York photographer Simon Palmour's glorious 'photo essay' about the Yorkshire Wolds brings this unique landscape to life like nothing else, says STEPHEN LEWIS

THE Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors, the Lake District - they're all dramatic, and stunningly beautiful, admits Simon Palmour. But their beauty is obvious. It's on show for everyone to see.

The Yorkshire Wolds are different. Walk across the wold tops - what Simon calls the High Wolds - and it is is though everything is upside down, turned down into itself.

"Go to the Lake District, and you have the mountains and the lakes, and everything is in plain sight," he says. "Drive to Bridlington across the top of the Wolds and it is all down beneath, in the dry valleys. Unless you know what is there, it is all hidden."

This secretive, hidden nature is one of the things Simon loves about the Wolds. He loves the isolation, too.

Go to the Lake District, or the Dales, and it is hard to escape from other people. Walk deep into the heart of one of the Wolds' dry valleys, and it is a different story. Your isolation can be such that the very air seems to hum with loneliness. "You can walk down one of these dry valleys for hours and not see a soul," the 61-year-old photographer says.

Perhaps that helps to explain why so few people know about the Wolds - and why so little is written about them. Not even David Hockney has managed to put them on the map the way the Dales and Moors are.

In one way, Simon finds it inexplicable that the Wolds are ignored in this way.

The Wolds are 'not a national park, not an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, (and) are barely known in Yorkshire let alone the country as a whole," he writes in the introduction to his wonderful new book of 'photo essays', The High Wolds. "If this landscape was 50 miles from London it would be renowned and lauded. But it's not and it isn't."

And for that, he admits, he is actually grateful. It means the Wolds can keep their unique quality of secrecy and isolation for a little longer at least.

Ironically, given that he loves the the Wolds just as they are, his book could do more to bring visitors to this very special part of Yorkshire than almost anything else.

Simon likes to get out into wild places. As a young man, in 1984, he once spent nine months walking from Greece to Spain, camping wild as he went. The photographs he took on that epic journey formed the basis for a 1985 exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society in London.

He's been taking photographs ever since, combining that passion with a career in social care.

He moved to York 20 years or so ago, and for the last decade or more has been a regular participant in York Open Studios. Last year, a series of his photographs of the Yorkshire Wolds went on show at Pocklington Arts Centre. And he's now brought them together in The High Wolds.

Consisting of just over 100 glorious photographs, each accompanied with a brief pen portrait, this is a book that brings the unique soul of the Wolds to life.

No, the landscapes aren't dramatic, he writes in the introduction. "The Wolds have no crags, little water, few industrial remains. Other than the Wolds Way footpath there is no obvious focal point for a visitor. A few towns and villages toy with the idea of calling themselves The Gateway to The Wolds, but seem to lose interest pretty quickly."

What the Wolds do have, however, is those secrets, those hidden, inverted landscapes - and some extraordinary stories.

They're stories that begin to emerge as you explore, Simon says. There's the Wold Cottage meteorite, for example.

This fell to earth at Wold Newton at 3pm on a gloomy winter afternoon in December 1795. It weighed 25kg and created a crater a metre wide. Several people saw it passing through the skies, and described how the stone was warm and smoking when it landed. Today, the meteorite is in the Natural History Museum in London (there's a memorial to it up at Wold Newton) - and is generally regarded to have been hugely significant in our understanding of science and the heavens. "By proving that meteorites came not from the earth but from space, the Wold Newton sighting was crucial in the development of science in a still solidly religious world," he writes in The High Wolds.

Then there are the Folkton Drums. Intricately carved out of white chalk and dating to about 2600 BC, they were found in the grave of a child high on a wold above Folkton, near Camp Dale, in 1889.

The drums are now in the British Museum. Others have been found elsewhere. Until fairly recently, archaeologists were baffled about what they would have been used for. But astonishingly, one theory now suggests that they could have been primitive measuring devices - and may even have been used to help build monuments like Stonehenge. If you wrap a piece of string around them, you get perfect 'measures' of length, says Simon. So they might have been like primitive tape measures...

There are bronze age barrows high up on the Wolds, too, and places like the abandoned medieval village of Wharram Percy. And there's Cottam Chapel.

"The village of Cottam had 50 taxpayers in the 14th century and was thriving still in 1698," Simon writes. But in 1719 the owners of the land, the Dean and Chapter of York no less, decided to demolish all but four houses ... to make way for a rabbit warren. The rabbit warren was ploughed up in the early 1700s. In 1890, a curious red brick chapel was built for the local landowner, but has been left to slowly decay ever since.

It is an amazing place, Simon says - the remains of the chapel stand gaunt against the skyline, and in late evening the low sun picks out the contours of what once were houses and village streets. And yet it is totally unheralded. "There's not a sign or an information board in sight."

All this history is folded into the secret spaces of the High Wolds and the dry valleys that intersect them. Walk deep into one of these, and you could be alone in all the world - alone, that is, except for the secrets and mysteries that brood heavy upon this wonderful landscape.

  • The High Wolds: A Photo Essay by Simon Palmour, is published by Palmour Photographic, priced £20. It is in an A4 format, and ring-bound so that the pages can open flat. The book is available direct from Simon himself at palmour@gmail.com or from Amazon.