When we were children we were privileged to spend a week of each summer holiday (usually the last one) on a farm near the tiny village of Thorp Underwood, beside the River Ouse.

With Elf'n'Safety not yet invented and the farm family being the sort who had no problems with children taking risks, the three of us were allowed the run of the place in exchange for a few light-ish duties such as collecting the eggs, making sure the ducks were safely in their huts at night, and feeding the pigs.

We clambered over the tractor and farm machinery stored in the barn. We climbed rickety ladders in search of pigeons' nests. We fished in the deep river. And we built dens among the bales of hay in the stackyard with never a thought that they might come tumbling down and crush us.

Our annual visit often coincided with harvest time and the air was rich with the smell of hay drying in the sun. For a while, during the last week of August this year, that very same smell as we strolled across a broad field north of Leeds took me back nearly 55 years to those glorious summers.

It was infinitely preferable to some of the countryside smells you can experience at that time of the year, when the muck-spreaders are busy preparing the ground for the next year's crops.

The countryside around Aberford, a largely linear village just to the west of the A1(M), is mainly arable. A few fields are home to sheep and cattle, but mostly it's crops. And sometimes footpaths go right through them.

There was one of those at the start of this walk. I'd seen it often from the road over the years as we drove between Aberford and Barwick-in-Elmet: a straight narrow line through the barley or wheat indicated by a roadside footpath sign and heading directly into a wood.

This was the path we found ourselves on near the start of this walk, though heading from the wood towards the road.

As we scrambled up the banking on to the tarmac, we studied the grass verge we would have to walk on for a few hundred yards. It was overgrown and not at all inviting. So we walked along the roadside and from time to time leapt on to the verge to get out of the way of approaching traffic.

Fortunately it didn't take long to reach the turn-off for Leyfield Farm and the bridleway leading past the buildings and then via a gate into the fields.

We crossed Potterton Beck and made our way up the gentle slope of ancient earthworks beyond known as The Ridge before joining Miry Lane, which took us between fields to the road running past the handful of houses of Potterton.

Soon we began the return journey via more fields paths and woodside tracks. And it was here, with the buildings of Becca Farm ahead, that we encountered the smell of hay that was such a time machine for me. I was soon dragged back into the present, though, by the thump of the bass notes from rock music, a reminder that this was Leeds Music Festival weekend and Bramham Park was just over the gently rolling hill.

It and the occasional distant view of traffic speeding along the A1(M) were reminders that despite the timelessness of this pleasant, empty countryside, the world had moved on.

Step by Step

  1. From main road in Aberford (old A1) walk to Swan Inn on corner and turn left along Barwick-in-Elmet road. Pass start of Parlington Drive on left and continue briefly to where footpath sign indicates a route forking left away from road. A few paces along this, follow sign pointing right-ish into field. Walk along field edge (with hedge/trees on right) to far corner and look for a narrow path leading into wood. Follow path as it winds through wood to emerge into field. Walk straight ahead across field to footpath sign at far side, on road. Turn left and walk along road with care towards Leyfield Farm.
  2. Turn right down bridleway to farm buildings. Ignore track beyond that curves round rightwards from farm to a house. Instead go through facing metal gate and descend large field diagonally to single gate leading to footbridge over Potterton Beck.
  3. Follow path through trees into field corner then take gently climbing double green track slightly left up hill and over earthworks known as The Ridge to meet broad track running beside plantation. Continue along this with trees and then field boundary on left to gap where track swings left.
  4. Climb with track between fields and eventually between hedges as it becomes Miry Lane and heads for hamlet of Potterton. When it meets road, go through gate and, with gates of Potterton Hall on right, continue in same line up Potterton Lane ahead for five minutes or so.
  5. Follow footpath sign on right into field. Walk diagonally right across field to far corner, going through a gap by a stile and following track up hill with wood (Old Plantation) on right. At end of wood, go over stile and continue across field with fence on right. Pass top corner of another wood and continue along clear path down middle of field with buildings of Becca Farm ahead. Dodge round a solitary tree and keep on in same line towards a short facing line of trees. Just before them, dogleg left to yellow waymark sign then continue ahead on field path to meet farm track.
  6. Turn right here and walk down past Becca Farm to continue on lane that passes houses on right and grounds of Becca Hall on left and continues between fields. Before long go through facing gate and continue across field to join track heading from Becca Hall towards Aberford. Keep along this track past a lodge to join a lane and continue back to centre of Aberford. Turn right to walk back to start.
Fact File

  • Start: Main road in centre of Aberford, near church
  • Time for 5-mile walk: 2 hours
  • Going: Easy
  • Map: OS Explorer 289 Leeds, Harrogate etc
  • Getting there: Head for A64 York road north of Leeds then just past left fork to Thorner turn right to drive through Scholes and Barwick-in-Elmet to Aberford. Buses go from Leeds (stand F4 just outside bus station) every half hour through weekdays (at 09 and 39 minutes). For full times ring Metroline on 0113 245 7676.
  • Refreshments: Pubs in Aberford.
  • Toilets: None along route or in Aberford, except in pubs.