About 25 years ago, Burton Agnes Hall in East Yorkshire captured me with its beauty. Built in the 1600s by Sir Henry Griffith, the imposing brick frontage with four large bay windows from ground to roof make it an imposing, majestic yet unusual country house. We loved it, particularly the number of Impressionist and Edwardian paintings hung in the Long Gallery at the top of the house. Nor particularly large, the house and estate have never changed hands remaining privately owned for the last 400 years. Quite a feat these days, there isn’t that corporate feeling when walking around either the house and garden, all the rooms are used by the family as and when needed although these days they live on the estate away from the crowds.
So, a day out in the Yorkshire Wolds beckoned
Taking the cross country route and avoiding the tortuously, slow-moving traffic through roundabout after roundabout on the A59 on the western side of York, we wiggled our way along windy roads over to Kirkham Abbey which lies on the banks of the River Derwent. Like other religious houses that were springing up in the 1110s, these Augustinian monks from France planned the siting of their houses carefully; the abundance of fish from the river and plenty of fuel from the surrounding forest not to mention the beautiful yet remote surrounding countryside and being far from other habitation, all ensured life wasn’t too difficult so it was little wonder that left to their own devices the original strict code of conduct that they brought with them slipped their minds and feasting, carousing and idleness became the order of the day. In 1590 the Abbey was dissolved during the Reformation of Henry V111. Now a ruin, the road runs in front of it’s large, ornately carved gatehouse arch behind which lie the ruins. Some walls are standing but the remains of the building foundations lie on the ground showing where the buildings stood.
Now the beauty of the Wolds began to open up
The rolling countryside all around us, field upon white-gold field sewn together by contrasting green of hedges and trees. Long, straight drove roads lined on either side with verges 10 metres wide along which sheep and cattle were driven to markets and ports. The landscape appears to be flatter than it is, undulating arable hills mask the small, tight valleys below where sheep graze. Quite a change from the Yorkshire Dales where hills here are higher and more defined, topping long, wide valleys. Harvesting was in full swing for many of the farms although some had not yet started to cut their cereal crops; this year’s unseasonable weather seems to have brought harvesting forward by a few weeks, mid to the end of August I would have thought, but 2018 is odd. The intense heat and lack of rain are affecting grass growth all over the country and farmers are supplement feeding their stock with hay, expensive but necessary. The sheer beauty of the Wolds landscape is breathtaking. Turn a full circle and all the way around from horizon to horizon the fields are a jigsaw of undulating hills lying under a blue sun- ripening sky. Fields of baled straw looking like large rectangular packs of butter stand piled on top of each other. The pale gold straw this year is as clean and dry as I have ever seen.
Burton Agnes was the destination on the west side of Driffield. Last time we were here we parked the car off the main road running in front of the imposing gatehouse and walked up the drive between the fat, cone-shaped yew hedges to the front door. A new entrance has been created around the back of the house with car parking near the café. The house is impressive but homely, you can take photos and sit on chairs that aren’t roped off. Not huge, the colour schemes of the rooms make them feel modern and fresh. It’s the paintings that caught my eye last time. The family have not filled the walls with dusty, dark (probably very valuable) art, and yes, there are some of the historical interest relating to past generations but in general, the examples are of works influenced by the Impressionists. The Long Gallery, at the top of the house, where most of them are hung, stretches the entire depth from back to front to the side of which is a small room where plenty of art books and comfortable seating allows you to reference artists of the time. Large, airy and light with a barrel ceiling of intricate plasterwork, the Gallery makes a great exhibition hall.
Yorkshire is huge and the variation in topography and landscape never ceases to amaze.
Wold is a term to describe a range of hills sitting on a base of limestone or chalk, the Old English name ‘Wald’ meant ‘forest’. Over time the trees have been cleared and the land cultivated to provide a rich area of farming. One Impressionist that seems to be missing from the collection of art in the Hall is David Hockney whose art illustrates the countryside of the Wolds in all its bright, magnificent glory throughout the year. There was no razzamatazz here, the villages we passed through were sleepy and tranquil yet behind the houses lining the roads thrive active communities. So say friends who live there and wouldn’t live anywhere else.