descent path aiming for a red-brick house in distance. On crossing the wheat field, continue by hedge on your left to enter access road (South Lane) at the red-brick house (Holme Haven Farm). Turn right for 30 paces and then turn left (concrete installation) along a wide grass track.

At field end, ignore footbridge on your left – turn right along field edge. At end of this pleasant green path, as ditch turns left, go straight ahead (arrow) through stubble of a wheat crop on tractor tracks.

On arriving at a homemade footpath sign, turn right for 40 paces to more homemade signs in an area of soil and turn left on a good path through the crop (on our visit) to what appears to be an old stable/shed/garage.

1: You will find a fingerpost hidden in the hedge on your right. Continue on vehicle track with allotments to your left and follow this track – the delightfully named Nickey Nackey Lane – to emerge in road in Cawood.

Cawood retains a remarkable link with the medieval Archbishops of York who owned the estate from pre-Conquest days. In the centre of the village – to the west of our route – is to be found the impressive remains of the Archbishops’ Palace, also known as Cawood Castle, although it was never a castle in the true sense of the word.

The first simple fortification at Cawood was built by the Saxon king, Athelstan, who died in 946AD. The manor was then gifted to the see of York in 963AD by King Edgar and, over the next two centuries, successive archbishops built themselves a fine stone castle which, by Tudor times, had developed into a comfortable palace.

Many eminent archbishops and churchmen lived at the palace, including Cardinal Wolsey in 1530. He was arrested at Cawood in November, 1530, on the orders of Henry Vlll on a charge of high treason and carted off to London to face trial, but died at Leicester en route.

Cawood Castle changed hands several times during the Civil War before Cromwell’s forces finally triumphed. Parliament then ordered the destruction of the building in 1646.

Today, only the magnificent 15th-century gatehouse survives, together with an adjoining brick building thought to have been a banqueting hall.

Turn left along pavement, cross over Maypole Gardens, and then turn right, across the road, to a road sign for “Playing fields” and a footpath sign for the Wolsey Walk. Take this path along the gravel drive across the front of a house to pass through a waymarked gate and press on along the straight, man-made path to arrive in vehicle tracks when fence on your right finishes.

Turn right and left along the vehicle tracks to a prominent fork after 100 yards and turn left along a grass track, soon sweeping right with hedge on your left and with a bird-rearing operation opening up to your right. Go past entrance to Goole Bank Farm on your left and straight through the crop ahead on a good path.

Emerge in a road between huge logs, cross over and go straight ahead along a minor lane past benches on your right. Follow the lane, under telegraph wires, and turn left within 50 yards along a dirt track at old box-top sign.

This stout track leads past a hidden pond on your right to the floodbank of the River Ouse. Turn right along the floodbank.

2: Now enjoy a splendid, carefree journey of two-and-a-half miles with no chance of putting a foot wrong. The river disappears for the first half mile or so, but then appears at intervals through the vegetation on your left.

Drax Power station to your front right; Eggborough Power station away to your right. After one-and-a-half miles, the Ouse begins a huge horseshoe turn to the right, passing a house on the far bank (Wheel Hall).

The floodbank journey ends at a pumping station on your right protected by tall metal railings – a few yards beyond, turn right along vehicle track past ponds, pass to the right of a vehicle barrier and continue to emerge in a country lane and turn left.

Follow this traffic-free lane to arrive – after a short half mile – at a T-junction on edge of Wistow. Turn right and follow the road back into the village centre, eventually passing the primary school. Turn first right to the church and regain your vehicle – or, if parked in Pinfold Hill, turn second right.

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