Walking in Yorkshire: Savour this quiet corner and its delightful canal

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This very pleasant circuit through a mainly-unknown area of the East Riding is made all the more enjoyable by the best waymarking we have encountered in many a long year.

I defy you to put a foot wrong!

The highlight of the day is the sojourn by the banks of the delightful Pocklington Canal which, in recent years, has been cleared of obstructions and spruced up by a band of dedicated volunteers so that it is once again open to water traffic. It is even possible to enjoy boat trips from Melbourne (but only on Sundays and Bank Holidays).

Melbourne is a Domesday Book village, gifted to Ralph de Mortimer after the Conquest of 1066. Ralph was the son of the famed Roger de Mortimer, Lord of Wigmore Castle, who held the Welsh marches for the new Norman king. The Mortimers remained in control of Melbourne until 1425.

The Manners family, Earls of Rutland, owned Melbourne through the 16th century until 1591 since when it has passed through many hands, including those of the Vavasours, great landowners in Yorkshire down the centuries, whose main seat was Hazlewood Castle, near Tadcaster. Sir Henry Vavasour of Melbourne Hall was a leading promoter of the Pocklington Canal (completed 1818).

Melbourne was home to a Second World War airfield situated a mile to the south-east of the village. RAF Melbourne opened in November, 1940, and closed in 1946. Its brave airmen paid a heavy price - the station lost 128 Halifax bombers on missions over Germany. But one tragic mission ended in disaster much nearer home – in fact, only two miles east of the airfield.

On November 7, 1942, a returning Bristol Beaufighter came down on the edge of neighbouring Bielby killing the pilot, 20-year-old Sgt Michael Griffith. The navigator, Sgt Gerald Wheatland, survived the crash, but suffered such severe burns that he succumbed to his injuries five months later. He was 21.

Much of the airfield has been returned to agricultural use, but parts of the old runways are used for drag racing.

APPROACH and PARKING: Melbourne lies four miles south-west of Pocklington. It can be approached along the A1079 from York. Bypass Pocklington to an immediate roundabout (Shell filling station) and turn right for Allerthorpe and Melbourne. Park in Melbourne Main Street in the vicinity of the Melbourne Arms and the red phone box.

MELBOURNE AND THE POCKLINGTON CANAL

5 miles: Allow 2 - 3 hours. 
Map: O/S Explorer 294 Market Weighton

From the red phone box, near the Melbourne Arms in Main Street, Melbourne, start out along St Monica’s Close which is next to the phone box. After 25 paces, turn left at fingerpost along a concrete access drive and then take the path to the left of an electricity installation and go along backs of bungalows.

Enter field over footbridge and go straight ahead along a wide grass strip between fields along line of telegraph wires. On crossing this field, go straight ahead (arrow on telegraph pole) over next field, then through kissing gate, over paddock, to enter vehicle track which leads to Melbourne Hall (which is hidden to your right).

Take the path opposite and half right over the narrow strip (as arrow) for a few yards, passing to left of the trees, to spot a gate in wooden fence. Cross the access track and take the path opposite and go slightly right over field in line of arrow (no path) keeping to the right of the short telegraph pole ahead and passing to right of two huge trees. Melbourne Hall (buily 1782) opens up to your right.

Pass to the left of two more large trees to gain a tall pole visible at fence ahead. Go straight on over next field (arrow) towards a red-brick property to spot the next tall marker post ahead. Go straight across the next field towards the red-brick house to gain the Seaton Ross-East Cottingwith road (Ash Lane).

1: Turn right and, after about 400 yards, turn right at fingerpost along vehicle track and then press on along edge of wood. After a few hundred yards, follow edge of wood as it bears right. At field end – footbridge to your right in trees – turn left along edge of field and continue with trees on your right.

After a couple of hundred yards, the path bears right into trees to an immediate fingerpost – go straight ahead (don’t turn left!) Follow this good path out to the road (Kidd Lane) at a farm.

Turn left for a dozen yards and turn right, through kissing gate, and go straight across field (arrow) to gain the left side of a clump of trees. On gaining the fence corner at the clump of trees (animal feeder), go half left to a prominent yellow container using a sheep trod.

Enter next field and go slightly right up middle of field as per arrow (no path) aiming for a gate in top righthand corner of field next to a wood. Enter trees (Eastroad Plantation), cross vehicle track and take the stout path ahead through wood. At end of this path, cross a vehicle track and footbridge and turn right at fingerpost.

Follow the wide break through trees, exit wood over footbridge and go straight on alongside a ditch (the Rossmoor Drain) with turbines to your left. Ignore a new footbridge on your right – press on along the drain.

Just before field end, turn right over footbridge – very slippery if wet, so take care – and continue with wooden fence on your right. When fence finishes, turn left with the path to arrive in vehicle track (house on your right) and go straight ahead.

Follow the track out to the Melbourne-Sutton upon Derwent road and go up the track to Westfield Farm opposite.

2: When vehicle track bears left to farm, go straight on, through gate, along grass track to arrive at the Pocklington Canal, cross it and turn right along its bank.

The Pocklington Canal was built between 1816 and 1818 at a cost of £32,625 which pleased its investors as it came in under budget. The canal runs for nine-and-a-half miles from the southern fringe of Pocklington to the River Derwent at East Cottingwith to the south-west.

It brought coal, lime and general merchandise into Pocklington while corn, flour and timber went the other way. Within 40 years, however, the canal was in serious decline as Britain entered the great railway age.

The amount of goods carried fell from 5,721 tons in 1858 to 900 tons in 1892 by which time the canal had become badly silted due to high maintenance costs; boats were forced to stop at Melbourne, four miles short of Pocklington. Trade struggled on until 1932 and the canal remained navigable until 1934 when traffic ceased.

In recent years, much restoration work has been carried out by the volunteers of the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society with the result that about half the canal is now back in use.

Follow the fine canal-side path for more than half a mile, past Swing Bridge No. 6, and then, after a short half mile, go past Swing Bridge No. 7. At the next bridge, the brick-built Church Bridge, exit canal, turn right over bridge and follow the minor lane (Church Road) to its end to arrive in main road on edge of Melbourne.

Cross the road and turn right along footway into Melbourne and continue to the Melbourne Arms. Regain your vehicle.