With lockdown easing, York consultant psychiatrist BOB ADAMS was finally able to complete leg three of his walk along the length of the River Derwent...

Walking the River Derwent, Day 3: Sutton to Stamford Bridge

Friday May 15. Distance walked: 7.5 miles along the river (15 miles in total)

After two months in lockdown I was itching to get back to walking the Derwent. My chance came when we were allowed by the government to drive to places for unlimited exercise.

I drove to the car park at Stamford Bridge with a plan to take a cross-country route to Sutton upon Derwent, and then walk back along the river. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this unless you like walking long distances as it extended my walk to fifteen miles.

Stamford Bridge is of course famous for that ‘other’ battle in 1066, the one between King Harold of England and Harald Hardrada of Norway supported by the English king’s brother Tostig. Some say there is another Stamford Bridge down London way, said to be the home of Chelsea Football Club, but we won’t say anything more about that.

The Norwegian army sailed up the River Ouse and, after leaving their boats at Riccall and defeating a northern English army at Fulford, took York. King Harold of England marched north in just four days and took the Norwegians by surprise at Stamford Bridge. Harold had heard that the Norwegians would be at Stamford Bridge collecting additional hostages and supplies. Apparently a giant Norse axeman dominated the bridge, felling scores of Saxons, until one of the English soldiers managed to cross the river in a half-barrel and spear the Viking from below. As far as I am aware this was the origin of the phrase ‘they don’t like it up ‘em.’

After slaughtering the Norwegians, King Harold then had to force march south to face William the Conqueror. The two armies met three weeks later at Hastings. We all know the result of that battle.

Leaving the car park I headed southwest down river to scale the old railway viaduct and walk along the disused line to the station. The light was perfect for photographs and I paused on the way to catch the ‘new’ Stamford Bridge. This bridge was designed in 1777 by William Etty - the architect, that is, not the famous painter.

George Hudson, the 'Railway King', was responsible for developing the railway from York to Market Weighton, via Stamford Bridge and Pocklington. The line opened in 1848, and included a personal halt for Mr Hudson at Londesborough Hall, his recently acquired residence.

The viaduct consists of fifteen brick arches together with a magnificent twenty-seven metre cast-iron span across the river. There was a plan to demolish it in 1991, but thankfully this never happened after determined protests. The line itself closed in 1965 although there have been plans to reinstate it, so far unsuccessfully.

The next part of my walk took me along roads and paths, through fields of oil seed rape and the villages of High Catton, Wilberfoss and Newton upon Derwent. It was after midday before I arrived, somewhat tired, at the start of my river walk from Sutton on Derwent.

From my vantage point on the top of Sutton Bridge I could just make out downriver the weir and lockgates.

Before the Barmby barrage was built the Derwent was tidal as far as Sutton lock. There was a huge corn mill next to the the weir. It had two undershot waterwheels and ten pairs of stones.

Grinding stopped in 1960 after 400 years of operation and the mill became derelict. Photographs after this time show the building looking bereft with its three storeys of windows gaping like plucked eyes, and its roof pockmarked by holes exposing the rafters.

The mill was demolished in the 1990s with the rubble being chucked unceremoniously into one of its sluices. The whole area is now off limits to the public. The lock closed in 2015 after it was deemed unsafe, stranding several boats above the bridge. So far it remains closed.

Looking northwards from the bridge I could see my way forward along the old towpath on the east bank. Boats moored there looked like they were lived in, complete with small vegetable plots, solar panels and old cars. There were painted horseshoes and watering cans for sale.

I chatted to some of the residents who told me they come down for weekends. It was a lovely spot with the hawthorn in full blossom and cows feeding languidly in the water meadows. It was time to find a secluded spot for lunch.

My next landmark was Kexby Bridge, where the busy A1079 York to Hull road crosses the river. Colours were beautiful in the early afternoon spring light. There were many shades of green from the grass and early leaves, blue reflected in the river, golden yellow buttercups and blossom everywhere. Birds were in full song and I could just make the hum of traffic from the distant road.

Kexby Old Bridge is another Grade II listed bridge over the Derwent, this one being constructed somewhat earlier than the others, in 1650. The main road now bypasses the bridge on an ugly concrete span to the north. The old tow path crosses to the west bank here and I followed it, taking a look at the toll house on my way, which still displayed its fees. There was no one to collect my penny.

There was now only another three miles to go. I tried not to think of the pain in my feet and concentrate on keeping up a steady pace.

All went well until I crossed a stile beyond a marshy field called Soldiers Camp. Oh no, there were bullocks in the field! Worse they were bored and they took an interest in me. In fact they were so keen to get up close that they jostled each other from behind. Charging at them with a stick did no good and the result was a standoff.

I was now surrounded on all sides with the river at my back. It was like the battle of Stamford Bridge all over again. I envisaged an unpleasant death from being trampled by bovines. Luckily they soon got bored, as teenagers do, and a determined charge with an even longer stick finally did the trick.

Soon after that adventure I felt so relieved when the blue green span of Stamford railway viaduct come into view, followed soon after by the mellow sandstone of the old bridge.

Before heading back to the car park I took a short detour to see the old lock (now out of use) and the corn mill (converted into flats). It struck me that given some innovation the same thing could have been done with the mill at Sutton. Just to the right was a sign and stone column commemorating the 1066 battle.