Distance: 11.8 miles (although I missed the last 0.8 as a friend picked me up for a coffee...)
Type: Urban to rural
Terrain: Riverside path, fields, some roads and some muddy bits
I am lucky enough to live just outside the York City Walls. The downside about living in the city though, is that I typically have to get in my car to drive to some countryside for my walks. But I recently discovered that the Centenary Way starts right outside the York Minster, a mere five minutes walk from my house.
The Centenary Way was created to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the York County Council and was opened in 1989. It runs from York to Filey on the North Yorkshire coast, spanning 83 miles. Besides the Minster and Sheriff Hutton Castle, both of which are in this first part of the walk, it also includes the Howardian Hills and Yorkshire Wolds, letting you see Castle Howard and the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy. It links up the Foss Way, Yorkshire Wolds Way and Cleveland Way.
I confess that I was unsure of what to expect. Some of York's residential areas aren't exactly uplifting for the soul. I didn't really fancy an urban walk, but I headed out from the Minster after being pelted by a snow storm. The forecast was strong winds and they weren't wrong. The walk around the Minster is one I know well, starting from the Southern transept, heading down Chapter House Street and the haunted Treasurers House, before going along Ogleforth (so named as Vikings found owls living along a river there - I've been told - ogle meaning owl.) You pass beneath Monk Bar, one of the ancient city gates, cross busy Lord Mayor's Walk and then head down a little lane past a not very attractive car park. This is what I feared.
But that experience was short lived. I quickly found myself walking through the Groves, a residential area with a pretty snickelway running through it. Before long I popped out on Huntingdon road and got to walk along the Foss River.
I am amazed at how quickly you felt as though you weren't in a city anymore. Yes there were houses lining each side of the path, the Foss can be a bit grotty in places and the Nestle Factory is hardly a rural idyll (although the chocolate fragrance wafting overhead was lovely), but it was a peaceful, tree-lined river walk.
All the way from New Earswick to the outer ring road, the river was lined with houses that were lucky enough to have gardens with water frontage. Again, I wasn't aware that all these properties existed. There was so much green space and I was still in the city!
After walking along the river for a good distance, I finally ducked under the outer ring road where it immediately felt more rural despite walking past Earswick, another suburban village. The wild weather kept coming - intense sun one minute, rain, sleet and bitter winds the next. I eventually diverted from the river briefly to head through Haxby and along Towthorpe Road. This was probably the least fun bit as it meant walking on the grass verge alongside the road, with cars rushing by.
But it didn't last long and I headed off across fields once again in the direction of Strensall. I picked up the river again until at last I reached Strensall bridge. This would be a good place to stop if you didn't want too long a walk (about 8 or 9 miles). And there is a pub - The Ship Inn - in Strensall should you need some lunch. And there is a bus that runs back into York right past the pub.
However, I kept on going, following the river for another good long stretch. It's here you can tell that it used to be a canal and according to the guide, also has some Roman remains somewhere along the way. I was too busy dodging the mud to notice, as the path had suddenly turned into a bog.
As I reached an old metal footbridge, I had to veer away from the river, through a wood, across and field and past a farm. By now my feet were starting to hurt. I headed into the pretty village of West Illing and saw that there was just 3/4 of a mile left to Sheriff Hutton. However, I'd arranged for a friend to meet me for a coffee so she scooped me up and we drove that last bit. When a latte and chocolate brownie call, walks end abruptly!
There is a lovely coffee shop in Sheriff Hutton, so it's worth walking there for a spot of lunch or afternoon tea. There is a bus that runs from the village back to York, but it's infrequent so you may need to get a friend to pick you up or call a taxi.
All in all it was a lovely, a very surprising walk that took me from a busy city centre to peaceful, rural countryside, right from my doorstep. If you haven't explored it yet, give it a try.
You can download the entire Centenary Way route for free here
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Yesterday morning I was a bit cross. That is a euphemism for how much of a rage I was actually in. I grabbed my boots, filled my water pouch, shoved a waterproof jacket into my backpack and headed out. I needed miles of space to help me simmer down. But it had to be somewhere not too far from York and I wasn’t in the mood for my normal stomps.
I recalled having cycled past Kirkham Priory once, which is set along the banks of the Derwent River. A quick Google search showed a circular walk from the priory. ‘Right, that’ll do,’ I muttered and drove off.
Fifteen minutes later I found myself in the peaceful sanctuary of Kirkham. Getting out of the car, I turned to Google to check the route, only to discover that there was no internet signal.
Well the good thing about the UK is that you don’t have to walk far before you stumble upon a public footpath sign. So that’s what I did. Leaving my car at Kirkham Priory carpark, I walked back over the bridge and found a footpath sign pointing left along the riverbank. I vaguely recalled the walk being along the river, so I set off.
It was a pretty setting with the fast flowing river tumbling over a weir and the ruins of the priory brooding in the mist. I followed the path, which quickly resembled a bog. Cursing the fact that I hadn’t bothered with gaiters, I soldiered on still too cross to care how muddy I got.
After about 20 minutes I passed a fisherman relaxing in the perfect spot. He gave a cheerful greeting and told me that one of the bridges further along was down but that I should be fine.
I kept walking. It was hard work, the slippery mud making each step a good deal more difficult than it should be. I was feeling less angry but still hadn’t found my happy place. I kept walking.
After about an hour I began to wonder if I was indeed on the route I’d read about because it seemed to just go in a straight line along the river, whereas the route I’d seen online mentioned all sorts of diversions and was only 5 miles long. I checked my phone and there was just enough of a 3G signal to show me that I was indeed going in the entirely opposite direction to the one I was meant to be heading in.
Excellent navigational skills by me then.
I looked on Google maps and saw that the path would intersect a road eventually and that I could walk back to Kirkham along that road, which would be significantly easier than stumbling in the mud.
Shortly thereafter I came upon two lovely fishermen. Reet proper Yorkshiremen, who confirmed that there was a road up ahead, ‘just by t’bridge and t’mill.’ I asked them about the imposing building on the opposite bank and was informed it was Howsham Hall, a private residence. Not a bad pad really.
After a bit more of a chat, I carried on with a cheery, ‘Av a good day luv,’ ringing out behind me. My rage from the morning had dissipated. I began to feel a smile creep on my face.
As predicted by the fishermen, I soon came upon t’mill, an old building with all sorts of odd machinery around it. It was a pretty spot and I waved hello to some kayakers who were trying to drown themselves in the churning water below.
I ambled on toward t’bridge when a man, squeezed into a wetsuit, walked towards me in the opposite direction. ‘Had a swim?’ I asked. ‘Been kayaking,’ he said with a smile, nodding towards where the others had been. I asked him if I would find Kirkham by turning right on the bridge ahead. ‘Yes, but you should take a look at Howsham Mill first before you go if you’ve not seen it before.’
He explained how I might find it, what it was all about and wished me a pleasant day. Just as I neared the bridge, a long parade of tractors drove past in a riot of noise. Only in Yorkshire, I thought as the last of the farmers gave me a cheeky wave as he passed by. I crossed the bridge to the far side of the river, ducked underneath it and walked the short distance to the mill.
The kayakers had made their way there two and were tackling a slalom course complete with gates and masses of very fast flowing water. I had absolutely no idea that you could do kayaking like this so close to York. After watching them, a man came out of the building and walked towards me. I felt like a bit of an interloper, but said that the kayakers had suggested I come and take a look at the building.
The man was very happy to have a visitor and I was given a personal tour. Apparently Howsham Mill was built in 1755 by the family who owned Howsham Hall. They didn’t enjoy looking out from their estate windows onto a working mill (how ghastly!) so they had a faux hunting lodge designed and constructed by York architect John Carr to obscure the mill from view. It featured a lead statute of Diana, the hunter on its roof. The mill served the local area, grinding their grains and animal feed for 200 years.
The mill fell into disrepair in 1947 but in 2003, it was purchased and the Renewable Energy Trust was formed to save the building. It has since been completely restored, including a replica carbon fibre statue of Diana on the roof. A replica water wheel has been fixed into place and you can watch it churning away with impressive power. But even more impressive are two huge Archimedes screws that act as electricity generators. The power they generate not only gives the building electricity, but it’s also fed back into the national grid, which in turn pays the site money for continued redevelopment.
The entire place is now completely sustainable with rain harvested water, its own generated electricity and composting toilets. It is used as a place schools can take children to teach them about nature, history and engineering. And it can also be hired as a quirky, private venue. It’s still a bit rough around the edges but it’s a lovely space and I was very pleased to have found it.
I thanked the man for the tour and headed back the way I came. I saw the kayakers again, this time changing out of their wetsuits. ‘Worth the detour?’ the chap I’d spoken to earlier asked. ‘Absolutely,’ I said and thanked him for the tip. ‘You enjoy the rest of your day now,’ he said. Every single person I’d met on that short walk had been absolutely bloomin lovely.
By this point I was starving. That’s one of the problems of leaving in a huff. You forget to pack food. I picked up the pace so that I could get back home for a bite to eat.
My route back was along a very quiet road towards Crambe. As I approached the level crossing just outside the village, the station manager was just swinging the gates closed as a train was coming.
‘Ey up luv, I’ll hold ‘em open for ya. The train’s not here yet. By ‘eck, your face is red!’ I thanked him for holding the gates for me and explained that I was walking fast, hence the bright red complexion. He seemed to find it hilarious. He confirmed that I was heading in the right direction for Kirkham, and got back to his gates.
At last I came to a footpath sign for Kirkham – 1¼ miles. I followed it up a very steep hill, where a fellow walker sat with his picnic in front of him, admiring the view, which was spectacular when I turned around to appreciate it. After pointing me towards the right gate, I walked the last part of the route through a forest on the top of a hill, before rejoining the road down the steep hill into Kirkham.
The best walks are the ones you find by chance and manage to navigate with the help of friendly locals rather than a map. I'd stumbled upon a serendipitous three hour, roughly 7-mile walk dotted with some of a friendliest folk I’ve yet to meet on a walk. My anger had completely gone. Fresh air, a chance discovery and beautiful scenery had performed their tonic. It's amazing what you find when you just put your boots on.
What to take:
Wellies! Or good boots. A picnic for the spot at the top of the hill.
I did this walk alone, but it would have been fab with company too. If you battle to find people to walk with, join Glamoraks, an online global community of women who walk.
The Yorkshire Three Peaks of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside are notoriously done as a challenge in which you climb all three and walk the 25 mile route in under 12 hours. Perhaps it was this level of exertion that had stopped me from visiting the area. But in need of a final big stomp and taxing hills as pre-Kilimanjaro training, I thought it was time I tackled them ..... over two days. Given the lack of daylight hours in winter, I felt this to be the more sensible option instead of getting lost in the dark.
I'd walked in the Yorkshire Dales as part of the Coast to Coast. My impression was that of rolling green hills, bubbling rivers, lots of stone walls and derelict stone barns. It was pretty and gentle. The Three Peaks bit of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is nothing like that. It's dramatic, stark and vast, with pockets of picture-book prettiness like the Ribblehead viaduct in between. It's a place that absolutely should be on your bucket list to visit.
The challenge route typically starts in Horton-in-Ribblesdale, goes up Pen-y-ghent first (694m), then onto Whernside (736m) and ends with Ingleborough (723m) to wipe you out. It can be done clockwise or anti-clockwise and you can also be started in Horton, Chapel le Dale or Ribblehead, all of which have accommodation.
We decided to base ourselves in Horton, arriving on the Friday night so we could head off bright and early on Saturday. Our plan was to go in reverse, taking in Ingleborough and Whernside, catching the train from Ribblehead back to Horton-in-Ribblesdale in the evening, and then climbing Pen-y-Ghent directly from Horton the next morning, skipping the long trudge between Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside. This would give us time to get back and collect kids from long suffering friends.
But in hindsight, we could have done this a lot better. At just over an hour and a half from York, we could have got there for 9.30 and saved ourselves the cost of accommodation for the first night (and the breakfast disaster the following morning - more below). We could have parked our car in Horton and climbed Ingleborough and Whernside, staying at the Station Inn at Ribblehead overnight. It offers B&B rooms, plus it has bunk barns and camping as options. The staff we met were friendly, the food is hearty and it is right on the Three Peaks route meaning you don't have to divert and add extra miles. On day two, we could have walked to Pen-y-ghent, climbed it and returned to our car. You can also catch a train from Horton as it's on the Settle Carlisle line.
In Horton-in-Ribblesdale there are two pubs - The Golden Lion and the Crown. Choose the Crown. We made the mistake of choosing the Golden Lion. The staff could not have been less friendly. The 'continental breakfast' (which is all you can get if you want an early start) was four plastic tupperware boxes of stale cereal, a jug of milk and some artificial orange juice. No tea, coffee or toast. The second morning we were there, we'd arranged for the Full English for 8.30, the earliest they will serve it. Except they didn't. No-one turned up. So I would avoid it and choose somewhere else to stay. There is a pub in Chapel le Dale - The Old Hill Inn - which gets good reviews. And the Station Inn mentioned above is another option depending on where on the route you want to break.
Each of the peaks has one side that is steeper than the other. If you're going anti-clockwise starting with Pen-y-Ghent, you hit the steep bit on the way up with a more gentle descent. Whernside has the gentler ascent and a very steep down, while Ingleborough has a very steep ascent and more gentle descent. Obviously these are all reversed if you do them in a clockwise direction. Whichever way you do it, you are going to have at least one very steep ascent and one very steep descent. There are also plenty of flat bits and more gradual inclines and declines in between.
The route is signposted but I would strongly recommend taking an OS map (you will need Ordnance Survey map OL 2) and a compass too. When we walked, we were hit with a blizzard and we could easily have got lost without our map and compass as visibility was non-existent. In fact the trig point on top of Ingleborough was just 4 metres from us when it finally became visible through the snow.
Should the clouds clear, the views from the top are breath taking (as is the climb to get there), and it makes all the huffing and puffing worth it.
There were a few challenging bits. The climb up Pen-y-ghent going up the steep way from Brackenbottom, was particularly tough because the snow the day before had iced over. There is a section where you need to scramble up boulders, which when icy, didn't give a very firm grip. Similarly, the steep descent down Ingleborough (bearing in mind we did it clockwise so we had the steep bit going down) was tough on the knees, while the slog up to Whernside was particularly unrelenting with a climb that never seemed to end.
Pen-y-Ghent was the busiest of the three peaks, Ingleborough the least busy but that may have been due to the weather which hit at the time we climbed.
Ingleborough and Whernside above. Pen-y-ghent below
What to take
You will need proper waterproof walking boots for this walk and I'd strongly advise gaiters too. I used walking poles and found they helped both on the ascents and descents, as well as keeping balance in the icy patches. Definitely take layers, including warm stuff, hats, gloves and snood, plus waterproofs. The weather at the top of the peaks can be pretty fierce so it's best to have everything you might need.
Take plenty of water and a thermos of hot tea is very welcome on a cold winter's day. You will need a packed lunch as you are out for a fairly long time with few (any?) places to get a bite. The Station Inn serves food all day, but most other pubs seemed to only open after 5 or 6pm in winter.
Don't forget a camera for the incredible views!
I wouldn't recommend walking this on your own in winter. It gets properly fierce up there, so for safety, I'd go with others and at least someone who can read a map. You will need a reasonable level of fitness to get up the hills. For a girly weekend, it would be great, starting in Horton, staying in Ribblehead or Chapel le Dale, and returning to Horton the next day. Don't expect luxury accommodation. The pub rooms will be very basic and the food more filling than gastronomic. But you just need a place to lay your head, a hot shower, a warm meal to refuel and a glass of wine or beer after a big walk. And you'll certainly feel as though you've been away for a lot longer than a weekend.
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