Yorkshire Wolds Way Day 1 (Part 1): Hessle to North Ferriby

Published 24 February 2019

The Humber Bridge, seen from the foreshore at Hessle
The Humber Bridge, key landmark of the first day of the Yorkshire Wolds Way

For 79 miles/127km, the Yorkshire Wolds Way runs from Hessle, near Hull, to Filey. One summer I walked it with a man called Tal, over five days. And it all started rather close to a large bridge near Hull.

Hessle sits under a shadow. The shadow of a bridge. The Humber Bridge. The 2.2km long bridge towers over the local area. For it’s first sixteen years of life, it was the longest single span suspension bridge in the world. The distance between the two towers at either end is a whopping 1.4km. Although that’s nothing compared to the current longest bridge. The Akashi Kaikyō Bridge in Japan beats it by half a kilometre. Even so, the Humber Bridge still has the eighth longest span in the world.

Some considered the Humber Bridge to be an indulgent folly. Opened in 1981, it took nine years to build and cost £87m. Its finances have never been great. The idea was that it would be self-financing. Users would pay a toll, with motorists paying for the bridge’s operation and upkeep. An organisation, the Humber Bridge Board, was set up to look after it all. Yet by 2012 the Humber Bridge Board had racked up debts of over £300m. They owned more than three times the amount it cost to build the bridge in the first place. And their finances were getting worse. So bad that in the same year the government wrote out half of the debt, but still leaves debts of £150m. Yes, such doubters say, it’s saved time of millions of motorists on their journeys. But the costs far outweigh the benefits.

It looks good though. It’s a mighty structure, simple, elegant and graceful on the skyline. It’s looked quite beautiful to me. And I wasn’t the only one to think so. In 2017 it was it awarded Grade I listed building status. And it dominates Hessle. The road is higher than ground level. The towers are huge. It can be seen pretty much everywhere you go, whether you like it or not.

It would be reasonable to expect the start of the Yorkshire Wolds Way would be next to this focal point of the area. There’s even a country park that sits near the bridge’s northern tower. It’s a perfect spot for a National Trail to start.

Start of the Yorkshire Wolds Way at Hessle Haven, near some lorries
Start of the Yorkshire Wolds Way at Hessle Haven

But no. The Yorkshire Wolds Way starts somewhere else. At a spot that celebrates the time before the bridge: Hessle Haven. It was here in the 14th century that a ferry service started to travellers across the estuary. Ferries bustled across the water for centuries after. A pub, the Ferryboat Inn, was even built next to the Haven to provide services for the ferry’s customers. It’s at a footpath opposite the pub building that this National Trail begins.

The message the Yorkshire Wolds Way gives in its choice of starting point is simple. The Humber Bridge is a mere blip in Hessle’s history of linking both banks of the estuary. And it will take a long time for that to change.

The Yorkshire Wolds Way starts off next to the pub building. Alas, the pub’s long gone, although ornate lettering still spells out its name above the door. The building now houses a fitness centre, and a closed down wine bar and restaurant. The area opposite the pub’s not that exciting either. The ferries are long gone, and now you’ll find parked HGVs and a car showroom.

The start of the Wolds Way, with a signpost and a litter bin
The glamorous first steps on the Yorkshire Wolds Way

Put that all together and you get a rather downcast and ever so slightly salubrious start to a walk. Even the actual starting point of the trail wasn’t very interesting. There was no monument. No panel extolling the virtues of the walk you’re about to do. There is a single signpost. And it’s not even a very photogenic one as someone had placed a litter bin right next to it. A litter bin that looked like no one had emptied it for months.

A walker standing here, who knew not of what was to come may even have looked upon the sight and given up there and then. Abandoned the whole endeavour and headed for home on the first available train. But the walker who trusts their instincts and pushes on, past the lorries and litter, gets a reward. For a great walk awaits them. And it restarts – once you get past the Hessle Haven at least – with that bridge.

For its first three miles, the Yorkshire Wolds Way goes along the foreshore of the Humber Estuary. And it’s that mighty bridge that dominates the views for quite some time.

It’s under the gaze of the bridge that you can actually celebrate starting your walk. Here next to a car park and under the gaze of a security camera, is a monument. A carved stone sculpture, embossed with a National Trail acorn. Engraved in an ornate script, are the names of some of the villages and towns the Yorkshire Wolds Way visits. It was bold. It was quite beautiful. And it looked great with the Humber Bridge as its backdrop. If only you didn’t have to walk half a mile to get to it. Still, it’s a glorious way to celebrate starting your walk.

Stone monument at the start of the Yorkshire Wolds Way
Stone monument at the start of the Yorkshire Wolds Way

And behind this wonderful monument? A pile of clothes, strewn on the ground. Not a small pile. Not like someone had stripped off and gone for a swim in the Humber Estuary. No one had run to the water to the theme tune to 1970s comedy, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. There were far too many clothes for that.

Scattered on the ground were skirts, dresses and blouses. Some of them were fancy looking. The kind of stuff you’d dress up in if you were going for a night out in town. And all flowing out of a torn black bin bag. Like someone had bagged them up to take to a charity shop, before deciding to dump them here. Well why wouldn’t you shove them behind a stone sculpture near a CCTV camera at the edge of a car park instead?

For a moment I considered gathering them all up, and posting them in a nearby litter bin. But there were so many clothes. I would have filled the bin, and still have had a lot left. And wouldn’t that be a waste? True, I didn’t inspect each garment in minute detail, but they didn’t look like they were in bad condition. A few runs through the washing machine, and they’d be fine.

Where was I going to find a washing machine though? All I could do was leave them there. I shrugged, and wondered for a moment quite what was going on with Hessle. All this great scenery. And all so spoiled by overflowing bins and bin bags of clothes. And then I noticed that my walking partner was now some way ahead of me, striding towards the Humber Bridge. I rather did need to get going.

Underneath the Humber Bridge
Underneath the Humber Bridge

Under the bridge’s giant 156m high northern tower we walked. Past the lifeboat station, and the pub we’d visited the previous evening for some food.

It being a sunny Sunday morning, the estuary foreshore was busy. There were walkers without dogs, walkers with dogs, and anglers with big rods. There was also a steady stream of cyclists zooming down the path. The Yorkshire Wolds Way shares the path out of Hessle with the Trans Pennine Trail. Those so inclined, can follow it on its 215 mile journey across the North of England. Hop on at Southport on the west coast, and arrive in Hornsea on the east. If you do, you’ll even get to go within a few miles of my house. Although the Trans Pennine Trail isn’t quite that simple. It also has a north-south route running between Chesterfield and Leeds. Oh, and spurs to York and Kirkburton. It’s less a trail and more of a Trans Pennine Network.

There’s also another Trans Pennine network nearby too. Next to us stood the mainline railway to Hull. The sleek, modern trains of Transpennine Express zoomed past at regular intervals. As did the far more dilapidated vehicles run by Northern Railway. An infamous Pacer train; a horrendous 1980s vehicle made on the cheap by re-using bus components – trundled by. And in the other direction, one of it’s replacements. No brand new trains for Hull though. This one had a giant saltire on it. Scotland had got some new trains. And Hull was getting its cast-offs.

Path alongside the Humber Estuary
Following the Humber Estuary

All in all, it was a most busy stretch of walking. Although that all changed at North Ferriby, or Ferriby if you’re a local.  In case you’re wondering, yes there is a South Ferriby. It’s on the southern bank of the Estuary, in Lincolnshire. No doubt the locals there drop the prefix too.

It’s at North Ferriby that we said farewell to the railway, the Trans Pennine Trail, and the estuary. It’s here that the Wolds Way heads north and inland. Although the place it leaves the estuary depends on the tides.

At low tide walkers can take a route along the foreshore for a little longer. At high tide though, you’d best head inland sooner lest the higher water levels see you get stuck. Or, at least, very soggy. A signpost marks the point that the route splits. A signpost stood near a replica boat.

The outline of a boat, at North Ferriby
The outline of a boat, at North Ferriby

This is Ferriby’s claim to fame. In 1937 local resident Ted Wright spotted three plans sticking out of the estuary clay. Later excavations of the area revealed the remains of a 13m long boat. The digs only found the bottom of the boat, although one end was pretty complete. And it wasn’t alone. In 1940 Ted found a second boat whilst on leave from the Army. Ted hadn’t quite finished, and in 1963 he found a third boat, this one over 15m in length. And this one was even older. The first two boats were about 2,500 years old, but construction of the third was a whopping 4,000 years ago.

After excavation, the boats moved to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. These days they live in another museum in the heart of Hull. But Ferriby’s claim to fame is not forgotten. A boat shaped monument sits at the Yorkshire Wolds Way crossroads, visible to all walkers. And by all accounts, there’s a half sized replica boat residing in the village. Although quite where, we never did find out.

We stood at the crossroads and consulted the map and the water levels.

The Wolds Way sign at the the North Ferriby junction
The North Ferriby crossroads

The low tide route bypasses the village, going along the estuary a bit more, then heading through a plantation. In contrast, the high tide route heads right through the centre of Ferriby. Past the school, pub, Co-op, and Beercock’s Estate Agents. Oh and a huge house with three garages and a huge metal water fountain shaped like a globe.

The low tide route sounded preferable in most ways.  But the tide was on the high side. Also needed to buy something for lunch, check out the local house prices and admire a fountain. The decision definitely was a no-brainer.

Next time: hummus near a delightful millpond, the first of many gorgeous dales, de-icer for girls, a church with WiFi, and Gondor calls for aid.

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