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Vikings and a Cardinal Beside the Ouse

From Wistow to Cawood, and a return along the riverbank, with reminders of 1066 and Cardinal Wolsey.

Distance 7 miles (11.3km)

Minimum time 3hrs

Ascent/gradient Negligible

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Field paths and tracks, and river embankment, 8 stiles

Landscape Flat farmland and river flood plain

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 290 York, Selby & Tadcaster

Start/finish SE 593356

Dog friendliness Dogs should be on leads at all times

Parking Roadside parking in Wistow village

Public toilets None on route

1 Start by the door of Wistow church and walk past the Black Swan. At the road junction beyond, turn left along Station Road. At the next junction turn right. Where the road bends left, go straight ahead up a track by a footpath sign. Where the track divides go right and follow the hedgerow round to the right. Ahead of you is the tall, oddly-shaped tower of Wistow Mine. Wistow is in the Selby Coal Field, and the pit-head buildings reflect modern mining design.

2 The path then goes half left across the field to the end of a hedge and crosses a ditch. Go straight ahead with the ditch on your right and at the next hedge go ahead, following the wire fence as it curves to follow the ditch. Pass through a gateway in a fence and continue through the field to a gap in the top right-hand corner. Cross a ditch and follow the path as it winds towards a double telegraph pole, and on through a gate to join a track beside glasshouses, towards a brick house and then on to a lane. This is fertile farming country, on the rich flood plain of the River Ouse. A wide variety of crops is grown, including sugar beet, which you may see later being transported by barge along the river.

3 Turn right, then go left beyond the house, up the field side to cross a footbridge. Turn right and walk across the field. Cross the ditch and continue towards the right of the red-roofed houses to reach a track by allotments. Follow the track to meet a crossing hedge, and turn left down the field edge. Go right by the fence and cross a stile beside a footpath sign into a sports field. Leave by a wooden stile beyond the slide, to emerge, by another stile, on to the road. Turn right up the road, turning left at the junction, towards Tadcaster. Follow the road past the gatehouse to Cawood Castle.

4 At the traffic lights turn right and, just before the bridge, go right again, down Old Road. Where the road bends right continue ahead down Water Row to the gate into the churchyard. Pass to the left of the church to walk along the river bank, going over five stiles. As the river bends southwards you are opposite Riccall Landing.
Beyond a brick building with a footbridge to it, turn right at a crossing track, passing a pond. Turn left at the T-junction and follow the road to another T-junction. Turn right and follow the road back into the village, bearing left past the school and then right by the 'no through road' sign to take you back to the church.

The gatehouse to Cawood Castle is all that remains of the former seat of the Archbishops of York, on a site given to them by King Athelstan around 930. The gatehouse is 15th century, and is now let for holidays by the Landmark Trust. Cawood was home to Cardinal Wolsey, and it was here that he was arrested for treason against King Henry VIII. It was the nearest he ever got to York, even though he was its archbishop.

Riccall Landing is where the Norwegian fleet of Harald Hardrada landed in 1066, in its attempt to defeat King Harold Godwinson. Three hundred fearsome Viking ships were sailed or rowed up the Ouse, and after the troops disembarked they marched to Stamford Bridge where, though superior in numbers, they were defeated by the English army. Of the 300 ships, only two dozen sailed back to Norway.

Where to eat and drink

The Black Swan in Wistow has decent beer but no meals, while Il Giardino Italian restaurant opens only in the evenings. In Cawood the Ferry Inn, which has been voted Pub of the Year several times by the local newspaper, offers home-cooked food and real ale.

While you're there

Look in Cawood church as you pass. It is set at the highest point of the village (even though it is very close to the river). It dates from around 1150 - but it was first mentioned only in 1294. It probably served as the castle's chapel until its own was built in around 1270. Inside is a monument to Archbishop Mountain, a local man, successively Bishop of Lincoln and London before becoming Archbishop of York. He survived his enthronement by only a fortnight. There is also a plaque to a choirboy who became an air-ship steward and died in the R101 disaster.

What to look for

Cawood is built along the banks of the River Ouse, which is fed by nearly all the main rivers of Yorkshire - and it is also tidal. No wonder, then, that Cawood has always been prone to flooding. Older inhabitants talk of the severe floods of spring 1947, while fresher in the memory are those of late autumn 2000. Flood defences have been built up and strengthened over the years, but fast-flowing, deep water can eventually overcome even the stoutest barriers. The river bank along which you walk is built so as to confine the water, but also to allow it to flood the low-lying farmland, locally known as Cawood Ings, when the floods come, so the village is protected. The water should also flood nearby Wistow Lordship before rejoining the river further downstream. Exceptional floods, though, make these defences vulnerable, even when they are reinforced with sandbags, and homes are still prone to flooding, even at some distance from the river.

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