THE HUDSON WAY – 20 miles – Friday 29th August 2003
Whilst staying in York at the end of August 2003 I decided to explore one of the many disused railway lines the area had to offer and headed east to Market Weighton. I was vaguely aware of the Hudson Way from my time along the Wolds Way four years earlier. With no map and no written details to hand I was well prepared, I’d even forgotten about lunch until a local Co-op reminded me it might be a good idea. Market Weighton is best known for William Bradley, born on the 10th February 1787, his height of 7ft, 9 inches made him the tallest man to have ever lived in England. The town was once an important junction for lines to York, Selby, Beverley and Driffield and as I searched for the site of its station from those old railway days, I surmised that Station Road was possibly my best bet. A nearby sign indicated the start of the Hudson Way and pointed me due east to Beverley 10 miles hence. At 16 minutes past midday it was a late start.
The walk was named after George Hudson, the self-styled ‘Railway King’ of York. Born in March 1800, this farmer’s son from Howsham was an apprentice to drapers and silk mercers in York and even married the owner’s daughter. After inheriting £30,000 he amassed an even greater fortune by investing into railway shares and helped to gain parliamentary approval for the York and North Midlands Railway. It was his entrepreneurial railway skills that developed York into the railway capital of England and made him its Lord Mayor on three occasions. At the height of his success he bought the nearby Londesborough Estate in 1845 and controlled more than 1,500 miles of railway, he even had his own station on the York to Market Weighton line. He bought more land to further his railway interests and soon held a monopoly of railway track which made him a very rich man indeed. He also accumulated a few enemies along the way by exercising some dubious financial practices. When the moment was right, his enemies struck at the heart of his empire which precipitated his spectacular demise. His fall from grace came in 1849 after he was accused of fraud in his operation of the Eastern Counties Railway. Eventually he and the Londesborough Estate parted company and he was forced to spend some time abroad on gardening leave. When he did return he spent three months in York jail for debt. He died in December 1871 a broken man and was buried in Scrayingham churchyard near his home.
The line from York to Beverley was built in two stages with trains running between Bootham, just outside York, and Market Weighton by the 3rd October 1847. It took nearly eighteen years before the extension to Beverley was opened. By 1845 George Hudson had a monopoly on all routes to Hull and when he bought the Londesborough Estate it effectively blocked the route of one rival line. This extravagant incursion came at a price as he was bound to an agreement to build the Beverley line himself. However, by the time it had been approved on the 13th July 1849 the Committee of Investigation had exposed George Hudson’s financial misdemeanours. Because of this he was removed from the equation and the approval lapsed. Ironic that the line which bears his name today was never actually completed by him. The good people of Beverley implored the North Eastern Railway to complete the extension and it opened on the 1st May 1865 as a single line track cutting through a natural valley called the Market Weighton Gap. This was what lay ahead of me as I set off from Market Weighton.
You do wonder what Dr Beeching had against Market Weighton, it is one of the saddest railway graveyards in the country. At one time four lines converged on its station but after all of them were axed, the area was cut off from the national railway network. It was no coincidence that the diminishing fortunes of the town coincided with the demise of its railways. At the time of its closure the York to Beverley line was still profitable and the potential for such a line today has far outweighed the claimed saving of £43,300 its closure made. After the last train ran on the 29th November 1965, East Riding County Council bought the old line from Market Weighton to Beverley in 1971. In 1979 British Rail cleared the dilapidated site of the Market Weighton station for housing but the line itself was not developed until 1983 when Humberside County Council converted it into a 10 mile railway walk and nature trail called, would you believe it, the Hudson Way.
The walk began across an open area of the one time goods yard and then followed a narrow track whilst a more tempting alternative veered off to the right. Okay, I’ll own up, I went down this before realising it was wrong, I mean what’s the big deal, we all screw up once in a while! Further on it was more like a proper disused line with high and imposing trees on either side and lots of dog poo. After driving in constant rain from York the afternoon had turned pleasant with breaking clouds giving way to blue, a few moments later and the sun was out. After 1½ miles I came to a road crossing I recognised from a wet and miserable Sunday morning back in October 1999. I was making for Goodmanham on the Wolds Way with a friend and his knee gave out at this point so we halted by the crossing gate whilst he reconciled himself with the pain shooting through his leg. Ouch, we’ve all been there at some point!
Half a mile on I passed through a car park at Springwell Field, the surroundings here were very enjoyable and the weather improved it even more. From here the cuttings widened and began to yield more views. Although it started out as a single track, in 1889 the 42 miles from York to Beverley was upgraded to a double line. With Southwold Farm ahead in the distance I passed Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit, quarried during the 1860’s to build the railway it was disused in 1902 and today is a nature reserve owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Beyond another crossing, I crossed what is considered to be the finest bridge of the walk. Any indication of its splendour was lost on the trail but to the south west, some idea of my lofty perch could be discerned along the line of the road that had followed me since Goodmanham.
I crossed a gravelled car park to a large white building at 13:25, Kiplingcotes Railway Station. In 2003 the old signal box opposite had been recently restored. Kiplingcotes Station had an eccentric but homely look, I quite liked it despite the insane reason why it was built. The original York to Beverley line was halted due to the obstructions of Lord Hotham of Dalton Holme as his conditions for passing the line over his land made the venture financially unworkable. When the extension from Market Weighton to Beverley was finally built, Lord Hotham’s incursions delayed things further. Because of him the village of Goodmanham never got a station, yet the remote and uninhabited area of Kiplingcotes did. At his lordship’s behest this station was supplied at the railway company’s expense to serve his estate. Hotham also insisted that no trains ran on Sundays and, but for exceptional circumstances, that rule was applied throughout the life of the railway.
These days the station is a private residence but the owner seemed amiable enough to have walkers pass on a trackbed between well preserved platforms. His garden stretched out along the far eastern end of the north platform. On the lanes and tracks nearby runs an event that is still held each year on the third Thursday of every March. The 4 mile Kiplingcotes Derby has the unique distinction of being England’s oldest horse race. Although the first race dates back to 1519, records only began in 1555. Amateur competitors from local farming communities compete for prize money that is never more than a hundred pounds.
Where the line dropped to the access road for Wallis Grange the countryside opened up completely and I was treated to some glorious views of a late summer landscape in rural East Yorkshire. This was a very enjoyable stretch and I was warming more and more to a walk I had initially started reluctantly. From the 4th mile I entered the Gardham Cutting within Etton Wold, an important wildlife habitat, whilst the spire of South Dalton church to the north marked the home and estate of the erstwhile mentioned and irksome Lord Hotham. Beyond an over-bridge to Wold Farm and the 5th mile, I stopped on a bench just after 2pm prior to the road from Gardham for a bite to eat.
The road crossing was a deep one, the bridge long since removed, then just beyond that was Etton Fields Farm at the 6th mile. At the 7th mile I passed the ruinous shell of an old brick windmill at Mill Farm, a romantic image to be sure. Here I climbed to the over-bridge and photographed the line heading east, not a lot had changed since 1990 when the same image in my book was taken. A mile later I reached a flight of steps down to the busy B1248 road at Cherry Burton. Here the mileage on a finger post pointing back to Market Weighton said 5½ miles yet on the other side was one pointing to Beverley saying 2½ miles. By this reckoning I had just crossed a road 2 miles wide!
The road brought me to Cherry Burton Station. Although the platforms on either side were heavily overgrown, this building was also enjoying life as a private residence. It was a lovely place to have a home, just a shame about these damned walkers. A lot of the rural stations on these disused lines are some distance from the towns they served and like many of them, this one at Cherry Burton was of little use to its villagers. If it had been built a half mile to the west it would have been better placed for Cherry Burton and Etton as well. The remote location, ideal as a private home today, was no doubt the reason why it closed to passengers on 5th January 1959.
The final two miles were more enclosed between a thick cover of undergrowth and cuttings. Then I went beneath a large over-bridge carrying the A164 to complete the last two thirds of a mile. Just to the north was Leconfield Airfield which during WWII housed fighter squadrons of Spitfires and Hurricanes and later on squadrons of light bombers. Soon enough, three and a quarter hours after setting off from Market Weighton I reached the northern outskirts of Beverley to complete the end of the Hudson Way at the former site of the Pighill level crossing. It was never my intention to penetrate Beverley (much to her relief no doubt!) though the track continued for another three quarters of a mile to a junction with the current Hull to Scarborough line. Instead I looked at the footbridge that crossed the new bypass into town and then back down the line I had just walked to give serious consideration what to do next.
After a general mooch around I pondered what to and after such a late start, even considered a taxi or bus back. Whilst there three lads turned and began bombing up and down the line on a motorised scooter leaving a trail of smoke and fumes belching out behind them as they took their goes in turn. It was noisy for such a small thing but it did look like fun and I had half a mind to grab it off them and make my way back to Market Weighton on that. Still seeing that I am not that sort of person and that the 10 miles to Beverley had not been so hard, I decided to repeat the task and began walking back at 15:46.
All that had gone before was repeated, including the bench near Gardham where I stopped for another short break. Beyond this I was passed by the only equine walker I saw that day and it was certainly no candidate for the Kiplingcotes Derby. By this time my good fortune with the weather was running out as across the flatlands to the north the by-product of an approaching storm could be seen as several rainbows. At Kiplingcotes Station the clouds were gathering and beyond the chalk pit and car park I had to don waterproofs. From Goodmanham crossing the remaining 1½ miles were a combination of drizzle and sunshine as the thin wet path ahead of me shone into the evening light like a silver strand. Eventually the line widened and I was in the old goods yard once more and amongst the houses I’d departed earlier that afternoon with the streets of Market Weighton being noticeably wetter. All told, this thoroughly enjoyable walk had taken less than 6 hours going at a leisurely pace from end to end, or beginning to beginning depending on where you lived.