Market Weighton - the call to restore the market town's railway links
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 February 2017
A Wolds town wants to restore its railway links to attract more tourists, as Martin Pilkington reports
A first look at Market Weighton’s location and history and you might suspect the pleasant little Wolds town is almost deliberately separating itself from its neighbours. The canal that once linked it to the Humber ceased to be navigable decades ago; its railway station, and the line between Beverley and York on which it stood, closed in 1965 and the settlement sits carefully equidistant from the larger towns in its corner of the county. The truth is rather different, however. ‘The biggest thing some of us here are trying to do is get the railway back,’ explains the mayor, Peter Hemmerman. ‘If we could restore that connection between Beverley and York it would be wonderful for us. There’s still a recognised route that could be used. We’re making good progress, we met the rail minster recently and things are looking promising.’
As a commuter town, the rail line could make life easier for residents cutting journey times to York in particular but just as significantly, it would help bring more people in to enjoy what the area has to offer. ‘We’re always looking at ways to attract more visitors,’ says Peter. ‘We were the first “Walkers Are Welcome” town so we get a lot of walkers here now, and the Tour de Yorkshire has done us a lot of good - the first two races come through Market Weighton, so we benefitted from that with leisure cyclists coming here.’ The wide open spaces around the town are probably its greatest asset. ‘We’re on the edge of the Wolds, surrounded by unspoiled areas that though not scenically dramatic are great for walkers and cyclists,’ he adds.
It was the Yorkshire stages of the 2014 Tour de France that led to the explosive growth of cycling in the county and Market Weighton’s branch of the Yorkshire Countrywomen’s Association was proud to contribute to the welcome the event received. ‘We did a lot of knitting for the cycle race,’ recalls Joyce Mathieson, its treasurer. ‘Head office sent us patterns and we made thousands of knitted cycle shirts from which they then made bunting to decorate the route.’ The more usual activities of its 30 or so current members would benefit from improved transport links too. ‘Rather than the jam and Jerusalem of the WI that the organisation broke away from, we’re more talks and trips,’ she says, listing lectures by two MPs and the former Chequers chef, and an outing to Harlow Carr as recent highlights.
It’s difficult to get away from the significance, past and present, of the railway line to the town and even its surrounds, with two big draws to the area created from legacies of the early railway age. ‘Our Rifle Butts and the larger Kiplingcotes Chalk Pit reserves are both former quarries where they extracted chalk used in building the railway line to Beverley,’ says Jo Milborrow, living landscapes officer with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Where the line once ran is now a bridleway, from which many walkers make a detour to visit the two sites.
‘Kiplingcotes is a haven for chalk land plants,’ she says, ‘so it has a spectacular show of flowers in spring and summer, and lots of butterflies too. On a sunny day it’s very impressive, a lovely little island of grassland as it used to be all across the Wolds, with plants like wild pansy, wild thyme, knapweed, and some quite rare ones too such as red hemp-nettle and mouse-ear hawkweed, and lots of orchids in summertime.’ The short grassland harbours a couple of typical Wolds butterflies rarely seen elsewhere too, the large and rather pretty Marbled White and the less spectacular – as the name suggests – Dingy Skipper. ‘We get visitors coming to the Kiplingcotes site just to spot the butterflies,’ says Jo. ‘It’s quite a well-known site for that.’
In the national consciousness the hamlet of Kiplingcotes, a couple of miles east of Market Weighton, is probably more often associated with its legendary horse race, first run when Henry VIII was on the throne, and held every year since then. If racing is the sport of kings, polo can seem like the preserve of millionaires, though the White Rose Polo Club in North Cliffe, a few miles south of Market Weighton, would beg to differ on that point. ‘Our motto is anyone can play polo, and it’s absolutely true, we offer lessons to people who haven’t even ridden before,’ says the club’s Kerry Haycock. ‘My partner has now been playing for 10 years, and he’d never been on a horse until he saw a TV programme that got him interested. He took one lesson and was instantly hooked!’
The club’s amenities include three pitches, one a full-sized 300m tournament ground, an all-weather arena, plus stabling and a clubhouse; and it employs a resident professional too. ‘This is the best polo ground in Yorkshire, no doubt,’ says Kerry. ‘We’ve got excellent facilities, the polo fields have great irrigation and drainage, with special grass sown and re-sown every year, and there’s lots going on. It’s a fabulous lifestyle, the people are so nice, there’s no snootiness at all - we’re very friendly and welcome spectators to the matches. Kids can run around, families can bring a picnic, it’s actually a cheap day out!’
Market Weighton and its surrounding countryside already offer plenty of reasons to visit, but Mayor Peter Hemmerman dearly wishes that discoveries could be made to prove – and harness for tourism – the often suggested Roman origins of the town, thought by some historians to be the military camp of Delgovicia. ‘Many coins have been found over the years,’ he says, ‘but it would be nice to uncover a Roman villa – ideally during work to reinstate the railway!’