Unwrecked England: Thixendale, Yorkshire

From  Fimber,  in  high wold country,  we took  a small, grass middle-d lane beyond the village green. It dipped down between steep banks and led into this most beautiful of Yorkshire valleys: Thixendale. The lane levelled out at the very bottom of what in effect is a dry river bed and wound gently on between sheep and may scattered hills. For me, the scale of the landscape feels just right: it does not overwhelm you but is calmly and comfortably enveloping. Small coveys of French and English partridge fluttered low across our path; deep cut combes snaked away from the dale bottom up to the horizon and out of sight; a ribbon of  chalk white track  led  steeply, up from a sheltered farm beside the road. For a moment, the dale widened out around  Burdale pond – once at the heart of  a long abandoned village – now infringed  with reeds and rushes .  On October 18th 1958 the last goods train ran from Burdale stone quarry to join the Malton to Driffield line, but today the track is grassed over.  A little further on a sentinel row of three  of the stateliest, grandest  sycamores we ever saw  crosses the dale bottom – each  so laden with leaf that they seemed  like solid objects.

ThixendaleWhere several dry valleys meet, the village of Thixendale lies clustered on either side of a gently rising street, hidden from the world in the deep protection of the hills. It’s a welcoming place – modest and unassuming. A  luminous mass of red and yellow begonias mixed with other bedding plants packs the front and side garden of Little Garth and literally stops passing travellers in the their tracks. Early 19th century cottages and the Cross Keys pub on Jewison’s Row curve away from the main street to the cricket pitch where a  small wooden pavilion, opened by the cricketer David Byas in 2009, replaced the two  caravans . (Thixendale cricket team recently won the coveted Wetwang Cup)

In the 1850s Sir Tatton Sykes, whose forbear had been a great agricultural pioneer, refurbished Thixendale’s cottages, built new ones  and commissioned his favourite architect GE Street to build the small and terrifically satisfactory  church and vicarage. A pottery plaque on the chancel wall depicts walkers and bikers under the proud title “Life without television”. (Because of the lie of the land Thixendale didn’t get terrestrial TV until the late 1990s).  The old school and schoolhouse beside completes the picture of an ideal Victorian model village. By the 1940s the Sykes family had sold their properties in and around Thixendale but the village’s cohesion is stronger than ever. Few residents leave it.

Maude Smith, the enlightened manager of the post office stores, is third generation post mistress of Thixendale. (Her grandmother and mother were post mistresses before her.) Opposite the school her flint and pantile roofed cottage has red paintwork  to match the telephone and post boxes hard by. Sunflowers rocket  up to the bedroom sills, fresh vegetables from her and her husband’s garden are displayed on a table by the road beside a notice advertising “ice cream and Pop”. She told us that business had improved since the advent of visitors coming to look at the real “Three Trees Near Thixendale” by David Hockney. When she described their whereabouts we realized they were the very trees we had noticed near Burdale pond and felt proud to have recognized their magnificence before we knew about their provenance.

Past Manor Farm, the last house in the village, the road leads on up the dale through scrappy, ragwort-y fields until it reaches the horizon. A huge belt of beech trees ahead is like a thick theatre curtain.  Once through it, the vale of Malton is spread out below us: another country altogether.

Photo: Flickr CC / Philip Edmondson

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