Aug 082009

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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'What’s a Painslackfull?' echoed the landlord of the Cross Keys, with the air of one who’d heard it a thousand times before. ‘Listen, if I have to tell you, I’ve got to kill you to keep the secret.’ I ordered one sight unseen, and went out into the garden of Thixendale’s little pub to wait for it and to savour the cold, bright, windy day that had descended over the wolds of East Yorkshire.

That evocative name of ‘wolds’ brings to mind the gentle felicities of the Cotswolds, near where I grew up in Gloucestershire. The Yorkshire Wolds are a different kind of countryside; steeper, deeper, more remote, wilder in feeling and aspect. The village of Thixendale lies down at the junction of a dozen of the small, snaking, flat-bottomed valleys, called ‘dales’ hereabouts, that hide so effectively in these chalky uplands. Driving from York to Bridlington through the modestly rolling cornfields of the East Riding, you’d never guess village or dales were there at all.

My Painslackfull turned out to consist of … well, I couldn’t possible reveal that. But it was fantastically delicious. Wiping my mouth and burping pleasurably, I made my way up the adjoining valleys of Thixen Dale and Milham Dale. Sheep had grazed the steep dales sides into a beautiful sward bright with pale blue scabious, wild thyme and delicately trembling harebells. The view west from the Roman road on the ridge above was sensational, and quite unexpected in these apparently flat lands: forty or fifty miles across the Vale of York towards the hazy outlines of the Pennine Hills.

I walked down into the silent, sleepy and perfectly ordered village of Kirby Underdale, whose Norman church held a strange surprise: a blurred sandstone carving of Mercury, god of good luck and swift action. Setting back by way of Painsthorpe Dale and Worm Dale, I pictured the sculptor at work with careful devotion, long before Christianity first blew like a breeze across these secret dales.

Down in the green cleft of Thixendale I came across fifty heavy-coated sheep barging frantically round a pen, watched with fixed intensity by a brace of collies. The farmer and his boy were opening their Thermos on the dale side above. ‘Rained off from shearing ‘em yesterday,’ observed the farmer phlegmatically, ‘but we’ll get ‘em done tonight,’ and he sipped his tea with quiet relish.

Start & finish: Cross Keys Inn, Thixendale, N. Yorks YO17 9TG (OS ref SE 845610)

Getting there: Thixendale is signed off A166 York-Driffield road. Entering village, turn left (‘Birdsall, Malton’) to find Cross Keys on right.

Walk(8 ½ miles, moderate, OS Explorers 300, 294): From Cross Keys Inn, through village past church. 50 yd beyond village sign, left through gateway; up Thixen Dale, then Milham Dale to Roman road. Left for 1/3 mile; then right down 4 fields (gates, stiles) to pass Woodley Farm. At bottom of field, left through gate (yellow arrow) across field to join track to road (808590). Right past Waterloo Cottage, then through Kirby Underdale.

Beyond church, road bends left; right here over stile. Cross paddock; left through gate past Beech Farm; right up Painsthorpe Lane to Roman road. Left (‘Malton’) for 150 yd; right along farm track. In ½ mile, track doglegs. On right bend, keep forward (blue arrow) for 30 yd, then right along hedge. Through gate; down Wormdale to Thixen Dale; left . Left along Thixen Dale bottom to road; right to Thixendale.

NB – Detailed directions (recommended), map, more walks:

Lunch and Accommodation: Cross Keys Inn, Thixendale (01377-288272) – £54 dble B&B)

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