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Circular walk from Thixendale to the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy

The Yorkshire Wolds is often over looked in favour of Yorkshire’s better known National parks – The Yorkshire Dales & North York Moors. But the word on the street is that the Wolds is likely to be given AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) status soon which should raise its profile to a wider audience.

But being little known has its advantages – it’s never busy or crowded and you can walk for miles without seeing another soul. For this reason, when catching up with my old pals for a walk, we decided to explore an area of the Yorkshire Wolds between Thixendale and Wharram Percy.

Having plotted the walk on my OS Maps, the walk included sections on other walkways such as the Yorkshire Wolds Way and the Centenary Way, paths looked easy well marked and there was a bit of road walking on quiet road.

We met up in the village of Thixendale and parked on the road outside the village hall with its small spire. Thixendale is about 20 miles from York and the origin of its name seems to mean the place where six dales meet as it was listed as sixtendale in the Domesday book and dale essentially means valley.

Next to the village hall is the Church of St.Mary which is a grade II listed Victorian Church now part of the Tatton Sykes Church Trial. The village is linear with small red brick cottages on either side of the main street as well as a lovey thatched house.

We headed up and out of the village to the west and pretty soon met a track bearing off to the right which started to rise up out onto the tops of adjoining dales. As well as a good view back in to Thixendale taking in the whole village from above, there are great views down into both the valley of Thixendale and then Waterdale.

What is so distinctive about the scenery in this part of the Wolds is the iconic chalk landscape (The Yorkshire Wolds is the most northerly chalk landscape in the UK). The chalk is porous, so you rarely see running water in the valley bottoms just iconic dry valleys which seem to interlock, winding across the landscape with spurs.

Unlike the Yorkshire Dales with its Dales being formed by glaciers forming wide, U shaped valleys, The Yorkshire Wolds Dales were formed towards the end of the last ice age. The ice was melting as temperatures rose, but as the ground was frozen the melt water couldn’t drain away through the chalk like rainwater does now. Instead, the fast flowing melt water ran over the land and carved out the valleys.

We continued along the Yorkshire Wolds Way through agricultural land passing an old chalk quarry where you could clearly see the white rock.

We also passed a pile of root vegetables, used by the sheep farmers to help their animals calorific intake during the winter months before the grass starts growing.

We skirted Back Dale on our right passing maize stubble on the upper fields.

Then we picked up the centenary way and eventually came to Birdsall Brow – where we descended quite steeply but with stunning big sky views over Birdsall and beyond.

Just before Birdsall itself we met a road to our right which ran fairly straight towards Wharram Street. We had to walk for about 2 miles on the road, but were passed by just 3 cars during this stretch and walking on flat firm ground meant we could quicken our pace.

Just before Wharram Street there was a right turn which took us past the remnants of an old chalk quarry along with loading bays and crushing buildings. We walked here along the old railway and next to a chalk stream until we met the sign for the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy. I plan to blog in more detail about this site in the future but it is a fascinating site.

The basic story behind the village is interesting. Wharram Percy was a thriving village for six centuries but soon after 1500 became abandoned. I had once been told it was down to the plague killing everyone but this turns out not to be the case.

The real reason for the desertion of this agricultural village was down to the price of wool. Whereas many villagers had been involved with agriculture and farming, the demand for wool increased from the continent and it became a very profitable export.

Many landowners decided to convert arable land to pasture for sheep. This led to evictions, and a lack of jobs as rearing sheep was a much less labour intensive exercise. Communities who had lived by the plough started to fall apart and the residents of Wharram Percy gradually left.

There are still the grassed over remains of 2 manor houses and 40 peasant houses at the location. The site is English Heritage owned but free to access – and a plan of how the village was laid out can be found on this link.

The only remaining building from the period is the ruins of St. Martin’s Church. Some recent works have taken place to stabilise the structure but it is still in pretty good condition structurally. The blue skies and white clouds on the day we visited helped create some great images.

From Wharram Percy we headed past the old Mill Pond where the old Mill would have sat and up a fairly steep bank.

This took us up onto the ridge at the top of Deep Dale. This was one of the most beautiful parts of the walk as the path took us around the edge of the curving dry chalk V shaped dale with stunning views back into the valley and over to the ruined church at Wharram Percy.

This stretch followed the Yorkshire Wolds way but at the end of Deepdale we picked up a path on our left to join the Centenary Way, which ran along the edge of fields of root vegetables.

We skirted the edge of Court Dale before meeting Water Dale. This narrow path followed a contour part way up the Dale which we walked along before dropping down back into Thixendale. The sun was out and the colours helped create a great vista.

Whilst we had originally planned to stop for a pint in the Cross Keys at the end of the walk, sadly the pub didn’t open until 6pm. Fortunately some emergency beers from the boot of the car came in handy!

The walk is exactly 10 miles and whilst there are 5 or 6 climbs in and out of different Dales, it is a relatively easy walk and pretty well signed.

We originally found the walk on the BBC Countryfile website – so if you fancy doing this walk there is access to the route and a map.


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