Village spotlight: These two villages couldn’t be more differenct from each other

Ayton Castle
Ayton Castle

To many Scarborians East and West Ayton blend into one village, but nothing could be further from the truth. Divided only by the River Derwent, they are further apart than chalk and cheese even though the passport control at the John Carr Bridge is no longer active.

West Ayton had a population of 881 at the 2011 census and has its own demographic as well as a quite distinct heritage. Until a few weeks ago it looked as though the character of the village would be challenged by a housing development of 60 houses off Farside Road. However, highways detected a problem with the main access road so the development was quashed; people expect it to return to the drawing board one day.

Divided by the River Derwent East and West Ayton are further apart than chalk and cheese

The Scarborough to Pickering railway line used to run through the middle of West Ayton and when it was closed in the 1950s, the old railway station and its yard became the North Yorkshire Highways Department. Although still used for storage, it is only active in the winter when grit is required. With the new government being committed to developing brown field sites, this yard could one day cater for a small housing development.

Few villages can boast having their own castle but West Ayton’s Pele Tower was first built by William de Aton in 1180, although the building as it now stands was constructed by Ralph Eure around 1400. It is an amazing piece of architecture which has recently been tastefully renovated using the old crafts rather than modern machinery. That you are free to explore inside the castle is amazing; the health and safety wonks appear to have stayed away thus far. Some American friends could not believe their eyes that such an ancient monument was (a) not under guard, and (b) not being used to rake in cash.

On a fine day it is worth walking to the top of the Castle Field and standing on the stile at the back of the caravan park for one of the best all round views on the East coast. You can see cliffs to the east, the Wolds to the south and look east to the Vale of Pickering. All the good views in Ayton are to be had in West and if a person stands by the castle and looks down to the river, he can see all the river courses marked out as fish traps in medieval times.

I am fortunate enough to be in possession of a copy of Dr EA Gee’s document about the history of Ayton Castle. Some of it is truly bloodthirsty stuff, but my favourite story is of Sir William, the 2nd Lord Aton who slew Ignald de Furneaux of Snainton for ill-treating his wife, Sir William’s sister. Ayton Castle was seen as a refuge when the Scots strayed south even before they did it with caravans.

One of West Ayton’s best walks is through the Castle field until you come to the eastern bank of the Derwent. Scarborough Council has constructed a walkway which takes you just over a mile to the Old Man’s Mouth car park. Great for nature photographs.

The Forge Valley Inn also claims a lengthy history, stretching back to the 15th century when it was a farmhouse hostelry. The present arrangement is about 200 years old as it used to serve as a coaching stop for traffic in and out of Scarborough. Since the death of Mick Jay Hanmer, one of West Ayton’s characters, the pub has changed hands more times than a deck of cards in a game of pontoon, but it seems now to be finding its feet. Adjacent to the pub is the Derwent Valley Bridge Library which was taken over by the community when it became apparent that North Yorkshire was withdrawing from funding the old library. Chaired by Suzanne Carr with an enthusiastic committee, the DVBL has gone from strength to strength and is seen by many as a sterling example of what David Cameron meant by ‘the big society’.

Another jewel in West Ayton’s crown is its doctor surgery on the Pickering Road. Hear local people talk about this facility and you will be astonished at what a well-run service it provides at a time of mixed reviews for the NHS. Very rarely does one have to wait even as long as 48 hours for an appointment and all services, appointments and pharmacy, are available online.

Although Ayton Art Club comprises members from both East and West Ayton (as well as artists from outside the area) one of its most renowned founder members was West Ayton’s Nathan Brown. Nathan’s work, largely of local scenes, still commands a good price on the open market and has travelled all over the world. He did most of his work en plein air rather than from photographs. One of Nathan’s works is featured here. Apparently, he did an overnight sitting beneath the bridge to produce such an original piece.

West Ayton has two areas of outstanding beauty: the area by the weir is to all intents and purposes a village green and used by many for picture occasions; next to Jeff Prince’s mill (a beautifully preserved building) is a small common with a duck pond, another pretty and photogenic place.

Perhaps the worst thing about West Ayton is the road out of it towards Pickering. Both speed limits of 30 and 40 mph are flagrantly violated by motorists and sadly the police abandoned it to the speed merchants some years ago. A roundabout would serve to calm the traffic and ease crossing the road for pedestrians but numerous requests have fallen on deaf ears.

One famous sportsman associated with West Ayton was the Yorkshire and England fast bowler Fred Trueman. Fred was a big lover of Scarborough and was resident at 91 Garth End Road.

One West Ayton development that is already happening is at the village’s southernmost edge. Wykeham Pit, owned by the Hanson Group, has proved to have significant reserves and has purchased farmland to extend their quarrying. The company have shown a very responsible attitude to the local community, taking steps to preserve the environment, fauna and flora. They are working in tandem with Wykeham Estates and the entire project will be explored in a later spotlight on Wykeham Village. From the West Ayton point of view, observer posts have been established around the lake for photographers and ornithologists.