The battle for the Wolds Way – 30 years on

On 2 October we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Wolds Way National Trail which runs for 79 miles between Hessle and Filey.  Its opening would probably never have made the national TV news had it not been for the Ramblers’ alternative opening which was held at the same time.

The East Yorkshire and Derwent Area Ramblers had campaigned for the route since 1968, and had been at loggerheads with local landowner Lord Middleton, the twelfth baron, who had not only disputed many paths which the Ramblers had claimed over his 12,000-acre estate in East Yorkshire, but had also prevented the Wolds Way from passing through the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy, on a path which the Ramblers had shown to be public and one of the most dramatic sections of the route.  Instead the way followed a metalled road.  So the Ramblers were incensed when the Countryside Commission invited Lord Middleton, then president of the Country Landowners’ Association, to open the path at Fridaythorpe on 2 October 1982.

In June 1982 the Ramblers’ chairman, Eddie Hibberd, wrote to Derek Barber, the pro-landowner chairman of the Countryside Commission, urging him to rescind the invitation to Lord Middleton.  Mr (now Lord) Barber responded: ‘We would be deliberately nourishing conflict and the effect would be to create a long-term divisive situation having national repercussions beyond the Wolds Way and Yorkshire’.  The conflict being nourished with the Ramblers didn’t seem to bother him.

And so, at a special meeting on 2 August 1982, the Ramblers’ committee agreed to stage an alternative opening.  We held our rally at Pocklington, where speakers included the secretary, Alan Mattingly; president Peter Melchett; Kevin McNamara MP; Michael Wheaton, leader of Humberside County Council and Area President; David Rubinstein, vice-chairman, and Chris Hall, former secretary of the Ramblers.  Then we walked the Wolds Way from Millington to Huggate and, at Millington Pastures, Nettledale, eight-year-old Helen Eastwood, daughter of Area secretary Geoff Eastwood, cut the ribbon to open the route.

Helen Eastwood cuts the tape, with Ramblers’ president Peter Melchett (left) and Ramblers’ secretary Alan Mattingly and vice-chairman David Rubinstein (right), at the alternative opening of the Wolds Way on 2 October 1982.  Photo: Hull Daily Mail.

Executive committee member Trevor Noyes attended the official opening as a mole, and hurried across to tell us that our event was overwhelmingly better attended, and that, whereas we had remained dry, it had rained on the shabby parade organised by Lord Middleton and the Countryside Commission.

Twenty-five years later, on 2 October 2007, the Ramblers joined the Countryside Commission’s successor Natural England (NE) at Fridaythorpe for a celebratory anniversary event of the Wolds Way (now known as the Yorkshire Wolds Way) opening, at which I was to speak in my capacity of Ramblers’ chairman.

NE invited us to contribute a quote for its press release so we did: It’s great to be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Wolds Way but make no mistake, getting the Wolds Way on the map was no pushover.  We faced huge difficulties, not least landowner opposition.  You can imagine my annoyance when, on arrival at Fridaythorpe, I saw that my quote had not been included.  The release had been issued on behalf of NE by Government News Network, whose officer had decided to exclude it claiming that the quote was not in keeping with the tone of the release!  I later took this up with NE’s chairman, the late Martin Doughty, who assured me that NE would be producing its press releases inhouse in future – and not before time.

After lunch and speeches at Fridaythorpe we walked to Nettledale where Helen Eastwood had cut our ribbon in 1982.  Helen was with us once again, as were many of those who had fought so hard for the original route: David Rubinstein, Geoff Eastwood and Dennis Parker (who, sadly, died last year at the age of 90) to name a few.

25th anniversary: left to right Helen Eastwood, Geoff Eastwood, David Rubinstein, Ann Holt, Dennis and Angela Parker.

The Wolds Way passes through magnificent scenery, the deep chalk and limestone dales of East Yorkshire.  Some of the steep unploughed slopes have been claimed by the Ramblers as access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, but many were left off.

The view into Horse Dale from the Wolds Way south of Fridaythorpe, the slopes are access land.

All the English National Trails, the Wolds Way included, are now under threat from government plans to hand their maintenance to local partnerships, ie cash-strapped local authorities and volunteers.  The Wolds Way, which was only achieved after years of campaigning and is a gem of a path, deserves national protection and care.  Please support the Ramblers’ campaign to save our trails.

(Parts of this article were taken from one I wrote for the Ramblers’ East Yorkshire and Derwent Area newsletter, September 2007.)

About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
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