A short and rather sweet stroll through a forgotten corner of the country
The Yorkshire Wolds Way: The Basics
WHERE: In the backwaters of Yorkshire, the Wolds Way runs north from the mighty Humber River to the North Yorkshire coastline.
LENGTH: 76-78 miles, making it the shortest National Trail and the shortest walk on this website too.
TIME REQUIRED: 4-7 days
NATIONAL TRAIL: Yes
STARTING POINT: Hessle, a nine-minute train ride from the city of Kingston-upon-Hull (usually shortened to just ‘Hull’).
END: Filey, on the Yorkshire coast, where the Cleveland Way ends (the two trails are occasionally combined to make one 200-mile-plus walk).
DIFFICULTY: Average. Though it’s the shortest National Trail, don’t make the mistake of equating distance with difficulty. There are some short sharp ascents and descents, and the amenities en-route are sparse. That said, it’s easy to navigate your way along the path and as long as you plan for those stages where facilities are few, it’s straightforward enough.
The Yorkshire Wolds Way is proof that you shouldn’t confuse distance with difficulty. This is the shortest National Trail at just 78 miles, and we completed the whole thing in three and a bit days.
But that doesn’t mean that we found it easy. I found the South Downs Way, around a third longer at just under 100 miles, to be easier. I even think the Thames Path, at almost 200 miles, and thus almost three times as long, is, in some respects, more straightforward than the Yorkshire Wolds Way.
But there is one reason why the Wolds Way scores highly on the trickiness factor, and that is because of the lack of facilities you encounter along the way. There are several large sections where there is simply nowhere to eat, nowhere to stay and no means of transport to get away from the trail either.
In other words, you have little option but to plod on.
So what are the rewards for those prepared to do a bit of planning to make sure they have somewhere to eat each day, and somewhere to rest their head at night too? Well, despite the fact that we made the mistake of not planning our walk, and not even taking a map, and in spite of the fact that we were subjected to the worst weather we’ve ever had on any trail, we still developed a fondness for the Wolds Way.
Our reasons are manifold and include (but are not limited to) the endless series of endless views that you get from the top of the Wolds themselves down into the Vale of York below. We also like the fact that the trail starts by a city, ends at the seaside, neither of which are in any way similar to the scenery you encounter along the trail itself.
I also really like the fact that the trail cuts through a part of the country that, before I embarked on the Way, I knew so little about. On pretty much every other trail you have an idea what the scenery is going be like before you set foot on it. You know before you set foot on the South-West Coast Path, for example, that your adventure is probably going to be filled with lovely beaches, cute fishing villages, cream teas and fish and chips. And I reckon you can go through most of the National Trails and have at least some idea of what you’re going see. Indeed, you may well have even been to some of the places before.
But the Wolds Way? Well I had no idea what was in store for me and, other than Filey, which lies at the very northern end of the walk, I had never visited any of the other places en route. Indeed, if I’m being honest, I hadn’t even heard of them.
In fact, only the word ‘Wold’ gave me any clue as to what the walk might be about, and even then I had to look up ( which I did, just now. It means ‘a piece of high, open uncultivated land or moor’, apparently). Which means it was a lovely surprise when I found myself striding atop some gentle rolling hills above the Vale of York, with York Minster itself occasionally just visible from the path.
Other advantages? Well this one sounds corny – but I genuinely think it’s true. It’s normal for people to say that the locals they met on holiday were friendly. It’s also normal for people to say that folk up north are friendlier than their counterparts elsewhere.
But I swear that the people in this part of Yorkshire are the friendliest I have ever encountered. We had hardly left Filey before somebody was asking if my dog wanted water – and then asked if I wanted a drink too.
The same thing happened at a farmyard crossed by the Way, where the farmer – someone whom you might have thought would have good reason to be irritated by walkers constantly crossing his property – asked if the dog wanted a drink, then if I wanted a drink, then proceeded to chat amiably about both his own experience of the trail and about my plans too.
And throughout the way I found it easy to strike up conversations, or join in discussions at the pub of an evening – and I’m neither particularly good at that sort of thing, nor feel comfortable doing so. But the people I met on this walk were so open to chat, and have a laugh about any small thing, that it was not just easy, it was natural.
So while I usually agree that people in other parts of Yorkshire tend to be slightly – just slightly – friendlier than the norm; here in the Wolds, they are truly a class above.
And, if nothing else, that’s a very good reason to walk the Wolds. Because it does go some way to restoring your faith in humanity.
According to my dictionary, a wold is ‘a piece of high, open uncultivated land or moor’. The Yorkshire Wolds Way takes you across the top of these high pieces of land, allowing you to look down into the valleys below and beyond.
The path is dotted with some lovely, sinuous benches, each one etched with poetry and deliberately positioned to take in a view. It’s a lovely idea and a great way to remind walkers to pause and drink in the scenery rather than rush headlong to the end of the trail.
It depends where you’re coming from, of course, but where I live hares are very rare. Instead, we have rabbits galore, populating our fields and invading our vegetable patches. On the Yorkshire Wolds Way, however, it’s hares that you see on the trail – which is rather thrilling.
On the one hand, perhaps I should’t be surprised at the quantity of wildlife I saw on my hike, given that it is joined at one end to Cleveland Way, which we think has the best opportunities for wildlife spotting of any trail. But on other hand, is a little surprising, as, unlike the Cleveland Way, the walk does not take place in a national park. But in addition to the hares (see above), we also saw deer, badger, a possible glimpse of a red squirrel in the woods north of South Cave; and, to top it all, a kind passer-by pointed out a porpoise in the Humber at the very end of my walk!
I’ve said several times already that this part of Yorkshire is not well known, and I had no idea what was actually here. Which means my geographical knowledge of England increased a lot over a short space of time – and it always makes me good to come away from a trek slightly less stupid than when I started.
Wharram Percy is a fascinating little place and the trail cuts right through it. This is the best known and best preserved of Britain’s 3000 or so abandoned Medieval villages, which has lain uninhabited for over 500 years thanks, in large part, to both forced evictions and the plague. It’s a fascinating place, even if the church is the only Medieval building that still stands. But even if history doesn’t float your boat, you can’t deny it’s a lovely place for a picnic.
In addition to the lovely benches (see above) and the wooden acorn mileposts, there are also a couple of intriguing sculptures and other works placed along the trail. We always love it when we come across art along the trail, even if we don’t care for the art itself; it always reminds us to stop, consider our surroundings and take a few minutes to appreciate where we are.
Be prepared to do a lot of preparation before you set off. You’ll need to, as places to eat and stay are thin on the ground, so you’ll need to work out in advance where you’re going to eat and sleep each day. We didn’t, and ended up going hungry on several occasions, and wild camping each night.
I know it’s petty, but it always annoys me when I am forced to do walking that isn’t part of the actual trail itself. So it is with Filey Brigg, which lies a fifteen-minute walk from the train station. At the other end at Hessle, too, the end of the trail is a good ten-minute walk from the train station, (though there are at least frequent trains running from there to Hull).
I actually quite like walking through fields of cereal crops. I like the way the breeze makes waves in a wheat field, and the rustling sound as the wind whops through a field of barley. Unlike cows, cereals are also less likely to chase my dog aggressively. But I’ve read other blogs where people were bored by the sheer number of fields of wheat, barley, oats etc. I didn’t think it was an issue – but others clearly did.
Useful info for Wolds Way walkers
Transport to and from the path
If you’re starting at the southern end, you’ll have little problem getting to the start of the trail. Trains aren’t that frequent (around 1/hr), but take only nine minutes from Hull to Hessle. Buses are far more frequent but take almost twice as long.
At the other end of the trail, however, things are only a touch more tricky. It’s a 15-20 minute walk from Filey Brigg to the station, where you’ll have to catch a train to Scarborough, and from there a Trans-pennine train to York, where you can catch a train to most parts of the country. Alternatively, there are buses and trains to Hull – where, again, you can catch a train to most parts of the UK.
There are also National Express coaches to and from both Filey and Hull.
Transport along the Yorkshire Wolds Way
Transport along the trail is very poor. The main problem is that there is usually no one bus that runs along the Wolds Way, so getting between two points that are both on the Way usually means you have to take two buses at least. In other words, to get from point A to point B, both of which re on the Way, you usually have to catch a bus from point A to Point C first, then catch another bus from there to point B.
These transport hubs include Scarborough and Malton (for the northern part of the Way), Driffield and Pocklington (for the central part), and then Hull (for the southern part of the trail).
It should also be pointed out that many of the places en route have no bus service at all, so you may spend half a day walking to somewhere that has.
Our advice, therefore, is to only take the bus if you really have to, and be prepared for a long and complicated journey.
Walking the Yorkshire Wolds Way with a dog
It’s not a problem walking the Wolds Way with a dog; indeed, it’s rather pleasant, particularly given the relative lack of roads that you need to cross. There is one major problem, of course; the Way does cross a lot of fields with cows and sheep in them, so you’ll need to keep your hound on a lead in these places. What’s more, many of these fields are in remote places and there probably won’t be anyone around to help you should you get into difficulties.
There are also several places with ground-nesting birds; once again, keep your dog on a lead in these places so as not to disturb them.
But overall you’ll also find lots of places where your dog can run free and enjoy itself as much as you are!
So where might I get lost? As always, the Wolds Way, as a National Trail, is well signposted and it’s hard to lose your way. Indeed, we’ve written an entire post on whether it’s possible to complete the Wolds Way without a map, and while we didn’t quite manage to, the very fact that we even attempted to is some proof that navigation is fairly straightforward. As we mention in the post, you’re actually most likely to lose the path when you’re in a village, as these are the places where, for whatever reason, the signs often disappear or are more difficult to spot. Once on the trail, however, navigation is fairly straightforward. I also had trouble finding the path out of Wharram Percy, the deserted medieval village – though again, this only delayed me by a couple of minutes before I found the trail once more.
Camping and accommodation along the Yorkshire Wolds Way
Camping along the Yorkshire Wolds Way is not straightforward. There aren’t that many campsites along the trail – at least not enough to cover every night of your trek, that’s for sure. And while it’s possible to wild camp – it is, after all, quite a quiet trail with plenty of quiet fields and woods where you can pitch up for the night – it’s also illegal in England, of course.
The only two campsites really near the trail are the one behind the Seaways Cafe at Fridaythorpe; and the West Farm Campsite above West Heslerton.
The hostel situation along the Wolds Way is no better, with no hostels or bunkhouses along the trail, though I believe there’s one in Hull.
As for B&Bs and hotels, there are a few of these though again not a huge supply; thankfully, demand is pretty low too due to the Way’s lack of popularity.
You can find somewhere to eat and drink along most of the trail, but you can’t turn up at every village en-route and expect there to be a cafe or pub. Indeed, villages which do have an eatery are, in my experience, fairly rare on the Wolds Way. (The one exception to this is Goodmanham, which has a pub and cafe at its heart, and the Wolds Way Cafe just a mile before it.)
Which is why, once again, we urge you to plan ahead so you know where you’re going to stop and when. I would even go as far as to advise you to ring each cafe and pub before you set off for the day, just to make sure they’re going to be open when you arrive. There are few things more disheartening on the trail than staggering into a town, desperately making for the only cafe within a twenty-mile radius, only to discover it’s shut for the day.
In order to find somewhere to eat for each lunch- and dinner-time, in addition to planning well you should also be prepared to leave the trail. Often this may mean an extra walk of just 5-10 minutes, but occasionally it might be more.
I remember visiting a petrol station with a shop at Fridaythorpe, and another at South Cave (10 minutes off the trail), and I could have taken the alternative route to Market Weighton where I’ve been told I would have seen plenty of other shops too. But the bottom line is, there just aren’t that many places en route where you can pick up supplies.
I think it’s even worse for banks and cashpoints – I can’t remember seeing any; though presumably you could visit one at Market Weighton again.
Suffice to say, you really need to be self-sufficient – or plan very carefully – to tackle the Wolds Way.
There are a couple of baggage companies that serve the Yorkshire Wolds Way, and they can also organise your whole trip if you wish.
I don’t know of any company that offers guided tours along this path, however.
Dangers and annoyances
As always, the weather is always a potential hazard on a British trail, and the Wolds Way is no different. Indeed, as we mention above, the weather we suffered on this path was the worst we’ve had on any long-distance trail, and apart from a brief few minutes at Filey we didn’t see the sun the whole time. Walking, soaking wet, along a lonely trail wasn’t much fun.
Other dangers: well you do cross plenty of cow fields, plenty of them with bulls in too, which can always be dicey, particularly if you have your dog with you.
Oh, and I have to say that a couple of the gradients that you have to tackle, while not particularly lengthy, are very steep. These short stretches are amongst the steepest gradients of any national trail and the chances of falling over are high. Twisted ankles (or worse) are, of course, always possibilities.
Tips and hints
1. It is well known that one end of the Yorkshire Wolds Way joins up with the end of the Cleveland Way. It’s therefore not unusual for people to combine the two National Trails into one 200-mile plus walk. This is not a bad idea, but there is just one downside: the problem is that both of the trails are usually walked in such a way that Filey Brigg is the final destination.
In other words, the best way to walk the Cleveland Way is to start at Helmsley and end at Filey Brigg. But the usual way to walk the Wolds Way is to start at Hessle and head north to Filey Brigg. Our advice is: don’t worry. We walked the Wolds Way in the ‘wrong’ direction, ie starting at Filey and ending at Hessle. And while you don’t get to finish the walk at the coastline, which is always lovely, it’s still a great walk. Ending the walk at the Humber is great, with the Humber Bridge itself acting as a dramatic ‘finishing tape’. It’s also easier to get away from Hessle, and Hull, than it is from Filey. And the walk itself is, I imagine, just as great as if you walked it in either direction.
2. Do bring some coins for any honesty boxes you may encounter en route. There aren’t that many as I recall, but with so few places to eat on the way, any opportunity to buy food shouldn’t be passed up.
3. Don’t do as we did and walk without a guide book. I can say this without bias, as there is currently no Trailblazer book about this path, so you know I am not trying to sell anything. But reading up on the Wolds Way afterwards, it’s clear we missed out on a lot, and I regret that. A simple investment in a guide book would have paid handsome dividends.