Sledmere has been on our radar for many years, but we have never succumbed to its charms for one particular reason – the lack of public rights of way.
This area of the Wolds is dominated by the Sledmere Estate and footpaths through it are as rare as hens’ teeth. But in the never-ending quest for new ground, compromises and sacrifices have to be made.
And in the case of Sledmere, the compromises and sacrifices involve one-and-a-half miles of road walking at the start.
Not everyone’s cup of tea! But imagine our surprise – and delight – when the road involved, Kirby Lane, proved to be hardly anything more than a tarred-over vehicle track with next-to-zero traffic; we encountered only two vehicles in the whole of this stretch.
This circuit, in fact, is the perfect dry adventure for winter. Besides Kirby Lane, there are two or three other tarmac sections using farm access drives and minor country roads. It all helps to keep the mud off your soles.
Sledmere is the domain of the Sykes family who acquired the estate when Richard Sykes (1678-1726), who had made his fortune in shipping at Hull, married the heiress Mary Kirby, daughter of the Sledmere owner, Mark Kirby, at the beginning of the 18th century. His son Richard (1706-1761) demolished the old Sledmere house and built a new one in 1751. That house is now one of the most popular visitor attractions in the Wolds.
The Sykes family have always played a prominent role in Wolds affairs. At the end of the 18th century, Sir Christopher Sykes began a massive programme of agricultural reforms. The story begins in the Middle Ages when the Norman overlords turned the Wolds into vast sheep runs when labour-intensive crop farming became too expensive. Villages were cleared out, hedgerows decimated and people evicted from the land.
Sheep ruled for 400 years until Sir Christopher, known as the Reformer of the Wolds, returned the land to crops and cultivation, providing much employment. He died in 1801. His son, Sir Tatton Sykes, the 4th baronet, carried on the good work until his death in 1863.
His son, also called Tatton, made his own mark on the surrounding countryside by modernising and repairing numerous village churches.
SLEDMERE AND THIRKLEBY WOLD
7 miles – Allow 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours; Map – O/S Explorer 300 Howardian Hills.
Use the free car park on your left immediately on entering Sledmere from the direction of Fridaythorpe along the B1251. From the car park, walk back out to the main road at the impressive War Memorial and turn left along pavement.
The Grade 1-listed War Memorial was originally a folly in the form of an Eleanor Cross. It was changed into a memorial in 1919 by Sir Mark Sykes, 6th baronet, who added a series of brass portraits in commemoration of his friends and local men who fell in the First World War.
Eleanor Crosses were a series of twelve monuments erected by Edward 1 in memory of his wife, Eleanor of Castile, marking the nightly resting places when her body was transported from Lincoln, where she died in 1290, to London.
After about 80 yards, turn left along the road at the Wagoners’ Memorial (sign on brick wall for Sledmere House and Gardens). This is Kirby Lane.
The intricately-carved memorial remembers the wagoners from Wolds farms who went off to serve in the First World War. The Wagoners’ Special Reserve, a thousand strong, was the idea of Sir Mark Sykes, the man behind the nearby War Memorial. The men were among the first to arrive in France, driving horse-drawn wagons with supplies and ammunition to the front line.
Follow the lane for about one-and-a-half miles – almost completely traffic-free - dipping into a valley after the first mile and then up the other side and onward to a fingerpost on your right at a sign for Squirrel Hall Farm.
1: Turn RIGHT along the farm access road and go straight past right side of farm, past the farmhouse, a huge pile of pallets and barns when there is an immediate fork in the track – go straight on along edge of wood enjoying the views to the right across a typical Wolds landscape.
After about 500 yards – don’t fall asleep! – spot the green vehicle track going off left through the wood. Take this path and then, on passing through wood, turn right with extensive views to your left.
Soon, the spire of Kirby Grindalythe church can be seen to your left and then the hamlet of West Lutton appears to your front left.
When the wood on your right finishes, go straight on. On crossing this huge field, at a cross track (blue arrow on thick wooden fence post on your left), turn RIGHT to a trig point at the summit of Thirkleby Wold and continue along vehicle track by side of a wood.
Enter the access road for the properties at Thirkleby Wold and go straight down the road – again devoid of traffic – to emerge in Croome Road (the Sledmere-Weaverthorpe road). Turn right and walk single file, facing the traffic (yet again, very light of traffic) for a short half mile to Croome Farm (up to your right).
2: Just past the farm, at a fingerpost on your left, enter a field. Note: The fingerpost is out of line – go diagonally across the field, aiming left of the fingerpost arm and passing just to the right a telegraph pole (aim well to the left of the farm, Croome House). Keep your eye on the fence to your left – stay about 50 yards right of this fence. A kissing gate comes into view ahead by a tree.
Go through kissing gate and forward a few yards to gain a vehicle track and turn right to the farm at Croome House, passing a field on your left containing the humps and bumps of the lost medieval village of Croome, a victim of the clearances when the Wolds were turned from cultivation to sheep.
Just before the farm, at a black corrugated barn, turn left through a kissing gate and then go straight ahead along right edge of field and continue along wire fence to end of field. Do NOT go through the gateway ahead; instead, turn LEFT along the fence towards a wood to find a kissing gate in field corner.
Continue along an enclosed path between wood and wire fence. At top of slope, a fallen tree blocks the path – bypass it on its left and then continue in the same line by wire fence. Sledmere opens up to your right. Keep going to emerge in the B1253 Sledmere-Bridlington road.
Cross the road and turn right along the grass verge into Sledmere – do not walk in the road as it is too busy. A footway begins on edge of village. On passing red phone box, cross to righthand side of road to gain a T-junction and turn right through Sledmere, past the gates to Sledmere House, a monument to Sir Christopher Sykes and then the village pub.
Go past the end of the Kirby Grindalythe road of the outward leg, past the Wagoners’ Memorial and War Memorial to gain the car park and finish.