Maps: OS Landranger 101; Explorer 301
Start: Staxton road junction (017790)
Finish: Eastfield industrial estate (039838)
Distance: 4.2 miles (plus 0.7 miles at finish to bus stop)
Natural England NCA: 26 (Vale of Pickering)
Special interest: Lake Flixton and Star Carr, Burton Riggs
This is a short walk and could be combined with Walk 20 (Eastfield to Scarborough) if desired, although the latter is both longer and more demanding.
From Staxton village, follow the A64 towards the large roundabout at (R). Here go right and take the A1039 to Flixton. In the village, turn left at (S) and go down North Street (also known as Flixton Carr Lane).
The quiet tarmac byway takes us over the flat farmland, with its numerous drains, of Flixton Carr. Then at Flixton Bridge (T) cross the River Hertford with the main canalised river flanked on either aside by smaller ditches. Less than a mile to our left lies the internationally important Mesolithic settlement of Star Carr (U).
The path continues in the same direction on the right of the hedge before switching to the left over a stile (V). At the end of the field, go left for a few metres to cross the metal footbridge over a ditch and then, staying by another ditch, continue walking northwards to the scrubby vegetation at the end of the next field (W). (Over to the left is the raised land of the landfill site with its pipes to allow the escape of explosive gases.)
At the time of writing, the public path has been fenced off, so follow the tractor lines going left, then swinging right towards the next drain. Here, turning sharp right, follow the clear field-side path, over the railway line, to the lake at (X).
From here the p.r.o.w. shown on the OS map has been replaced by the surfaced roadway continuing due north to the Eastfield industrial estate – the road is called Thornburgh Road. Follow this through the estate to the B1261 at (Y). Here Walk 19 turns left along the road and goes over the railway to the bus stops just a little way beyond the roundabout (Z). However, those also wishing to complete Walk 20 (Eastfield to Scarborough) on this present outing, cross straight over the road.
The Vale of Pickering (NCA 26) has already been crossed by Coastliner Way on Walks 9 and 10 from Malton to Pickering. Now is the occasion to consider more fully its unique topography and landscapes. The limits of the Vale are well-defined as it is bounded by the North York Moors (North), Filey coast (East), Yorkshire Wolds (South) and the Hambleton and Howardian Hills (West). The River Derwent counter-intuitively flows inland through the Vale of Pickering before joining the Ouse because its outlet to the North Sea was blocked by glaciers in the Ice Age. This river, along with its tributaries, has been modified to help cope with the drainage needs of the area, as it is the main drainage basin for the surrounding areas. The east and west zones of the Vale of Pickering are very different with the east being characterized by peaty soils and canalised drainage courses and the west with more complex and sinuous water courses. Today the flat area is heavily utilized as open pastures and intensive arable production.
In The Vale of Pickering Statement of Significance (carrswetland.wordpress.com/landscape/statement) the authors emphasise that this area is an exceptional archaeological landscape and the Landscape Research Centre states that the Vale is the one place in the UK where we can start to understand the continuous sequence of human activity since late Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age) times. (‘A sense of place may have been established as early as c. 9000 BC’.) Star Carr and Flixton Carr are two of the key sites.
During the Pleistocene period, the area was glaciated with the ice advancing and retreating repeatedly across the area. As the ice sheets melted after the last advance, a series of lakes, known collectively as Lake Flixton, were formed. These lakes are known to have supported stone age human communities due to the artefacts which have been discovered preserved in the peaty soils. An outline of the prehistoric Lake Flixton can be seen, superimposed on a present day map, on the website named above. The lake extended from Star Carr eastwards to Folkton with the canalised River Hertford running through the centre and the Coastliner Way walk goes roughly across the middle.
Star Carr is the best known settlement site and excavations have been carried out since in the 1940s. It is of international importance. It dates back to Mesolithic times (the Middle Stone Age of 9500-4000 BC) and so was occupied just centuries after the end of the last Ice Age. Interestingly, there was very little evidence of fish found in the diet of the ancient hunters. Red deer was by far the most common type of meat although wild horse, pig, ox and birds were also eaten.
However, what has caused renewed excitement in archaeological circles has been the recent discovery at the site of large numbers artefacts found buried deep in the peat. Perhaps most spectacular among the new finds are the ceremonial head masks made from red deer skulls and antlers, and thought to have been used by shamans in ritual practices. In addition, there have been bone harpoon points used for hunting and fishing; perhaps ‘the oldest house in Britain’ dated to around 8000 BC (although a site in northern England may challenge this claim) and the earliest evidence of carpentry in Europe. In 2016 Star Carr won the British Archaeological Award for its examination of the unique engraved pendant discovered the previous year and the oldest Mesolithic art found in Britain.
The many artefacts discovered have been preserved due to the waterlogged peaty soils that existed on the Carrs. However, because the land has been extensively drained for farming, this has caused the peat to dry out, with the risk of any remaining artefacts deteriorating.
Among a number of websites, www.starcarr.com/film.html gives exciting coverage of the finds. Alternatively, ‘The Story of Star Carr’ can be purchased from the University of York, Department of Archaeology, York YO1 7EP for only £3.00.
The Carrs Wetland Project set out to restore the area to a farmed wetland landscape in order to protect the archaeological heritage and at the same time to encourage habitat variation within the floodplain of the Hertford and Derwent rivers. The flat fields between the villages of Flixton and Folkton to the south, and Seamer and Cayton to the north, were the early focus of the farming scheme but the Project now encompasses the whole length of the River Hertford from the springs at Muston Bottoms westwards to the confluence with the Derwent near Ganton.
Peatland Over the millennia, deep fen peat deposits accumulated in the waters of Lake Flixton and the lakes gradually filled in. The open landscape of today, with level fields divided by water-filled ditches, has been created by over 200 years of land drainage for farming. The peat is evident in the sides of the ditches when they are cleaned out to keep them flowing, or in the dark colour of ploughed fields – giving rise to the local term ‘Black Land’. There are a number of reasons as to why it is important to conserve peatlands. For example, they act as a sink for CO2 but when they are degraded they release this back into the atmosphere, furthering the effects of climate change. The peat is also valuable in helping us to reconstruct the past as it preserves pollen, artefacts and fossils which act as clues to help build the picture of past environments and human land use.
Drainage The Carrs used to be much wetter in the past. In order to farm the land more effectively, in common with many other lowland areas, they were drained by cutting ditches and laying pipes under the fields. Drainage is an active process and requires constant maintenance and periodic renewal. In the post-War period substantial government grants were made to encourage drainage and thereby boost food production. However, nowadays it is recognized that in some places re-wetting the land and farming less intensively can have definite environmental benefits. But drainage vocabulary can be confusing; ditches are variously named dykes, drains, gutters, delphs or cuts (partly depending where you live in the country) and main ditches often have their own names like Howlings Dike, Old Scurf and North Delph. When farmers refer to ‘drains’ they may mean the pipes under the field, or the ditches between fields.
Burton Riggs is slightly off the direct route of the Coastliner Way but can easily be included if desired. It is a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve primarily consisting of clean freshwater lakes with some scrub, woodland and grassland. The wildlife of the site is enhanced during the winter when little egret, tufted duck and pochard are seen. The ponds surrounding the lakes have been home to great crested newts for a number of years. As an artificial site created by gravel quarrying in the 1970s, it is relatively young in wildlife terms, but already has a rich mix of habitats and species to its name. Permissive paths run around the entirety of the site. Wildlife management includes keeping ponds clear from silting up, rotational coppicing of willow around the lakes and increasing the area of woodland so that there is a step-up from two to three patches around the site. The scrub is a vital habitat for small birds and mammals and is retained as much as possible, only being cut back along the footpaths. The species list includes Common Spotted Orchid, Bee Orchid, Orange-tip butterfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Great Crested Grebe, Whitethroat, Great Crested Newt.