Roman Forts and Priest Hole Escape Routes – Bardsey and Scarcroft

Two locations of which I can only describe as been completely off my usual beaten track, but, in the same breath, two locations with an interesting history and unusual attractions, the fact that they both stand about a fifteen minute drive from my home, and I’m very familiar with both villages, and, numerous villagers, proved sufficient enough for me to spend a dull autumn Saturday afternoon investigating for myself. Not that the Bardsey pub, The Bingley Arms, needed a great deal of investigation, over the years, I’ve spent many an hour or two investigating the fine ales available there!

Allegedly, the oldest pub in England

Both villages stand within an invisible line on the map known as ‘The Golden Triangle’, the reason being, the area within it’s borders, North Leeds, York and Wetherby, are said to be amongst some of the wealthiest in the UK, two streets in Scarcroft, Ling Lane and Bracken Park are the most expensive in Leeds, and probably, the rest of Yorkshire. There lay the interesting question of how you define wealth? Needless to say, on this occasion, my visit wasn’t to hunt for a new home, I’ll leave that for another day, it was a far less expensive visit, that been to follow a walking route which would lead me to the alleged oldest pub in England and an ‘off the road’, hidden and almost unknown, Roman Hill Fort.

All Hallows Church, Bardsey, dates from the 9th century and contains one of the best surviving Saxon buildings in the county.

The route was relatively short, about 3 miles, maximum 4, with a section of it following an undisputed old roman road. Starting at The Bingley Arms in Bardsey, joining the A58 for about 100 yards, southerly, prior to crossing the road and entering Hetchell Woods and following the footpath to Pompocali Roman Fort, then, heading back on the horseshoe route into Bardsey via Scarcroft.


Now, let’s not dwell on me been some kind of local history buff or expert, I’m definitely not, I have a strong interest in my local surroundings and the historical value they contain, but, that’s where it ends; but, it really did come as a surprise that I’d never previously heard of this Roman Fort a few miles up the road from my home with a very Italian name of Pompacali, up Pomay? Nor am I a closet police detective, but, Pompacali does have a very Italian ring to it, and, not a particularly Roman one, but, that’s only my very amateur opinion, regardless, this one had to be seen.

Hetchell Wood, to me, is the epitome of how a woodland should be, dense, limited sunlight, a variety of trees and vegetation, boggy in parts, steep and flooded areas, and, almost teaming in wildlife, overgrown with broken trees and moss covered rocks and branches littering and decomposing en masse. Perfect escapism.

Dismantled railway bridge, Hetchell Woods, Bardsey

Not only does this magnificent woodland subscribe to all of the aforesaid, further hidden gems are simply awaiting discovery. There used to be a railway line running through the area on the Leeds – Wetherby line, this ran through many of the local villages, including Scarcroft, Thorner, Bardsey and Linton but, in 1963 during the Beeching cuts, this line, like so many others, was closed, leaving only the haunting remains of stone bridges and cuts in the ground where the trains once ran.

Where the ford crosses the Roman road, Hetchell Woods

Whilst I was hovering around the first impressive visual evidence of the former railway I’d encountered, I had the pleasure of meeting a really friendly local man who, like myself, was walking his dogs, we started chatting about the terrain and its history, where, very enthusiastically, he asked me to follow him to witness for myself, the Roman remains of the potential, seemingly anonymous, hill fort.

To discover this outstanding, obviously man-made landscape came as an exciting and wonderful surprise, the Pompocali Roman Fort. Breathtaking as it appeared, a Roman fort remains, at least in my amateur mind, disputable. There’s no denying it’s lacking any strategic location and a superb defensive quality, there’s quite a strangely romantic aura in the surroundings, not excluding the very prominent Roman road leading to and from the location. The problem is, sites such as this, throughout Britain, are listed and recognised by English Heritage, they are, to a certain degree, protected and appear in the history books and, latter-day, social media sites, this doesn’t. To me, the mounds appeared somewhat random and none uniformed, there was no stonework anywhere, no evidence there had ever been any. I’m not convinced. The minor roman road running alongside the site may be, as some suggest, been used for transporting the granite from nearby quarrying, and, the numerous mounds been the resulting spoils from the digging, to me, that sounds more feasible, maybe it’s a job for Tony Robinson and the Time Team?

Scarcroft corn grinding mill, built 1810

Following the footpath of the Leeds Way, it wasn’t long before I’d discovered another fascinating ruin, this been of a former corn grinding mill, from its appearance and rather diminished remains, it appeared that a more recent form of quarrying had occurred and most of it had been recycled, but, this too, must have had an important role in its day, especially for the local farming community.

Onward, returning towards the affluent neighboring village of Scarcroft, I continued. The local and surrounding roads I’m very familiar with, I drive around them on  a weekly basis, but, taking time to leave them and venture ‘off the beaten track’, (literally), can be both rewarding and gratifying, it takes such little effort to discover so much.

Disused railway bridge, Scarcroft

My destination was now the New Inn, the only pub or amenity in this ridiculously over priced suburb/village. The pub is located on the A58 Wetherby Road and was constructed in 1852, for a while, a few years ago, its name was changed to the Bracken Fox, then, in 2011, it reverted back to its original name of the New Inn, I’m guessing, but it was originally a staging post for horse-drawn traffic using the roads. The present building is a 1930s roadhouse which stands on the site of the original one. So too does it seem too coincidental that it’s located on a cross roads junction, opposite the old toll house. The Toll Bar House, (pictured below), was used between 1826 and 1876 when a toll system was in place between Wetherby and Leeds.

The pub is close to an area known locally as Wayside, I’m sure there is an interesting history to this part of the suburbs of Bardsey and Scarcroft, but, sadly I’m unaware of any of it, the two streets standing there is Wayside Crescent and Wayside Mount, the latter been situated on a bridleway, and, my return route to Bardsey cum Rigton and the Bingley Arms, my starting point. Another pair of local streets where the house prices defy logic.

Billys Path

Following the bridleway back towards Bardsey it took me down a footpath which reminded me of an old friend of mine who, very sadly, passed away a while ago, Billy Gilmore, a larger than life local character and former police officer. He was almost of celebrity status within the area, to such an extent, that, on news of his death, the local newspaper, featured a full-page article about him. I think this footpath was his short-cut home after his very frequent visits to his local, The Bingley Arms, even if it wasn’t, in Billy’s memory, it deserves the title I have given it. A little story between Billy and myself was, many years ago, whist sharing a pint with him in another pub a few miles away at Moortown Corner. The long gone Chained Bull, in the days when 10.30pm was the Sunday closing time, I complained to him how I was frustrated at having to go home at such an unearthly hour, he asked me if I wanted to go elsewhere for a while and another drink, needless to say, he took me across the city to a sports club, where, at 5am on Monday morning, we finally left and headed back across the city, home, I failed to make it to work that day, RIP Billy.

Descending Billys Path back into Bardsey with the prominent All Hallows church tower within clear view. The church is believed to be the first Saxon towered church in England.

Bardsey cum Rigton, my starting and termination point for this enlightening little blog of mine, for a village of its relatively small size, has more than one claim to fame. A sports club with a cricket and football team. Its mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book as “Berdesei” and “Bereleseie”. A motte and bailey castle dating back to post 1066, and, the birthplace of playwright and poet William Congreave – (Hell hath no wrath like a woman scorned, twas WC and not Shakespeare who gave us this much used and very true line of phrase). Lastly, and not least, the famous Bingley Arms. Originally named The Priests Inn. It proudly claims to be the oldest pub in Britain, with a history dating back to between AD 905 and AD 953, and says that it served as a safe house for persecuted Catholic priests, and also as a courthouse from around AD 1000 from which offenders were taken to the pillory across the road. 

Within the chimney, in the main part of the building, stand secretly hidden are two priest holes dating back to 1539AD. Here Catholic priests hid for safety following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII.  Priest holes are not rare, but it’s uncommon to find two in the same location. During alterations to the building in the 1700s a wonderful stone inglenook fireplace was discovered. It takes pride of place in the tap-room next to a fully-functioning Dutch oven for bread production – one of the few to still be in its original position in the country.

In 1780 the Inn was renamed, the Bingley Arms, after it was taken over by Lord Bingley. With such a rich history it’s no wonder that its had its fair share of ghostly occurences over the years. Objects have moved or disappeared, pans of water have boiled on stoves whilst switched off and candles have ignited on their own. Several ghosts have also been spotted at the pub. A cavalier, known as a practical joker with a great sense of humour, has been seen by staff dressed in fine clothes with a large hat, a young girl is said to have been responsible for strange activity and a mysterious dog has been seen walking around by visitors.

I was once talking to a resident who lives on the hill which looks down onto the village, he claimed, that during constructing an extension to his house, and digging the new foundations, they discovered brickwork which turned out to be part of an escape tunnel, leading from the pub to the top of the village.

The old village shop, in all the years I’ve driven past, I’ve never known it open, but, who knows, one day it may make a come back.

No, not an average outing to the dales, mountains, fells and moors of northern Britain, no wild camping or navigating through wild wilderness, bleak and weather beaten, exposed terrain, but, a couple of hours walking, discovering wonderful hidden gems, only a few minutes drive from my own home, I may live in north Leeds, but, surprisingly, just beyond the fringes of the ‘Golden Triangle’, that may be something I can live with, regardless, a wonderful Saturday afternoon.


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Jurgen Tischler

My interests are mountaineering, buschcraft and leathercraft, not necessarily in that order. Being outdoors is the real buzz. I'm not trying to set any records or achieve any real targets, simply taking every opportunity to go out there and see what happens, this, is hopefully, a catalogue of the aforesaid pursuits.

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