Exploring Wharram Percy – a deserted Medieval village

Yesterday, it didn’t look like the forecasted rain was going to make an appearance so we piled into the car to drive around part of the Yorkshire Wolds – Hedgehog Hollow country – to get some more photos.

It was a lovely drive out, stopping to take the occasional photo of stunning rolling countryside, and it was a bit of a mystery tour, arriving at each junction and hubby asking ‘right or left?’ We picked up signs to the English Heritage site of Wharram Percy which is somewhere we’ve wanted to visit for ages so we ended up there. You can find details about it on English Heritage’s website here.

Bit of history for you here: There are roughly 3,000 known deserted Medieval villages around Britain but this is one of the most famous because it’s one of the largest and best preserved. For the past 60 years, archeologists have worked on this site, keen to understand more about this era and why the village was deserted.

Wharram Percy can be found in a valley, surrounded by stunning Yorkshire Wolds countryside. It’s quite a remote site but was occupied for six centuries before being abandoned in the early sixteenth century (around 1520 they reckon).

You can read the full history on English Heritage’s website here and it seems a combination of various tragic and unfortunate circumstances around lack of heirs in the Percy family, forced eviction, famine and the plague resulted in the downfall of a once-thriving village. There’s also an interesting blog post about the ‘ghost village’ here from fantasy author Angus Watson.

I’d heard tales of Wharram Percy being haunted and about dogs in particular, who tend to be more attuned to these things, having strong reactions when visiting the area. So I did some research on this.

There’s a short but interesting clip from presenter Clive Anderson on YouTube about a grisly discovery archaeologists made when excavating the site in 2017 which you can watch here – a pit containing 137 human bones from 10 different people. A little strange when there’s a church with a graveyard and the villagers would all be christians and therefore buried there.

Frustratingly this clip didn’t explain why the archaeologists thought the pit was there so I did some further digging. There still isn’t a definitive answer for this discovery. There is evidence of decapitation and dismemberment with many bones being broken and/or burned after death. The only plausible explanation for the moment is that this may have happened because of Medieval folklore. Back then, it was believed that the dead could rise and spread disease or violently attack the living so this gruesome way of disposing of the bodies (presumably of those who’d died from the plague?) may have been a way of preventing that. Eek!

The Clive Anderson video shows amazing arial footage where the full extent of the remains of the village can be seen; something you don’t appreciate when on foot. Definitely worth watching to see that.

I wanted to find some ‘evidence’ of ghost encounters but all the posts I found seemed to focus on the village being abandoned and the bones rather than anything specific from visitors. I’m sure if I’d spent longer looking, I’d have eventually come across something but I have a huge to-do list today so I’ve abandoned that search!

Did we feel anything spooky? No. Just hunger pangs because we hadn’t expected to visit Wharram Percy and should have been hunting out lunch when we got distracted by a visit there! Ella (our sprocker spaniel) showed no reactions either. When I was at 19, I went to the Isle of Wight on holiday and visited Golden Hill Fort, a former army barracks near Freshwater. It’s now apartments but it was open to visitors back then and was reputed to be haunted. I felt something very strongly there which spooked me big time so I had wondered if I was susceptible to things like this… but Wharram Percy didn’t affect me at all.

My 14-year-old daughter claims to like horror films and spooky books so we got her to stand by the farmhouse which is still standing but boarded up. We couldn’t resist winding her up as she posed in the blocked-up doorway. ‘Just stand by the woman and little girl,’ hubby instructed. ‘You don’t have to hold the little girl’s hand,’ I added. Hubby then couldn’t resist photoshopping the image when we got home! (Look closely at the doorway). Mwah ha ha ha!

I’d definitely recommend a visit to Wharram Percy. It’s £2 for parking unless you’re an English Heritage member (which we are). It’s a 3/4 mile walk there which is mainly downhill although that means uphill on the way back. It’s mainly a gentle slope, though, with just one slightly steeper part.

You’ll then cover a bit more ground wandering round the site itself which is a bit hilly, as you can see on one of the photos below. It’s a lovely walk with lots of wildflowers and pretty countryside to look at as well as the remains of the site, although I realised after I got home that I’d only taken photos of the intact buildings and not the ‘footprints’.

My daughter now has an idea for a story inspired by Wharram Percy. It’s actually quite a brilliant idea and made me excited for her when she mentioned it. I just wish she’d get beyond chapter 1! She has started writing so many stories then abandoned them because it takes too much effort. Probably not going to follow in my footsteps!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Venturing into real Hedgehog Hollow countryside

One of the things readers love about my Whitsborough Bay series is that, while the setting is fictional, it is inspired by real places. The biggest inspiration comes from Scarborough but there are elements of Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and a couple of other local coastal towns and villages. Readers who are familiar with the area like to guess which pubs, cafes and landmarks they think I’m referring to.

When I started writing the Hedgehog Hollow series, my intention was to to do the same thing: to create villages in the books that were inspired by specific villages on the Yorkshire Wolds. But Covid hit and we couldn’t go out and about so I couldn’t do that and I didn’t know the area well enough myself. I only live a few miles away from the northern tip of The Wolds and I have travelled through the area oodles of times but I’ve never veered from the main roads to thoroughly explore the villages. I do, however, have a really good understanding of the beauty of the countryside.

What’s been interesting is that, although I haven’t used specific villages as inspiration, some readers who live in the area think they recognise certain villages on The Wolds. I love that because it means that I have properly captured the essence of Wolds villages in my writing.

Yesterday afternoon, hubby and I planned to go exploring for the afternoon but our plans were slightly thwarted. He had a last-minute opportunity to go for his 2nd Covid jab so we set off much later than intended, but then our daughter called us from her after school photography club to say the teacher had an appointment so it was finishing half an hour earlier so we had to cut our trip short at the other end.

We managed a stop in the middle of the countryside although the photos really don’t do justice to the stunning rolling hills and fields surrounding us – the real Hedgehog Hollow countryside.

We explored a village called Wold Newton with a pretty church and a village green with a pond. Check out that blue sky! I had flip flops on so some careful navigation was needed round the pond as there was goose poo everywhere!

How fabulous is this bus shelter? It was full of books, DVDs and games. I wondered if it had started during the pandemic to keep people entertained or whether it has been a community scheme running much longer than that.

I checked the shelves but couldn’t see any Jessica Redland’s loitering! I loved this book with what we call a Steven lighthouse on it. When New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms was first issued, it was called Searching for Steven and, as the book features a red and white striped lighthouse, we have since referred to striped ones as Steven lighthouses.

We also walked around a smaller village called Thwing but I forgot to take any photos.

Our next stop was driving through Butterwick, Weaverthorpe and Helperthorpe intending to park at the furthest and explore, but that’s when we got the call to go to school early so no more photo opps. My husband’s dad was born and brought up in Helperthorpe so I definitely wanted a good look around.

I will share more photos when we return and I continue on my mission to find some villages that are how I would imagine Huggleswick, Umplesthorpe, Fimberley, Little Tilbury and Great Tilbury.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx

The one where we had a lovely walk above Filey Brigg

I’ve been a full-time author for two months now and one of the things I was really looking forward to about only having one job instead of two was not having to work every evening and weekend. I managed that for about a week, then crept back into old habits. It’s so easy to stay at your desk and work when any semblance of a social life died during lockdown. This evening it was therefore lovely to go out for a walk in Filey, just a few miles away from us, with hubby, the munchkin and Ella.

There’s a lovely open space called Filey Country Park with walks along the cliff tops. The views are incredible on a clear day but today was very hazy so we couldn’t see as far as Flamborough Lighthouse which was a shame, but it was still lovely and very peaceful on the cliffs above Filey Brigg with only a handful of people walking.

It’s the start/end of The Cleveland Way and The Wolds Way walks and I love this carved stone which has the name of one walk carved on each side of the triangle, then the distances to various places on the plinth.

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We could see Filey Brigg below us (the rocky outcrop). The tide was out so anyone down on the beach would have been able to walk to the end. The Brigg gets completely covered when the tide’s in and many people have been caught out there as the sea rises.

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Ella, our 4-year-old sprocker spaniel enjoyed her walk with the much cooler early evening air temperature. It was in the late teens/early 20s. Absolutely gorgeous. Sorry to anyone down south who was experiencing hideous temperatures in the 30s earlier this evening. Ew. My sympathies.

I can’t believe I’ve never actually walked along here before. I’ve been to the Country Park and I have walked along the Brigg but never up on the cliff tops. Must definitely do that again soon.

Sending cool vibes to those who are melting in the heatwave.

Big hugs

Jessica xx