Start Fox & Coney, South Cave, East Yorkshire
Distance 6½ or 9½ miles
Time 3 or 4½ hours
Total ascent 252 metres
Google map of the route
Classroom blackboards, pavement hopscotch, goalposts and cricket wickets drawn on walls … there’s something very English about chalk. But there’s also something very chalky about England: from the south coast’s white cliffs via the North and South Downs, Chilterns and Lincolnshire hills, much of the country sits atop this white rock formed from traces of millions of tiny lives from millions of years ago.
Chalk landscapes of rolling hills, open plateaux and dry valleys may feel quintessentially English, but when it comes to walking destinations, they’re often ignored, the glory all going to more dramatic geology – limestone, granite, sandstone. This is particularly so in Yorkshire, where hikers flock to the Dales, Pennines and austere North York Moors. But south and east of there – more accessible for many by train or road – lie the Yorkshire Wolds, the final section of England’s great chalk slab, running in a curve from the Humber north to the coast at Filey. (There are train stations at both ends.)
There’s been a waymarked national trail along its 79 miles for 40 years, and in-the-know walkers have long enjoyed its downs, dry valleys, historic villages and ancient woods. And though the route never got the attention of other Yorkshire trails, that may soon change: this summer the Yorkshire Wolds became one of four new candidates for Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty status.
Those with a week to spare can walk the Wolds Way in six stages of between 8½ and 17 miles, but a circular hike from the village of South Cave makes an excellent day walk, and its Fox & Coney pub an excellent base.
While the Wolds may be about to enjoy their day in the sun, South Cave has settled into snoozy shadow – its days of striving and thriving long past. At the end of the 18th century it was a prosperous corn town, with a daily coach from Hull. The railways put an end to its glory, but South Cave is still a proper community, with a school and library, plus two pubs, a chemist and a grocer’s on mainly 18th-century Market Place.
Its proud, bell-towered 1796 town hall now houses the parish council.
From the Fox, turn left into Beverley Road and catch a first glimpse of the morning light on the Wolds’ high tops. Turn left again into Little Wold Lane and follow this as it becomes a stony track and starts to climb, soon joining the Wolds Way.
If you spent last lockdown trudging across spaces turned to quagmires by an increase in footfall, note that on chalk hills, water drains quickly, leaving footpaths passable and most valleys dry in all but the wettest winters.
The Humber, with its mudbanks and refineries, is an unlikely beauty spot, but on a bright autumn day I doubt England has anything more fair than the view from this steep path, the sun turning the estuary silver and lighting the wide spaces of Lincolnshire beyond. There were sloes and elderberries in the hedgerows and goldcrests “pip-pipping” as we walked. I grew up 10 miles east of here, in flat-as-flat Hull, and was astonished at this green and delightful land.
There was a similar surprise further on at Little Wold Vineyard (tour with tasting £20pp; samples are generous so maybe book for a different day).
“I was growing spuds 10 years ago,” said Tom Wilson, with the slightly dazed air of a man enjoying unexpected success. The farm has been in his family 75 years, and was always “difficult” – chalk hillsides are too steep for a combine harvester. But as oenophiles know, chalk is as perfect a match for wine as cheese: the soil encourages acidity in the fruit, and the vines’ roots easily penetrate the rock, while never suffering “wet feet”.
In 2012, Tom’s father Henry planted 2,000 vines – by hand, with a spade, using a German variety that can cope with Yorkshire weather. By 2016 they were producing 2,500 bottles of white, rosé and sparkling, and winning medals. We were impressed with their Barley Hill white, fruity with a nice dry bite; their best-seller, a red called Three Cocked Hat, was sadly sold out.
Beyond the vineyard, turn left at a fingerpost to drop down to the first of the dry valleys, deep-cut Coomber Dale, before the trail turns right into Weedley Dale, following a disused railway line, then left into wooded East Dale, with a steep climb at the end into sunlight. There was sheep’s wool caught on gnarled hawthorn bushes, and red kites circled overhead. The top is all of 160 metres above sea level, but feels high, with wind turbines and the High Hunsley radio mast making the most of the altitude.
Just before the B1230, turn left and walk inside the hedge to another footpath sign. This leads left along the edge of Austin’s Dale until it crosses Drewton Beck, with its noisy mallards, where you turn right to walk through the Drewton Estate. If you’ve worked up an appetite, its Farm Shop and Kitchen offers cooking to satisfy the most demanding hiker: specials might include local pork chop with rösti, wild mushroom and crispy poached egg, or butter-roasted halibut with samphire.
From here you can head back along Drewton Dale and rejoin the Wolds Way at Coomber Dale, but lunch may have given you energy for a three-mile loop through sleepier North Cave. Turn left along the A1034’s broad verge then right on to a well-maintained footpath leading to Drewton’s Farm and the William’s Den family attraction. As you enter North Cave, feast your eyes on the honey-coloured buildings and dovecote of Manor Farm, then head on to 850-year-old All Saints church, with a trout stream through its churchyard.
If you can resist the village’s White Hart free house, head left on a path just past the church to join a lane through the hamlet of Everthorpe. Past its old stone cottages and a venerable oak with circular bench, a lichened footpath sign points across fields and through a kissing gate to the golf course of Cave Castle – once lived in by George Washington’s great-grandfather. (There’s a public right of way across the course, but it’s not as well signposted as the rest of this walk.) Push on past fairways to South Cave church, also All Saints, and back to Market Place.
An inn since 1731, the Fox & Coney had become “a bit grotty”, according to the locally born barmaid. Sam Carroll and Michael Ashton, owners of the Triton Inn – a destination pub a couple of miles away in Brantingham – took over and reopened it in 2017, ditching the grotty without losing atmosphere. Real ales in the flagstoned bar include Sleck Dust (“sleck the dust” means quench your thirst around here) from Great Newsome brewery. The dimly lit, wood-floored restaurant feels cosy and welcoming, as does the unchallenging but carefully done menu of pies, burgers and fish. Dawdling walkers should note that its Sunday roasts usually sell out by 5pm.
Five new rooms in former stables take the total to 10. The best ones have sash windows over Market Place, and all come in 50 shades of F&B-style greys/greens/blues. Shower rooms are sleek and spacious; amenities include coffee machine, iron and ironing board. A furry throw on the big bed could be welcome when a northeasterly blows.
Doubles from £70 B&B, thefoxandconeyinn.co.uk