The twin villages of Ledston and Ledsham – a mile-and-a-half apart as the crow flies – have remained aloof and serene down the centuries, somehow escaping both the ravages of a once-thriving local coal mining industry and the pollution from the nearby industrial Aire valley with Castleford at its heart.
They have always formed a sparkling rural oasis amid the smoking chimneys and coal dust.
This is good walking country, green and verdant and with stout, easy-to-follow tracks. There is the opportunity of two refreshment breaks en route – at the famed Chequers Inn at Ledsham and the RSPB visitor centre at Fairburn Ings.
Ledston and Ledsham formed part of the vast empire of the de Lacy barons, Lords of Pontefract, after the Conquest of 1066. The de Lacys gifted Ledston – as well as half of Ledsham, including Ledsham church - to the newly-founded Pontefract Priory in 1138 and the priory built its grange – a farm with attached chapel - on the site of the present Ledston Hall, which lies alongside this route.
The priory held sway over these fertile lands for 400 years until the Dissolution in 1538 when its properties reverted to the Crown. The Ledston estate and the patronage of Ledsham church were then sold to Henry Witham who, in 1540, started work on the magnificent Ledston Hall, incorporating into its features the undercroft of the 13th-century chapel which had formed part of the grange erected by the monks of Pontefract.
In 1653, the Ledston estate was purchased by Sir John Lewis who had amassed a great fortune with the East India Company. He was a generous local benefactor and in 1670 built the almshouses in Ledsham. The tombs of Sir John and his wife can be seen inside Ledsham church.
In 1671, the Ledston estate and its hall passed to Sir John’s son-in-law, the 7th Earl of Huntingdon, and from him it descended in the female line to the remarkable Lady Elizabeth Hastings, who lived at the hall with her two half-sisters who, like herself, never married.
Lady Betty, as she was affectionately known, devoted her life to her tenants and the community. She built Ledsham vicarage, Ledsham orphanage (the three-storey building just east of the church) and provided schools on her estates at Ledsham, Thorp Arch, Collingham and Wike. She died in 1747 aged only 57. The inscription on her tomb in Ledsham church reads: “She refused to wed any man in order that she might give herself wholly to God as a blameless servant of Christ”.
The Ledston estate passed to her half-brother, the 9th Earl of Huntingdon, and from him in the female line to the Whelers of present times, although, I understand, no members of the family reside at the hall. Part of the building has been converted to apartments.
LEDSTON and LEDSHAM
4 ¾ miles: Allow 2 – 3 hours. Map: O/S Explorer 289 Leeds
Park in the main street at Ledston taking great care not to block gateways and driveways. From wherever you park, make your way to The White Horse in the centre of main street and take the access lane just south of the pub at the red phone box and post box (circular flower bed and bench).
About 300 yards up the lane, spot the box-top sign and kissing gate on your right. Take this path up the slope to enter a field. Go straight on along a wide grass strip (horse paddocks) with Ledston Hall opening up to your left and the lakes and lagoons of Fairburn Ings RSPB reserve to your right.
At end of this large field, cross a stile and go straight on, alongside hedge, to emerge in Back Newton Lane – cross it and take the path opposite through a wheat field (on our visit) to arrive at a wood corner and go straight on with wood on your left. This is the ultra-shallow Horselock Dale.
On arriving in field corner, go straight on through the trees for a few yards and then turn left along a stronger path to emerge in Claypit Lane, which links Ledston to Ledsham, and turn right.
Although this road is fairly quiet, it is something of a speed track, so keep your wits about you, walk single file, facing the traffic and using the grass verge wherever possible. At one particular point, just before pylons, it is advisable to cross to lefthand side of road to negotiate the blind righthand bend.
1: On entering Ledsham, go past the Chequers Inn and sweep right with the road and continue straight ahead along Claypit Lane with church on your left.
Ledsham is such a pretty spot, hewn in mellow stone and surrounded by the lush parkland of the adjoining Ledston estate. Its church, All Saints, is a remarkable survivor from 1,200 years ago and is described as one of the three most important Saxon churches in England. It is thought to date from about 750AD and still retains a number of features from those Dark Age days, including an exquisitely-carved Saxon doorway at the base of the tower. Don’t miss it.
As the pavement turns left round the church wall, spot Newfield Lane on your right. Turn right along Newfield Lane. After about 100 yards there is a fork with Manor Garth nameplate on your right – turn left along a minor lane past the entrance to a house called White Gables. This access road soon sweeps right to leave the village and becomes unmade.
The fine track leads between fields and then through the edge of a wood to emerge – after a mile - in Newton Lane. Turn left to T-junction and turn right along the Allerton Bywater road, using the grass verge, past the entrance to the RSPB’s Fairburn Ings Nature Reserve.
2: Note – you could break the walk here for a pleasant hour or so enjoying a coffee and wandering the reserve’s footpaths, first calling in the visitor centre for a plan. Return to this spot.
If not calling in at the reserve, press on along the road using the grass verge at all times. After about 500 yards, spot a new block-paving drive on your right for Newton House and a stile and waymark on your left.
Cross the stile and turn RIGHT along the hedge for a couple of hundred yards until an ancient barn conversion appears on your right at the tiny settlement of Newton and with a lagoon to your left. The road then appears on your right. After another dozen paces, turn right over stile to enter road at Newton.
In the area of the lagoon you have just passed are the remains – partly submerged - of the moated manor house of the Wallis or Walleys family who held the Newton estate from 1159 through seven generations until the first half of the 14th century when the house was abandoned. The site became known locally as Newton Abbey or Newton Priory and, indeed, is marked on the O/S map as such, but there is no evidence to suggest that this was ever a monastic establishment. In 1300, the manor of Newton covered 84 acres and included a ferry across the River Aire.
Cross the road with care, turn left for about 40 yards and then turn right up an access drive. Enter the property ahead (Newton Bank Farm; redundant stile to your left) and, within 10 paces, turn left over a stile at fingerpost. Go up the slope until the hedges on either side finish and then turn left (waymark) along a wide grass break heading towards power cables.
After 100 yards, at twin power poles, there is a fork – take the right, stronger, track which goes straight on, soon with Castleford to your front left beyond the Fairburn Ings lagoons. Follow this fine headland track with no diversions, passing to left of twin power poles with yellow arrow.
Continue in fine style to a prominent fingerpost on your left and, within 12 paces, turn half right over a crop field (crop may have gone!) on a cleared path. On crossing this field, go straight on, through kissing gate, and then continue with fence on your right.
Enter road on the edge of Ledston and turn right to regain your vehicle.