Mark Blakeston has spent over 600 hours walking to come up with the new circular 43-mile Wold Rangers Way and several other smaller circular routes that are all part of the Wold Rangers experience ranging from three miles upwards, all starting and finishing in the town.
Mark said his initial idea had been that the walks themselves were of the greatest importance, but now believes it is the historic nature of the routes and the characters that used them that will attract far more than purely those looking for somewhere different to walk in the countryside.
“I love walking and I’m a Driffield town councillor. I came up with the idea of the Wold Rangers Way through talking with our town clerk Claire Binnington. We are always thinking about how we can attract greater footfall into the town and realised that, perhaps surprisingly, given that we are known as the capital of the Wolds, most Wolds walks didn’t even include Driffield.
“Claire and I both grew up hearing about the amazing lives of the Wold Rangers. My grandad would tell stories of them and how farmers would leave their barn doors open for these people such as Horsehair Jack who have gone down in East Riding folklore.
“They were men and women who for various reasons had given up their normal existence in towns or cities, had presumably left behind loved ones or had suffered some kind of stress and had come to live rough on the green lanes and chalk pits of the Wolds.
“They were a real mixed bag of personalities from the displaced, the homeless, people who were struggling to find employment in the face of the industrial revolution and increasing farm mechanisation and soldiers returning from the Crimean War (1853-56), South African Wars (1879-1915) and the First World War who were quite possibly suffering from what we now know as PTSD and just didn’t want to go back into normal society.”
The Wold Rangers walked the green lanes travelling from farm to farm in order to pick up what work they could, take shelter and seek food. It appears the attraction of the Wolds was the long-held tradition of East Yorkshire hospitality.
Mark said the Wold Rangers’ regular routes that became known as ‘trods’ have formed the basis of the Wold Rangers Way.
“Croom Mabel is the name of the three-mile walk. Mabel was born at Little Driffield and used to collect rags and clothes in her pram and sell them in Driffield and Malton. There is one story that tells of her wearing a gold lamé evening dress by her campfire and that someone who saw her is reputed to have said, ‘Ey up Mabel, see you’re dressed for dinner’.”
Late in her life she ended up in an old people’s home, but the matron said that as the sun came out and spring came she would be off up the hill and they wouldn’t see her again until winter. And that was when she was well into her 80s.
Dog Geordie was the last of the Wold Rangers. He died in 1987 bringing to an end the nomads of the Wolds. Mark will be leading the 17-mile circular route dedicated to him next Saturday.
Claire said Dog Geordie was so named because of his lurcher who would sit with him in Driffield Market Place.
“He would wait for a milk churn lorry and hitch a lift on the back, go to Hull and he’d come back with a wrist full of watches to sell. He was known for having a great big bag of rabbits that he would exchange for breakfast on farms.”
Claire said her mother-in-law grew up at Garton on the Wolds and remembers seeing Dog Geordie, Croom Mabel and others such as Mad Halifax, Ginger Joe, Norfolk Bob and Manchester Lily.
“The stories of the Wold Rangers and the customs kept by farmers, landowners and notably Sir Tatton Sykes, the fourth baronet of Sledmere House, are unique to the East Riding and the Wolds.
“Sir Tatton Sykes became known as the Wold Rangers’ friend and had a bell put at the back door of Sledmere House they could ring. He said his staff had to answer and provide a meat sandwich and a cup of tea.
“Farmers largely welcomed and looked after them and they became part of our Wolds heritage. Angela Antrim, daughter of Sir Mark Sykes of Sledmere, wrote the book, The Yorkshire Wold Rangers, which recounts her memories of Dog Geordie and others.
“Until now that was the only historic artefact of these colourful people who were a feature of our countryside for over 150 years.
“Mark’s work in coming up with the 43-mile Wold Rangers Way and the shorter walks will now allow everyone to experience their lives again.”