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East Yorkshire – Wolds Apart

Travel editor Neil Sowerby goes in search of “Hockney Country” and finds an artistic bonus inside a haunted Elizabethan masterpiece

Written by . Published on March 23rd 2012.

East Yorkshire – Wolds Apart

SPRING comes to Woldgate. Well, almost. We were a bit early to experience the full majesty captured by David Hockney in his recent work with that title. OK, the hawthorn blossom was debuting down below in the lanes around Burton Agnes and the puffins were straggling in ahead of schedule off Bempton Cliffs, but up here on Woldgate’s panoramic ridge the trees were still gaunt. And the folk blinking in the pale sunshine along Bridlington prom stayed fleece-clad.

Woldgate WoodsWoldgate Woods, 21, 23 and 29 Noveember 2006. Courtesy of the artist

Winter TimberWinter Timber, 2009. Private collection

A Closer TunnelA Closer Winter Tunnel, February - March 2006. Art Gallery of New South Wales

Woldgate is a 10-mile straight, single track unmetalled (probably Roman) road that links the slightly shabby East Riding resort with its rolling hinterland, the Yorkshire Wolds. If it weren’t for a famous Bradford-born artist swapping his Californian exile in search of a different landscape and quality of light, Woldgate would have remained an afternoon drive cherished by locals, its woods left to foxes, woodpeckers and tinkers.

The Royal Academy Exhibition, Hockney: The Bigger Picture, has changed all that. It has been mobbed. That’s unlikely to happen to Woldgate and other local landscapes captured in paint and iPod image, but there is a kind of Constable effect in embryo happening. Highfield Farm, our comfy B&B, had the show catalogue on the coffee table and Leeds entrepreneurs are already offering a four day bike tour around Hockney Wolds sites such as Thixendale, Sledmere, Rudston and Warter.

The Real WoldgateThe real Woldgate – a panoramic 10 mile drive

Gaunt Trees Along WoldgateGaunt trees with crow's nests signal spring is not quite in full spate

Brid mayor Cyril Marburg forecast a “very good year” for the town in the Yorkshire Post (which as well as flogging Hockney DVDs has also reported on the rubbish strewn along parts of Woldgate. The shame). We didn’t notice the detritus, just the immense, understated beauty of the landscape.

After a brief detour to visit windswept Rudston churchyard, home to Britain’s highest standing stone (25ft and stonily impressive) and the grave of Winifred “South Riding” Holtby, we swooped down into sleepy Kilham. Once it was the metropolis of the Wolds – yes, mightier than Driffield – with six schools and a lunatic asylum. The only evidence  today some impressive townhouses and a dominating church.

Windswept Trees Above WoldgateWindswept upland trees – a Hockney picture waiting to happen?

Opposite All Saints is a classic friendly village pub, The Old Star. Sipping local Great Newsome ale by the window we spotted a photo of David Hockney and associates. Before the smoking ban excluded his compulsive pastime he was apparently a regular here. The woodland “tunnel” that appears throughout The Bigger Picture is only a 10-minute walk away.

We couldn’t stop. We were late for a private guided tour around Burton Agnes Hall. Simon Jenkins, in his essential England's Thousand Best Houses, described it as “the perfect English house” and as one of the 20 best alongside Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and Chatsworth House. He got it spot on.

Memento Moricarvings At Burton AgnesMemento Moric – Elizabethan carvings At Burton Agnes

Queen's State BedroomQueen's State Bedroom

And as well as the architecture – highlights the stupendous, Elizabethan magnificently carved Great Hall, Queen’s State Bedroom and airy attic Long Gallery – there is a ghost...  and what a ghost. Fifteen generations have lived in the hall for over 400 years, most in the spectral presence of Katharine (Anne) Griffith, who died here in 1620.

She was one of the three daughters of Sir Henry, who built the Hall. Anne had watched the building and was besotted with the place. When it was almost finished she was set upon by ruffians on the road and die shortly afterwards. On her deathbed she asked for her head to be severed upon her demise and preserved in the hall forever. Her sisters agreed in order to calm her, but afterwards she was buried in the nearby churchyard. Upon which her ghost walked, forcing the family to obey her wishes. Twice there were attempts to get rid of of it – with ghostly consequences each time.

Great Hall, Burton AgnesGreat Hall, Burton Agnes

The skull is believed now to be built into one of the old walls. Only a family member may know the secret. The decidedly chilly Queen’s State Bedroom is where Anne passed away. The rest of the house is warm and welcoming. A later family member collected Impressionist and early 20th century art, much of which is hung in the Long Gallery. Renoirs, Gaugins, Augustus Johns and the like alongside current works by the Hall’s regular artists-in-residence. This is a very special stately home.

Add award-winning walled gardens, which can be visited in their own right, and a charming cafe and decidedly non-NT style shop, plus the English Heritage-run original manor house and you have a wonderful visitor package. There are even special events such as a summer jazz festival.

This was a definite highlight of the trip. None of the surrounding countryside is as spectacular as The Dales and the North Yorks Moors. Go south towards Hull and bonny Beverley with its stupendous Minster and you are soon in monotonous flatlands. Off the beaten track, though, it does feel genuinely unspoilt. Yorkshire has a habit of evolving tourist habitats – Bronte Country, Herriot, Heartbeat, Last of The Summer Wine. Sorry, Cyril. Can’t see that happening here on a populist level.

All The Fun Of The Fair Brid SeafrontAll the fun of the fair along Brid seafront

Little And Large Casting Off In BridlingtonLittle and Large casting off in Bridlington

I like Bridlington for what it is – a jolly kiss me quick and candy-floss downmarket alternative to Whitby and Scarborough – with access to great cliff walks. After wave-smashed Flamborough Head, trek up to Bempton Cliffs RSPB reserve to check out gannet nesting en masse.

In town, a mile inland, there’s a pleasant Old Town centred round High Street’s cafes and antique shops. You takes your pick in Brid – the Priory Church and Bayle Museum or The John Bull World of Rock. Visiting Bessingby Road to view the original for Hockney’s “25 Big Trees Between Bridlington School and Morrison’s Supermarket” is always going to be a niche activity.

Tide In At Flamborough HeadTide in at Flamborough Head – a perilous spot

Gorse And Lighthouse, Flamborough HeadGorse and Lighthouse, Flamborough Head

Though it’s not far from 149@Marton Road, voted Britan’s best fish and chip shop in 2012. On the evidence of my haddock and its crisp batter, the judges got it right.

We intended to dine at the Pipe Glass pub at South Dalton, but such is the lure of its Michelin star, it was booked up. Watch Confidential soon for my return to review James Mackintosh’s food. As it turned out, we happened upon a dining pub nearby, for which I predict great things, too.

The Star@Sancton (a village between Market Weighton and Beverley) looks a fairly typical village local from the outside and there is a proper bar inside, deserving of its Good Beer Guide listing. Chef/proprietor Ben Cox won the Great Yorkshire Pudding Challenge, too. His quietly elaborate menu, featuring local venison, beef and veg, transcends mere pub grub and service, under wife Lindsey, is a smiling, smoothly-run operation to match. One to drive out of your way for.

High Rise Gannets At Flamborough HeadHigh rise gannets nesting at Flamborough Head

Before our trip, on the evidence of a great deal of hype, I was in two minds. David Hockney’s Yorkshire Wolds recalled the technicolor pyrotechnics of David Hockney’s California – OK, without the fanciable lads in the nip.

I was swayed by my old acquaintance Brian Sewell, who wrote in The Evening Standard: ”My predominant response to David Hockney's exhibition of Yorkshire landscapes at the Royal Academy is ‘Why?’. Why is there so much of it? Why is so much of it so big, so towering, so vast, so overblown and corpulent? Why is it so repetitive? Why is everything so unreally bright, so garish, discordant, raw and Romany? Why is the brushwork so careless, crude and coarse?”

Impressionism At Burton AgnesImpressionism and solid comfort at Burton Agnes

The Long Gallery At Burton AgnesMagnificent – The Long Gallery at Burton Agnes Hall

I changed my mind up on Woldgate. My camera couldn’t capture the essence of it in the way Hockney’s paints have. For subtler artistic pleasures though, brave the ghost,  and wander the rooms of Burton Agnes. Now that is a masterpiece.

Fact file

Highfield FarmHighfield Farm

Bridlington is 100 miles by car from Manchester. It can be reached via rail, changing at Hull.

Highfield Farm and Yorkshire Wolds Cookery School, Southburn Road, Southburn, Driffield, YO25 9AF (01377 227723, http://highfieldfarm.co.uk). Two bedroom self-catering college (April rates from £475 a week) plus B&B in seven twin/double rooms (from £75) with a comfortable lounge area. To book ring or visit website. Good value, recommended. For details of cookery courses visit www.YorkshireWoldsCookerySchool.co.uk. Pictured above.

Star@Sancton, King Street, Sancton, Market Weighton, York, East Yorkshire YO43 4QP (01430 82769, www.thestaratsancton.co.uk). Closed all day Monday.

149@Marton Road, Bridlington, YO616 7DJ. http://fishandchipsat149.co.uk

. Open all day until 9pm (closed Sundays). (@s off to the web’s influence!)

Burton Agnes Hall, Burton Agnes, East Yorkshire, YO25 4NB (01262 490324, www.burtonagnes.com). Hall, gardens, cafe and shops open from April 1 until October 31, 2012. 11am-5pm. Hall and Gardens: Adult, £8 (gardens only, £5), child £4, family £21.

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture runs from January 21-April 9 2012 at the Royal Academy in London Adfult ticket costs £14. Further ticket details from www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/hockney/tickets.

Unofficial Hockney Art Trail. Details from http://www.yocc.co.uk.

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