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Cycle ride from Driffield to Watton Abbey
ONE of the oldest ecclesiastical houses in the county, Watton Abbey, was a nunnery in the eighth century.
It was chronicled that it had a visit from St John of Beverley, after which nothing more was heard of the abbey until the middle of the 12th century when that old rascal, Eustace Fitz-John, who was known as a ‘wrong-doer and committer of a number of heinous crimes’ in the area, was told by the Archbishop of York to atone for his sins and clean his soul. He did this by re-establishing Watton Abbey as a house of Gilbertine monks and nuns giving them lands and meadows for ever and a day.
The nuns and monks were well separated by high walls and a ditch. They worshipped in different churches and were never left alone or unescorted. The monks were quietly well off having several coats, clothes, habits, stockings, socks, shoes and slippers. The nuns having a coarse shift, a lambskin coat, a linen cap and a black veil. They were ordered to wash their clothes seven times a year but were never allowed to have a bath.
There are a couple of tales I want to tell you about Watton Abbey, the first concerns a lady who, during the civil war, hid herself there with her child and a quantity of jewels. The soldiers found her, murdered her and the child and threw their bodies in the moat. The headless woman, her child in her arms now haunts the house.
The second tale is nonetheless disturbing but is a story of lust within the abbey.
A young girl was forced into the order as a nun against her wishes as a child. She realised as she grew up that a life of celibacy was not for her. She became flirty and outgoing towards the lay brothers until one eventually raped her.
Settling for her fate, the two became lovers and the young nun soon became pregnant. When her sisters found out they stripped and whipped her then imprisoned her. Several of the older nuns wanted her roasted alive over hot coals, skinned alive or branded but they decided to catch the young lay brother and punish them both in a most horrific way. The young man was held down and the sinful nun made to castrate him, the blood sodden offending parts were forced into her mouth.
No more was heard of the young man, presumably he would have been killed by the revengeful nuns. As for the pregnant nun she was returned to her prison cell and fettered. It is recorded that during the night a miracle occurred. In a dream, Archbishop Murdoc of York appeared to her with two women who relieved her of the pregnancy as she slept, when she awoke her fetters had fallen away, her pregnancy was ended, she was cleansed and made pure again.
That is the disturbing tale of Watton Abbey, so if you go near the place and any of you male cyclists see a revengeful nun with a knife in her hand pedal as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
LEAVE Driffield on the A166 to cycle along to the village of Garton on the Wold. As you cycle through the village, look out for a left turn along Station Road signed to Norman Church and Kirkburn.
Go left here, then pass the church and enjoy the ride along the wide country road for about three miles to a T-junction at the A163. Go right with care here around the double bends, then turn left signed to Southburn. Continue along this long, straight road without deviation soon following a sign for Neswick.
The road narrows and deteriorates now and passes over a fine bridge. Enjoy this quiet country road across entertaining countryside and eventually you arrive at some crossroads. Keep straight ahead here signed as the Yorkshire Wolds Cycle Way and Beverley.
The road worsens with grass in the centre and the odd pothole but it is easy cycling. Soon you pass through farm buildings after which the road improves but has severe double bends.
At the crossroads, turn left signed to Kilnwick, not far and you reach the village, cycle straight ahead through the village, then continue along to another crossroad. Turn left here onto the sometimes busy A164 signed to Driffield. Just a short sprint along the road, then turn right signed to Tophill Low and Watton Carrs. Then right again along Church Lane still signed to Tophill Low and Watton Carrs.
Not far to the church and Watton Abbey on your left. Take a look round the church, then walk to the right hand corner of the churchyard to take a peek at the ruins of Watton Abbey.
Continue along past the church, over a level crossing and keep on the obvious country road at all times. This undulating road has a few sharp corners – watch out.
Follow signs for Hutton Cranswick or just Cranswick, if in doubt, as the road narrows and becomes quite rough. Eventually you must make a right turn signed to Skerne – don’t miss it.
A bit more traffic along here but keep pushing along for about two miles to Skerne village. Turn right here signed to Wansford, not far to a T-junction. If you would like refreshment, turn right to the Trout Inn, if not continue with the route by turning left and soon you reach a roundabout in the village. Go right here signed to Nafferton.
Quite a pleasant ride for a couple of miles until you reach Nafferton village with its seemingly unending, twisty village street. Cycle past the church, then the King’s Head and continue twisting and turning until you see a road on your left called Driffield Road. Go left here and at the T-junction go straight ahead with care for an easy ride back to Driffield, keep straight ahead at the traffic lights to reach the main street.
Distance – 23miles/37km
Terrain – Easy
Best maps – OS Landranger 106,107
Start/grid ref – Driffield, grid ref: 025580
Parking — Mainly street parking
Refreshments – Driffield, The Trout Inn at Wansford
Public toilets – Driffield as signed