A band of chalk sweeps south west to north east across England, from the Dorset coast to Flamborough Head in North Yorkshire. So the Yorkshire Wolds, in East and North Yorkshire, are part of the same seam as the Chilterns, but the two are very different.
In the Chilterns many of the tops are either wooded or open downland. In the Wolds the steep slopes are largely uncultivated but the flattish tops are arable land. This meant that in the Wolds, when the Ramblers were claiming land for the access maps under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, they had to focus on the slopes.
Because of the way the legislation was eventually drafted, with an arbitrary test requiring each parcel to be 75 per cent unimproved grassland with defined boundaries, much land which ought to have been included as access land was left out.
In the Yorkshire Wolds the Ramblers East Yorkshire and Derwent Area did sterling work in claiming access land, attending countless hearings and inquiries, assisted by the professional botanist Sonia Donaghy.
The result of all this work, the final access-land, is marked on the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps with a yellow wash. The problem is that if you plan a walk on access land, where you may roam free, you need to know where the access points are (and there may not even be any). The Ramblers have produced a helpful book of ten open-access walks in North Yorkshire. It’s a neat, A5, full colour booklet packed with information.
The first two editions (2011 and 2013) were printed by North Yorkshire County Council and distributed free of charge, mainly through its visitor centres. But now, because of the budget cuts, the council has pulled out and the Ramblers have printed the third (2015) edition themselves. You can buy it here for £2.99 + p&p.
I was privileged to walk with the book’s author, Tom Halstead, vice-chairman of the Ramblers area, last week on his favourite bit of access land, at Thixendale (walk 5), with Ian Reavill, chairman of the Ramblers’ York Group. At the same time we surveyed a grid square for the Ramblers’ Big Pathwatch.
We walked from Thixendale along the Wolds Way to the northern edge of the grid square, and here was the first bit of nonsensical access-mapping. The dale to the west of the path, Vessey Pasture Dale, is mapped as access land, the identical dale to the east, Back Dale, is not.
We turned west along Water Dale, roaming freely on the access land to the north of the road, and dropped down into the valley where the access land reaches a point at Dimple Hole.
The landowner had removed all the access signs which the Ramblers had nailed to the gateposts, although he had left the ‘no access’ signs on the other side of the gates showing where the access ended. That was pretty silly as you would only see the ‘no access’ signs if you had been exercising your right of access. It is for the access authority, North Yorkshire County Council to replace these signs, but it refuses to exercise its powers to do so.
At this point, we had another example of the difficulty of identifying access land. The dale to the west was mapped as access land, that to the east was not.
We climbed up to Queen Dike, an ancient earthwork with a glorious view (pictured on the book cover above, and below), and I was pleased to hear a mistle thrush.
Then we followed the dale round and returned on the Chalkland Way, along Milham and Thixen Dales, again with mixed access, passing some donkeys and gathering some mushrooms for breakfast the next day.
With the aid of the excellent book, or better still to be led by its author, this is a splendid walk in magnificent, unsung country which, lamentably, has no protective designation. It is strange that it has never been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, for the geology is a continuation of the Lincolnshire Wolds AONB to the south. The Yorkshire Wolds too deserve such protection.