The Last of the Summer Winos – the Yorkshire Moors

The Lyke Wake Walk is a forty-mile walk across the highest and widest part of the North Yorkshire Moors. There is no exact route aside from starting in Osmotherly and ending in Ravenscar but there are various rules governing what qualifies as successful completion of the challenge, and what does not. One such rule is completing it within twenty four hours.

As I think we established during our walk down the Northumberland Coastal Path myself, Dave Browell (DB) and Iain Rickard (Sooty) are leisurely strollers rather than competitors. We require generous Bed and Breakfast accommodation, and like to stop for a beverage as often as possible, ideally for elevenses, lunch, mid-afternoon and dinner.

So, in July 2011, we opted for a customised version of the Lyke Wake Walk. We’ll start at the coast and head east-to-west, as opposed to the usual west-to-east direction, and we’ll take our time over it. Three days to be precise.

We’ll also be joined by another old friend, Peter Foreman, which adds an interesting dynamic to things. Myself, DB and Soot can quite happily walk for miles and miles with nary a word of conversation. Pete likes a good old natter, to say the least.

Our Moors Walk starts from Robin Hood’s Bay, so we need get there first.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a heritage railway which operates steam trains between Pickering and Grosmont and, on occasion, on to Whitby. It’s a television celebrity having featured in the Harry Potter films and Brideshead Revisited, amongst others. So aside from getting us from A to B, it also provides some historical interest – which appeals to me and DB, although Soot and Pete appear a little nonplussed. The bacon sandwiches appear to be of greater interest. Our engine incidentally, the Lancashire Fusilier, was built in 1937 by the Armstrong Whitworth Company of Scotswood, Newcastle, and is on loan from the East Lancs Railway. Fascinating eh? The bacon sarnies were made that morning by somebody in Pickering, Yorkshire.

So we chug our way under bridges and over bridges to our destination, Whitby – whereupon we head straight to the pub for some scampi and chips. Well, we are at the seaside after all. We then turn south and head past the striking silhouette of Whitby Abbey, which my philistine companions barely even pause to look at. We also pass Hornblower Lodge, a now decommissioned foghorn station. Although the foghorns are still present, they are no longer functional, which is probably just as well as they would apparently shake you to your boots if you were anywhere in the vicinity when they were sounded.

The ruins of Whitby Abbey

The ruins of Whitby Abbey

Then it’s on to Robin Hood’s Bay, and a quick pint in the first pub we come to before locating our residence for the evening, arranged by Pete, and apparently with the caveat that they may have only double rooms available. Which was not previously perceived as a problem – I’m perfectly happy sleeping by myself in a double bed – until it’s pointed out that we’re sharing rooms, which means that we’re sharing beds.

The old village is a maze of tiny streets and alleys, and nooks and crannies, befitting the area’s history of smuggling and contraband and nefarious deeds. We settle in to the aptly-named Bay Hotel for the second pub meal of the day, and yet another enormous portion of something-and-chips, with a splendid view of dusk settling across the bay. And then it’s bed-time. With Pete.

So that’s a functional start to the trip: a train from moor to coast, and a short seven mile walk down the coast, two pub meals, and around nine pints.

Wake to find myself perched on the edge of the bed, with Pete perched on the other, and a four foot contact-free-zone down the middle.

And then our walk proper can commence. There’s an option of walking due south to Ravenscar, which represents the start/end of the Lyke Wake Walk but which drags us miles out of the way, or we could cut a more direct path west and join the walk at a more convenient point. Or we could get the bus. Against my better judgement the bus option wins out and we head west onto the A171, before leaving the road and heading off onto the moors. After which it becomes, well, moors. And there isn’t an awful lot to be said about walking across moors. They’re moors. There’s heather. And grasses. And…well, moors. They’re beautiful in their isolation and desolation, but it takes a greater imagination than mine to do them poetic justice.

We pass the Fylingdales radar station, officially part of the United States-controlled Ballistic Missile Early Warning System, and now a rather drab square building and not the landmark golf-ball radomes of old. And the final section of today’s meander affords us another view of the steam train, and a gentle stroll down a sun-dappled tree-lined bridle-way into the village of Goathland. Whereupon the choice of taking the bus comes into its own. Not thirty seconds after crossing the threshold of the hotel the heavens open with the most torrential hailstorm known to this man. Heaven forbid if I’d insisted on us walking the first section and subsequently got us all caught out in that.

We’re staying at the Goathland Hotel, which doubled as the Aidensfield Arms in the television series Heartbeat. And it would appear that the whole of Goathland doubled as the village of Aidensfield in the television series Heartbeat. And they certainly make the most of it. I think they stopped making Heartbeat several years ago, but they haven’t stopped making money out of it.

After dinner in the much-photographed bar we head down to the Birch Hall Inn in Beck Hole. It’s a mile or so down a steep road into a deep, tree clad valley where a few houses surround an old fording point on the Eller Beck. And the pub must be one of the smallest imaginable…just two rooms set either side of a sweet shop, with a tiny wee serving hatch in each. It’s disappointing that the barman is a perfectly ordinary young feller in a stylish t-shirt and not the mad, cross-eyed, be-whiskered auld lunatic that he should have been. Quaint. Charming. Rustic. But a tad boring.

A restful spot just outside Goathland

A restful spot just outside Goathland

Day three of strolling will see us go from Goathland to Blakey Ridge, some fifteen miles or so. It’s a lovely walk out of Goathland, two or three miles up onto the moors, and around a few ridges – all in glorious sunshine. And then my boots fell apart, quite literally. The sole of one boot detaches itself from the upper, and a few miles later the other boot takes solidarity and splits as well. The solution is to use Dave’s gaiters to hold things together. And quite remarkably things hold firm as we trudge mile upon mile across boggy moors, sometimes on the path, sometimes on the heather, sometimes through the bog, and always a hard slog with heavy, muddied feet. Whatever the distance is it’s made to feel significantly more by the conditions. It’s often a case of head down, think of England and march on.

We encounter a few Lyke Wake Walkers heading in the opposite direction. So while we’re trudging uphill through wind and rain with full waterproof kit on, there’s a steady stream of serious fell-runners heading in the opposite direction in their vests and shorts. And not one of them appears to have footwear held together by gaiters. Strange that.

After several hours trudging through the rain, we reach the Knott Road which will take us round to the Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, although it’s still another hour and a half to the Brigadoon of a pub which keeps disappearing out of sight. The Lion Inn had been our preferred hostelry for the night but there are no rooms at the inn so we’re staying at the Feversham Arms, in the nearby hamlet of Church Houses.

We’re welcomed at the Feversham Arms and hit the bar for beer and sustenance. There ain’t be much to do round ‘ere so just stay in the bar listening to the guy with the biggest sideburns and heartiest laugh in Yorkshire and trying to avoid eye-contact. There’s bound to be a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb somewhere round here.

Miles upon mile of Yorkshire Moors

Mile upon mile of Yorkshire Moor

But we survive the night and then it’s our final day, Blakey Ridge to Osmotherly, a good eighteen miles at least, beginning with a fairly comfortable five miles along an abandoned railway line. After another few miles we reach the village of Chop Gate where we stop for a lunch, before continuing on. The next four miles or so are pleasant walking over more moorland, before we hit the final four mile stretch down to Osmotherly. At which stage the tiredness kicks in. It’s not tough walking – along the road, up and down some small but steep dips – but Osmotherly just never seems to get any closer. It’s a huge relief to finally reach what is a very picturesque village.

All in all we’ve done around fifty miles; some coast, some moors; some rain, some shine. The second day’s rain-sodden slog over the boggy moors was tough-going, and the final day’s eighteen mile stretch a hard way to end the four days, but once done, the more challenging aspects of it make it all the more worthwhile. But I certainly don’t think we’ll be challenging the genuine Lyke Wake Walkers any time soon.