Fold upon fold of encircling hills, piled rich and golden” – such was the author Winifred Holtby’s fond memory of the Wolds landscape. She was born in 1898 in Rudston on the northern edge of the Wolds, a village dominated by the prehistoric Rudston Monolith. This colossal block of stone, a daunting symbol of some misty pagan belief, stands challengingly close to Rudston’s Christian parish church. Twenty-five feet(7.6m) high, it is the tallest standing stone in Britain. Winifred Holtby left the village and became a leading figure in London literary circles, editor of the influential magazine Time and Tide, but in her own books it was those “rich and golden hills” that still enthralled her. In her most successful novel, South Riding, the fictional Riding is unmistakably recognisable as the Wolds among whose gently rolling acres she had spent her childhood.
The Wolds are a great crescent of chalk hills that sweep round from the coast near East Yorkshire Flamborough Head to the outskirts of Hull. There were settlers here some 10,000 years ago – but never very many. In the early 1700s, Daniel Defoe described the area as “very thin of towns and people” and also noted the “great number of sheep”. Little has changed: the Wolds remain an unspoilt tract of scattered farmsteads and somnolent villages with one of the lowest population densities in the country.
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