Prominent escarpment and foothills rising from the
Vales of York and Pickering and falling to the plain
Defined by the presence of the Chalk but
with small areas of Jurassic rocks along the western
Remnants of unimproved or semi-improved chalk
grassland in steep sided dry valleys, often defined
by a hedge at the break of slope and sometimes showing
signs of scrub encroachment.
Important archaeological remains with a particular
concentration of prehistoric earthworks including
A large-scale landscape of rounded, rolling
hills, with big skies and long views from the escarpment
and plateaux, contrasting with the more enclosed,
Fertile, chalky soils supporting mainly arable
Pattern of large, regular fields crossed
by drove ways and enclosure roads with wide verges,
resulting mainly from late Parliamentary enclosure.
A generally lightly settled landscape with
predominantly brick - but sometimes chalk and pantile
- buildings, large scattered farmsteads on high
ground, small villages in valleys, and small market
towns at the fringes.
High chalk cliffs where the outcrop reaches
the coast at Flamborough Head.
Limited extent of woodland, mainly confined
to steep slopes, escarpments and the hills formed
from Jurassic rocks.
Parkland and estate landscapes with large
country houses, estate villages and estate woodlands.
Yorkshire Wolds are a predominantly chalk landscape
rising in a prominent escarpment from the Vale of
York to the west and the Vale of Pickering to the
north. From high points above the scarp the landscape
of rolling hills falls away gently to the east,
eventually merging into the lower lying, flatter
landscapes of Holderness. Along the western fringes
of the Chalk outcrop two separate areas of Jurassic
deposits create a series of foothills to the Wolds.
The Chalk creates a range of landscape features
which give unity to the whole of the area and are
reminiscent of more southerly chalk landscapes.
They include the main escarpment, dry valleys and
soil which is thin, dry and white when exposed by
ploughing. The pale, olive tones of unimproved chalk
grassland would once have been widespread but are
now confined to only a few locations, on the steepest
slopes of the dry valleys.
Perhaps because it is a dry landscape, with little
surface water, the Wolds are relatively sparsely
populated, with villages being few and far between.
Those that do occur are often nestled in valleys
or hollows and most have a village pond.
The unifying influence of the Chalk gives the whole
of the Wolds a particularly strong identity. Variations
in character within the chalk outcrop result primarily
from differences in land form and the way that this,
in turn, has influenced land management. The Chalk
escarpment facing west to the Vale of York and north
to the Vale of Pickering is broad and sinuous. In
some places it is intensively farmed but elsewhere
woodlands create variety, especially where valleys
cut into the scarp. Where the escarpment turns to
run due south, it is particularly complex and well
wooded, with a strong sense of enclosure.
Below the scarp, distinctive areas of foothills
occur north and south of Market Weighton. They are
formed from rocks of Jurassic age. Compared with
the adjacent chalk landscape, the foothills are
characterised by smaller fields, a higher proportion
of woodland, and the occurrence of villages built
of stone. The close proximity of the escarpment
creates a feeling of enclosure in the landscape,
heightened by the smaller scale field systems.
High on the Wolds plateau the landscape is large
scale and generally open, with big skies being a
notable feature. Here the soil is obviously chalky,
there are large, gently rolling arable fields, with
generally well maintained but in substantial hedgerows.
Parliamentary enclosure of the plateau created a
pattern of straight wide drove ways and enclosure
roads, hedges and dispersed farmsteads. Tree and
woodland cover is limited which adds to the sense
of openness. In places the plateau is dissected
by prominent dry valleys, creating a particularly
complex and varied landscape. The dry valleys are
distinguished by the presence of chalk grassland
and scrub on some steep slopes, sometimes with a
sudden and conspicuous change to cultivated arable
land at the break of slope. As the plateau dips
eastwards the gently sloping terrain offers long
views east over Holderness. In places the chalk
outcrop is cut by more significant valleys. They
are broad and shallow and predominantly in arable
cultivation. Long established villages, strung out
along the valley, are notable features and these
sites have often been settled for many centuries.
At its eastern extremity the Chalk reaches the North
Sea in the high cliffs of Flamborough Head. Above
the cliffs there are still remnant areas of clifftop
grassland but again the landscape is predominantly
large scale arable farmland, albeit of a more elevated,
exposed character than further inland.
dominant physical influence on the landscape is
the presence of the underlying Chalk. This creates
the typical, chalky soils and the characteristic
landform of scarp and dip-slope. The latter falls
away to the east in a gentle, rolling plateau, cut
by numerous branching dry valleys.
The Jurassic rocks running along the western edge
provide a contrast, forming a secondary escarpment.
Here the underlying rocks are a mixture of mudstones,
limestones and sandstones with some overlying glacial
boulder clay, sands and gravels. North of Market
Weighton these underlying rocks are folded, creating
a complex area of foothills, while further south
the landform is a more straightforward escarpment.
Deposits of cover sands in this southern area create
light sandy soils which can only be successfully
cultivated with high levels of fertiliser input.
Some of these areas therefore support relict heathland
with birch, oak and planted Scots Pine woods.
and Cultural Influences
fertile chalk soils, good grazing and light tree
cover of the Wolds combined with the availability
of stone suitable for making tools, made this an
attractive area for early Neolithic settlers. There
is evidence of widespread settlement at that time,
in the remains of burial mounds as well as defensive
and boundary structures. The Wolds are very rich
in prehistoric earthworks with numerous important
Bronze Age and Iron Age sites, especially in the
Great Wold Valley and around Rudslon. There were
then recurrent periods of settlements in Roman,
Saxon, Danish and Norman periods. Many Medieval
villages occurred on the Wolds, but were deserted
and disappeared eventually, due to movement of population,
and changes in land use. Remnants of Medieval settlements
do however remain and are of considerable interest
with notable examples at Wharram Percy and Thixendale
The Wolds have been continuously modified since
neolithic times. Until about 1700 much of the area
was still unenclosed open fields, predominantly
as sheep-walks and pastures. Daniel Defoe at this
time likened the landscape to the more southerly
chalk landscape of the Downs around Salisbury. There
were few, if any, hedges or walls and virtually
no settlement, at least on the hills and plateaux.
Parliamentary enclosure of these open field landscapes
came rather later to the Wolds than to the adjacent
vale landscapes of Holderness and the Vale of York.
When enclosure did come, it brought many of the
features of todays landscape. Hedges were
planted to enclose large, regular fields. New large,
brick built farmsteads appeared scattered across
the open farmland and well away from traditional
villages and roads. Because of their exposed position
they were often surrounded by distinctive shelterbelts,
sometimes planted in an H shape. New straight wide
drove roads were built, with wide grass verges.
All of these features can still be seen today.
More recently a growing emphasis on intensive cereal
production has meant that some of the hedges introduced
in the Parliamentary enclosure period have been
removed, returning the landscape to the open character
of earlier centuries though now under cereals rather
than sheep pasture. Sheep farming, however, is now
returning in some parts.
of settlement and styles of building both vary to
some degree between the main chalk outcrop of the
Wolds and the area of the Jurassic hills.
In the Wolds the absence of surface water has meant
that most significant settlements have been established
around the fringes, along the spring lines to west
and east, especially in the Great Wold Valley. The
presence of ponds was at one time essential for
the survival of the valley villages and a number
of examples of these ponds remain. The villages
are usually predominantly brick built, with pantile
roofs, although limestone is also sometimes used
in the west and chalk appears in many older buildings,
notably near Flamborough Head, one of the few areas
where the chalk is hard enough for building. There
are also estate villages, many with prominent churches,
associated with the estates and landscaped parks
developed in the Wolds in the 18th and 19th centuries,
such as Sledmere and Warter. Outside the villages
the scattered, imposing, brick farmsteads built
on the plateau in the Parliamentary enclosure period,
are typical features.
The villages in the narrow belt of Jurassic foothills
are predominantly stone built. The traditional vernacular
style of building here is limestone with red brick
detailing and red pantiles. Many of the villages
have particular strength of character because of
the combination of traditional stone buildings with
mature trees and old features such as market crosses,
greens and dry stone boundary walls.
well drained productive chalk soils mean that this
landscape is dominated by arable farming. Fields
are large and bounded by well trimmed hawthorn hedges
dating from the Parliamentary enclosure period.
Hedgerow trees are relatively sparse but where they
do occur include ash, beech, oak and sycamore.
Woods are also limited but the tall, mature shelter
belts associated with the brick farmsteads are important
features, emphasising skylines and landform. Long
established semi-natural woodland is largely confined
to steep slopes in dry valleys, to some parts of
the escarpment, and to the area of the Jurassic
Unimproved chalk grassland is today quite limited
in extent, confined to steep dry valley slopes,
road verges, sea cliffs, quarries and road and rail
cuttings. Many areas are of ecological importance.
In the Jurassic hills remnants of heath and dry
acid grassland also occur on the deposits of blown
Since the Second World War there has been a progressive
change from a more mixed farming system, with large
flocks of sheep still playing an important role,
to a system where arable farming dominates. There
is also a move towards intensive livestock rearing
and extensive outdoor pig farming is also becoming
increasingly apparent. New crops, such as linseed
and pick your own crops are appearing and will begin
to affect the patterns and colours of the fields
in the landscape.
Intensification of arable farming has several
potential consequences for the landscape. There
is still loss of chalk grassland which further reduces
an already small area and also causes further fragmentation.
Disappearance of sheep flocks means that the remaining
chalk grassland cannot be grazed and so scrub grows
over it, threatening its traditional appearance
and wildlife value. The high level of chemical input,
for example in intensive potato growing, can cause
pollution of the chalk aquifer. Agricultural and
other abstraction of water causes low flows in rivers
and spring fed mires, and the disappearance of seasonal
chalk winterbournes'. Some archaeological
sites are affected by soil erosion and deep ploughing.
Hedges and hedgerow trees still remain an
important feature of the landscape, but in some
places they are over-managed, becoming low cut and
gappy, while elsewhere they are suffering from lack
of appropriate management. In places there has also
been inappropriate tree planting, out of keeping
with the character of the landscape.
Development pressures occur in and around
existing settlements and there is also pressure
for extension of chalk quarries which could increase
as restrictions on mineral extraction in National
Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty become
firmer. Over the years development of caravan sites
and other types of tourist provision has affected
the coastal landscape, although the issue now is
more one of improving existing sites rather than
accommodating new ones.
The Wolds have a clear pattern which results from
the interaction of a distinctive chalk landscape
with the influences of agricultural land use and
historic patterns of settlement. The maintenance
and enhancement of this pattern needs to be considered
for the future. The remnants of chalk grassland
are exceptionally important and the scope to recreate
new areas, and conserve those that exist has already
Conservation and enhancement of other characteristic
features, such as archaeological sites, the wide
verges of drove roads, hedges and woodlands, including
both shelter belts and semi-natural woodland on
steep slopes, is also important.
The pattern and style of buildings and settlements
is distinctive and needs to be addressed through
sympathetic planning control policies, covering
both the location and design of new development.
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Riding of Yorkshire 1700 - 1850, SR Publishers Ltd,
Harris, A (1959), The Open Fields of East Yorkshire,
East Yorkshire Local History Society.
Pevsner, N (1972), The Buildings of England: Yorkshire
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Pevsner, N and Neave, D (1995) The Buildings of
England: Yorkshire: York and The East Riding. Penguin
Wright, G (1976), The East Riding, BT Batsford Ltd,
Neave S and Ellis S (1996) Historical Atlas of East
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