All Hallows Church in the village of Goodmanham is where the conversion of King Edwin of Northumbria’s kingdom to Christianity began in 627. Edwin had already embraced the new religion in nearby York, and to seal the deal the pagan temple that stood at Goodmanham was destroyed by his high priest, Coifi. This was a symbolic moment in the spread of Christianity in north-east England.
Matters spiritual often crop up along this walk, which takes in a holy well where people leave offerings to this day, and allows you to sample brews named after pagan witches and their victims. From the car park in Goodmanham, I turn left for the centre of this pretty East Yorkshire village, whose fine brick houses and whitewashed cottages surround the 12th-century church. The Goodmanham Arms stands on the corner, but I resist temptation for now and stop by the church to take in the story of Edwin and Goodmanham, told in stained glass.
Striding uphill out of the village, I follow signs to the Wolds Way to the right. Beneath cloud-streaked blue skies, it is nose-tinglingly cold with a veil of frost underfoot. The whirring blades of two wind turbines on the ridgeline ahead create flickering shadows on the hillside. Here I get my first proper glimpse of the Yorkshire Wolds, where the last ice age carved deep valleys between undulating chalk hills. It’s an area of wild, big-skied beauty that inspired artist David Hockney. The 79-mile Wolds Way runs through it and my walk will take in two sections.
I descend to the track bed of an old railway, a 10-mile trail between Market Weighton and Beverley – the Hudson Way – but not before a brief diversion to Rifle Butts Quarry, a first world war rifle range that’s now a tiny nature reserve, home to chalk-loving wildflowers and butterflies in summer. On the quarry face the layered geology of millennia is exposed, with a useful information board to help you tell your Cretaceous from your Triassic.
The Hudson Way was named for George Hudson, the 19th-century “railway king” whose wealth enabled him to buy the Londesborough Hall Estate (which I will pass a bit later), though his dubious financial dealings led him to jail and penury.
The gurgling waters of Mill Beck glint through the trees edging the track where moss envelops decaying branches and the brick vestiges of railway infrastructure. Chaffinches and song thrushes sing sweetly, their trilling punctuated by the coarse calls of rooks and jackdaws.
Fluttering ribbons catch my eye on a tree besides St Helen’s Well, one of four springs in the area named after the mother of Constantine the Great, who was declared caesar in York in AD306, after the death of his father, Constantius. A hillside spring cascades through an arch into a triangular stone bath before being piped away. Belief in the healing powers of this holy well endures, with ribbons, medals, chimes and even a baby’s pacifier left here. Being so close to the railway line, it once provided a constant flow of water to refill steam engines.
At the medieval town of Market Weighton, the Hudson Way opens on to playing fields. In the 18th century, this was the site for the September Fair, the kingdom’s largest sheep fair. However, this accolade is not the town’s only claim to fame. One of the tallest English men on record, William Bradley, was born here in 1787. Known as the Yorkshire Giant, he grew to be 2.36 metres (7ft 9in) tall.
A quick search for his grave in All Saints’ churchyard proves fruitless, but a trio of women polishing handbells inside the church point to a memorial plaque on the wall. Bradley was buried in the churchyard in 1820, but his remains were later moved inside the church to prevent grave robbers stealing them.
Opposite the church is the Giant’s Stone: a boulder that Bradley is reputed to have carried all the way from Goodmanham. Around the corner stands a lifesize statue of the gargantuan man, who made his fortune as a travelling exhibit. Nearby is Bradley House, specifically built for him, with heightened ceilings and doors. It’s now a gift shop and part of the Giant Bradley Heritage Trail.
I continue along York Road to a Wolds Way sign on the right, leading along field edges, before crossing the A614 on to a track and through a farmyard. The scenery becomes more pastoral, taking in undulating meadows fringed with pockets of deciduous woodland and emerging at the monumental stone gateposts of Londesborough Park.
The stately pile at the end of the sweeping drive is long gone. Londesborough Estate belonged to the dukes of Devonshire; however, burdened by debt, the sixth duke, William Cavendish, had the Elizabethan hall demolished in 1819 and the stone used for building projects at Chatsworth. The current Londesborough Hall is an enlarged Victorian hunting lodge.
The absence of a grand house adds to the romance of this glorious 18th-century landscaped park with its chalk streams, lakes and weirs, original brick deer house and forlorn stone staircase. As I settle on a large tree stump with a flask of tea, a swan glides across the lake and there’s the plop and swoosh of green-winged teal and coots on the water punctuating the tranquillity. A pair of red kites circle above.
I press on, crossing a footbridge over a small weir, to climb out of the park. An irresistible urge to look back rewards with splendid views across the shimmering lake and a glimpse of Londesborough Hall rising above the trees in the distance. The final stretch follows the Wolds Way along lanes and tracks, the afternoon sun casting elongated shadows of skeletal trees on to ploughed fields. Emerging from a tree tunnel at Goodmanham, I obey a notice to “clean your boots here”, discarding clods of earth on a boot scraper fashioned into a shepherd’s crook, before heading to the pub.
Google map of the route
Start Goodmanham village car park (free parking)
End Goodmanham Arms
Distance 7.5 miles
Time 4 hours
Total ascent 158 metres
GPX map at OS
Inside the Goodmanham Arms, I’m greeted by the hum of chatter. There are several eclectically furnished rooms, one of which is a motorcycle museum: the passion of Italian landlord Vito Logozzi, who enjoys restoring old motorbikes.
A cooking pot hanging over the log fire contributes to the menu, chalked up on the overhead blackboard, offering traditional English and Italian dishes. Across the courtyard is All Hallows brewery. Landlady and brewer Abbie Logozzi brought her skills from a former life as a laboratory technician, only brewing dark ales. “The hard water suits dark ales. I don’t like using chemicals, which I would need to make light ales,” she says.
Favourites include the smooth-tasting No Notion, a dark bitter, and Ragged Robin, a ruby porter – named after an alleged victim of 17th-century local bandit Peg Fyfe.
Where to stay
The market town of Beverley is a good base for exploring the area. The Beverley Arms, a Georgian coaching inn, offers well-appointed rooms (doubles from £121, room-only). In Sancton, the North Star Club (suites sleep up to six from £295 for two nights) is an enchanting retreat offering safari-style tents with four-poster beds and roll-top baths.