Walking The Wharfe

Upstream to the source: Johno Ellison explores a beloved Yorkshire river
Mag North
July 18, 2023

We love getting out for a walk at Mag North - and because it's 'just over the hill' from our Bothy - we do spend quite a bit of time yomping around Wharfedale. We've also been banging on for years that someone should write a book about the Wharfe's picturesque journey from its Cam Fell source - to Cawood, where this unifying artery continues its seaward journey, initially as the Ouse - before emptying in to the Humber - and the sea.

So we were proper chuffed when Sam from Read Media got in touch recently to tell us about real-life-action-figure Johno Ellison, who has done just that - and his 'Ode to a Yorkshire river' is set to be published on 10 August.

Before the big release date, we're meeting up with Johno for a blast along this magnificent river - and we also have a SIGNED COPY OF HIS BOOK TO GIVEAWAY for a Mag North reader. (Details on how to grab it are below.)

Ellison grew up in Boston Spa on the banks of the River Wharfe, where like lots of us, he developed a particular fascination with the Yorkshire waterway. After school, he joined the Royal Air Force and trained as a helicopter pilot. Still with an unquenched thirst for adventure, along with two friends, he then bought a twenty-year-old London Black Cab on eBay and spent fifteen months driving it around the globe, setting two Guinness World Records for the Longest and the Highest Taxi Journey Ever. He went on to write It’s on the Meter, a very successful book of the adventure, that was translated into four languages.

On the eve of emigrating from the UK, Ellison decided to return to his Yorkshire roots and walk the entire length of the River Wharfe - the river that had featured large in his life to date. Retracing the steps of 19th-century writer Edmund Bogg, who made the same journey more than a hundred years earlier, it's fair to say he encounters a microcosm of English culture, landscape and history.

Starting in the Vale of York, Ellison walked upstream to experience the natural beauty of Yorkshire one last time before heading overseas. Wild camping along the way, he meandered with the river to explore its Viking and Roman heritage, together with the smattering of Victorian spa towns and picturesque villages. He stopped off at local breweries and working mills, encountered an elusive otter and passed the mighty Strid – one of the world’s most dangerous stretches of water, notorious for drowning everyone who has ever tumbled in. Hiking deep into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, including along the Dales Way long-distance footpath, he was even forced to take refuge in a candlelit pub on a stormy night before he finally reached the Wharfe’s trickling source amid a vast boggy moorland.

In this quirky, contemplative travelogue, we meet a cast of fascinating characters, from modern-day Vikings and the fearless Dales Dippers to a family who have farmed the Yorkshire hills for five generations. As Ellison stumbles across Neolithic stone circles, industrial pioneers and the real-life Dick Whittington, he uncovers local legends of giants, trolls, kelpies and wartime ghosts.

In a world of globetrotting explorers and record-breaking journeys, Walking the Wharfe is a gem of slow travel writing. As he follows the river, Ellison comes to realise that our small island can certainly hold its own against big-name tourist sites the world over.

Ellison has travelled widely, so far with more than eighty countries visited, but always enjoys returning to explore more of his native Yorkshire. Since 2014, he has lived in Kuala Lumpur where he works as a freelance Product Designer and teaches online engineering and design courses to students from all around the world.

To win our signed copy of Johno's excellent new book (published by Bradt Guides) - click on Join Mag North on our site before midnight Sunday 23 July - and sign up to be a subscriber. Existing subscribers will automatically be entered into the draw.

The WINNER will be notified by email on Monday 24 July