At approximately 0615 hours, on the morning of 21st June 2009, three enthusiastic young men stood in the car park at the northern tip of Cod Beck Reservoir, near the starting point for the legendary Lyke Wake Walk. A distinguished gentleman, and indeed an experienced veteran of said walk, looked on. If they had seen the knowing glint in his eyes, they would have got straight back in the car.
The gent was one Brian Keenan, who had kindly decided to help plan and support the walkers, these being; Paul Keenan, Chris Chilvers and Rob Brown. All were 23 years of age and had been chums for far too long really, so they decided to jeopardise this friendship by walking together for a period of time longer than an art student dedicates to an end of term drinking session.
With the day sacks fully packed, the map ready and farewells exchanged, the three – here after referred to as, ‘We’, with myself being Rob Brown – began walking at 0620 hours after sharing a photo at the trig point.
Immediately we took the wrong path. Sorry, I mean we decided to take a route that would bypass the hills. It was a genuine tactic that was totally planned and not at all a mistake.
In truth, somehow we missed theCleveland Waywithin 5 minutes of setting out and ended up on a direct course towards the Bilsdale TV mast. We cursed its existence and ability to hypnotize and control our minds, like the monoliths from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It was the reason we went astray, a transmitter to Satan himself.
We really didn’t like the mast.
Eventually we pulled ourselves from its voodoo-like hold on our sense of direction, and found ourselves on route to Chop Gate. A number of Curlews followed us before our descent into the village, although we had no idea what they were at the time. The heavy early morning clouds had dispersed and the sky was clear blue, with the sun beating down. It would cloud over a few times but the weather that day was wonderful, with only an occasional but welcome breeze.
We passed through Chop Gate without event, save a quick stop for Chris to answer the call of nature in some bushes. We arrived at a fully functioning public toilet about 30 seconds later.
The final stretch before our first stop then lay in front of us: the B1257 from Stokesley to Helmsley. As we walked single file along the road, a great number of motorcycles passed us, some a little too close for comfort. A couple caught our eye, especially the one with a small trailer in the shape of a coffin, which we found quite apt. A sticker on the back said “WARNING – DEAD SLOW VEHICLE”.
Eventually we neared the stop at Clay Bank, where we spotted Brian stood with hands in pockets, looking upwards at the steps where he thought we’d descend from the Cleveland Way. He absently turned to peer down the road just as we fully came into view. Even at around 200 metres away, we still managed to see his double take.
It had taken just under 4 hours to get to our first stop, an hour or so longer due to our detour. Nevertheless, we felt confident of our finishing in 15 hours, which is the time we had estimated it would take. So after a 20 minute rest and some food, we set off again.
The next stage of the walk up over Urra Moor and across to Blakey Ridge was steady going, with little to no breeze as the day heated up even more. This stretch was the busiest of the day, and walkers and cyclists of all ages passed us on the well-worn path. We reached Bloworth Crossing with relative ease, and despite Paul’s excellent map reading skills which told us we were in the right place, Chris and I had spotted the nearby sign telling us just that.
Continuing on our way, we eventually found ourselves at Blakey Ridge, and not long after, sat down in front of a shared plate of chips and some ice cold drinks at the Lion Inn. Wooden picnic benches had never felt so comfortable. From Clay Bank to there, it had taken just over three hours.
Socks were changed and sun lotion applied before we consulted with Brian as to which path was best to take from there. We took the path leading south east which would take us directly east across the northern end of Rosedale. After 5 minutes of walking, we reached the abandoned railway line that rannorth west– south east. Our path crossed it, yet didn’t seem to emerge on the other side of the disused line. After a brief wander north west on the line, we returned for Paul to notice a path that looked anything but ‘beaten’. However, it corresponded with the route on the map, so we continued. After a few minor detours, we concluded that due to the map not being recently purchased, some of the paths had changed (that’s right, blame the map!), although found ourselves back on track as we passed through Dale Head Farm. We turned east at this point and through a field with rams in it. Since I had been recently bitten fairly badly by a dog and also chased by a herd of cows, both whilst out running, I was somewhat nervous around livestock that day, and kept close to the stone wall in case anything decided to charge. We reached another Dale Head Farm which was strange, before taking the bridleway to Fryup all the way up the Eastern edge of Rosedaleand on to the county boundary line.
Things got a little sticky at this point, with wet bog-like conditions hampering our progress somewhat, as we struggled to find a dry route through large pools of standing water and thick muddy stretches of path. It was of course me that ended up shin-deep in what smelt like peat, although this didn’t matter as it may have been custard for all I cared. Shortly after clearing the boggy region, we picked up the pace considerably and arrived at the Blue Man-i-th’-Moss stone in good time. By this point everyone was starting to feel pretty tense and sore from the waist down, with Paul’s knee feeling the strain: going up was ok for him, but downhill was hell. This made the descent to Wheeldale Beck and staying on the stepping stones over it a bit of a challenge, but grimaces of pain were kept internal as we passed the lodge. Mine and Paul’s legs were both scratched and sunburnt, but everyone was tired and worn now.
Nevertheless all three of us ploughed on and eventually cleared the brow of the eastern edge of the dale to see the great wedge of Dutch Edamthat was the MOD early warning station. The distant landmark had taunted us for hours and now we were nearly there. Chris had packed some good quality two-way radios, one for us, the other for Brian. As we neared Ellerbeck Bridge our attempts to contact him and locate his whereabouts ended in much crackling and hissing. I think we all wondered just who was listening to that conversation…or maybe it was just me.
We gingerly descended towards the A169 and crossed the railway line, before crossing the road in an almost drunken state to the car which was parked near the gate on the bridge itself. After walking for over 4½ hours, this rest was sorely needed – no pun intended. However, we had another visitor who turned up unannounced to support us… by bringing fresh supplies of discomfort and misery.
The hot day and nearby beck had brought them out in droves, and they tortured us. They were in our tea and hair, and on our food and skin – just everywhere. This was very nearly the final straw. If there’s ever a warning this report could give, then here it is: if it is a hot summer’s evening, then DON’T stop on the actual bridge itself unless you want to be in serious discomfort by being eaten alive. We still have nightmares.
This aside, we probably gained some extra protein from the amount of the critters we ate by accident, and it certainly stirred up our anger and determination to finish; so, it wasn’t long till we donned the packs for the last, and by far the most arduous and painful stretch of our walk.
I was navigating for the last section, and as I was tired and not the most confident map reader, we had a few pauses to check we were on the right path. We followed the beck with ease before the fence to our right dropped away and Fylingdales moor opened up before us, and all the while Lilla Cross stood at the brow of the hill before us, silhouetted against the failing light of the day which hung in a band beneath the dark heather and encroaching darkness from above and behind.
Following the tracks between the white marker posts and the beck, we made it most of the way up and across the moor, although it wasn’t particularly easy going. The sludgy ground proved a problem when combined with our fatigue, and there were many slips and slides. Eventually, we spotted a small road running almost level with our course. By this point the white markers had ceased, and as it was near, we took one of the many capillary-like paths from our track towards it. The road was good, although any small stones now felt like needles on the soles of our feet. After a few minutes on the road we passed a sign, and strangely we all knew what it would say: ‘MOD PROPERTY – KEEP OFF’, to paraphrase. We didn’t care, and dragged ourselves onwards.
Eventually, we made Lilla Cross. The coast lay before us, along with the mast and the finish point. It was a stirring sight anyway, but lifted our spirits to know that we nearly there.
We had a brief stop to take photos and rest our legs before beginning the long gradual descent to Jugger Howe Beck. Although we could see the mast and effectively the finish, what made us more excited was that we were didn’t have to refold the map to see both our position and the end. This was quite sad really, but we were tired and needed all the confidence boosts we could get. All of us were chuntering on, singing and joking away about anything and everything to keep us going.
Wisps of dark blue and purple cloud filled the sky above us, as night began to draw in. After two hours of walking, the sky behind was not only dark, but looked ominous. For it to rain now would be the bitter lemon icing on a cake already laced with Marmite. So we dug deep inside and did what anyone in considerable mental and physical pain would do… we popped some pills and rang our girlfriends and mothers to cheer ourselves up. Ibuprofen pills that is, for our aches and pains. It worked a treat when it fully kicked in over half an hour later.
The map wasn’t really needed, although I nervously kept checking; to go wrong now wouldn’t be wise. However, the path was directly east, and any worries were instantly ended by getting a quick bearing.
We came to Jugger Howe in a cloud of controlled pain and determination. The mast had fallen out of sight as the gradient increased more and more and dropped down towards the steps to the beck, but we knew this was the final push. We crossed the water, climbed the far side and reached the old abandoned road that led towards the A171. The clouds and darkness had caught up with us, but thankfully there was no rain as we reached the current road and the edge of Fylingdales moor. The passing headlights of cars caught us and God knows what a miserable bunch we must have looked like.
Everyone was in high spirits, yet very tired. The last 2½ km was the most painful for myself, although all three of us were feeling it. By the time we crossed the road the twilit sky was nearly fully dark, so the mast seemed even more distorted and distant as it rose into view again. At this point many would look back over the day, but we said little and pushed on. The mast grew and grew in size along with our sense of achievement. The few things we did talk of on this stretch was our amazement at people who could finish, and then turn round and walk back again, and of people who could run it.
And before we knew it, there was the mast before us, nestled between dark bushes. Strange how one mast led us astray, and another draws us to success. At the end of the path was Brian, stood in front of the car. We walked up to the mast, realised there was nowhere else to go, and sighed a collective sigh of happiness, satisfaction and exhaustion. Paul and Chris checked their watches and confirmed that it was nearly 11.25, meaning that it had taken just under 17 hours and 5 minutes; 2 hours longer than we planned. We had done it.
Photos were quickly taken in the headlights of the car, before someone said something about walking to the Raven Hall Hotel as it was an optional finish point. This received a laugh that would have been long and hearty, had we had the energy. Then it was off for home, and not a moment too soon.
Looking back, the day was brilliant. A legendary, mighty and honourable challenge was undertaken and completed by three great friends and their excellent support, against the backdrop of one of the most striking, atmospheric and beautiful places in the world – at least for us anyway.
And who knows, we may just do it again someday.
Robert Brown (report author and supplies)
Paul Keenan (support and route organiser)
Chris Chilvers (supplies and communication)