An undemanding stroll through history in rolling, pastoral countryside to the east of Wakefield.
Distance 5 miles (8km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 131ft (40m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Mostly field paths; care should be taken with route finding, on the first section to East Hardwick, 11 stiles
Landscape Gently rolling, arable country
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 278 Sheffield & Barnsley
Start/finish SE 441180
Dog friendliness Dogs on leads in villages and through farmyards
Parking A few parking places in middle of High Ackworth, near church and village green
Public toilets None on route
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1 From the top of the village green, take a narrow ginnel immediately to the right of Manor House. Beyond a stile made of stone slabs (not the last you'll see today), keep to the right-hand edge of a small field, to another stile. A ginnel brings you out into Woodland Grove; go left here, then first right, to meet the A628, Pontefract Road. Go left, but for just 100yds (91m). Look out on the right for a gap in the hedgerow and a footpath sign (opposite a house called Tall Trees). Walk straight across a field (follow the direction of the sign), to a tiny footbridge over a beck. Continue along the right-hand edge of the next field, over another tiny bridge. Keep ahead between fields - going sharp left, then sharp right, over another footbridge - to follow a hedgerow. When you come to a gap in the hedge, head straight across the next two fields (towards the houses you see ahead).
2 Take a bridge over a railway line, and continue between fields towards Hundhill Farm. Keep right at the farm's boundary wall, to a stile. Bear left along the lane; after just 75yds (68m), and after a left-hand bend, take a gap stile in the wall on your right, on to an enclosed path. Beyond the next stile, bear right along a minor road that soon meets the A639. Cross the road, passing the old village pump, and walk into the village of East Hardwick. Beyond the church, where the road bears left, look out for a sign ('Public Bridleway') on your right, just before a house called Bridleways.
3 Go right here, along a track between hedgerows. Soon after the track goes left, take a gap in the hedge to your right. Follow a field path uphill, keeping a hedgerow to your right. At the top of this narrow field, keep straight ahead on a footpath between fields. Follow a drainage channel to meet a crossing track. Go right here, to cross over the A639 again. Take the road ahead (this is Rigg Lane) and, at White Gates Farm, go left, between farm buildings, on to a concrete track.
4 Follow this track past a water treatment works, to a concrete bridge over the River Went (notice the old packhorse bridge next to it). Without crossing either bridge, bear right, on a field-edge path, to accompany the river. A little plank bridge takes you across a side-beck, before you walk beneath the six arches of a railway viaduct.
5 Continue by the riverside, passing (not crossing) a stone bridge over the river. Bear right here, across the corner of a field, in front of the barns of Low Farm, to join a field-edge path. Follow a hedge towards houses, to a stile and a road. This is Low Ackworth.
6 Cross the road and take a ginnel between houses. Beyond a stile at the far end, bear half left across a field to a stile and across another field. A stile gives access to another ginnel. Continue along Hill Drive, soon bearing right, down into a cul-de-sac. At the bottom, take a narrow ginnel on the left, to arrive back in High Ackworth near the village green.
With its village green acting as the centrepiece for some fine old houses, High Ackworth has a pleasantly old-fashioned air and is now designated a conservation area. Today the village is best known for its school, founded by a prominent Quaker, John Fothergil, to teach the children of 'Friends not in affluence'. Ackworth Quaker School opened its doors on October 18, 1779, a day still commemorated by the pupils as Founder's Day. Opposite the village green are almshouses, built in 1741 to house 'a schoolmaster and six poor women'. Nearby Ackworth Old Hall, dating from the early 17th century, is supposed to be haunted by John Nevison, a notorious robber and highwayman. His most famous act of daring was in 1676 when he rode from Rochester to York in just 15 hours. The story goes that he committed a robbery and then was afraid his victim might have recognised him. Fleeing the scene, he put the 230 miles (373km) behind him in record time. On his arrival in York, was seen asking the Lord Mayor the time. After his arrest he used the Mayor as his alibi and he was acquitted. No one believed the journey could be made in so short a time. The feat is often wrongly attributed to another highwayman, Dick Turpin, who was not yet born.
Until the Reformation, the stone plinth on the village green was topped by a cross. It was knocked off by Cromwell's troops, whose puritanical dislike of religious ornament led them to destroy the church font too. The cross had been erected in memory of Father Thomas Balne of nearby Nostell Priory, who once preached from here. During a pilgrimage to Rome, he succumbed to the plague. When his body was being brought back to the priory, mourners insisted on opening the coffin here in High Ackworth. As a result, the plague was inflicted upon the community, with devastating results. The Plague Stone, by the Pontefract Road, dates from a second devastating outbreak in 1645 (PWhile You're There).
Village greens are uncommon features in West Yorkshire, a county in which even the smallest community can feel like a town. But the Industrial Revolution passed Ackworth by; no mill chimneys ever disturbed the symmetry. Surrounded by buildings of character - including the parish church, Manor House and a row of almshouses - Ackworth has managed to retain its village atmosphere.
The Plague Stone stands outside Ackworth, at the junction of the A628 Pontefract Road and Sandy Gate Lane. It is an evocative relic of when the Black Death swept through these communities, in 1645, killing over 150 villagers. The hollow in the stone would have been filled with vinegar to disinfect coins left in payment for food brought from outside the village while it was in quarantine. The victims are thought to have been buried in the 'Burial Field' a few hundred paces to the east. Only the year before the same fields had witnessed some bloody skirmishing between the Parliamentarian troops and Royalists and may well have already been used for mass burials.
The Brown Cow is pleasantly situated on Pontefract Road in the middle of High Ackworth, overlooking the village green. There are benches out front and it's open all day. They serve a range of bar meals between noon and 2pm and on Thursday and Friday evenings.