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Walking the Wharfe

An ode to a Yorkshire river


Publication Date:  10th Aug 2023


£9.99 £8.99

Walking by the Wharfe – an enchanting travel memoir retracing the steps of a Victorian writer by walking the length of one of the Yorkshire Dales’ best-known rivers. In this love letter to the waterway that flowed through the author’s childhood into his adult life, Johno Ellison reveals a microcosm of English culture, landscape and history.

About this book

In a world of globetrotting explorers and record-breaking journeys – of which he has been part himself – Johno Ellison decided to return to his roots and walk the entire length of the River Wharfe, the Yorkshire waterway beside which he grew up. In his new book for Bradt, Walking the Wharfe, Ellison retraces the steps of Victorian author Edmund Bogg to investigate how the riverscape and its communities have evolved during the intervening 120 years. While wild camping, meeting modern-day Vikings, wartime ghosts and the fearless ‘Dales Dippers’, and learning how not to deal with a herd of over-inquisitive cows, Ellison encounters a microcosm of English history and culture.
Starting in the Vale of York, Ellison walks upstream to explore the region’s Viking and Roman heritage, as well as more modern developments such as Tadcaster’s disastrous bridge collapse in 2015. He examines a profusion of Victorian spa towns, considers the impact of the Industrial Revolution and enjoys rare wildlife such as red kites and an otter, creatures that have returned to the area following successful conservation initiatives.
Traversing the Yorkshire Dales National Park, including along the Dales Way long-distance footpath, Ellison is first bewitched by local legends of giants, trolls and witches, then seduced into wild swimming in a chilly river – albeit not the Strid, a section of the Wharfe notorious worldwide for reportedly drowning everyone who has ever tumbled into it – before seeking refuge in a candlelit pub during a storm that caused a power blackout. During his ascent, Ellison learns from a family who have farmed the Yorkshire hills for five generations before reaching the Wharfe’s trickling source amid a vast boggy moorland.
This enchanting travelogue is a must-read for anyone interested in nature, ‘the great outdoors’, or English history and culture. Residents and fans of Yorkshire will love it, as will anyone who has hiked the Dales Way. Above all, by combining personal connections with journalistic curiosity and a nose for a story, Walking the Wharfe affirms that even lesser-known parts of the small island of Britain can hold their own against renowned tourist sites the world over.

About the Author

Johno Ellison grew up in the village of Boston Spa on the River Wharfe in Yorkshire, UK, and developed a particular fascination with the waterway. He spent his childhood exploring the riverbanks of Lower Wharfedale, plus the hills and valleys upstream. Ellison briefly worked in one of Wetherby’s many pubs – also near the river – before joining the Royal Air Force to train as helicopter pilot at RAF Church Fenton, just a stone’s throw from the water. He has subsequently walked the River Wharfe multiple times. He has visited more than 80 countries and once travelled around the world in a vintage London black cab, setting Guinness World Records for the Longest and the Highest Taxi Journey Ever – an adventure captured in his book It’s on the meter. Ellison currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with his wife Lindsay – who he met in a small village beside the River Wharfe.

Reviews

“In Walking the Wharfe, Johno Ellison shows that adventure is very much a state of mind, uncovering interesting tales and tackling challenges in his own backyard.” – Ed Stafford, author, Walking the Amazon

“A fascinating exploration of a beautiful corner of England. Johno Ellison writes a poetic love letter to the river of his roots with this enchanting walk along one of the country’s hidden gems.” – Alastair Humphreys, author and adventurer

Additional Information

Table of Contents

Preface Bogg’s Book
This introduces the river and my connection to it.
It details my first, disastrous walk in 2014 and my subsequent discovery of Edmund Bogg’s book which led me to re-walk the river in 2021.
Chapter 1
75,000 Gallons of Ale – Cawood to Ryther
The first chapter of the walk starts at the Wharfe’s Mouth, discussing the Vale of York and its propensity for flooding, as well as the first settlements on the Wharfe.
Chapter 2
Fenton Jumping – Ryther to Ozendyke
This chapter explores the airbase of RAF Church Fenton, which didn’t exist in Edmund Bogg’s time. It looks at my own connection to the base, and some of the wartime history, as well as talking about the wider area which was previously a vast tract of fenland.
Chapter 3
The Great Heathen Army – Ulleskelf to Kirkby Wharfe
This chapter covers the Viking history of the village of Ulleskelf, as well as meeting with some modern day Vikings.
Chapter 4
A Town Divided – Tadcaster
The Roman heritage of Tadcaster is detailed in this chapter, along with the collapse of the modern bridge in 2015 and the impact this had on the town. The town’s relationship with the local brewery and the ‘Railway King’ are also explored.
Chapter 5
‘I don’t knaw owt aboot t’ Romans’ – Newton Kyme
Continuing to the small village of Newton Kyme,
This chapter involves searching for a Roman encampment, as well as a much older holy spring – St. Helen’s Well. It also covers the huge site of a former World War 2 munitions factory at Thorp Arch.
Chapter 6
‘Nothing more beautiful and truly English can be imagined’ – Boston Spa
This chapter explores Boston Spa – where I grew up. It talks about the development of the village and the dangers of the riverside here, as well as introducing some rare wildlife in the form of ‘The Otter’.
Chapter 7
‘He loves every dog, ‘cept humans’ – Wetherby
The wartime history of Wetherby is covered this chapter, as well as the older developments of the Great North Road. Here I also met a wildlife photographer with a credibility problem.
Chapter 8
The Best Pub in Yorkshire – Collingham and Linton
The Collingham chapter explores Roman finds near here, as well as the more-recent ‘Collingham Ghost’ which caused a stir up and down the country. Moving into the village of Linton, I met a man with a bold claim
Chapter 9
Avoid this place as you would a plague.’ – Linton to Netherby Deep
This chapter covers a wilder area of the river, with a tragic past, as well as the introducing the legend of the ‘kelpies’, connected to the Wharfe here.
Chapter 10
Beware, Rombald’s wife – Harewood to Rougmont Rombald and his wife are first presented in this chapter – a tempestuous couple linked to myths in this area.
The successful reintroduction of Red Kites and the history of Harewood House are also detailed, including Turnpike Riots at Harewood Bridge.
Chapter 11
T’Owd Chief’ – Rougemont to Pool
This chapter delves more deeply into Edmund Bogg – the man who inspired this book, as well as the Leeds Savage Club that he founded. It also covers the grim business of building the Wharfedale Viaduct and Bramhope Tunnel.
Chapter 12
Hannibal Crossing the Chevin – Pool in Wharfedale
My first night of wild camping is covered in this chapter, as well as a visit to a working textile mill, and detail of how Wharfedale inspired the painter J.M.W Turner.
Chapter 13
A Friend of the Navvies – Otley and Washburndale
This chapter talks more about the navvies who built most of the grand Victorian infrastructure of Bogg’s time. It goes into detail about Elizabeth Garnett, who overcame the Victorian patriarchy and worked tirelessly to improve the navvies’ working conditions.
Chapter 14
‘ow much?! – Otley, Menston and Burley
This chapter includes three towns, including the chilling history of a former mental asylum at High Royds, as well as Burley’s ‘Great Pudding’ feast.
Chapter 15
All Along the Ilkley Moor – Ilkley
In this chapter I explore Ilkley, which developed as a Victorian Spa Town and has a famous folk song. I also visit the Ilkley Brewery and discover how Jimi Hendrix almost caused a riot here in the 1960s.
Chapter 16
A Prize-winning Heifer – Addingham
The Luddite Riots at Addingham Mill are covered in this chapter, as well as the curious history of giant cattle in this area. My own nerve-wracking encounter with my own herd of cows is also recounted here.
Chapter 17
England’s Killer Creek – Bolton Abbey and The Strid
This chapter takes us into The Yorkshire Dales, introducing Bolton Abbey, ‘The Valley of Desolation’ and the Strid – said to be one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the world.
Chapter 18
Of Trolls and Wolves – Barden Tower to Appletreewick
Moving further into the Dales, this chapter explores the legends of Trollers Gill, as well as covering my meeting with a pub full of friendly Dales folk during a stormy power cut.
Chapter 19
Maypoles and Hogbacks – Bur