Is East Riding the Cinderella on Yorkshire’s tourism trail? – David Behrens
At the other side of the county is possibly the least familiar. Snaking barely 80 miles from Hessle to Filey, the Yorkshire Wolds Way is the shortest of all England’s trails, and the gentlest. There are no peaks here; just endless, rolling fields and views out to sea. It’s a wonder more people don’t come.
But why would they? The Wolds Way sits almost entirely within the smallest of Yorkshire’s Ridings, and in the promotion of the whole county to the nation, its allure is apt to get lost in the small print.
Yet the Wolds themselves – the lowlands to the east of the Vale of York – are authentically Yorkshire’s third National Park. More compact than either the Dales or North York Moors and even more unspoilt, this patchwork of Hockneyesque landscapes and picture postcard villages is among the most perfect in England.
The fact that it is also possibly its best-kept secret is in some ways beneficial: there are fewer second homes and holiday lets here. But in a county that has done so much to sell itself to tourists, it’s jarring that such a prime chunk of it remains relatively hidden.
Perhaps this coming year will be the one that changes that. It’s the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Wolds Way as a National Trail, and the occasion is being marked by TV adverts commissioned not by the emasculated Welcome To Yorkshire but by the smaller and more focused Visit East Yorkshire agency. One wonders whether it struggled to make its voice heard over the noise from the more marketable parts of the county when Gary Verity was running the show.
But if the East Riding is the Cinderella of Yorkshire’s tourism offering, it was not always so. When the whole coast was England’s playground, holidaymakers flocked by the thousand to Bridlington, Filey, Hornsea and Withernsea – the last two resorts even boasting their own piers, until storms and wayward ships demolished them.
Withernsea never matched the popularity of Scarborough but it was an affordable seaside destination for generations of families in the first half of the last century. Billy Butlin had his funfair there and it was said to be his choice for his first holiday camp, until his failure to find a suitable site caused him to pack his bags and head for Skegness, on the other side of the Humber.
In those days, Hornsea billed itself as Lakeland by the Sea, by virtue of its large mere, and Filey’s motto was For the Family. Withernsea had no slogan, as far as I know, but its posters had something in common with the others: they were all drawn up by the train companies. “It’s quicker by rail” appeared at the foot of each of them, and few doubted that it was true.
Today, it’s not only not quicker to get to most of East Yorkshire by train; it’s downright impossible. Not since Doctor Beeching wielded his axe in the 1960s have services run south-east of Hull, and few fast roads have been built to replace them. So the anticipation generated by current plans to build new piers in Withernsea and Hornsea will be tempered by the reality of how long it takes visitors to get there.
Nevertheless, this new year offers more promise than most that this part of our region will regain its rightful place on the tourism map. The Government is likely to make the Wolds an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which will give them the same level of protection as Nidderdale and the Howardian Hills. That’s the very least they deserve. And the publicity surrounding the anniversary of the National Trail will generate more footfall than perhaps ever before.
On top of that, the continuing uncertainty over foreign travel will compel many holidaymakers to book accommodation in their own backyard early, before it’s all taken. Besides, the cost of heating your home these days makes it cheaper to be somewhere else.
So I know where I’m heading, as soon as the days start to lengthen. The rugged Pennines are all very well, but the pastoral beauty of the peaceful Wolds takes escapism to another level. I hope many more travellers will discover this in 2022.
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