Bishop Wilton The East Yorkshire village is a gem

Bishop Wilton is a covert gem of a village in the Yorkshire Wolds, says Chris Titley, who idles along its quiet country lanes

Getting there: Bishop Wilton is just to the south of the A166 about halfway between York and Driffield.

Where to park: There are spaces on the streets to park. If you’re using the new village hall, it has a 55-space car park.

What to do: Visit Bishop Wilton Show on Saturday July 17th which features falconry, terrier racing, sheep shearing, Morris dancing, a brass band and much more. Enjoy a walk around the beautiful countryside – the website has a link to walking routes in the area.

Approach Bishop Wilton from the west and you arrive to wonderful views across the broad, flat Vale of York. Enter from the north and you scoot down from the top of the Wolds past sheep seeking shade on grassy hillsides till the red tiled roofs of the village are revealed. Bishop Wilton clearly has the best of both worlds.

It’s a beautiful place, whichever way you look at it. Few of those driving along the A166, perhaps on their way to Stamford Bridge four miles to the west, will realise that this beauty spot is a turn of the steering wheel away. Fewer still would know that Garrowby Hill, that infamous test of the brakes, is only a small part of Bishop Wilton Wold which marks the highest point of the Yorkshire Wolds, more than 800ft above sea level.

Below, the centre of the village has the air of a place unconcerned by the passing centuries. Rub out the telephone wires, TV aerials and parked cars, and this could be a scene from a century or two ago.

The sounds are just as timeless. Birdsong almost drowns out the occasional rumble of a villager’s car. A cockerel crows, although we’ve travelled a few hours from dawn. Somewhere a hammer taps in a workshop while geese argue, as geese tend to do.

Most Read

The beck burbling through Bishop Wilton is as thin and straight as a snapped rubber band, give or take a kink or two. It is banked by unkempt grass and dandelions before disappearing under miniature brick bridges built to give residents to access their beck side cottages.

Nearby are two of the hubs of the village, The Fleece Inn and the Village Shop. And this year Bishop Wilton became the proud owner of one of the finest village halls in all Yorkshire.

Replacing the dilapidated Men’s Institute, the new building opened in April and boasts a main hall, kitchen, club room and two changing rooms. It took a huge amount of fund-raising and a lottery grant to move the project from drawing board to reality and has been embraced by the community, not least Bishop Wilton Primary School which uses it for sport and drama.

From the newest building to the oldest. Many of the churches around here belong to the Sykes Churches Trail, and St Edith’s is among them. Restored by Sir Tatton Sykes, the fourth baronet, and his son, the fifth baronet, in the middle 19th and early 20th century, St Edith’s is ‘a jewel’, says the East Yorkshire Historic Church Group; ‘come and be dazzled by the sheer opulence of Victorian ornament inside this medieval church’.

Beautiful carved stonework outside is matched by interior decoration, including a Roman-style mosaic floor fashioned after one at the Vatican and installed in the church by Italian workers in the 1800s.

In an article in the latest Bishop Wilton Local History Bulletin, Rector of St Edith’s the Rev James Finnemore reports that the floor was delivered in sections to Fangfoss station and brought by cart to the village.The churchyard is neat and orderly, save for a few of the gravestones which are stooped with age. It backs on to a field where chickens and donkeys pointedly ignore one another.

Bishop Wilton has venerable ecclesiastical connections, as its name suggests. It was once home to the Archbishop of York’s palace, which the impressively active local history group believes to have been built in the time of Walter De Grey, who was archbishop from 1216-1255. The group’s research suggests that the palace was crumbling away 160 years later.

But the site of the palace still exists, with the moat visible on three sides.‘It was built during the 1220s but by 1388 it looks as though it was in ruins,’ says Mike Pratt, a leading light in the local history group who has lived in Bishop Wilton for 34 years. ‘The 14th century was a very difficult century in terms of the Black Death and Scottish raids. It looks as though archbishops stopped travelling around so much.’

The group has a website and blog, and has so far published 600 pages in its local history bulletins. ‘They haven’t strayed far from the history of Bishop Wilton as a parish and village. It’s quite amazing we’ve managed to pack it with history without going further afield.’

One of the best things about the village is its community spirit says Miles, and that is evident in the response to the group’s work. ‘We’ve gathered together school photographs from 1900. For the majority of them we’ve fitted names to faces.

‘We’ve got two big albums full of them. If we have an exhibition there’s always a queue, and we find the people in the photographs show them to their children or even their grandchildren.’

For most of its existence, Bishop Wilton has been a farming village. ‘If you look at the outline of it it’s fairly rectangular. It would have built up like that, probably in the 900s, and everybody would have been involved in tending their strips in the open fields.

‘Within our memory there used to be a number of working farms within the village, from properties on the main street. That doesn’t apply any more.’

But the annual Bishop Wilton Show remains an impressive event in the agricultural calendar, and will take place this year on Saturday, July 17th. ‘The show is still thriving,’ Mike says. ‘Considering it’s all done by voluntary work, I always say it’s a miracle that it goes ahead every year. It started in 1897 and has carried on ever since.’

Anne Sumpner and her husband Roy are newer residents, coming to Bishop Wilton from York in 2000 to run Beckside Cottage as a bed and breakfast. They often take guests for trips in their restored 1935 Jowett vintage car.

‘It’s just a wonderful village,’ says Anne. ‘I wanted somewhere with a little community with a shop and a church. They’re so welcoming are the people, and so supportive.

‘The countryside is superb. From most windows in the village you can see the hills. There are lots of walks, and we’re so near everywhere – places like Burton Agnes, Castle Howard and Sledmere. You could stay here for as long as six weeks and still go somewhere different every day.’

In lots of ways, Bishop Wilton is a covert gem of the countryside. Some people who live nearby haven’t realised that the village is here. It’s very much a secret place.’