From Wilberforce to Mayor Whiteley

Our weekly series of the Alternative A-Z this week reaches the letter W. Readers are invited to submit their suggestions for the online version.


Described as the greatest Polar explorer since Captain Scott, Sir Wally Herbert came from York. His greatest triumph was to complete the "last great journey on Earth", the first man to walk across the icebound Arctic Ocean. He may have been the first to reach the North Pole on foot, a feat credited to the American, Rear Admiral Robert Peary in April 6, 1909. Wally controversially challenged the evidence that Peary had provided of his achievement. On April 4, 1969, 407 days into his own journey, Wally's team stopped at the North Pole. They planted a Union Jack and ate beef stew from the supplies being hauled by 40 sled dogs. Prime Minister Harold Wilson hailed it as a "feat of endurance and courage which ranks with any in polar history". Wally's superhuman physical achievements and his expeditions are recognised as laying the foundations for modern Polar science and our understanding of the thinning Arctic ice through climate change. Twice winner of the Polar Medal, he was also an author and artist, with the Royal Family among his patrons. He was knighted in 2000 and died, aged 72, this summer.

Grace Hammond


Being big and hilly in many parts and with vigorous rivers, it is natural that Yorkshire shames most English counties when it comes to waterfalls, variously known as forces, snouts and spouts. The biggest drop is behind a Dales inn. Dozens of them are exquisite and all have been in good flow in this wet summer. Among the gems are Janet's Foss, near Gordale Scar in Malhamdale. You can reach it by walking up Gordale Beck from the village (can be muddy) or on foot or wheels by road. Another handsome torrent, well known to walkers, is in Posforth Gill, on a watercourse which joins the River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey. Its aspect is brighter than the tree-shaded Foss and you can watch wagtails darting across the stones. Ingleton's succession of falls on the rivers Twiss and Doe are justly well known, and need walking with care. The 4.5 mile trail, for which there is an entry charge, is a splendid array of forces and pools, such as Hollybush Spout and Snow Falls. Aysgarth Falls on the Ure are three low level forces (the biggest drop is about nine feet) but are easily reached from the road and so attract most visitors of any in Yorkshire. Cascade enthusiasts might also look out for Catrigg Force, near Stainforth in Ribblesdale, Cote Gill in Littondale, and Cautley Spout in the Howgill fells – which tumbles for nearly an eighth of a mile. Britain's highest unbroken waterfall is in Gaping Gill, the vast pothole on Ingleborough. The Fell Beck drops 360 feet to the chamber floor. Yorkshire's longest unbroken fall above ground is Hardraw Force, near Hawes, in Wensleydale. The distance is 100 feet. It is in private grounds, reached through the Green Dragon inn, itself a delightful reason not to get as far as the waterfall. The pub's website claims the Force is the tallest single drop in Britain.

Frederic Manby


It's a name that has tickled the fancy of many a family passing through on the way to Bridlington, and one that has even made it into a couple of much-loved books. In The Lord of the Rings, Wetwang is a "desolate lonely place between Rohan and Gondar", and it also appears in the glossary of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Richard Whiteley was another who made merry at Wetwang's name on Countdown, and was rewarded by being made honorary mayor of the village. The reality is, of course, that it's no joke living in Wetwang. This is a charming Wolds village, with pretty stone houses and one of the loveliest ponds, stocked with swans, to be found anywhere in Yorkshire. So what about the name that launched a thousand titters? Wetwang is listed in the Domesday Book as Wetuuangha, but its earliest origins are a matter for debate. One school contends that the name originates from the Norse vaett vangr, which means "field for the trial of a legal action", but another contends that in Old English the name meant "the wet field" to differentiate it from Driffield, meaning "the dry field", about six miles away.

If Wetwang was the site of medieval trials, that might give a clue to its rich archaeology. The village has proved to be a treasure trove of finds. In the mid-80s, three chariots dating from about 300BC, buried with the bodies of two men and a woman who was possibly a tribal queen, were unearthed there and went on display in the British Museum. In 2001 came another extraordinary find. A complete chariot, with a body beside it, dating back 2,500 years was unearthed. Had a trial been held? Did it sink into a wet field? Was it the loser in a battle? Or had it been a terrible punishment for sniggering at the village's name? We shall never know.

Andrew Vine

wild flowers

Believe it or not, Yorkshire is blessed with wild flowers. You just have to look for them. Some are more obvious than others – witness the fields of blood-red poppies, the great waves of ox-eye daisies, whole glades of foxgloves, woodlands whose floors turn to moving seas of bluebells – and some are more welcome. Himalayan balsam may be pretty and long-flowering, but it is taking over huge areas of damp and shady land once the home to native, less-invasive wild flowers. Wild garlic is another rampaging plant, but it's still a delight (if somewhat of a smelly one) when in spring it clothes the ground in woodlands. Elsewhere, the Yorkshire Dales are home to many rare and beautiful orchids, and the limestone terraces of the Craven area provide ideal growing conditions for numerous small but beautiful plants. And on the east coast, the clifftops are covered by vast tracts of red campion. But wild flowers come in many forms and given a chance, will thrive. So, the reduction in the use of herbicides, particularly on roadsides, has encouraged many plants to take hold. Now it's possible to see common orchids blooming within feet of the busiest motorways. These are the obvious ones whose size and colour make them stand out. But lower down, in and among the grass, living in cracks in mortar are hundreds of wild flowers just getting on with their business of growing, seeding and increasing their numbers. Tiny cranesbills, sedums, saxifrages, bell flowers...look and you'll find them.

David Overend

richard whiteley

HE USED to joke that when he died, the Yorkshire Post would run the headline: "Ferret Man Dies". That was a reference to the much-repeated moment in 1977 when a ferret clamped its jaws around his forefinger on camera in Calendar and refused to let go. And when he did die, much too young at 61, in June 2005, it was testament to the affection in which Richard Whiteley was held by the public that they thought of him with a smile, not least because of the ferret. There was no gulf between the affable Whiteley they saw on screen and the man off it. His was a genuine, unaffected warmth, and no other television presenter from Yorkshire has quite held the place in viewers' hearts. Born in Bradford, educated at Giggleswick, making his home in the Dales, Whiteley barely left the Broad Acres apart from his time at Cambridge, where he took, by his own admission "a crappy Third" in English. That was typically self-deprecating. He was an exceptionally intelligent man, who was snapped up by the ITN graduate scheme and joined the fledgling Yorkshire Television in 1965 as a reporter. Three years later, he was present at the opening night of Calendar. Whiteley was a fine journalist, and notable triumphs included being the first to interview Margaret Thatcher after the Brighton bombing in 1984. Countdown was only meant to have a short run when it opened Channel 4 in 1982, but 23 years later it was still going strong, by which time Whiteley had clocked up more time on television than anyone else alive apart from the girl on the test card. His rapport with co-presenter Carol Vorderman, his 200-plus garish jackets, 500-plus loud ties, and awful puns made the show a hit. Whiteley took a one-man show to the Edinburgh Festival, was named Yorkshire Man of the Year in 2003, and the following year received the OBE. He devoted himself to numerous good causes in Yorkshire and to the end downplayed how good he was, saying of Countdown: "I'm not a natural quiz show host. If I had to apply for my own job today, I wouldn't get it."



Whitakers Chocolates are a local business which defied the odds and would not be beaten by the big boys in the sweet world. John Whitaker, a farmer's son, was one of 13 children who had a drapery and bakery in Cross Hills in the late 19th century. When his daughter, Ida, returned from an apprenticeship with her aunt in Morecambe she suggested they focus on a bakery. Fortuitously, the vicar's wife at Kildwick also taught her to make chocolate and by 1903 Ida was selling it. In 1926 they moved to their shop in Skipton High Street where chocolates were made in one of the rooms. They remained a sideline until 1964 when Whitakers focused on their best selling lines. Some two million choccies a week are produced and eaten in 25 countries, the most popular, the After Dinner Mint, being based on an old family recipe. The candelabra logo forming a W was inspired by one Liberace had on his piano.



William Wilberforce is alive and well and living near Ripon. A direct descendant of the Hull MP, he is an accountant who also manages the family estate. Inevitably he took an unaccustomed spotlight in the year that marked the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of Slavery Act. The original Wilberforce succeeded because his moral commitment was allied to extraordinary Parliamentary tenacity and physical courage. At one point, he could not enter Liverpool for fear for his life. A similar impulse led him to press for laws to end child labour. Here employers took a similar line to the slavers – arguing for its continuance in the name of national wealth-creation. There are dissenters at the Wilberforce shrine. Although he was the catalyst for the British ban, the transatlantic slave trade horrors continued until the 1830s. Some think Wilberforce receives too much credit for a battle that was fought by many – most importantly, by the slaves themselves. There's also a feeling that the large wads of lottery cash that paid for the 200th anniversary celebrations might have been more usefully spent on inquiring into the causes of the deep disaffection among the young within Britain's present black communities.

Michael Hickling